Wednesday, 29 May 2019

This snail moves on

I like to call myself to a nomad – a Bedouin. But there is something that distinguishes me from a genuine nomad: they tend to travel light through life. And I carry a lot – a lot - of stuff.

When people ask me where home is, I simply point around me. Any place can be my home, as long as my husband and children are there and - my stuff. That is why I sometimes call myself a snail, not because I am slow (admittedly I’m not the fastest runner, that’s a different story) but because I carry my home with me wherever I go. And it’s a full home.

My children take after me. Since they were very young, every time we travel and arrive in a new hotel, sometimes for just one night, they start nesting. They divvy up the beds, arrange their stuffed animals, notebooks, pyjamas and other items on it and voila; they feel at home. They often refer to hotels or guesthouses we stay in as home too.

The thing is, I can get ridiculously, sentimentally, attached to objects. I still remember some items I lost years ago, and genuinely miss them at times. The little blue vase with flowers that was a wedding present and that the cat smashed. The yellow glass lamp my parents bought for us in France, one that careless builders broke. The necklace my late grandmother left me and got stolen in the US when I was a teenager.

One of the reasons that could cause my attachment is that I rarely simply buy something. Years ago I needed a new teapot, and spent hours online, browsing vintage websites to find the perfect one. At some point my husband looked over my shoulder and dryly commented: ‘Normal people just go to a shop and buy a teapot….’

So when we move house or country, which is on average every few years, I pack up all this stuff and ship it to the next location; even if it is across the world. But our upcoming move to Bali proved a painful one. It soon became clear why most houses there are rented out furnished: Indonesia is a country where nothing is easy. At the same time, storing furniture in Singapore proved more expensive than renting a house in Bali.

When I asked for advise on an online group, the first comment came in quick: “sell everything, you will feel so happy and light after.” A big ‘no’ groaned up from my stomach. Never would I sell my collection of vintage enamel trays! The antiques we collected over the years! My Omani silver! Or our gazillions of books!

Thankfully, where there is a will there is a way; eventually. We will ship as much small items as we can manage to Bali, and store the bulk of the furniture in Europe (yes, you hear correctly, on the other side of the world. In fact, have a container with our furniture sitting on a boat, going round and round, would still be cheaper than storing in Singapore. But that seemed too insane, even for me.)

Our plan leaves me with one big thing to do in the coming month before we leave: get rid of as much as I can. Sell, give away, dump. Some items, like hideous IKEA wardrobes, or the sagging sofa, I’m happy to see the back of. Others, like our colourful outdoor dining table, I’m sorry to lose, but I can comfort myself with the thought that similar – better – ones can be bought cheaply in Bali.

Now I just hope one thing: that shipping the stuff I’m sure to amass there will be much easier to ship out. To wherever, whenever we will go after.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Domestic drama

Dinner is never a quiet event at our place, although this is normally due to our children’s lack of table manners, or their refusal to sit still and well, eat. But today we have another form of entertainment: a family of wild jungle fowl. 

Mother hen struts around the grass niftily, a clutch of three babies in close pursuit. It’s close to bedtime, and mother look up at the trees, searching for a good spot to roost. She spots a fine branch, takes off and flutters steadily to a high-up branch. Her three babies look after her with trepidation. Mummy went very high! After a minute of staring, number one flies up. Its little wings can’t reach quite as high as mum, and it lands on a dead palm leaf halfway. After some quiet deliberation, number two follows suit. It ends about a meter higher that the sibling, and perches on its higher branch triumphantly. Number three now can’t stay behind, and flies up, managing to come highest of all. But none of them is as high as mummy, and slowly they flap their way further up.

Suddenly, there is a rustle in the bushes and a fierce rooster appears. He flies up determinedly to where his wife is sitting, and a ruckus erupts, with leaves shaking and chicken shrieking. The flustered hen soon jumps down from the tree again and lands in the grass with a thump. The babies look down from there spots at different height, confused how to proceed. 

Dad comes down too, in hot pursuit of mother. He runs after her with his tail up high, and his wings slightly spread. Mother is in no mood for this, and runs off, her wings open too, her legs bent and her neck low. For a minute they chase each other in and out the bushes whilst their offspring looks down, showing their dismay with louder and louder discerning cheeps.

The first one decides to take action, and dives down from the tree. At this point, cat Snowy, who like us has been observing the scene from a distance, decides to get in on the action. Slowly she prowls towards the baby, prompting Linde to panic and rush over to save the baby. The chick decides to scramble, quickly clambers up the bushes, until it is safely out of reach. Linde too decides to cut her losses; barefooted as she is, she doesn’t dare follow into the wet bushes, where Snowy stares up longingly to the little fluffy snack.

The other two babies, still sitting up high, still cheeping noisily, now decide to come down too. Soon all three of them run around the grass, looking for mummy, who is still being chased around the bushes by dad.

Mother finishes off the kerfuffle with a big peck into dad’s tail. He settles down, slowing to a strolling pace, as if he never did anything more exciting this evening than a turn around the garden.

Snowy sticks her nose out from under the bushes, spying the three chicks in the middle of the grass. She attempts to stalk, but has counted out dad, who swiftly runs past her, scaring the little cat back to our table for a tumble with sister Pepper.

The family, reunited, leisurely strolls off to the other side of the garden, the three babies running their little feet off to keep up with their parents.

We sit and watch and enjoy. Who needs a television when you have a garden?

The story of the suitcase

Yesterday the suitcase went home, after spending forty years in a dusty attic. A few years ago we found it there when we lifted the trap door to get rid of the rats. For something sitting in a tropical attic amongst rats, civet cats, termites and who-knows-what-else it was in a remarkable good shape. 

There was still a label attached from a boat journey, Durban to the Portsmouth, in 1976 - coincidentally the year I was born. Curious about who lived in our house that long ago - yes I'm that old - we tried to find out who the owners of the suitcase could have been. But we had no luck, our search yielded nothing. Still, we could not bear to throw the suitcase away, and it became a plaything for our children. 

Yesterday, when I was just about to leave the house with my visiting parents, my father spotted a lady taking photos of our house. Living in such a special, historic house, we are used to snoopers, but this woman took it to a whole new level. 

When she saw us see her looking at our house, she immediately came up to apologise politely. She explained she had lived here in the 1980s with her own young family. Sensing a story, I invited her and husband, waiting her patiently in a taxi, inside to see how the house had changed. As the taxi uncle got more and more impatient, they all too soon had to move on. 

It wasn't until they were saying there goodbyes that I remembered the suitcase. I recounted how we found it, and how it was probably from a family living there before them, as it the attached label was dated sometime in the 1970s. 'Yes,' the husband responded, 'we were still in South Africa in the seventies.'
And something in my brain clicked.

Yes, the suitcase was theirs! Our lady visitor was so excited she immediately insisted on taking it home with them, home being Australia where they had settled for now.  The husband grumbled, 
we are only allowed to check in two pieces, but to no avail. That suitcase was going home! 

With a smile we waved off the couple and our suitcase - now theirs again. Reunited after 40-odd years!