Thursday, 17 April 2014

Random Writing

The journey to work is a bit dull, so I thought I would take a notebook and pen, and jot a few things down while I waited for trains and buses to do their thing:

At the station:
The metal bench is cold.
I can feel the harshness of it chilling my behind.
A cluster of commuters round the coffee stall.
Dainty cupcakes decorate the tables set out in front of it.
The vending machines stand proud, strong and chunky, like guards outside Buckingham Palace.
There is a display of postcards outside the newsagent's kiosk.  Union Jacks, double decker buses, red letter boxes and phone booths.
An 'A' board sign tells me water costs 'only 70p'.  I remember someone saying that selling water in Britain, where you can get it out of a tap for free, is one of the most surprising marketing triumphs ever.
Co-incidentally, the announcer reminds us all to carry water with us on the train.
I wonder whether they are in cahoots with the newsagent.
I feel annoyed that the announcer thinks I'm too stupid to remember to carry water in hot weather.
I've just come back from Africa.  That was hot.  This was not.
Smug travelling git, me!
There is a queue developing at the ticket machine.  Why do railway stations have the slowest machines in the universe, that seem deliberately designed to make people miss their trains?
The coffee barista is banging the coffee grounds and the coffee machine is hissing like the old steam trains must have done here once.
Everyone looks well turned out, the wealthy western commuters in 'business smart'.
The women look a bit like clones though, blonde hair, red lips, shoes with heels not designed to walk in.
The men are all in sensible suits with ties choking at the neck.

The people in the queue needn't have worried, the train has been cancelled.

I'm on the bus now, decided to try to avoid the crammed train due in another half an hour by going to another station.
Not sure it was a good idea.  Not sure where the stop nearest the station is.
The driver told me, but didn't open the doors.  I got confused so sat down again.  Then I had to get up and get out of the 'in' doors.

Worked well, the train came fairly soon after I arrived at the station, and there was lots of room to sit down.
The interior is a bit panic inducing, one poster features a dying woman telling me it's too late to save her, but not to save others.  The headline in a newspaper held by a fellow commuter assures me that we will all die from London's latest killer, 'THE AIR WE BREATHE'.  Another poster tells me I've probably got diabetes and might die from it, or just get lucky and have a limb amputated instead.  I try to smirk it all off, but somewhere deep inside my brain I am starting to panic THAT I WILL DIE FROM CANCER, DIABETES OR JUST BY INHALING THE AIR.  I am confused, because if I don't breathe in, I will die anyway, diabetes, cancer or not.

Arriving at work was much nicer.  Warm and friendly.  Well ordered and tea on tap.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

'Oh to be in England now that April's here' or 'Home Part II'

England is a wonderful place, really wonderful.  There might be no better time of year to see it again than in April.  Everything is iridescently green, almost glowing.  There is a refreshing cool breeze and fluffy white clouds playing in a powder blue sky.

I have been enjoying cycling along the tow path and am covering around 10 miles a day, feeling exuberant and grateful.  I am meeting family and friends in cafes and sitting outside some, sipping tea and watching the world go by.  Sometimes I come home after dark, and what joy that is.  The realisation that I can cycle safely IN THE DARK through local parks and along roads with no one waiting with a machete round the next bend.  Hooray.

The river is mirror calm in some places, and those fluffy clouds are reflected in voluptuous splendour.  The occasional boat drifts past.  The crew have no worries about being swallowed by crocodiles or mauled by hippos if they capsize.  It is all more beautiful than I remember, and I am grateful to live somewhere so lovely and, more importantly, so safe.

My father used to say that you should, 'make home the best place in the world, and once it is, why go anywhere else?'.

I am starting to understand that statement.

Sunday, 6 April 2014


What a wonderful word that is.


It is soft sounding and gentle.

It is like a whisper of comfort.

Being back in my home after nearly a year away feels very special.  The first night I lay on my bed I was taken aback at how comfy the mattress was, how soft the duvet and how like little puffs of cloud my pillows were.  I didn't have to unfurl a mosquito net, or bounce around clapping my hands around pesky insects.

I could leave something out on the kitchen surface, and not worry that rats would frolic and nibble around it.  I can open the door into the garden and not need to check for snakes.

Part of me still worries as the time gets close to 6pm, then I remember with a sign of relief that I don't have to be locked inside a burglar proof building as soon as it gets dark.  I can even walk around outside after the sun goes down.

There are buses and trains that run to timetables, and shops with prices on goods.

Best of all I like the cool air, the spritzer of drizzle and being able to expose little areas of skin and not be sun-burned.

I have changed through the experience.  My catch phrase since I got back is; 'if I can sit in an open sided vehicle in the middle of a crocodile infested stream, I can do ****' (where **** = difficult task of the moment).

I have met many amazing people, and have been overwhelmed at the kindness of strangers around the world.

Most people are kind.

I think it's important to remember that.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Singing Your Heart Out

On my last Sunday in Malawi I went with a couple of friends to a gospel singing afternoon.  As we drew up at the venue, there was a palpable buzz of excitement as crowds of people were wandering into a massive marquee.

Inside, the space was completely packed with families, teenagers, babies on their mothers' backs, it was standing room only.  The crowd spilled into the area outside.

It was extremely hot, but that didn't stop the good natured crowd from dancing energetically and singing their hearts out.  The bands were very professional, and the singers bounced in unison from one side of the stage to the other (one was wearing a jumper, I was full of admiration).  The singing was really loud, but then one of the men on stage said, 'Remember, you are singing for Jesus!' and the place went wild.  I wouldn't have been surprised if the roof had taken off.  It was a fabulous afternoon, and a great taste of the real Malawi, one I hadn't really seen yet.  Malawians certainly know how to have fun.  This event takes place every week, which is amazing.  We in the UK could really do with something similar, but I think we are probably a bit too uptight to join in so whole heartedly.

It was a great end to my stay in Africa, and made me wish I had discovered it earlier.

After a twenty hour journey, I have found my way back to the UK.  It is rather sad that my suitcase didn't feel like joining me, but that is the way these things go I suppose.  I think it is probably continuing the holiday feel somewhere in Africa.  The girl at the check in desk in Lilongwe was holding two luggage labels at one point, and looking confused.  I didn't say anything as she then looked decisive and attached one to my case. It's odd what I will miss, the main problem is my travel journal for the whole year was inside, and that is not replaceable.  Everything else can be re-bought, although at some effort (my driving licence is a particular bother).

It was wonderful to see my son at the airport, his first comment was, 'Don't you have a big suitcase?'.  We went off for a conciliatory full English breakfast which definitely helped.  The silly thing is, on the flight I was worried about whether he would remember to empty the car boot to fit it in.

I will be thinking a great deal about Malawi over the coming weeks, and try to make sense in my head of all the conflicting aspects of life there.  I will also miss all the warm and gentle people I met.