Wednesday, August 31, 2005


I just had the following conversation with my mother:

Mum: Do you know how much I pay for a sandwich in that shop?
Me: No… how much?
Mum: 85p!
Me(trying unsuccessfully to be funny):I bet that’s because they have a plentiful supply of human flesh.
Mum: Oh, I don’t think so. They just have good value produce.

Should I be worried that she didn’t even blink?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

It's a chill wind

I’m so very, very cold. My nose has gone numb. My fingers are corpselike and bloodless. My feet, although they are ensconced in thick woolly socks, will not transmit feeling through the frost-bitten nerve endings, and I keep falling over. My arctic fleece is not sufficient to keep in the warmth. My ears may drop off. If it didn’t mean venturing outside to get kindling and wood, I’d try to light a fire, but I’m too cold to do anything.

May I remind you that it is AUGUST. It’s the bloody Bank Holiday – that time of year when whole families decamp to the seaside. The country is awash with caravan owners, weaving dangerously to-and-fro on the motorway, and clogging up the country’s arteries with unstable vehicular appendages.

Children are supposed to be frolicking in the surf this weekend, gazed upon by a furious sun, the broiling, burnished skies above them free of clouds. I’m not a great fan of swimming on our coastline as it is. It always seems to be typical of the British determination to ignore the real weather and try to fool the gods by venturing out in ludicrously inadequate clothing, and then to pretend to their small children that splashing about in the artic run-off is fun. This weekend though, I expect everyone will be wrapped up warm and cosy somewhere other than the rainswept beaches*.

And it’s even colder in here. I don’t know what it is about my Mum’s house, but it acts like a selfish child at playgroup who hogs all the toys. It seems to suck warmth into its walls, and keep it there so that no-one else can use it.

My mother steadfastly refuses to notice, and wanders about the house Eskimo-like. I’ve often thought that she’s in denial about things like normal temperatures, but this takes the biscuit. And now that the lovely warm aga in the kitchen has been taken out, it’s like the frozen Siberian tundra in there as well, except less windy.

Roll on Windhoek. The weather forecast today is sunny. In fact, check it out. I’ve never seen my BBC weather home page look more appealing.

*I have actually just checked the weather forecast for the rest of the country, and it appears I’m in the only pocket of damp chill east of Ireland. Even in Great Yarmouth, temple of seaside tack, the temperature is a respectable 26 degrees. Bah. I’m off to light a fire.

The thinking girl's crumpet...

I love crumpets. There’s something so enormously comforting about the way that the butter dribbles through the holes and pools on the plate. I’ve just eaten two of them, and I can feel a warm smear of butter and honey on my lower lip. I almost wish I had a beard, so that I could save it for later*.

I also love yoga, which is why I can’t understand why I seem to be finding excuses not to do it. (“I’ll do some yoga later, right now I REALLY need to write a post, as I have something very important to say about, er… crumpets, for which the world cannot possibly wait.”)

Yesterday was a frantic exercise in packing – it took me just over two hours to throw all my worldly belongings into boxes, while the BF, who came in from a party at 3.30am, lay about in bed, groaning, and getting eyeliner all over my pillows. I coerced my lovely flatmate into driving me down to Wales with everything all stuffed willy-nilly in the back of his boot. We spent the journey down the motorway with my stitched portrait of Chairman Mao (a gift, not a political statement) proudly staring out of the back of the car at all and sundry.

I’m so tense that I look as if someone has surgically attached my collarbones to the underside of my chin. Yoga would sort me out, but I’m procrastinating again. Just the thought of doing breathing exercises makes me hunch over like a little old lady, and run for the booze cabinet teapot. I think some perverse part of me must actually like feeling stressed. Twisted.

Anyway, as it’s Wales, it is naturally raining, so it won’t be so bad sitting inside, finishing off the 23 page Community Fund report that I started working on three months ago, and which I have promised to finish for my previous employers. I should have just sprinted from the building, scattering papers behind me, shouting “Ahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaa! It’s all yours, suckers!” but it seems that I have a conscience.

I’m a fool.

*For some reason that thought has simultaneously revolted me, and made me giggle wildly. I'm definitely losing the plot.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

It's been a hard day's night

This course is heavy duty. They dress it up with lots of interesting practical work - one group exercise on facilitation techniques yesterday left me weeping and incapable with mirth - but it's hard work, and goes on from 9am to 8pm every day. Except Thursday when we're all going bowling.

Harborne Hall also turns me into a walking dustbin. I can't stop eating. I had a full cooked breakfast followed by yoghurt and prunes yesterday, and by 11am my stomach was doing a little food dance. Eating three enormous meals a day may feed my brain cells but it doesn't do alot for my waistline, and neither does the beer. My stomach is expanding gratuitously.

I also feel incredibly close to the ten people in my group. I had a moment of sadness last night when I realised that after Friday I'm not going to see most of them again - we're all going to be flung out across the globe like water from a spun unbrella.

Anyway, I'm having a ball. But I'm too knackered, and too busy to post much, so I'll be back next week.

Right. I wonder what's for breakfast...

Monday, August 22, 2005


I Just wanted to apologise for the boringness of the previous post. I was obviously still infused with the spirit of Milton Keynes Coachway. I imagine the atmosphere lingers a little like nictotine on net curtains. Insidious.

The waiting room doubled as a filthy greasy spoon, and was filled with heavy smokers and screaming children waiting to get on a bus to Blackpool. The edges of the room were fetchingly decorated with fat, lank women in grey tracksuits. All the mugs were free on a job lot from a local haulage company. I almost expected to turn round and see the woman from the beginning of Withnail and I - you know, the one who dribbles egg down her front while tucking into a fry sandwich.

Don't make me go back.

National Express

I'm in Birmingham again, at VSO's lovely Harborne Hall.

Being now officially unemployed, and as my reserves of cash rapidly dwindling as unexpected expenditures exit my bank account with indecent haste, I decided to take the coach rather than the train.

Breakfast was an almost unidentifiable fry-up at Milton Keynes Coachway (one of the most depressing places I've ever seen), after I'd already been up for three hours. I finally got to Birmingham about 5 hours after I set off, and had to lug my bags, in the rain, through the city centre. I hope I never get to the point in my life where I have to live in Birmingham.

Anyway, I'm knackered now, and off to do a Health and Security workshop. Apparently it's enough to scare you into the idea of prolonged celibacy for at least a month.


Friday, August 19, 2005


Oh. Dear God. I shouldn’t even have ventured out of the house in this state.

I opened my eyes this morning, and was immediately engulfed in confusion. I don’t own a stuffed gorilla, and although for a moment I wondered whether it was actually the BF and I’d gone a bit funny in the head, I eventually remembered falling asleep in Becky’s spare room.

It took about half a second for the rest of the evening to come crashing in. After I’d finished covering my eyes and going “aagh, nooooo”, I noticed that someone kind had put a bowl next to my bed, should I wish to be sick in it.

And some toast, should I find myself hungry after vomiting.

And a cup of tea.

And two t-shirts to sleep in, neither of which had been used because I was still fully clothed.

Grim. Leaving dos should be banned.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Things. Happening.

I got my flight details through!

They came in the post yesterday, long with my international driving permit, which unfortunately is only valid for a year. And you can’t use them in the country in which they’re issued, so I will have to leave Namibia at some point next year in order to get a replacement little grey booklet that looks like it was printed in the 1930s, and have my photograph inexpertly glued into the back of it. Bless the AA. They’re obviously strapped for cash, and trying to save the pennies by limiting the use of pritt stick.

Anyway, I am leaving on 10th September at 19.05, with British Airways. I hope that they have sorted out the catering by then, because I have long believed that the very best thing about BA is that they make proper Bloody Marys, and you get an unlimited free supply for the entire flight.

That’s assuming that I don’t get stuck on the motorway in my National Express coach. I can just picture it: traffic stretching back over the horizon, and I, valiant and unbowed as always, being forced to drag 45 kilos of luggage down the hard shoulder for 80 miles.

I’m a little worried that my criminal records clearance isn’t going to come through though. They’ve had it now for five whole weeks, and the police still haven’t returned it. I bet they’ve lost it. Either that or they are confusing me with another Rachie who lived at my previous addresses, who just happens to be the glamorous queen of an underworld drug cartel. I expect they are silently closing the net around my flat as we speak.

I’ve gone a bit hysterical, I’m so excited. I think I need a cup of tea.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Stuff and nonsense

Nice to see that Anna Ford has hit back at Michael Buerk's idiotic diatribe yesterday. I'm rapidly losing interest in this damp squib of a debate though. I think that women at the BBC should really start sowing the seeds of dissent. A few well chosen words in the right ears about mid-life crises making men less than stable candidates for positions of power and the right to vote should do it.

Also, I've taken out an online subscription to The Economist, as it costs a ridiculous amount to have it delivered to Namibia, and I keep putting in the wrong URL, which takes me here and is, frankly, scary.

Not feeling very interesting today. Too full of sushi.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Outspoken berk takes the mickey

Whilst browsing the BBC website today in a moment of respite, I came across this article about Michael Buerk, newscaster and man-about-town. He is loudly bewailing the fact that the equality pendulum has swung the other way, and women are now given more control over the way men live their lives than is right and proper.

Women, he says, decide what we watch and listen to, as they have the top jobs – they are in control. They control what we buy, because everything is made for them.

Women make up 51% of the population in the UK. I wonder if he is aware that in British companies, only 1% of company Chairs, and 4% of directors are women? Do you think he has bothered to find out, before making his preposterous remarks, that women take up 30% of management positions in this country, most of them in health and social security? To cap this, proportionally, women earn a mere 85% of men’s wages, in the same jobs.

And what about MPs? In the House of Commons, seat of power in this country, women hold 127 seats, while men occupy all of the other 519.

Men are, apparently, being given a lesser role in society. The poor thing is obviously terrified that he will one day find himself standing outside Broadcasting House in the rain, while Moira Stewart and Natasha Kaplinsky cackle evilly from the top floor and pour effluent on his head.

And as for his comment about women not wanting men to “loaf about and make the house look untidy”, he does indeed have a point. That’s the last thing I’d want. I’m sure any loafing “unemployable sperm donors” can make themselves useful by working out where the hoover is kept, and getting their lazy arses off the sofa. That should sort the mess out.

Monday, August 15, 2005

All clear on the western front

I needn’t have worried. The BF’s dad is a champion ranter. I knew everything was going to be ok when we sat down for dinner and he started trying to make his six-year old daughter sing an alternative version of “Polly put the kettle on…” He wandered off into the kitchen, singing merrily, the lyrics “Kill George Bush” wafting towards us on the light summery breeze.

Four bottles of wine later, I staggered off to bed, feeling decidedly outranted, and not at all concerned that my manners may have offended. He is by far the rudest man I have ever met in my life, and yet I found it quite refreshing to be told bluntly that I’m talking rubbish. It meant I could wade on in there with unbridled invective of my own.

I also got chatting to his stepmother, who was telling me all about closet Democrats – a group of persecuted people who I didn’t even know existed. The family live in a small island community in Virginia, where, apparently, the entire population fervently believes that George W is sent by God to rescue the righteous American people from foreign heathens and infidels. Seemingly, Democrats are included in this number, being scurvy knaves sent to bring down the Lord’s country from within, or something. One woman told her that if her employer knew she voted Democrat, she would lose her job. I’m a bit shocked that I find that so easy to believe.

Meeting the BF’s family has made me feel closer to him than ever. I feel as if I understand him better, and I appreciate him even more. I used to assume that my departure would end our relationship permanently, but now I’m not ruling anything out.

Neither of us expects the other to wait around, but long breaks in relationships have been known to happen. Unfortunately I find it difficult to articulate my feelings on this matter to him, partly because I’m not sure how I really feel myself. It’s impossible to tell the future (no, really, it is), and pointless to speculate, so there’s little use in my saying anything that might put needless pressure on our friendship.

Anyway, enough of the soul searching. Has anyone else noticed the worrying number of plane crashes there have been lately?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Meet the parents

I’m off to meet the BF’s Dad this weekend. And his stepmother, and his two half –siblings. Oh, and some aunts and uncles, I think. Not that I’m nervous.

It won't be like meeting his mother, which was an extraodinary experience that made me feel as if I'd been transported back in time. She mostly lives in the US, but does occasionally come back to have a bit of a tidy up and open her mail, and so we sat upstairs on the BF's bed, listening to music, snogging and smoking spliffs out of the window, while she shouted "Does Rachael want some dinner/tea/biscuits, darling?" up the stairs. Jeez. I'm 31. It's not normal.

Anyway, it does seem rather strange to be meeting the rest of his family the month before I disappear off to foreign climes, and I’m rather worried that they will think I’m a callous, selfish fly-by-night, who is displaying an alarming lack of commitment to my relationship with their stepsonhalfnephew.

I’m also a little intimidated because apparently his father is a world-renowned glaciologist who’s been telling the US government for years that we are royally fucked as far as global climate goes, and we’ll all probably be dead in 100 years.

Usually when I’m in situations like this, I drink very quickly out of sheer naked fear, and end up ranting at people about things I know not enough about. Like George W Bush, what a state the world is in, and my proposed solutions for said state, which are all inspired by my genius for high-level political machinations.

I may invest in some alcohol-free wine.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Taking. The. Piss.

I couldn’t quite believe this headline when it caught my eye this morning, and left me standing open-mouthed in amazement in front of the newspaper stand in WHSmith. Why do leaders insist on spouting nonsense like this? Who do they think is going to believe them? Who on earth are they trying to convince? I can just imagine him sitting in his palace, all medalled up, staring into the mirror, repeating “They ARE well fed, they ARE well fed” to his own reflection.

On further reading though, it is this sentence, which made me grasp my hair and howl “What the FUCK?” to a train full of startled commuters:

“One of the main results of the attempted use of private enterprise to tackle malnutrition was to push up drastically the price of staple foods. The policies were not President Tandja's own. The International Monetary Fund has pressed for structural changes to the economy, including the introduction of 19 per cent VAT on basic foodstuffs and the scrapping of emergency grain reserves. As a result the price of basic food rose by between 75 and 89 per cent in five years.”

How can policies like these in any way benefit the populations of countries like Niger, which has the worst poverty index rating after Burkina Faso? And in a country that repeatedly suffers drought and food shortages, to scrap emergency grain reserves? Who’s setting these policies at the IMF? Are they human? Do they have a brain?

I’m gobsmacked. And I know that it’s naïve of me to be so because the more I learn the less I understand about the way the world is run, but hello?


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Taking flight

The end is in sight. I’ve been in this job for the better part of three years, and the time has come and gone for me to say sayonara.

There’s something about staying in a job that is stultifying that sucks all the energy out of your veins between the hours of 9 and 5.30. Commuting for almost two hours every day hasn’t helped to rekindle the passion that I once felt for this job, but that for many months now has been a dim and shadowy thing. The morass of internal politics through which I have had to wade, and the mire of cynicism in which my managers are caught took their toll a long time ago.

For the last few weeks I’ve been preparing: writing reports, contacting donors, sending off last minute applications. I didn’t think that I was refusing to let go – I didn’t even consider it. I just kept on worrying, and organising and writing, the same way that I always do.

Today, though, something gave. The person who is taking over from me started last week, and we’ve been discussing, exchanging, digging and clarifying for a good few days now. This morning, my boss, as is her wont, put something random on my desk, and suggested that I might want to do something with it, and with a lifting in my heart and head that I had no idea was possible, I realised that this is no longer my job. The trickle of days that remain will be taken up with specific tasks, and there is a finite amount of time in which I have to do them. Everything else is now someone else’s domain.

I can’t tell you how light and free I feel.

Friday, August 05, 2005


Leaving a job is, for me, always an uncomfortable exercise in unkept resolutions.

Every time, I promise myself that in the weeks preceding departure, I will gradually divest my desk of the morass of crap that has accumulated upon it during my residency. Then, the day dawns, and I find myself struggling home under impossible loads of carrier bags, filled with shoes, CDs, trinkets, paper, books, clothes and other extraneous junk.

I don’t know why hoard pointless stuff in this way, but it happens every time. Under my desk at the moment I have the following:

*Two carrier bags full of clothes (meant to take them to the dry cleaners. Never will now)
*Two pairs of shoes, one broken. Just in case.
*A cycle helmet
*A bottle of Jose Cuervas tequila (disappointingly unopened)
*A bulk box of bubble envelopes

Worse, actually on the desk, rather hampering freedom of movement, and clogging up my working space are:

*One brightly coloured flowery mug, half full of tea
*One set of Russian Dolls badly painted to look like Father Christmas (romped home with the award for the least appreciated office Secret Santa present of 2004)
*A stone with a rabbit painted on it.
*A squishy stress ball in the shape of a pig
*A tube of Nutrogena hand cream
*A bottle of eye drops
*A sample tube of Elizabeth Arden 8 hour cream (horrible stuff - feels like glue, smells of cough mixture. Never worked out what it’s for.)
*A spray bottle of rescue remedy
*Five books
*Three CDs
*A zip up pouch full of minidisks (the player is long defunct)
*A green matchbook from a posh hotel
*A plastic box full of foreign coins
*An empty biscuit tin in the shape of a milk churn
*A small, pink, wooden tortoise with a wobbly head (present from Belize).

I should really start hefting some of it into the bin now, but to be honest, I can’t be arsed. Same old story.

Thursday, August 04, 2005


I went around to the home of one of the BF’s friends last night. We drank a couple of cans of Stella, and reduced a couple of reefers to ash. We giggled alot, and it was good. In the course of the evening I accidentally let out something that no-one knows about me, and in the process realised how utterly deranged it made me sound.

So here goes. My confession: garden gnomes make me extremely uncomfortable. I would go as far as to say they make my skin crawl.

I could start with the obvious wrongness of gnomes; their pointy red hats, and rosy cheeks, their innocent looking beards, and false cheery grins that hide a flinty glare. And lets face it, if you were forced to dress up like a cross between Santa Claus and a leprechaun, and spend all day with snails crawling up your trouser legs, you’d look flinty too.

And the fishing rods! God only knows what they use those for when your back is turned. Judging from the general quality of most garden ponds, it certainly isn’t for fishing. One moment of inattention, and you could be minus an Achilles tendon, like that scene in Pet Sematary, where the evil undead child hides under the bed with a knife.

When I was much younger I was in hospital for a while, and I read a story in one of the various comics about a family who moved into a house where the inhabitants kept inexplicably disappearing. I’m still mystified as to why people would do that – don’t they read books? - but that’s beside the point.

It turned out that the evil, red-eyed hell-gnomes in the garden were turning them all into other evil, red-eyed hell-gnomes, and they were going to take over the world, at night, when everyone was sleeping. Of course, no-one suspected the cheery looking little fellas until it was far, far too late, and they had gathered around the bedsides of the slumbering children, muttering satanic incantations. Nightmares, I had, for weeks.

So, garden gnomes are a big no-no for any garden, as far as I'm concerned. I just don’t want to wake up eyeball to eyeball with one that has crawled through the cat flap and is sitting quietly on the end of my bed, wishing me ill.

Perfectly reasonable, no?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Love and worry

Every weekend, halfway across the world, my baby sister drives to an airfield somewhere in Victoria and jumps out of a plane at 14,000 feet.

Skydiving is not something I have ever been tempted to do. Frankly, the very idea of it makes the back of my head feel unpleasantly tingly. I know, with absolute certainty, that I would do two things – crap myself, and then pass out. And that’s if they managed to shove me out of the door. I prefer to get my kicks from seeing the world at a level where gravity won’t try to kill me.

My sister, however, loves the fact that she can fly. You don’t fall, she says, you soar. You can turn, twist, push yourself in different directions. And if you’re lucky, your ‘chute will open, and all will be well.

I’ve never really worried in a big way about her new career aspirations. I want her to be happy, and skydiving indisputably makes her so. I’m also very, very proud of her. I know that it’s actually very safe, and she has a license, so I must assume that she is relatively skilled.

However, this weekend, a close friend of hers was involved in an accident at the ‘drop zone’, and fell all that distance to his death. I can’t try to imagine what a terrifying, panic-stricken fall that must have been. I don’t even want to think about how long it takes you to drop 14,000 feet, let alone to do it knowing that your velocity is terminal.

When my father died, the worst torture, was, and is still, not knowing whether he knew what was happening to him. When I think about it, which is rare these days, I fancy that it was over quickly, and that he didn’t realise; even so, very occasionally I have waking nightmares in which I see his terrified face. If my sister has any kind of accident, the likelihood is that she’ll know what is going to happen, and I find that very hard to bear.

I want to cosset her up in cotton wool and make her stay on the ground, where she’ll be safe, but even could I do that, it would make her unhappy. In any case, I wouldn’t want to impose my (entirely rational) fears on her. She is shocked and very sad, but undaunted, and perversely this fills me with admiration.

Ah well. As my Mum so wisely says, at least she hasn’t taken up rock-climbing: no parachutes when you fall.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Panic Stations

There are 39 days until N-day, and all of them are full.

There simply isn't enough time to get everything done, and to see everyone I need to see, to speak to everyone I need to speak to.

My brain is so full of panic that I can't think straight. I can't articulate at work because the voices in my head keep saying "Only 5 and a half weeks to go!", and I find myself staring into the middle distance, trying to remember what on earth I was saying about Ethiopia.

There's no way I'm going to have enough money. I'm going to take far, far too much stuff. I'll turn up at the airport looking like a bargain basement version of one of those wealthy people who check into first class with 500 matching pieces of Louis Vuitton luggage.

My new tent is enormous. I was assured it would be tiny, but it most definitely isn't. It's light, but huge. Can't possibly fit it in my baggage, let alone take it anywhere once I'm there.

I don't have any jumpers - the one thing EVERYONE keeps telling me I have to take. Perhaps I can raid my Dad's Edinburgh Woollen Mill collection, some of which my mother still hasn't got rid of. I could spend winters in Namibia modelling a fetching collection of outsized, garishly patterned woollens with plastic patches on the elbows. At least I wouldn't need any gloves.

I keep having waves of nausea and stomach churning panic. Every time I add something to my to do list, my innards work overtime, and I have to run to the loo. At least at this rate I will have lost a bit of extraneous weight.

In short, I'm in a bit of a state. I don't know why, as I've lived abroad before. I'm not normally like this.

I need help.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Queer as Folk

I learned five things this weekend:

Smoking is bad for you.
Children get up very, very early, particularly when camping.
Children never shut up, ever. Not even when they’re talking nonsense outside someone else's tent.
People really ARE nice, and do hand expensive digital cameras into the police without taking photos of their own arses first.
Music shops in close proximity to bars = a bad thing for my bank account.

I’m also feeling a little fragile.

This could have something to do with the fact that I spent the last four nights drunk as a skunk, in a tent. Last night, being the last night of the Cambridge Folk Festival, was a mass of parties across the campsite. Unfortunately, because I was consistently inebriated between Thursday evening and Sunday lunchtime, I reached saturation point, and had to go and lie down.

As a result, I’ve had about two hours sleep. And my nose is still tender from when the BF head-butted it during the ceilidh. In fact, all of me is still tender from the ceilidh. My calf muscles will never be the same again.

I also spent £80 I don’t have on a tiny rosewood piccolo. Admittedly it’s gorgeous, and I can take it with me easily. I’m sure the Namibians will be delighted to hear me rouse them from their Sunday morning slumbers with a fine rendition of a slip jig in a register that will make all the neighbourhood dogs yowl. A fine choice on my part. I should have listened to the BF when he told me to buy a recorder instead.

The music was great though. My very favourite was the woman from Ely Folk Club who sang a song called ‘Car Sick Blues’ in a painful throaty howl. In fact, she was so good, that we all had to leave immediately because we would have hated her to think that she was the cause of our uncontrollable mirth.

Truly, sarcasm aside, there are some phenomenally talented people in this world, and a great many of them were gracing the stages at the festival, playing all kinds of things, from Bouzoukis to Northumberland pipes, squeezeboxes to banjos, and singing in many, many voices.

A fine weekend was had by all, and I even danced wildly and drunkenly to the Proclaimers.

What more could a girl want?
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