Along for the ride:

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Burnt Soup & Memories of Africa

I went to visit Chief, yesterday. Here's his "Proof of Life" picture. He's happy as can be, in a much busier environment. I found him tethered with a front row seat of the action and a horde of teenage girls who couldn't wait to tell me that they're only part of his new fan club. 
I did ride Chief in a lesson, for old time's sake. It reminded me of my childhood when someone else had been riding my bicycle and the seat felt funny for a moment.
We have a new foster family member in the house. Cassie is a ten year old collie girl who has been loved her whole life. Unfortunately, her owners have fallen on hard times. Their future is uncertain so they did the best they could in signing Cassie over to us to be rehomed. This gentle soul is free of anxieties and psychosies. She walks around with a smile and a wag for everyone. She'll be a great companion for someone.
Yesterday afternoon, I left Cassie at home with The Artistic One. Knowing I wouldn't be back for several hours, I asked him to take her out for a potty break sometime befor he left to join me. That's not as simple as it sounds. We have a house with stairs down to the back yard and a dog with a history of having broken her leg, when slipping and getting hung up on just such open backed stairs. Cassie doesn't do stairs. This means leashing up and going around the house or across the street, to find some enticing lawn, on which to pee. The additional complication is that The Artistic One is  semi-disabled, with one leg much shorter than the other and the balance problems that have increased with age. "Please walk the dog" is not something I ask lightly. I couldn't ask TAO to go for a spin with a more rambunctious canine but Miss Manners (Cassie) is an exception, so he agreed.
After riding Chief, I headed for our business, to meet with G, whom we've known for decades and who is in a similar profession and needed samples of something we carry, that he does not. He has also lined up investors for several projects over the years and has a good understanding of the specialized aspects of our enterprise. I had mentioned to him that TAO needs to retire and that we're looking to sell to, or joint-venture with some new blood. He has someone in mind and wanted to chat more before making his presentation. TAO planned to meet us there at 5pm.
G visited, asked questions and then told us about his potential investors. He has two brothers in mind, who are looking to place some family money in America, where they grew up. He has known them since his school days. 
If there's one country that comes to mind when anyone starts a conversation about suspiciously large sums of money in need of a home, Nigeria has to be top of the list. Is there anyone alive who has not received letters, faxes and now emails from "Very Trustworthy" lawyers for, or descendants of Nigerian Generals or high placed government officials?
My parents lived in Nigeria for ten years, before I was born. My Mother flew home to England, gave birth to me at my Grandparents' house in Cornwall, then travelled back to West Africa with me, a six week old babe in arms; in the days when planes had visible whirling propellors and multiple refuelling and mechanical readjusting stops along the way; planned or forced.
I was three when the family moved back to Europe. I'm not sure how many of my "memories" are from those young days or from the home movies, flickering across the bedsheet screen that Dad would occasionally errect and we'd sit in the dark with the click, click, click of the projector in the background and listen to his and Mum's narration of life in Africa.
I know that I was a happy, chubby, blonde child in an inflatable paddling pool with a Nigerian Nanny who had her work cut out to keep me from downing fistfulls of red hibiscus flowers and dirt, that I could reach by leaning over the squishy side, uninhibited bare bottom skywards. Nanny was from Biafra. Those troubles hadn't started yet, when we left. Dad often wondered aloud what became of her. My parents had purchased a small shop for her as a parting gift but had no means of staying in touch.
Joey, our African Grey parrot, was a part of my childhood. He was very vocal; immitating phones, voices, dogs barking. He was also quite scary. Joey loved and trusted my Father, who had rescued him and brought him home from the marketplace. Joey's red tail feathers had all been pulled out to be used in JuJu magic. Joey did not like humans, other than Dad, with whom he would lie on his back, in Dad's hand, for tummy rubs and take food from between Dad's lips.
Real memories linger of playing on the living room floor and suddenly freezing as Joey alighted on my shoulder. His talons alone could be uncomfortable and he was not averse to nipping an ear, with that beak, strong enough to crush nuts. Our dachshund always made herself scarce when Joey was out of his cage.
Fast forward to 1978, when I was nineteen. My parents had left the rat-race and bought a general store and bed'n breakfast on the Cornish coast. Out of the blue, an old colleague of Dad's came in to buy a newspaper. He was on holiday and had no idea that he would find my Father behind the counter of a little shop, in a village that lived from tin-mining, fishing, farming and tourism.
A very short time later, Dad received a job offer to return to Nigeria for one last contract, as a consultant for the Nigerian Government; overseeing the construction of eighteen oil refineries, by a miriad of foreign sub-contractors. 
Anyone who has owned a small business knows that it's a lot more work, worry and time obligation than you ever imagined. I have a fridge-magnet that reads "The only thing more overrated than natural childbirth is owning your own business!" Truer words do not exist.
Dad didn't really want to go back and asked for some impossible terms, to deter them from wanting him. They accepted immediately. One of his conditions had been that he could bring his family with him, but you can't walk away from a business and suddenly leave it in the hands of strangers. I was working with horses in a Jumping Yard in Epping Forrest at the time. I gave my notice and came back to run the shop where I'd worked before and after school and during summer vacations in my early teens. Mum went to Nigeria with Dad for six months and then we traded places.
Landing at Lagos airport, skimming jungle, interspersed with plane carcasses, left over from the Biafran War; in a country that had no metal recycling industry, wrecks stay by the road or runway, wherever they expire. 
The arrivals area was my first experience of tropical heat and humidity, as well as of being a minority. Hundreds of dark black faces, bold printed clothes and robes and a few ex-pats with agents to guide them though and pay the ubiquitous back-dash bribes, in order to be reunited with luggage.
I received a Nigerian drivers' license, without ever taking a test. An agent went to pay off the appropriate authorities and voila! I only drove on Victoria island, the safe suburb, near Lagos, where we lived. If I went farther afield, I had a driver.
There are two many anecdotes from that six month period, when planning receptions and dressing for dinner were an important part of my daily life. This post has taken on a life of its own, as it is.
When it was time to return to the airport to go home for Christmas in England, I should have expected that the surprises were not all behind me. If you've ever been bumped from an oversold flight, you know how frustrating that can be. In this case, our plane came in from Kano and was already fuller than it should have been. As we waited in line to head out through security and cross the tarmac on foot to our waiting plane, it was obvious that such a crowd were never all going to fit on the plane we could see a few hundred yards away.
I was at the airport with a British nanny who worked for the British Ambassador and his wife, Candida. (Perfect name for the job:) We were with a group of Irish Lads, with whom we'd had some fun during our stay. I have to give them points for initiative. They opened the large windows and we stepped outside, followed by a steady stream of would-be passengers. The walk to the plane became faster and faster until we ran to claim a step on the boarding ladder. The simple system in place appeared to be "He who has his behind ensconced in a seat, when the plane is full, gets to fly home". We made it but there were people I knew, with valid tickets in hand who were required to disembark and try again another day.
When I arrived home from yesterday's meeting, I found our garage door wide open and, from outside, could hear the angry shrill of the smoke detector. TAO had started preparing one of hismagnificent vegetable  soups, that we portion out  and freeze for future consumption. Unfortunately, he'd turned the stove on high and left. Three hours later, the large cauldron of water had evaporated and leeks, carrots, potatoes, watercress and onions were blackened and nasty, odiferous smoke filled the top two feet of the house, from the ceiling down. I carried the offending pot into the garage, turned on the stove vent and began opening doors and windows. 
Cassie was upset. She's not keen on loud noises. She didn't realize she was lucky to be alive. When TAO came in I felt sorry for him for the loss of his soup, which he so looks forward to. He offered to take us out to dinner to compensate but I was a smelly mess of horse hair and residual smoke and couldn't abandon poor Cassie again that evening. 
We always have something edible in the house. It wasn't hard to come up with a meal, especially to feed one who wouldn't dare complain, for once. We had radishes, fresh egg pasta and ham with several glasses of wine.
I had a hard time sleeping last night. I'm not sure if it was Spring allergies or smoke inhalation but breathing was hard, even after a dose of antihistamine. I also had all the possibilities of selling our business and all the memories of Africa, that the conversation had evoked, trotting around behind my eyelids with heavy hoofbeats.




  1. Thanks for sharing these wonderful memories. Your childhood was certainly more exciting than mine.

    1. Stephen, I feel lucky to have had parents who lived outside the box.

  2. Wonderful story! Loved reading it. Definitely memories that will stay with you always...

    1. Rian, thanks. I hadn't thought about this for the longest time and then it all kicked loose:)

  3. You're definitely lucky your parents thought and lived outside the proverbial box. What a wonderful childhood and so many interesting memories.

    Cassie looks very sweet. She must be confused and wondering what's happening to her after so many years with her family. Hope she finds a great home. We always had collies growing up, my mother loved them as we did. Good luck.

  4. Grey Horse, the whole family, parrot and dog included, spent a year and a half in Holland too. Parrot learned Dutch, parents not so much:)
    Cassie settled right in. The thing about a dog who was loved is that she is not afraid and accepts love as her norm. She's got Happy Endings written all over her.

  5. Chief looks to be in his element!

    That was a brilliant way to grow up...

  6. Helen, You're right. It's good to know I no longer have to worry about Chief.
    The only down side to growing up in a family on the move was the repeated "first day as new girl, in school". Those memories linger also.

  7. With all of that going on in your head, no wonder you couldn't sleep. Horses. Nigeria. New foster dog. Selling the business. House almost burning down. Gosh, I hope you can let some of it go tonight & get some rest.

  8. Kerry, no complaints of boredom, that's for sure.

  9. What an interesting post. I'm tired from your adventures and can only imagine how tired you must be. Pleased Cassie is with you, you sound so kind.

  10. Lou, thank you. I hold kindness in very high esteem, probably as a reaction to all those "new girl", first days at school.

  11. I know that "caramelised" is the new buzzword in cooking ... but they probably mean in moderation .

    1. S&S, this would be a "blackened" menu item. I did redeem the pot though, so not a complete disaster.

  12. Wow! You've led an amazing life. No wonder you write so well. You have learned to express yourself in so many places, how could you not have mastered communication.

    Poor soup and poor AO. I've nearly been guilty of the same thing myself, but saved the soup at the last minute. It's one of those things you tend to set to cooking and forget about. Glad nothing more serious came of it.

    Cassie is a lovely girl. I hope she gets a super new home.

    1. Jean, one of the things I remembered in the night was that there was a dead body, in a dug-out canoe, at the beach one day. No one did anything about it. We picnicked and swam as always. How could I forget such a thing?

    2. Good grief!! Something like that would stick in my memory for sure. Just goes to show your life has been far more adventurous than mine.

    3. My only excuse, the number of years gone by..

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