Daughter 3 is in Tanzania with her boyfriend. We delivered them to Heathrow yesterday, they texted from Doha where they changed planes, and now they are in Dar es Salaam taking Swahili lessons. In a couple of days’ time, when they have mastered Swahili, they are heading off to the hills – and out of mobile contact – where they will spend some weeks in a remote village helping to build a school. They will reward themselves by going to Zanzibar afterwards.
The better half has been in bits about the whole thing, as has her mother (Daughter 3’s grandmother, my mother-in-law) on the grounds that Africa is full of danger. The people smile but cannot be trusted and even giraffes have off days when they turn on you. Daughter 3 lives in Manchester and her grandmother ekes out an existence in a vicious and lawless dictatorship, so I think – I hope – that their fears are exaggerated. As so often, it seems to me that survival comes down to a few simple rules. Don’t drink the water from the well. Don’t confuse the African elephant with his benign Indian cousin. Treat creatures that announce themselves as eels with caution.
Of course I have even less idea what Africa is like than Daughter 3’s mother and grandmother. My imagination combines The Just So Stories with memories of a business trip to Capetown. The great grey green greasy Limpopo River haunted my dreams as a child and still does. But I am very proud of her, and jealous; though the jealousy is mainly confined to the Zanzibar bit.
Last week I had lunch with Daughters 1 and 2 and the Granddaughter. It was Daughter 2’s birthday. We went on an impulse to the St John Bar and had delicious food. The Granddaughter, who is twenty months old, demolished a Welsh Rarebit with Worcester Sauce and I had a scoop of ice-cream flavoured with Dr Henderson’s Remedy, a hangover cure consisting mainly of Fernet Branca and crème de menthe. It was surprisingly tasty – though I doubt whether Walls will pick up the franchise. Daughter 2 revealed that when not deep-sea diving or addressing learned societies she had taken up climbing cliffs. She showed me a photograph to prove it. As a foolhardy activity I think it trumps going to Africa. Afterwards I wondered whether I should have urged her not to, but only briefly. For one thing it is none of my business. For another, if I used the tactics and decibels employed by Daughter 3’s grandmother to deter Daughter 3 I should have been barred from St John, and I should hate that.
My efforts to learn colloquial French continue. I discover that whereas the English consider that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, the French have no such preconceptions, although they will allow that you can’t teach an old monkey to make new faces. I pass this news on to the family pet, who would of course accompany us in our new life. He is mightily relieved. He is an old dog himself, and has been steeling himself to learn appropriate new tricks, such as how to treat creatures that announce themselves as eels, and how to procure a copy of whatever they have there by way of a newspaper and bring it home for the master of the house, grasped in his soft but moderately dry mouth, to accompany my breakfast. Were he received, on presenting himself at the newsagents, having mastered the colloquial French for ‘Guardian’, with a contemptuous ‘Bouf!’, he would I am sure become depressed.
Still reading Larry McMurtry’s Moving On.
William Byrd: the Complete Keyboard Works, played by Davitt Moroney. This is a seven-CD set to which I return often. It is astonishing, all-human-life-is-there music.
Handel’s harpsichord music played by Paul Nicholson. The Eight Great Harpsichord Suites.
Tricky’s Maxinquaye, which I lent to Daughter 3’s boyfriend and which he returned en route for Dar es Salaam. I hadn’t listened to it for years. It didn’t live up to my memories; but at the time it encapsulated an era, so I suppose it wouldn’t.
Rather a lot recently, unfortunately, but of the highest quality.
For lunch today we visited our friends Anthony and Evie and the better half made a Spanish picnic. We had gazpacho and then paella. I am proud to have contributed the mini-chorizos, bought (or, as we say now, ‘sourced’) from Budgens.
In order to assuage her complicated feelings about Daughter 3’s departure for Africa, the better half barbecued on their last evening four quite enormous steaks, one each for Daughter 3, the boyfriend, the better half and me. Afterwards one had the ruminative feelings appropriate to a boa constrictor that has just swallowed an aid worker.
Tonight we welcome our friend Mariana, who is coincidentally enjoying a temporary respite from the same vicious and lawless dictatorship to which the mother–in-law submits. She will be staying for a few days. Delicious smells waft up from the kitchen. The better half when I last went down was manipulating a tin which she had just opened and which contained a viscous white liquid. I asked her what it was and she said a chicken, so I suppose it is to be a surprise,