23 November, 2008

Childhood Days Part 8

My mum and dad had some friends who lived in the Central Region of Malawi. It was, in fact, not too far from Lilongwe (the capital) but may as well have been a thousand miles away considering how different it was. Bob & Mary (not real names!) lived on a tobacco farm, which was run by Bob.

©Catherine Beldon

Mary was a teacher at a school in Lilongwe, but went back to the tobacco farm at weekends and holidays. We used to go up and stay with them. For us kids (me and my cousins) it was great because they had a motorbike which they would let my mum take us on. Also, there was so much space around so we took our bikes. I think it was probably more fun for my mum and dad to stay with their friends, but we made sure we had fun too.

Bob took us to the drying sheds – where they hang the tobacco leaves after they’ve been picked. There are several ways of drying tobacco and in Malawi they hang the green tobacco up on strings in the drying shed over red hot pipes The smell of those sheds will stay with me forever. Every time I open a new packet of cigarettes I am transported back to the sheds and I remember the smell.
Tobacco counts for more than 70% of Malawi’s export income, and the worldwide limitations on smokers and tobacco products is severely affecting that income.
That’s why I smoke. I am doing my bit for humanity – keeping millions of people in work! OK, it’s not much of an excuse for a disgusting habit, but I’m sticking to it! It makes me sound as though I’m doing charitable works for others, when really I’m just ruining my health! Also, it's a great answer for when those ex smokers (who are much worse than those who have never smoked - with a few notable exceptions) nag me to give up!
Sounds good though.

Along with tobacco, Malawi’s other main export products are tea, coffee and sugar. The four products together make up more than 90% of the country’s export revenue.

As luck would have it, we also had friends who lived on a tea estate in the south called the Naming’omba Tea Estate in Thyolo (pronounced Cholo). We went down there quite often too! Our friend was the accountant for the tea estate. The company also owned a cottage on the lake shore, and we went up there regularly with them. It was the wife of this friend who broke her hip when we were staying there (see Childhood Days Part 5). We did visit a tea factory. After the leaves are picked, they are dried, rolled, fermented and dried again (for normal, black tea). Apparently, what falls on the floor during these processes goes into teabags, and the rest goes to make loose tea. Hmm, maybe those Tetley or PG Tips teabags ain’t that great after all eh, tea drinkers?!
We also used to go way down south to a sugar cane plantation. No, we didn’t have friends down there, but we used to go to a club where we had use of the managers’ swimming pool. I have no idea how my mum and dad managed that, but we had this massive, wonderful swimming pool to ourselves! It was fabulous, and the smell of molasses is another one I will never forget! The area around the pool backed onto the big river that runs through Malawi – the Shire (pronounced Shiray). It is a very big, very fast moving river, and is full of crocs and hippos. Luckily it was a very different colour from the pool, so there was no making a mistake – you’d get towed away by the current anyway if you fell in, unless the beasties got you first.
Sometimes we would get pieces of sugar cane, which were wonderful. Sweeties were not exactly common in Malawi, so the fresh, beautiful sweetness of the sugar cane was a real treat.
NB. Photographs not my own work.

Three things

A bunch of questions in groups of three.

01 Needles
02 Spiders
03 Hornets

01 Isla
02 Billy Connolly
03 Dara O’Briain

01 Isla
02 My dogs
03 Diet Coke!

01 Eggs
02 Eggs
03 Eggs!!!!

01 Maths
02 Watching Football
03 Watching Big Brother

THREE THINGS ON MY DESK: (apart from computer?)
01 Digital Photo Frame
02 Pen pot (with Labrador puppy on it!)
03 Candle

01 Watching I’m A Celebrity
02 Having a cigarette
03 Drinking Diet Coke

01 Visit Australia
02 Live in Scotland again
03 Have another baby

01 Play the flute
02 Speak French
03 Cook well

01 Honest
02 Semi intelligent!
03 Fun

01 A welsh accent!
02 Ride a motorbike
03 Watch graphic medical shows – yuck!

01 Joni Mitchell
02 The sea (or lake) lying in your bed at night
03 A fish eagle’s cry

01 French radio – dreadful!
02 Jonathan Ross
03 and to be very topical, Russell Brand (although he was great in St Trinians)

01 Roast Chicken
02 Steak and chips (with Roquefort or Pepper sauce)
03 Crunchie Bars

01 To play the guitar
02 relearn Italian
03 to become an RSPCA inspector

01 Diet Coke
02 Orange Juice
03 7Up

01 Mysterious Cities of Gold – great theme song too!
02 Button Moon – we’re off to Button Moon, we’ll follow Mr Spoon, Button Moon!
03 Playschool
04 Sorry, have broken the rule of three, but have just remembered Wacaday (Timmy Mallet was just singing the theme tune on I'm a Celeb, and it made me remember!

01 Lara
02 Joocey

19 November, 2008

Free Hugs

You may not know this but, according to Wikipedia (which I know is not always a reliable source) to day is National Free Hugs Day in the USA.

The Free Hugs Campaign is apparently a social movement involving people who offer hugs to strangers in public places. The movement was started in 2004 by an Australian man known as "Juan Mann". The hugs are meant to be random acts of kindness - selfless acts performed by a person for the sole reason of making others feel better.

When Mann started his Free Hugs campaign, it was initially met with wariness and disturst. Gradually though, more and more people began to accept these random acts of kindness, and other people began to spread the campaign by offering free hugs themselves. In October 2004 Mann was told by police that he would have to stop his campaign due to a lack of public liability insurance! He got together a petition of 10,000 signatures saying that his campaign did not need such insurance, submitted it to the relative authorities and was allowed to continue.

In 2007 Mann made his
Illustrated Guide to Free Hugs available as a free download.

The idea of hugging a total stranger is a complete anathema to us repressed Brits. We’re all too happy to keep our heads down and mind our own business. It all sounds a bit American and “happy clappy” to us, all these public displays of affection! Some people even think of holding hands in public as a PDA, and therefore not acceptable.

Maybe we should be a bit like America, and drop our guard a little. Lower our inhibitions, and become a little more open hearted. Even the strange people who hang around Harajuku in Tokyo are continuing the campaign.
If someone’s day can be improved by a hug from a random stranger, then that random stranger has made a difference, albeit a small one, in this world.

Go on – give someone a hug and let’s make America’s National Hug Day into International Hug Day.

You know you want to really!

14 November, 2008

Childhood Days Part 7

Not everything about living in Malawi was lovely. There were nasty things as well! Being Africa, there were various animals around that you wouldn’t want to step on in the dark, or in the light for that matter.

We had snakes. On the odd occasion that we came across a snake in the garden, the garden boy would deal with it. In my cousins’ garden there were black mambas – allegedly – none of us ever saw them, which was lucky because they are amongst the most venomous snakes in the world.

Some of the nastiest creatures were also the smallest. From reading another blog the other day I was reminded of the putzi fly (also known as, amongst other names, the mango fly). They lay their eggs in clothes hanging out to dry and upon contact with human skin the eggs hatch. The larvae burrow into the skin and develop into fully grown maggots if left to their own devices. The unfortunate human host develops multiple boil-like sores, usually on the backs of arms, around the waist, back or bottom. Once discovered putzis are easily removed. A dab of Vaseline followed by a good squeeze will do the trick. The Vaseline stops the maggot from being able to breathe and out it pops. The only way to prevent the hatching, and subsequent burrowing into the skin, is to thoroughly iron all items of clothing, including underwear, to kill all the eggs. So I always wore nicely ironed knickers and socks – bras must have been difficult to iron though! We all suffered from these now and again, due to insufficient ironing, and they were bloody painful! My mum had one once when she was still at school. She had been out to stay with her mum and dad in Tanga, in Tanzania, and didn’t realise she had a problem – putzi in the bum! - until she was on her flight home. She sat in acute discomfort for an incredibly long flight, and when she got back to boarding school her best friend squeezed it out. Now that’s what I call a good friend!

There were some massive spiders too, but not being a spider fan I don’t know what they were!

My mum and dad used to run the club at Chileka Airport – the airport serving Blantyre. It was great fun there because there was a swimming pool. Obviously for a while we spent quite a lot of time down there, and I swam a lot. I remember the pool well, because it was there that I was stung by a scorpion. I was only very small so I don’t remember it, but I was told that I cried for a long time!! Not surprising really.

To go off tangent a little bit, we used to have Christmas parties at Chileka club. Because Malawi is in the southern hemisphere Christmas was (and is!) in the dry season. All the children would be there, in and out of the pool. The club was situated next to the runway, and Father Christmas would arrive by aeroplane! It was very cool!

Obviously the nastiest insects are the mosquitoes, and all of us did have malaria from time to time, despite taking the anti-malarial drugs available at the time. None of us were ever dangerously ill, but it was bad enough.

As a result, none of us are eligible to give blood because we have had malaria. We’re not eligible to give blood in France anyway, because we are from the UK – the French don’t like British blood if you have lived in UK since 1983 because of CJD. Obviously French cows never got mad cow disease so they’re all safe – hmm, don’t think so!

There are no pictures to go with this post, because I thought that pictures of mozzies and putzis might just put you off reading!

13 November, 2008

Another Cheating Meme!

My ex...was sexy but a nutter
Maybe I should...Change my life completely and go home, even if only for a holiday
I love...IM, my family, my dogs and Diet Coke
People would say...Outgoing, confident, intelligent, honest, loyal, fun
But really...quite shy, not much confidence at all in myself, semi intelligent and hopefully fun!
I don't understand...Arty farty shit, people who like Amy Whinehouse, liars
When i wake up in the morning...I go back to sleep
I lost...My capacity for trust
Life is full of...shit, when you look at it. Life's a joke and that's the laugh it's true When you're feeling in the dumps, don't be silly chumps, just purse your lips and whistle, that's the key. And....(altogether now) always look on the bright side of life!
My past is...best forgotten!
Parties are...For drinking and catching up with friends, and maybe making new ones.
I wish...I could find Mr Right (or Mr OK for now would do!)
Dogs...I love dogs
Cats...I like cats
Tomorrow...I am NOT getting up early
I have low tolerance...for idiots - I get irritated very easily
If I had a million dollars...I would never live here!
I'm totally terrified...Of going deaf - I would hate to never be able to hear music again.

Right...I tag hmmmm...
Just me
Shakespeare's Housekeeper
Reluctant Memsahib

Winter warming

There's nothing better, on a cold and rainy day, than rounding up a lovely roast meal with a good, warming apple (or rhubarb mmm - god I miss rhubarb!) crumble is there? Served with ice cream, cream or custard it's just gorgeous! It's so homely and wintery! And it makes me feel all mumsy when I make it. Also, instead of the crystallised ginger etc mentioned in the recipe, I just put a little shake of ground ginger and ground cinnamon in the crumble mix.

See, I may just make domestic goddess one day!

Sorry but I don't know the measurements in kg - I must be the only person of my age to still use pounds and ounces, but that's how I learnt. It makes life dificult trying to buy new kitchen scales in France - and I really need some! The ones I have are crappy cheap scales, bought in Sainsburys ten or eleven years ago and aren't exactly what you would call reliable.

I suppose I'll just have to order some from Amazon. Thank god for Amazon!


Ooh, before I forget, we also had roast pork. If you live in France and like pork, go and buy some now because it is the time of year when it's really cheap. We bought a pack of six kilos today, which included a large roasting joint, about 12 good sized chops and some spare ribs for the grand price of €14, which isn't bad at all. Anyway, we had run out of Bisto - always a disaster - so I made Roquefort sauce instead which was gorgeous. For 5-6 people use one pack of roquefort (you can add more if you like it really strong), 600 ounces pouring cream and about 2 mins before serving a good dollop of crèmre fraiche to thicken it up. It was gorgeous!

11 November, 2008

Childhood Days Part 6

We used to go to Safari Parks now and again. Most of the time we’d just go on a day trip – it wasn’t too far (by African standards!) to visit the one closest to us – Lengwe National Park. It is extremely hot there, and because of this the water holes are few and far between, which makes it great for seeing plenty of wildlife. Not so great for the animals I suppose, but they seemed to thrive. Lengwe was full of wildlife - Nyala (apparently the furthest north that they can be found), warthogs, Impala etc. Once we went up to Kasungu, which is a big safari park. We stayed in Rondavels (little round chalets). There was one night I was fast asleep when I was woken by the most enormous racket. I thought it was my mum or dad snoring, but it turned out that the elephants liked to scratch their backs on the thatched roofs of the rondavels, and it was this I heard! There was one particular elephant – I think he was called Charlie – who was practically tame.
Our accommodation was self catering, which meant that we had to go to a kitchen in the camp site to cook our food. The kitchen was basic – in the extreme! One morning when we were in there cooking breakfast, when this long, grey trunk poked through the window to say hello – and presumably to see if we had any interesting leftovers! We had a pile of very soft tomatoes, so we hand fed them to the elephant, Charlie. He quickly finished all of them, so we gave him a couple of left over grapefruit. These too were deemed acceptable. Having cleaned us out of our leftovers he was less than impressed when we had nothing left to feed him. We managed to bundle his trunk out of the window, shutting it quickly. He put his trunk right up to the window, in the manner of a naughty child making faces against glass, and proceeded to blow his nose loudly against it! The window was now dripping in elephant snot! Lovely!

While we were still at Kasungu I befriended a little duiker. I don’t remember much about it except that it was very tame and I fed it Mexican flavoured crisps! No idea why I can remember the flavour, but he seemed to like them!

Whenever we travelled north through the country we had to go through a town called Liwonde, on the Shire River - the main river that runs through Malawi. We had to cross an old barrage bridge, and from there we could watch the hippos frolicking in the water, without a care in the world. Hippos are about the most dangerous creatures in Africa, bar the mosquito (in my opinion), but it was lovely to see them playing lazily in the water.

I never once considered how privileged I was to be able to grow up in such an amazing country, nor how lucky. It's only since I started this blog, and writing these memories of my childhood, that I've realised that really, I didn't have an ordinary childhood, and my life is much richer because of that.

NB. Photographs Not My Own Work

Petty Squabbling

Why is it (that a lot of my posts start like this?!) that men are worse gossips, and more inclined to be bitchy that us women, once they've got a few pints down their necks, or smoked a few too many?

One parti
cular example of this has been brought to my attention today. A friend of mine has been the victim of almost persecution by this one particular man who, not only has seen fit to broadcast his own feelings amongst other friends and acquaintances, but has also accused her of things she hasn't done. The worst part of it is that it is almost like Chinese whispers. This person said this, this person said that...petty and childish.

Part of the problem is that I am friends with both of them. My friend has had a tough time this year, and needs this particular problem like she needs a bad case of dysentery (ie. not at all). The other friend, who quite frankly at his age should k
now better, should have the courage to confront her face to face with whatever the hell his problem is.

If only people were a little more honest - to themselves, as well as to others. Then, just perhaps, they would be able to talk to people, to articulate what their problem is, and to perhaps find some common ground and compromise.

Then we wouldn't have had the scenario tonight of having a friend needing a shoulder to cry on. Not that I begrudge the shoulder, obviously, because I don't...that's what friends are there for - the good times and the bad. What upsets me, is that it was necessary in the first place.


I've not been much good at blogging over the last few days. I came across a new blog to read - Reluctant Memsahib. It's written by a woman who is a writer, living in the bush in Tanzania.

Some of the things she has written have reminded me vividly of my own childhood - despite the fact that she is in the bush and I grew up in a town.

It's made me feel sad for the experiences I wish I had had as an adult, not as a child. I never appreciated where we lived when I was small - it was just home. I wish I had lived there at the age I am now - just not now, in the present day, as the country is no longer the country in which I grew up.

None of this makes much sense, I don't think.

How can you feel homesick for two completely different places? One of which you don't remember that much about, and the other a freezing cold, very wet country going down the pan?

09 November, 2008

Childhood Days Part 5

Another amusing memory from going to the Lake in Malawi is the breakfast that my friend RP and I had once when we were staying at the British High Commission Cottage. We sat down for breakfast with our mums – no idea where the dads were, I think we had left them behind at work! We were given our drinks – orange squash. Now, it is hot in Malawi, and things tend to go off quite quickly, and I don’t think they put enough preservatives in the Sobo Orange Squash. We took one sip and almost spat it out. “It’s gone off” we said, in the whingey voices that only small girls can perfect. “Nonsense” our mothers said, fed up with us whingeing! “Drink your juice and eat your breakfasts without moaning.” We struggled on with our drinks, which were really revolting and tasted fermented. I told my mum this and she raised her eyebrows heavenwards, said “For God’s sake let me taste it then!” She took one sip, and gasped, “Oh my God – it’s Gin!”
It was a habit in this particular cottage to keep the boiled water in discarded gin bottles in the fridge. Obviously, a still full gin bottle had been put in the fridge, being mistaken for water! Our drinks were 1 inch orange squash, topped up with neat gin!

Our mums felt guilty all day for trying to make us drink gin and orange for breakfast, but I think they soon got over that as they frugally put it to one side to drink themselves that evening!!
Another time at the lake a friend of my parents fell and broke her hip. She was far from being a small lady, and one night she fell on her way to the loo. Her husband came to get my mum. I’m a bit sketchy on the details, but will fill them in later from my mum. Anyway, there was no decent hospital in Mangochi (nearest town to where we were), so my mum and my aunt (I think) drove her back down to Blantyre lying down in the back of an old Marina estate. She was doped up a bit, and not easy to manoeuvre, but they managed it. When they got back to her house on the tea estates down south they then had to set up traction for her. It had been explained by the local doctor how to do it! They found a pile of National Geographics to rest her leg on. Then they had to hang a weight from her leg – once the pain went the weight was right. So, they did it with a sack of potatoes, and when they had enough potatoes in the sack it stopped hurting! I think I’ve missed out a lot of this story, so will find out more details!
NB. Photographs Not My Own Work

08 November, 2008

Mamma Mia!

I saw this movie a few weeks ago in the cinema in Toulouse when my mum and I had to go into town and stay there all day for several reasons! Anyway, we decided to spend some of our time at the cinema as I had checked and knew that Mamma Mia was on. We found the cinema with no problems, and went to get our tickets. I didn't really know what sort of price to expect as the last time I went to the cinema here was about three years ago, and the last time I went in UK I think it was to see Braveheart - it really was that long ago! We got the tickets, and I was astounded to find out that it was only €5.90 each! That may have been because it was 11am Wednesday morning and in a small room of 43 seats, only 4 were taken!

I aboslutely LOVED the movie. Obviously the fact that I knew all the songs inside out helped, but I really loved how in some scenes they were bouncing around singing ABBA songs into hairbrushes and things - who amongst all of us girlies has never done that??!!

The stunning scenery helped too - it was sunny, bright, colourful and beautiful, and just watching makes you smile! If you watch carefully you can even see a cameo of Benny (from ABBA) as the bloke playing the piano on the jetty during Dancing Queen.

We watched it agan this evening, because my dad and Isla didn't get to see it last time. I loved it just as much, and could quite easily watch it time after time!

If you haven't seen it yet, buy it! It's released on dvd in UK on Nov 24th (I think), and is the perfect cure for a dull and cold winter's evening. If you've never liked ABBA, don't bother, but if you are a fan you definitely need to see it!

I sound like a movie reviewer!! Didn't mean to, but I really, really loved it!

05 November, 2008

A Meme

I know this is cheating, but I have nothing blogworthy today!

What are your nicknames?
- None now - an ex called me Kat, and at school I was called Basher because I was so good at rounders - honestly!!

What TV gameshow or reality show would you like to be on?
- Who Wants To Be A Millionnaire

What was the first movie you bought in VHS or DVD?
- I really can't remember, one of the first dvd's was Pocahontas for Isla.

What is your favorite scent?
- Ghost or Amor Amor

If you had one million dollars to spend only on yourself, what would you spend it on?
- A new car and a house in Scotland for me and Isla

What is one place you've visited, can't forget and want to go back to?
- Japan

Do you trust easily?
- I don't trust easily at all, been let down too often.

Do you generally think before you act, or act before you think?
- It depends really, most of the time I think before I act, but sometimes it's the other way around!

Is there anything that has made you unhappy these days?
- Loads of things that for one reason or another I can't blog about.

Do you have a good body image?
- Not really, but who does?

What is your favorite fruit?
- Pineapple

What websites do you visit daily?
- Daily Mail, Telegraph, Digital Spy, Compuserve Forums

What have you been seriously addicted to lately?
- Haribo Pico Balla sweeties - only available in Spain!

What's the last song that got stuck in your head?
- I Put A Spell On You (Bette Midler version from Hocus Pocus)

What is your favorite thing to wear?
- Jeans, casual top and boots

Do you think Rice Krispies are yummy?
- Only when covered in chocolate!

What would you do if you saw $100 lying on the ground?
- Durr - spend it of course! Mind you, I'd have to change it into Euros first, so it probably wouldn't be worth much!

What items couldn't you go without during the day?
- Phone, iPod, Diet Coke and Benson & Hedges!

What should you be doing right now?
- Sleeping - it's past 2am!

Homemade Chicken Soup With Dumplings

As the weather has been cold at the moment, and my mum is full of the cold we had home made chicken soup tonight. Soup is one of my favourite things to make as it's so easy, but so warming and filling once it is finished. Also, you eat quite a lot of your daily vegetable intake in one meal without even realising it!

To make it a more filling dinner we had dumplings with it. Soup and dumplings make such a good winter meal, especially when served with warm, crusty french bread.

04 November, 2008

Nice guys .vs. Bastards

Why is it that nice men get a raw deal from us women? What is it within us that makes us fall for the men we know will treat us badly?

I know several nice men – and they have all been treated really badly by women. Nice men are seen as “friends”. It’s the kiss of death for a bloke if a woman tells him he’s her best friend. He may be madly in love with her, but she will be pining over some bloke who he knows is going to hurt her and treat her badly before finally dumping her.

Why do we do it? Why can’t we see that the nice ones are actually the good bet. In my experience the drop dead gorgeous ones are usually bastards – and it is the very bastardness that makes them attractive, not the good looks. Because the nice guys can be good looking too – but lack that bastard quality that attracts the slavish and pathetic devotion that we are all capable of.

I have had a couple of nice guys in my time, and treated them really badly. I’ve had a few bastards too, and they have made me into a gibbering wreck – so I suppose the score is even! What I can’t work out though, is why couldn’t I see that the bastards were bad for me, and the nice guys were good for me?

Bastards are good for flings – if you are strong enough to not let yourself get too attached or even fall in love. Nice guys are good for long term relationships, or even life partners.

Maybe it’s a maturity thing, although I know people older than me who still fall for bastards.

Now, if only I could find myself that nice guy who must be out there for me somewhere.


I was talking to a friend of mine in Edinburgh this evening on MSN. He went to Big Jim's funeral today, and he said there was a massive turnout. Apparently alomst everyone he'd ever known was there, so I'm pleased about that. There was a lot of catching up between everyone obviously.

Colin did make it there, and I'm particularly pleased about that. My friend G said that it was great to see him. He'd got my message through his sister and really wanted to go.

I wish I could have been there, but feel that at least I let Colin know, and that in some small way he was there because of me and for me.

03 November, 2008

Le Vieux Chêne

Well I went out last night for dinner with a bloke I met last week in Toulouse. He works for Airbus (don't they all!), and he's a really nice bloke.

He had said he would like to come out this way to meet for dinner, so originally I was going to book the Pizzeria, but after a lot of thinking about it, I decided to book our local restaurant as it has new proprietors and they are trying really hard to make a go of it.

We met at 7pm, had a drink, and went to our table. The owners are great - M (the wife and chef) told us what was on the menu for the evening, and I ordered steak and chips - no surprise there then! She asked me if I would like the Roquefort sauce as she know I love it! It was gorgeous - I ate so much I couldn't eat dessert - anyone who knows me will know how rare that is!!

Anyway, we had a lovely evening, chatting all night, and he didn't leave until midnight, to drive all the way back to Toulouse. Poor bloke - I didn't envy him that drive!

He's away next weekend, but will try to sort something for the weekend after. Will keep you posted.

02 November, 2008

Date Night

I went on a date tonight.

Now that's got you guessing hasn't it!

Night night!