No roses. But, ‘I’m ok and everything is going smoothly’

I just looked in the mirror.  A mistake.

I’ve not been up long – given it’s lunchtime. I slept really late. Later than at any time in the last 35 years or so, I reckon. And now I look as if I didn’t sleep a wink.

But, even at half past nine, this sloth was reluctant to face the day.

I grudgingly switched on the kettle, then padded down the hall to my study and fired-up the desktop.

The kettle boiled. I made tea. Took a biscuit from the tin, for dunking – well, why not?

Picked up the two newspapers I didn’t hear delivered before eight. Realised, too late, I should have cancelled one.

Sitting in bed – come on, it is the weekend – I began to read ‘my’ paper, but felt a kind of nagging worry, squatting behind my eyes like an evil sprite.

Then I remembered.

I sprang – sort of – out of bed and hurried back to the desktop.

You see, the reason I slept so late was – I was awake late. Not because I was partying, nor reading a gripping novel, nor watching an enthralling film – but because it’s been three days without an email from Archaeo-Man.

He’s off doing a pilot study.

It began well. He arrived to find his bedsit had a working shower, electricity and wi-fi.

Two days, two nights, several emails – and even a blog post* – later, I settled into communication complacency.

Oh, great nations of Africa! Let me never be complacent.

He’s in Ghana.

We were there for a week, two years ago, around this time. I loved what (little) I saw. Which is what enabled my imagination to run not quite riot, but certainly peaceful protest, with possibilities for the silence.

No wi-fi was the obvious reason. But others lurked.

A car crash (the traffic’s horrendous – and there was a casual, emailed remark about driving on the wrong side of the road).

Arrest (it’s happened before).

Sudden illness … and so on.

This morning there was a two-line email.

‘I’m ok and everything is going smoothly.’

Mains power’s been off three days. No wi-fi.  But he’s fine. And, in line two, remembered it was St Valentine’s Day. Which is more than I did.

We used to buy each other pink roses when we lived in London. Delicate, just-after-dawn pink, not peachy.

These days, if things are getting me down, a box might arrive, sent by first class post from the Scilly Isles. In it, 50 fragrant winter narcissi, or scented summer pinks – gillyflowers, to use my favourite of their names. Their perfume’s just plain blissful.

But I digress.

I had to laugh at myself, once today’s email had arrived.

Worrying? After three days? Ha!

In 1993 we took a trip to Zambia. Archaeo-Man found a site worth excavating. Went back  later (without me). For three months. Camping.

No phone, no email.

Airmail letters, written as if under a microscope to maximise use of the limited space, would arrive after two – even three – weeks. Delicately crumpled, the blue paper would be dappled with charcoal smudges. Looking like it’d been trodden on, or carried in a soft sack for a long, dusty distance. Which it probably had.

The stamps told stories. The dust told a story. The creases told a story. And the letters told several.

After a while, Archaeo-Man learned there were two telephone numbers in nearby Mumbwa (shudder, one place in Zambia I really don’t like). He found he could use the one that worked, in the Post Office, to receive calls. Sent me the number, asked me to ring each Saturday morning, nine o’clock their time, eight o’clock mine.

Sometimes it worked. A hurried conversation would ensue, subject to irritating echoes and time delays. The satellite had a bossy recorded voice to tell us when it didn’t want to connect us – but terminated our calls in an arbitrary, silent way, as if to say, that’s enough, I’m bored.

Sometimes the Post Master would have a really good Friday night and I’d sit there, at eight o’clock, ringing, ringing, ringing … to no reply. The Post Office was shut till the hangover abated.

I’d be left with a long, long Saturday – and a long, long wait till the next one.

In Mumbwa, Archaeo-Man would head back to his ramshackle camp, termite-ravaged sacks of soil samples and regular visits from Harry the policeman. And the jackal.

I’m not sure the erratic availability of that phone helped. But once the possibility was there, we couldn’t ignore it.

And now?

I’m lucky. Being by a landline all day I’m not addicted to a mobile. I see polite people suffering withdrawal jitters when they put away their phones for half an hour. There, but for the grace of working at home, go I.

One day we may have permanent connections implanted in our brains. And then who will daydream? Or become bored and find something interesting to do, or read, or think about?

Whose brains will be free to create, invent, imagine?

The expectation of communication is its own problem. We can, ergo, we expect. And do.

But I still remember that cranky satellite. And I imagine what would happen to the world if a solar flare put out our phones and emails and …

You can have too much imagination.

Some Amaryllis I grew this winter - just to cheer up the post this St Valentine's Day

Some Amaryllis I grew this winter – just to cheer up the post this St Valentine’s Day

*If you’d like to find out more about what Archaeo-Man’s up to here’s his blog site:

This entry was posted in Ghana, Thinking, or ranting, or both, Travelling and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to No roses. But, ‘I’m ok and everything is going smoothly’

  1. EllaDee says:

    Errghhh… those projections of imagination should be enough to curb my enthusiasm for reliable communication. But, I’m somewhat of a worrier. If the phone doesn’t answer or the ute appear when it should the mental beads start to click. Given the vagaries of coverage, mobile phones and men, I know it’s irrational. The G.O. has worked away in circumstances where mobile phone coverage involved him driving for kilometres across the property to find the one hill it graced. It’s during those times I find it hard to daydream and create, and all too easy to invent and imagine the worst possible scenarios. I have no idea how I’d cope in your circumstances, but I can see that you do and I know I would to, although there’d be tears… how did I get to be such a sook at times…
    And a romantic… perfumed flowers by first class post from the Scilly Isles… any Isles… anywhere… ahhh lovely. But the Amaryllis are stunning -they have your name in their name- such quirky connections appeal to me! ! We have their cousins Hippeastrums growing in our garden, and they steal the show.
    Have a lovely day. I’m pleased the 2 line email made it way through the ethers. Otherwise it would have felt like a very long one.


    • I worry like mad whenever anything goes remotely wrong – and so often being Africa it does! BUT there’s nothing much I can do usually. Sometimes there is and a frantic round of phone calls and emails ensues. I should be used to it by now… One day when we lived in London I just knew something was wrong when he didn’t answer the phone – in the end, despite everyone telling me it was fine, I left work, went home, to find he’d been locked out and in – between the flat door (keys behind door) and the front door – no way into the flat, no way out of the house – and had been there for hours desperate to pee! We only had the one set of keys.. I got a coat hanger from a nearby grocery shop (they offered me an axe first!) and pushed it through the letterbox and he managed to get the keys out of the lock of our flat, onto the floor and pull them out… Anyway, thank you, the email did help a lot – I get like a rabbit in the headlights when worried and can’t quite concentrate. And today’s a beautiful sunny day which makes it difficult to even think of writing when it’s been so miserable for so long. Self-discipline is not my forte! Oh – and the anaryllis are hippeastrum I think. Gorgeous blowsy things! We have to grow them in pots indoors.


  2. Elizabeth S Ferguson says:

    HI MARY , just read your latest ,love it , you do write well !! Though I think you know that . When does he get back ? Half term here but I think we just have Espen and Ned on Weds. Hope all well will ring maybe today !! Adrian back from Mozambique and Zoe has finished work til she starts again in London X Liz


    • Hallooo! Lots of pics from your lot on FB today. He’s not away as long as usual – will tell you more when we talk. Write well? Always insecure, you should know that, always good to be told! xx


  3. Judy Barnes says:

    SOO glad you heard,albeit briefly.If only the running-wild-imagination could be harnessed and channelled into three more chapters….
    We also have a huge amaryllis(interesting that Mary is in there along with ‘allis’)which we enjoyed on the 14th;our 33rd wedding anniversary on the 13th took precedence,as always.Then of course,the Paul Barnes 30th event which was a great day.He was beyond thrilled with a small box containing a priceless treasure.


    • Thanks Judy – it does drag me down when I don’t know what’s happening- I guess you know the feeling! Thanks for your mid-bake call, very good timing. And yes, three chapters. Hmm. Have had a good afternoon buying 2 books on the 70s and listening to Johnny Walker on R2 playing 70s songs – research!! (Though good job I was driving when Nilsson’s ‘Without you’ came on – so many memories and so few of them good!) But I’d begun to feel I needed the background sorted out properly so I could carry on without thinking about it. I’m so glad Paul enjoyed the chip of stone and big congratulations on the wedding anniversary 🙂 ooh Van Morrison on now Bright Side of the Road. Ah, that’s better!


  4. John Kemp says:

    Ah yes, those blue air-letters, I remember them well. In contrast, a cartoon seen recently: a crowded street, everyone with a mobile phone clapped to their ear; one of them says “Great app! It shows you the pavement in front of you so you can see where you’re going;”


    • Brilliant! And you never know, someone might just do it…
      I sent you an email but have new email addresses (yes, plural) and my messages seem to be going into everyone’s spam folders so if you haven’t got it have a look and see if it’s there. It was just to tell you about the Ghana blog address but you may have found it at the bottom of this post. Did you see the black mamba post I did? Some rock art pictures in that one that I haven’t used before I don’t think. Losing track … M


  5. mud4fun says:

    Great post!

    Actually I was rather hoping that a solar flare would knock out all the comms and return us to a simpler life even for just a day or two 🙂


    • Sadly I think a day or two would be a massive understatement of the likely impact of a solar flare that knocked out the comms satellites – more like, panic buying as everything runsout thanks to just-in-time delivery, all the lights going out, water not being pumped, generators running to keep hospitals functioning, looting of shops … but then I am a bit of a pessimistic optimist. I did read somewhere that new under-ocean cables were being laid. Perhpas I’m not the only one who worries!


      • mud4fun says:

        LOL, I’m not sure we would be too affected directly as our house runs off a coal fired Rayburn so we’d still have hot water, cooking, heating and clothes drying. The Land Rovers have zero electronics on them so they’d be OK. Sadly as you say it is all the things that we need to buy such as food and fuel that would be the problem. Even down to the fact that all our money is in the bank and these days we pay for everything by card which requires a comms link to verify the transaction. I’m assuming government agencies must have simulated such a disaster as it is a very real threat. Not sure in reality how much would be knocked out by just the loss of satellites though? I suspect there is a bit of exageration going on in the media. While we think that we live in a society totally reliant on communication technology the reality is that most day to day essentials of life are not affected by it – especially in a rural society. I guess the biggest problem is food re-supply chains that are based on electronic stocking/ordering systems but most go via landline comms anway?


        • I think it’s the loss of the internet that would be the big issue now – so much is done via that and so much of it depends on comms satellites – like telemetry in all sorts of essential industries like power. Cash machines – indeed. Plus people rush out and buy everything at the least hint of a problem and keep on doing it so the shelves are never stocked and the vulnerable are worst affected. And if comms lines were down then cards wouldn’t work in shops either. Air traffic control? Eeeurgh scaring msyelf! Like you I hope there have been simulation exercises and rigorous international planning. Hope. I took part in a couple of disaster planning exercises in the water industry with local government – somewhat unnerving – but at least they happen and there are procedures in place. Is your water from a well or a borehole? Think of those water treatment works… 🙂 We happen to have a small well in our tiny garden and a small-ish filter thing of the kind used by diaster relief agencies in a drawer somewhere – just in case. It was meant for use in Zambia but has not been used in earnest so here it is. Several stints looking after as many as 24 people in the bush in Africa and cooking over an open fire has made me reasonably resourceful on that front!


  6. mud4fun says:

    We use mains water but we do have a proper spring fed well in the garden, all cleaned out and ready to use in an emergency. 🙂 It goes ten feet down into a gravel bed, the water that feeds it is crystal clear and freezing cold! (I had to stand in the well to clean it and my toes where freezing through my boots despite it being a boiling hot summers day. I just need to get the filters sorted out for drinking. We currently only use the well water for watering the vegetables etc. I quite fancy putting a fixed filtration/pumping system, 12v powered, feeding a spare tap in the house.

    Our company does simulated disasters regularly, in our case simulating a terrorist or natural disaster at one or more of our data centres. The idea being that all our systems will ‘fail over’ to a different location with minimal loss of data or service to our customers. The data centres are at widely different locations in the UK and use completely different commincation lines, hardware and service providers to ensure the highest levels of fault or disaster tolerance. In theory it means that all the infrastructure in the south could be wiped out by a Nuke, Terrorist or major natural distaster and the Northern systems would remain online 🙂

    All UK banks and major organisations operate similar contingency planning hence the reason why I feel the media often exagerate. Sure it would be highly inconvenient to be without internet or mobile but I don’t think it would be the doomsday event that some would have you believe.


    • Good, that’s fine then, glad to hear you’ve got it under control! Our well water is not crystal clear but I think that’s partly to do with it probably never having been cleaned. Now where’s that ‘to do’ list …


  7. charliebritten says:

    I do so identify with this. A few weeks ago, my son went off the radar in Morocco, ‘volunteering’ (not working and getting paid) for a music festival which I didn’t even know the name of. He left behind in London a girlfriend who I didn’t know well enough to ask for her number. He returned, thank God, emailing from Mohammedir Airport and wondering what all the fuss was about. Now he’s staying with us (although actually at this minute on a train back from London) but off to the Amazon in a couple of days. Glad your story ended as well as mine!


    • Ooh crikey, Charlie, that’s scary! And off to the Amazon next? Boy, your nerves will be frazzled (again) by the time he gets back! I think the way we’ve all become used to being in touch all the time just makes it so much worse. You could always write about it – it kind of helps, for a little while… But maybe the odd glass of wine would be more calming!


Thanks for reading, please comment if it struck a chord

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.