Monday, March 28, 2011

Stands the Clock at Ten to Three . . .

If I had to name one major difference between my life in Zimbabwe and my present life here in Zambia, it would be this:  that here I feel I don't have enough time and that my life lacks an adequate structure that would enable me to have more time.  Some may say this is a natural consequence of having two young children and that I would feel this lack of time wherever I lived in the world.  But it is more than that: it is something to do with the way time is measured and the importance placed on it.
"For I have known them all already, known them all: /Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, /  I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;"  laments T.S. Eliot's Mr Prufrock, and although his song may suggest a certain weariness with the routine of life, it is this very routine that gave my life in Zimbabwe a sense of harmony and rhythm, however hard the situation became.
When I was pregnant with my first child, and regularly regaled with horror stories of motherhood and what was to come, one of the things I was told was that I would find myself making cups of tea which I never drank. This I found harder to believe than the assertion that at least twice in the first few months, I would find myself packing my bags and walking out the door, prepared to leave both baby and partner behind.
Of course, I'd never leave a cup of tea unattended, never mind not drunk!  But it happened!  Mug after mug was thrown away, cold, grey and undrinkable.  The good news is that it didn't last forever and soon I was back into my old routine. The same cannot be said of the period since my second child was born in Zambia two years ago.  Somehow I have never managed to get back into the rhythm of things and I drink tea randomly, sometimes being in too much of a rush to enjoy it, often forgetting I have made it altogether.
In my novel, This September Sun, the grandmother, Evelyn, has a great respect for tea: she lays a tray, she uses a teapot and cups and saucers, and, perhaps most importantly, she takes the time to drink a fine cup of properly brewed tea.  It is this respect for tea, and time, that Ellie notices is absent from her life in the UK: 'There such formalities have long disappeared from everyday life and a teabag in a mug takes its place, for no one has time for the leisure and appreciation of tea drinking.'  Yet even here in Zambia, in a country that borders Zimbabwe, does the world spin that much faster and no one has time to set trays or wait for tea to brew.
If there's one meal in the day I'd like to take time over, prepare for, savour and enjoy, it's not a three course dinner or a long lunch, but breakfast.  I love a properly laid table with a white cloth, white crockery, a proper pot for the marmalade (with its own spoon!), a toast rack, a small vase of flowers and a pot of steaming tea (with a strainer - no tea bags, of course!)  Unfortunately, reality is more often a quick bowl of weet-bix or muesli eaten while standing in the kitchen listening to the radio in the morning, and a mug of tea that somehow gets lost while children are dressed and washed.
In most work places in Zimbabwe, there is a tea break at ten in the morning; not so here.  Even my domestic worker rarely has a tea break, even though it is on offer.  And afternoon tea most definitely does not exist.  As a child, we had tea every day at four o'clock.  The mismatched Willsgrove seconds would be laid out on a tray with the Kango teapot and the woolen tea cosy.  There would be a plate of biscuits - Lobels shortcake were the best - or, if we were lucky, scones and jam.  We only used cups and saucers and teabags weren't available in Zimbabwe then, being as remote to us as sugar cubes.
Where did those days go?  And why don't we take the time to preserve such nicities, these rituals which make our lives so much richer and ironically only serve to stretch time, to make us feel we are enjoying it, not watching it fall through our fingers.  As poor old Rupert Brooke, mourning a changing England, once wrote: 'Stands the Church clock at ten to three?  And is there honey still for tea?'