My friend, Louise, claims that the first sentence she heard me utter was when I asked my mother if she’d ever tasted the wax in her ears. I must have been sticking a grubby little finger into one of mine and testing it myself. Louise, a well-brought up and confident child, was sitting next to me in the backseat of my mother’s Peugeot 504 heading to Mvurwi, the farming district in which I lived. I was a uniformed boarder going home for the holidays. Louise, a day girl from Harare, was catching a lift to our neighbors. We were both about ten-years-old, and we were both on our way to Pony Club the following week.

Louise, on her beloved Ocean Beach in New Zealand.

That’s where we became friends. We bonded over horses. Louise with her bombproof strawberry rhone called Huckleberry Finn; me with my bay Connemara-cross-Thoroughbred called Jerik. Both horses were unstoppable. As was Jitterbug, a highly-strung horse of ours Louise later borrowed after Huck died. Jitterbug loved slamming on anchors at every ditch he approached, almost as a lark. We rode bareback through crops and jumped water troughs in cow paddocks (or I did because Jitterbug always refused). We fell off. A lot. We built jump courses together, rode cross-country, paperchases and gymkhanas. Attending the same high school in Harare, together we took riding lessons with Monty Swan, a slip of an Englishwoman with disproportionate lungs, who made us jump six-foot garden hedges in and out of her riding arena.

Louise and me with Annelies Finaughty, who we met up with on her recent visit. Together we attended Pony Club and riding lessons throughout our childhood. It was our first reunion since high school.

As teenagers we always had fun. I remember little sadness, except once, when I started crying in the bath because I was so afraid of dying. Louise came to stay on the farm nearly every school holiday, and fancied my wild eldest brother, James. In our last year at high school we made a commitment to be each other’s bridesmaids when we married, with her declaring I’d be the first to succumb at the age of twenty-two. (She was the first at the age of twenty-four, and it wasn’t to my brother, much to her parents relief.)

Louise chose Bruce instead, and while they settled into parenthood on a new farm, I crashed into a journalism career that allowed me to sate my deep-seated restlessness. While Louise grew a dynamic business creating sculptures out of scrap metal, alongside bringing up three children, I ran from continent to continent searching for the inner contentment Louise always embodied. When she moved among a new set of young parents building lives together we didn’t see as much of each other, but we never lost our bond. When she and her family had their farm stolen in Zimbabwe in 2002 and moved to New Zealand; when I lived in London and America, fighting for non-violent democratic change in our beleaguered country from which I was banned that same year, we never lost our bond. The more challenging our lives, the closer the bond.

Louise with Black Dog on Ocean Beach in New Zealand, where we celebrated my birthday in October, 2012.

Louise, with Bruce and their 22-year-old daughter, Sophie, recently came to stay with us. They visited just days after Chris and I decided to marry. When I broke the news, Louise was ecstatic. We organized a celebratory “prenup party” so she could play a part in our wedding before returning to New Zealand, and we dressed up in honor of our early bridesmaids’ commitment. Louise made a speech, which she ended by announcing a long-held secret that together as young women we’d practiced signing our signatures with new married names, and I’d written mine as Annabel Aston. I nearly died right there.

Louise and I have led such different lives. Yet, while she’s watched me fly and crash, recover, take off, fly and crash, again and again, only to find love and contentment a lot later in life, Louise has always stayed the same. Grounded, quirky, strong, creative, funny, generous and fiercely supportive. A balancing rock. A friend like no other.

Bruce and Louise celebrating our engagement on their recent visit.

Annabel Hughes Aston is a writer and an award-winning chef in Livingstone, Zambia. She is the creator of "bush gourmet" cuisine.


  • Such a wonderful and fitting tribute to Louise, and to your long-standing and loyal friendship. Beautifully written, Bella – really lovely and so touching too. I’m so glad that Louise remember your “pretend” wedding signature – how amazing is that?!!!! Much love, Kate xxxxxx

    • Thank you so much, Kate! You’ve been a witness to much of it, and such a close friend to us both. Lots of love to you … xo

  • Wow! What a wonderful way with words you have that girl from Mvurwi, and what a wonderful way to use your gift 🙂

    • So much gratitude, Katherine! I really do appreciate your interest and support. 🙂 All the best to you, Annabel

  • A great post. Nothing quite like childhood best friends. The connection is always there. Some how even more so when so many of us are scattered across the globe.

    Congrats on your engagement. May you have many happy years together.

    • Thank you, Gill … as always. You are so right. While we shall always be connected, I miss my old friends far and wide. The distance between us is a derivative of Zimbabwe’s political turmoil. 🙁 So hope life is good for you. All the best, Annabel

  • What a lovely lovely piece of reminiscence Bella! As soon as your and Chris’s much awaited nuptials are done and dusted, get on with an autobiography, to delight and entertain us all ! Your capacity for humor and laughter throughout your “fly and crash” episodes has always been a beguiling quality. Wishing you and Chris the very best of everything for a long and happy future together xox

    • I love you and THANK YOU! Always! Nothing more to be said … xoxoxo

  • A lovely read. Congratulations Annabel

    • Thank you, dear Jacqui … lots of love to you. xo

  • I’m so glad Louise could be there with you for at least part of this important time!

    This lovely tribute reminds me of the time Louise was stopping through Bluemont during our Bluemont Fair. Anthony had not met her yet, and I told him to look out for someone (among the thousands of people crowding our little village) who reminded him of Annabel. He just laughed, assuming that was an impossible assignment. But sure enough, he knew her as soon as he saw her!

    • I remember you telling me this story at the time. It’s terrific! Louise and Bruce loved their time in Virginia. I was especially happy they managed to fit in a quick trip to Bluemont, even though I wasn’t there any longer. Thank you, Cyn! xo

  • What a wonderful story Annabel. Could almost “feel” it all happening. Long may your beautiful friendship last and congratulations to you and Chris on your engagement.

    • Thank you very much, Eva. I am so lucky to have both these lovely people in my life. All the best to you, Annabel

  • Oh Annabel, I’ve met so many of our mutual friends on my current gap year… then Chris in Harare by magic, Louise too in Harare by design and then on the glorious Vic Falls Bridge by chance as she, Bruce and Sophie were walking over the raging Zambezi on their way to you! Lovely to read your reminiscings and could not be happier that you will amazingly be able to sign Annabel Aston at last! Just sorry you were the one that got away…on this trip anyway xxx Virtual hugs will have to do xxx

    • What a wonderful comment, thank you, Sally! I followed your intrepid Gap Year trip with fascination and envy. And yes, I’m sorry we never had the chance to reunite after all these years. Wishing you much luck and happiness as you acclimate to “normal” life once again! Lots of love … xo

  • Wonderful! And best wishes.

    • Thank you so much, Michelle. 🙂 Hope you are enjoying your summer!

  • Goodness, words fail me, but not you. All is true, we are lucky to have such a strong history together, through thick and thin and that is what true friends are all about! You are such an unusual gem and it is splendid to see you and Chris in wedded bliss! Bless you, my special friend indeed. Louise xxxx

    • Thank you so much, Louise. Relieved and happy you are safely back in chilly New Zealand! We’ll be raising a glass to special absent friends tomorrow at our celebratory lunch. Lots of love to you, always … xo

  • Well this made me quite tearful i have to admit. So wonderful to chat Annabel and I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am that you two are together. Good things come to those who wait. My God, I hope no one remembers how I signed MY name all those years ago …….xxxxx

    • Thank you for your lovely comment, Flip. I feel so very blessed for all the wonderful friendships I’ve had throughout my life, which of course includes ours! So much love to you … xoxo

  • […] porcupine quill pen gifted to us by our friend, Louise Stobart, to sign our marriage […]

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