Wednesday, April 18, 2007



In his first bestselling memoir ‘Mukiwa: a white boy in Africa’ Peter Godwin described his childhood in Zimbabwe – or as it was then called, Southern Rhodesia – how he served as a conscript in the Rhodesian army and how he came to espouse the cause of a free, multi-racial, democratic state which came into being with ZANU winning the first open elections and Mugabe becoming Prime Minister. When a Crocodile eats the Sun is his second book of memoirs. The title, which may perplex people, is an African expression for a solar eclipse. Solar eclipses are thought to be very bad omens, and only occur when men have displeased the sun.

Godwin, who now lives with his wife and children in New York, returned to Zim when his father had a major heart attack (which he survived); and like many adult children of ageing parents, started to cope with the challenges of supporting and caring for them - always a tricky task - and made impossibly difficult by his parent’s refusal to leave the country they loved and considered their home.

Godwin’s parents, like my own, went to Central Africa in the immediate aftermath of World War II. They took with them skills, enthusiasm and determination to help their new countries grow and prosper. His mother was a doctor, and his father an engineer. Together they invested their lives in the country, raised a family there and were totally committed to making the new nation as successful as it could be. How hollow and tragic it all seems when they are left impoverished and in failing health. I found the book immensely moving, the writing often evoked my own memories so vividly that I had to stop reading. I was choked with feelings of rage and impotence that nobody in the West has tried to stop this awful madman Mugabe wreaking such havoc. To quote Godwin: "I feel like weeping. Weeping at the way Africa does this to you. Just as you're about to dismiss it and walk away, it delivers something so unexpected, so tender. One minute you're scared shitless, the next you're choked with affection."

The complete collapse of law and order, the land grabs, forcible evictions from farms so that they can be handed over to Mugabe’s cronies as political rewards, the shattered economy and the government fomented violence towards any who attempt to challenge Mugabe’s rule are vividly documented. Over two million Zimbabweans have fled, in the main the black middle classes, and who can blame them, indeed Peter Godwin’s mother is still managing a medical clinic well into her seventies because there are so few doctors left in the country.

What makes this book so much more than just a record of the willful destruction of a once prospering nation, is the personal story of Godwin’s father. To his amazement he and his sister discover that far from being the quintessential English colonial, his father is actually a Polish Jew whose mother and sister died in Treblinka, and who only escaped the same fate because he had been sent to England on a language course just before the Nazi invasion of Poland. The book begins and ends with Godwin preparing wood for the funeral pyre to cremate his father’s body. His father had particularly requested cremation, but in the chaotic and violent shambles that Zimbabwe has become, there was no fuel available to keep the single crematorium operating. To fulfill his father’s wishes, Godwin had to persuade the local Hindu temple to let him have a funeral pyre.

For anyone who is interested in Africa and its people this book is a must.


Arghhh….if I hear the word “issues” coming out of one more person’s mouth on TV, radio or anywhere else, I will go stark raving bonkers. Gender issues, race issues, identity issues, religious issues, political issues, educational issues, witness protection issues, and on and on and on.

The word has lost all original meaning and everyone in public life, and I do mean EVERYONE, seems to toss it around as though it makes whatever they are banging on about relevant and serious. In ten minutes of the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning I must have heard the word used a dozen times by different people. Then I started reading notes made by someone in the Metropolitan Police Service for a talk given to London Youth Magistrates and came across this bullet point which illustrates exactly what is getting me so aerated:

“Development of Diversity Issues relating to Gun, Gang and Weapon Issues.

What PRECISELY does that mean? Answers on a postcard please.

I have issues with “issues” …or should that be “ishoos”.
From hence forth, this blog will be an “issues” free zone.


As Monday night is always pasta night in our house, every few weeks we end up having Charcoal Burner's spaghetti, especially if my daughter happens to be at home. Ever since she was two-bricks-and-a-ticky high this has been her default pasta choice. In fact at our local family restaurant Capri it was the only thing she ever ordered for so many years that Luigi stopped offering her the menu and just brought a plate of it automatically; she has eaten it all over the world and considers herself an expert on the dish. It may be teaching grandmothers to suck eggs by posting a recipe, but we have had loads of arguements as to what should really be included in it and this is my version which I took from the excellent recipe book Pasta for Pleasure by Moyra Bremner and Liz Filippini, way back in the dark ages.

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a starter

400g spaghetti
150g bacon pieces/lardons
4 eggs

50g freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon oil or butter
Ground black pepper

Fill a large pan of water to boil for cooking the pasta.
Lightly beat the eggs and stir in the Parmesan and a good grind of black pepper.
While the pasta is cooking, brown the bacon pieces in a large pan.

When the pasta is al dente drain it – but leave a small amount of water with it, and tip it into the pan with the cooked bacon, stir well and take off the heat (if you don’t take it off the heat at this stage the eggs will scramble). Now add the beaten eggs and Parmesan and mix everything together. The fat in the pan, the water clinging to the hot pasta and the eggs and Parmesan will blend together to make a creamy sauce.

Serve immediately with extra Parmesan for sprinkling over the top of each serving.

Variation 1:
Chop a small onion medium fine, cook gently with the bacon pieces. When both are lightly coloured (don’t let the onion brown), pour in half a glass of white wine and let it cook gently until it has reduced by at least half. Finely chop some flat-leafed parsley and add it to the egg and Parmesan mixture.
Continue as for the above recipe

Variation 2:
Stick to the first recipe, but beat 2 tablespoons of cream or crème fraiche into the egg mixture.


Charlotte said...

I know I need to read the Godwin book but I am quite frightened to. Although I am not Zimbabwean, I am heartbroken by what is happening there, and by South Africa's wilful refusal to try and reign Mugabe in. Of everyone, they could have. I think history will not be kind to Mugabe - or Mbeki either, for that matter.

My daughter tried Spaghetti Carbonara in France and adored it. I am going to have to make it for her soon. I'll use your recipe!

No issooos, promise.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Charlotte about being "quite frightened" to read Godwin's book. I LIVE in South Africa! I suppose I must take my head out of the sand and be brave. My son (who also lives in South Africa) is reading it and says it is brilliant.

Ash said...

My mom suggested this book to me when I talked to her on Monday. I knew Godwin's sister when I lived there. I don't know if I can read it though. I read Alexandra Fuller's first book but then had to stop halfway through the second book because it was too upsetting. I wonder if this one will be the same.

Which reminds me - I recently got a new edition of The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing and it's been edited! It's now set in South Africa! Unbelievable!

Charlotte said...

I just made your SC for lunch, and it was a raging success. I think I also have a Carbonara addict on my hands.

violetforthemoment said...

THe 'issues' business really piddles me off, particularly the 'diversity issues' business you mentioned. When I was a trainee probation officer I got a Talking To for giving a guest speaker on Diversity a right earbashing about the subject: basically, the Diversity Issues agenda is a way of hiding institutional racism and systemic failures, because it's a way of saying things can get better without acknowledging that there's anything wrong, and thereby without the problems being examined and people/institutions being accountable. It's all over the probation service at the moment, the propaganda you get when training is nauseating, and noone really seems to be able to articulate what they think it all means. Except me, of course, I did so in an essay in our "Diversity, People and Organisations" (barf) essay and did not get a great mark for deviating from the party line.

Carbonara sounds yum, on a less whingey note!

herschelian said...

Charlotte - lots of kids love Carbonara so I'm not surprised if one of yours becomes an addict too!

Anonymous - Thanks for dropping in; the Godwin book IS an emotionally challenging read for those of us who know and love Africa, but it really is worth it. I think that in years to come it will be books like this that provide some sort of record of just what life in Zim was like under Mugabe's dictatorship, and of how he destroyed a country.

Ash - how can they republish The Grass is Singing ahd reset it in South Africa for goodness sake, it all takes place in Rhodesia which of course was where Lessing grew up; I'm intrigued, tell me more, who are the publishers?

Violet - I can well belive "issues" are all over the Probation Service, they seem to be all over everything, and I totally agree with you vis a vis the Diversity thing - BTW I'm so impressed you wrote a whole essay about Diversity in Organisations - quite a tricky topic to pin down. Anyway, I've now mentioned "issues" for the last time - well for six months at least!

Jeanne said...

Oh when last did I hear somebody being described as being 2 bricks and a tiekie high?? Thanks for making my afternoon :)

I have put Godwin's book on my "to read" list - as soon as I finish The Inheritance of Loss. Having said that, I find I often have to put Inheritance down too as I am starting to cry. So heaven only knows what will happen when I read Crorodile! I nearly stopped reading JM Coetzee's Disgrace - it was just too painful.

Reluctant Nomad said...

I bought his book soon after it came out but never got round to read it - it's still on my bookshelf in Cape Town. I don't know why I didn't read it but reading your post has made me want to read it. Must remember to pick it up next time I'm there

violetforthemoment said...

I didn't have a choice about the essay - I had to go to two 'lectures' on the 'subject' and do a group presentation with one of the most idiotic, bigoted little men I have ever met and I was not allowed to punch him. Are you taking a break from magistrate-ing or something then?