Wednesday, October 24, 2007



Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones was one of the books shortlisted for the Booker Prize this year, and I am really disappointed that it didn’t win as it is an amazing book. It would have been particularly appropriate if it had won, as it’s underlying theme is of how important books, and sometimes one book in particular, can be in someone’s life.

The book is set in a small fishing community on the Pacific island of Bouganville, which is part of Papua New Guinea, It is in the early 1990s and there is a bloody civil war going on. At the start of the book this war is but a low murmur on the horizon but gradually it grows closer and then the entire community are caught between the rebels and the government military.

The narrator is a young girl on the verge of puberty, Matilda, who lives with her mother, her father having departed a few years previously to try and find work in Australia. There is still one white man left living in the village, an eccentric elderly chap called Mr Watts, who is known to the village kids as Pop-Eye. Mr Watts came to the island with his wife who was a local woman, and has stayed on after all the other white residents of the island had left.

As the war advances towards them, all modern amenities close down one by one, and life becomes increasingly unpredictable. The village school, which was the lynch pin of Matilda’s life, has been closed down for 86 days at the start of the book, when, to everyone’s surprise, Mr Watts steps in and re-opens it and on the first day tells the children that he will be introducing them to Mr Dickens. They all think that this will be another foreigner, so when it turns out to be a copy of ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens they are bemused and disappointed. And yet, with just the one book at his disposal Mr Watts succeeds in enthralling them all.

Later in her life Matilda says¨I point to the one book that supplied me with another world at a time when it was desperately needed. It gave me a friend in Pip. It taught me you can slip under the skin of another just as easily as your own, even when that skin is white and belongs to a boy alive in Dickens’ England. Now if that isn’t an act of magic I don’t know what is.”

Eventually the whole village is overwhelmed by the violence of the war and like Pip, Matilda’s life changes irrevocably.

I loved this book and recommend it wholeheartedly.

Rated 5*


Once upon a time I thought I knew what the word obese meant. But in the past couple of years it has been hijacked by all and sundry and applied to anyone who is over the approved BMI for their height. By this reckoning most of both the English and South African rugby teams are obese, most of the gold-medal winning British rowing team are obese…I could go on and on.
Personally I think its all just the latest Government obsession and an excuse for trying to control how people live by those who think they know better than the rest of us.

The nanny state has seized on the concept and decided that the British Isles is likely to sink under the North Sea with the combined weight of all its obese citizens, and therefore we must be MADE to slim down. They going to bring in legislation to stop us eating and drinking as we choose.

We must agree to all this, as we are told it is a health crisis and people are going to die of obesity. Well I’m sure one or two will, ‘twas ever thus.

Primary school children are obese, shriek the tabloids, and health experts tell us that they will become obeser (is there such a word?).

I see playgrounds of primary school kids rushing about in the usual way, and apart from one or two, they look pretty much as they ever did to me.

I look at old family wedding photos from the early 1900s and there are some stout parties of both sexes proudly wearing their best hats, and some very Rubenesque young women who bear no resemblance to the slim girls I see everywhere today. Sure there are some families who live on Big Macs, fries, and takeaway kebabs, not to mention fish and chips – but by no means all of us do.

Governments get bees in their bonnets from time to time; in the early 70s it was that by the year 2000 the population would have increased astronomically – they got that very wrong. Never trust government predictions for the future, that’s my view.

As a nation we are living longer and are healthier and wealthier than we have ever been.

And remember : I’m plump, you’re fat, but they are obese!


We eat a lot of soup, and with a slice or two of crusty bread it makes an excellent meal, but it is nice to ring the changes from time to time. I found this recipe in a magazine recently, can't remember which one, and thought it sounded perfect for having with soup. Last night I made it and the DH and I really enjoyed it. It is not like bread, having more of a muffin consistency and because of the courgettes it's quite moist. The salt you mix with the grated courgettes seasons it perfectly, but next time I might add a little black pepper. This morning I had a piece with sliced tomato on it, and it was just as good cold as warm.


75g butter cut into small bits
475g courgettes, coarsely grated (approx 5 courgettes)

2 teaspoons salt
450g Self Raising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
25g chopped parsley
2 large eggs
400ml milk
75g strong Cheddar, coarsely grated

Pre-heat oven to 190°C.

Grease and line a large loaf tin (approx 20x13x9cm)
Mix the grated courgettes with the salt and put into a sieve, leave them to drip over a bowl for 10 minutes, then squeeze them dry.
Combine the flower, B.P., parsley and butter – add the courgette.
In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and milk together, then add the grated cheese. Pour the milk mix into the flour and courgette mix and using a knife stir them together until a sticky batter forms. There should be no dry pockets of flour but take care not to over mix.
Tip the mixture into the lined loaf tin and level off.
Bake for 25 minutes until the top is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.
Turn off the oven but leave the loaf in it for a further 10 minutes.
Cool in the tin on a wire rack for five minutes before turning the loaf out.
Let it cool slightly before serving; use a serrated knife to slice the loaf.
Delicious spread with cream cheese.


KreativeMix said...

pretty awesome..

Charlotte said...

Once again, you and I are reading the same book at the same time, and once again, you have, er, pipped me to the post. I am loving Mr Pip. I love how well he evokes a changing and scary world from a child's eye. Have you read Darkmans yet? I have, but am struggling to write about it because it's hard to pin down.

Well yes about the obesity thing. I read the English papers online and have now formed the opinion that everyone who lives in Britain is vastly overweight.

Thanks for the lovely-looking courgette bread. I think I'll try it as it seems a good way to feed that vegetable to my courgette-fearing children.

Jeanne said...

Thanks for the book recommendation - it sounds intriguing. I'm reading Shirley, Goodness and Mercy by Chris Van Wyk at the moment which tells the story of growing up in Riverlea township in Johannesburg in the sixties through the eyes of a child - always a fascinating viewpoint.

And I must say that bread looks heavenly! Reminds me of my beer & cheese bread... It's definitely going on my "to do" list!

herschelian said...

kreativemix - why thank you, and welcome to my blog, I hope to see you here again.

Charlotte - what can I say, you obviously have great taste in choosing what to read! maybe we should exchange future reading lists to avoid clashing. I try hard not to give spoilers or say too much about a book so that it is spoilt for other readers who should come to it fresh.

Jeanne - givethe bread a try, it is certainly different. 'Shirley, Goodness and Mercy' is on my list for Feb when I will be out in SA for my 40th Matric reunion (ulp!) and can scour the 2nd hand shops!

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