The old saw that you can't tell a book by it's cover is undoubtedly true, but I find that I am often drawn to a book merely because the cover appeals to me, and with few exceptions I have not been disappointed. Miss Webster and Cherif by Patricia Duncker is a case in point, the cover was intriguing which is why I picked it up, and within I found a delightful tale which I really enjoyed reading.
Miss Webster is a retired schoolmarm, very much in the Miss Jean Brodie mould, living in a quintessentially English village where she has not endeared herself to her fellow villages with her peppery tongue and dogmatic views on life. Approaching seventy, she feels she has been unjustly pushed out of teaching when she still had much to offer. With nothing much to fill her time she is angry and depressed and eventually has a severe nervous breakdown.
The consultant who treats her suggests she travels to somewhere very different from
One evening, shortly after her return, her doorbell rings, and there on her front step is a very beautiful young Arab with a large suitcase. He announces himself as Chérif, the son of the woman who was manager at the hotel in
The growing relationship between the elderly spinster and Chérif is delicately portrayed. For some reason Chérif believes that Miss Webster’s unmarried state is a result of her having been an English lady detective like Miss Marple, and together with his misapprehensions about England and the language - he cannot understand why on a motorway there are signs referring to the hard shoulder – this brings about some amusing cultural clashes. He very quickly acquires an English girlfriend and they become a surrogate family for Miss Webster.
After 9/11 Miss Webster finds that Chérif is regarded with suspicion by the locals, and also has attracted the attention of the security services. Is he really who he claims to be? In finding answers to this question Miss Webster shows her courage and her loyalty to her new friends.
Events reach a crisis point which takes them all back to
In Miss Webster Patricia Duncker has created a memorable character whose bloody-minded attitude to life and to those in authority, manages to overcome xenophobia and convention, providing a hint of steel in what is a delicately charming tale.
I've just come back to Britain from South Africa, a country I know and love, a country with real problems and where life is often fragile and transitory. We in the UK live in what is, by comparison, a very safe country - but there are those who don't think so. It seems that here in Britain we have to manufacture dangers where none exist and the latest and nuttiest "danger" to be addressed is that of Unprotected Text.Some nutter has decided that people who walk along composing or reading text messages on their mobile phones sometimes bump into lamp posts because they are not paying attention to where they are going, and they might hurt themselves. My word that is SO dangerous. What should be done??? Pad the lamp posts. I kid you not, pad the bl**dy lamp posts to prevent idiots hurting themselves. Brick Lane, a well known East London street is the site chosen for a trial study of padded lamp posts. The padding is being sponsored by 118 118 (the company which provides one of the recently privatised directory inquiry services). This is completely mad. If people are stupid enough not to look where they are going that is their problem. Grow up you morons. In the real world there are real dangers.
Anyone who knows South Africa and South Africans knows that the braai (barbeque) is part of the culinary culture. A couple of weekends ago I was in Hermanus and a friend produced this absolutely delicious salad to accompany the braaied meats. It would go equally well with grilled chops and provided you can get mangoes, which are stocked in asian greengrocers pretty well all year round, it could be made at any time, even in winter.
JENNIE B'S GREEN MANGO SALAD
6 mint leaves,shredded
1.5 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 Thai red birdseye chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
3 green mangoes
2 tablespoons chopped dry roast peanuts
1 handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1 lettuce, shredded - or a generous amount of rocket
To make the dressing, combine the mint, fish sauce, lime juice, chilli and caster sugar in a jar and shake well.Peel and stone the mangoes and cut the flesh into even 2cm chunks. Cover a serving platter with the lettuce or rocket and put the mango chunks on top.
Just before serving pour the dressing over the mango and scatter the peanuts and coriander over the top.