Wednesday, March 05, 2008



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 England as part of her recovery process so she sets off for a trip to Morocco. It is indeed very different, she sees the desert meets various locals and is on the fringe of a terrorist incident. The trip has had the result the consultant hoped for and she returns to the UK with a new vigour.

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 Morocco at which Miss Webster had stayed. From his bag he produces gifts sent to her by his mother; Chérif has arrived in England to take up a college place in Oxford, and as he is unable to find suitable accommodation Miss Webster takes him in as her lodger.

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 Morocco for a surprising but satisfying dénouement.

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.

Rated: 4*


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.


6 mint leaves,shredded

1.5 tablespoons fresh lime juice

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.


Bybee said...

Pat me on the back! I read your blog in order this time and didn't skip down to the recipe then up again. The novel sounds great. Padded lampposts -- I think I've heard of everything now. Finally, the recipe looks so yummy...practically drooling on the keyboard, imagining the combination of tastes.

Teuchter said...

Padded lampposts?
Anyone daft enough to walk into a lamppost whilst texting maybe needs to be taken out of the gene pool.

Glad you had a good trip.

Mother of the bride said...

Those idiots elf 'n safety strike again - welcome back.

Nick said...

The book looks really interesting, straight onto my To Buy list.

Padded lampposts? Moronic idea for moronic pedestrians. What will those job-creating bureaucrats come up with next? Uneven paving stones that give off a high-pitched beep as you approach them? They should be tackling the real problems like mounds of dogshit. Or those infuriating charity workers hassling you for donations.

Charlotte said...

Okay, the padded lampposts are ridiculous, but the salad looks delicious. I'd like one Right Now.

Around My Kitchen Table said...

Padded lamp-posts. Whoever thought of that should be put in a padded cell. Some people think there should be no risk at all in the world - no matter how trivial - and if they do come a-cropper then it's all someone else's fault and they can sue. Don't get me started .......

Anonymous said...

I hope the padding goes down as far as dog level.

herschelian said...

Bybee, Teuchter, MoB, Nick, Charlotte,AMKT and anon - thank you one and all for your comments. I sometimes think this world is becoming so crazy that I should be in a padded cell myself or I might just start banging my head against an unpadded lamppost out of sheer frustration;-)

Jeanne said...

I know what you mean - people here want to whinge when the train is 30 seconds late and you feel like saying to them "try living in a country where there is almost no public transport and where commuters burn down the station when the train is late!". It is a totalyl different world. But I am very grateful that I lived in SA for most of my life - at least it makes it easy for you to sort out the real problems from the trash spewed out by the politically correct cotton-wool-wrapped brigade!

Robert said...

Well, I don't really suppose this is likely to have effect.
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Nathaniel said...

This will not work as a matter of fact, that is what I believe.
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