Tuesday, May 13, 2008



Last month a Canadian cousin of mine mentioned that she’d just finished Lullabies for Little Criminals by Canadian author Heather O’Neill and that she’d found it heart-wrenching. Always on the lookout for something new I got hold of a copy and it jumped straight to the top of my reading pile.

Baby – which she takes pains to explain is her real name – is the narrator, and is twelve years old when the book begins. She lives with her heroin addict father Jules in the red light district of Montreal. Jules was only 15 when Baby was born, and has taken sole care of her since her mother died when Baby was an infant. They lead a ramshackle life, moving from one crummy apartment to another whenever lack of money or Jules’ drug induced paranoia determines it. Dressed in a motley assortment of clothing from thrift shops, and items found in dumpsters, often dirty and smelly and underfed, Baby still manages to get to school every day, despite the chaotic life she and Jules lead. Every so often Baby comes to the attention of the social services, and she is taken into either foster care or sent to juvenile detention for a few months. These placements should offer her some respite from life with Jules, but they have their dangers too, both physical and emotional.

Baby has always told herself stories about things, her sharp intelligence and self-awareness have given her some advantages when it comes to grasping fleeting moments of happiness in a horrid life. Above all, Baby – like all children – just wants to be loved and looked after. This makes her vulnerable to anyone who shows her affection and understanding, and when Alphonse, a local pimp, sets his sights on her she has no realisation that he is grooming her for his own uses. She moves into an “adult” world even though her thoughts and emotions are still those of a child. Eventually Baby finds that she needs to escape from the mess in which she is living, and her feckless father manages to help her to find a way to make her way towards a new life.

There is a phrase you often hear quoted about someone’s childhood, “because of so-and-so happening, they grew up quickly”, but I am not sure that is ever true, children may appear to be grown up and behave as adults but in their heads they still think very much as children, and approach life from a child’s perspective.

In Family Court here in Britain I have come across cases of parents like Jules, and children not dissimilar to Baby, they are always difficult cases to resolve, and I often felt frustration at having to implement the least bad option rather than any positive option

Baby is such a strong character, and so real that there were moments when all I wanted to do was hug her and take her home with me. At other moments, as an adult, I could see what was coming and desperately wanted to warn her not to do certain things, or fend off some of the appalling people who treat her so badly.

I realise that this may not sound the most appealing book to read. It is certainly not warm and fuzzy. However I do recommend it very strongly, O’Neill’s imagery is beautiful and her writing often lifts the subject matter to poetic levels.

Rated 4.5*


Who would spend hard earned money on a tell-all memoir by Jordan, Britain’s most famous topless model? Not me that’s for sure. But neither will I be rushing out to buy a copy of the memoirs of Cherie Blair, Lord Levy or John Prescott. As far as I am concerned they are just as ghastly in concept as anything ghosted for Jordan.

These three individuals stood, for different reasons, close to the heart of government in Britain for several years: Cherie Blair as a celebrated QC and wife of the Prime Minister, Lord ‘Cashpoint’ Levy as a so-called ‘eminence gris’ and major fund-raiser for the Labour party in general and the Blairs in particular, and John ‘Two-Jags’ Prescott, the belligerent and bumbling Deputy Prime Minister.

In the past month all three have produced memoirs, extracts from which have been published, with much trumpeting, in the broadsheet papers.

And nasty, spiteful, self-serving stuff it has been too.

To be honest I have not read it all, but some of the things they’ve said in their books have been impossible to avoid as the media has seized on them with glee and reported and re-reported each one. So I have heard about Prezzer’s referral to Gordon Brown as a “little shit” and his bulimia…did I want or need to know this? Levy’s fury at being used to raise money and then dropped in the mire by Blair and the rest of the Labour party when things got smelly smacks of one long whine, and that never makes for enjoyable reading.

But the gold medal for bitchy score settling must go to Cherie Blair whose memoir leaves no personal detail untold. For a woman who ostentatiously guarded her family’s privacy to now give us the gory details of her contraceptive arrangements, her miscarriage and how her husband used it to deflect speculation about the situation in Iraq, her rows with Alistair Campbell and others, is breathtaking in it’s hypocrisy.
This is the kind of stuff that should be aired in a ranting blog, and not in a supposedly serious book.

We need politicians whether we like them or not, and this kind of back-biting, mud-slinging stuff damages the public perception of them, and increases the view that they are all absolute rotters to the core. It makes me shudder, thank god that I am not now, and nor have I ever been a member of the Labour party.


This past 10 days the weather in London has been absolutely divine - hot and sunny, and we have been able to eat outside almost every evening. We've also been entertaining quite a bit, and as ever I like to prep as much as possible well before hand so I can sit and enjoy a drink with our guests before the meal. I love granadillas - or as the Brits call them 'passion fruit'; when I was a child in Africa I often ate one like a boiled egg, with the top cut off and a teaspoon. Combined with mangoes they make the most delicious mousse, and this is a really good dessert which can be made in advance.


Serves 6-8

2 large ripe mangoes
5 granadillas (passion fruit)
3 egg whites
240ml double or whipping cream
1 sachet (10g) powdered gelatine
10ml tropical fruit juice (lemon or orange juice will do as well)
2 tablespoons caster sugar
Sprigs of mint for garnish

Put the fruit juice into a small non-metal bowl and sprinkle the gelatine over it, leave for 5 minutes to become spongy.

Place the bowl in the microwave and heat for 1½ minutes until the gelatine has all dissolved (do not let it boil). Allow it to cool while you prepare the fruit.

Peel the mangoes and cut the flesh into chunks, retaining as much juice as you can.

Spoon the pulp (including pips) from 4 of the granadillas into a blender, add the mango chunks and caster sugar. Whiz everything into a purée.

Add the cool gelatine liquid to the puree, stir to mix together.

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.

In a large bowl, whip the cream until very thick, and then add the mango puree and mix together gently.

Carefully fold the beaten egg whites into the mango/cream mixture.

Spoon into individual serving glasses or one large glass bowl and chill in the fridge for 3-4 hours.

Before serving, spoon a little of the pulp from the remaining granadilla on top of each mousse, and garnish with a sprig of mint.


Capetonian said...

Ooooh, HOW delicious does that mango dessert sound?? Sounds like a good breakfast to me! I can't WAIT for the mango season to start again - it is JUST over in S.A!!

Charlotte said...

I will be avoiding the Cherie Blair memoir. Just the headlines in the papers alone have been off-putting enough. However, the Baby book looks like an interesting proposition - I would definitely read that!

I also adore granadillas. They remind me of childhood. This mousse looks like a fabulous way to serve them.

Jeanne said...

The book sounds intriguing, and it's interesting to hear your take on "because of X they grew up quickly". There have been some articles in the press over the last years abtou child carers in Britain where the phrase (or something like it) was used, but from the interviews it was patently clear that although they may have found themselves having to act like and take on responsibilities of adults, they certainly still thought like children. Very sad. Love the sound of that mousse - and hasn't the weather been just glorious? We had a little braai for 2 on Sunday night, complete with boerewors!

Nick said...

I've read very few political memoirs as most of them seem to be as you say self-serving, back-biting, mud-slinging cash-generators - and I can never believe the huge sums of money they negotiate for such scurrilous junk. You're right, the cats-in-a-sack impression just further damages the reputation of an already discredited party. But I enjoyed Alan Clark's Diary, that was perceptive and amusing without being too bitter.

Teuchter said...

Had a good old snigger this morning listening to Campbell and Fogarty on R5 taking it in turns to read out loud the most nauseating parts of Cherie's Mills&Booth effort.

Am off to Beijing on Tues

Marj said...

Definitely be avoiding Cherie memoir- if fact listening to her being interviewed on Womens Hour today made me shudder!!

herschelian said...

charlotte, jeanne, nick, teuchter and marj - glad you are all as nauseated by Cheri's memoirs as I am. You may be amused by a comment on Radio 4's news quiz last week when one of the panel said that the collective noun for a group of political diaries was a 'diarrhoea'! 'Nuff said.