Friday, April 24, 2009



An Elegy for Easterly
by Petina Gappah is a debut collection of 13 beautifully written short stories about current day Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans, and I was fortunate to snag a pre-publication copy as a member of Library Thing Early

I grew up in Central Africa and know Zimbabwe quite well, and I thought that the author had captured the place
and the people brilliantly. Living in Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe's despotic regime is fairly ghastly, and these stories could have been quite depressing, however Petina Gappah is very skillful and manages to depict the crazy nightmare of daily life in Zim without loosing the humour, doggedness and sheer determination of the ordinary people as they struggle to keep everything as normal as possible. Many of the stories have a core of poignancy but through it all life goes on; people fall in love, marry (even if no-one will tell the bride that the groom has AIDS), gossip about servants, cope with or practice corruption, try to eke a living or complete their academic studies.
One delightful tale is about a low-ranking Zimbabwean diplomat who has been posted to Switzerland where in his innocence he falls prey to one of the infamous Nigerian 419 email scams. Another tells of a night spent in the 'Hotel California' - located in Kamativi - an establishment that should be given a wide berth.
The story of a family waiting at Harare airport for the flight from London filled me with sadness. Many of the passengers who arrive on this regular flight bring foreign currency or goods no longer available in Zim - something to look forward to; but this family is waiting for the body of a son who died abroad, so that he can be laid to rest in the ancestral village. The
reader learns how he came to go abroad and die there, and the stresses it has placed on the family.

Petina Gappah is a terrific writer and a great addition to the fairly short list of modern African writers from Zimbabwe, and I am really looking forward to reading her next book, which I believe is a novel.

Rated 4.5*


Last week London was full of tourists as it was the Easter vacation for millions of school children all over Britain and Europe - God knows, in this economic downturn London needs all the tourist money it can get.

Among the visitors to our fair city were Klaus Matzka and his 15 year old son from Austria. Mr Matzka is particularly interested in modern architecture. They had taken pictures of various famous London landmarks but then whilst photographing some of London's iconic red double-decker buses, they were stopped by two policemen and interrogated.

"First, we were told that it is forbidden to take pictures of anything in conjunction with transport. Then our names, passport numbers and London hotel address were noted. After that we were forced to delete all pictures that included any transport - even pictures of the new underground station in Vauxhall, which is a modern sculpture."

I should point out at this juncture that what they were told is NOT TRUE, there are no legal restrictions on photography in public places. And furthermore, the police had no legal right to delete any photos that the Matzkas had taken. This minor incident leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth, indeed the Matzkas have said they will never visit London again.

Photographers, both amateur and professional are finding themselves stopped more and more frequently, often by PCSOs who erroneously cite Section 44 of the Terrorism Act as a reason. Either these police personnel are poorly trained and don't understand the law on terrorism, or they are power-mad little jobsworths (or both) who feel important when they stop people and demand to see their photographs.

Its rather ironic that this is going on when Google Street View is sending camera cars round the nation, filming anything and everything with impunity - frankly any potential terrorist worth his or her salt would be far more likely to use the Google images than bother going out to take their own.
The Government has whipped up such a climate of paranoia over terrorism and national security - out of all proportion to the real risks - that all sorts of people are using it as an excuse to try and limit the freedom of the individual.

From now on I intend to carry my camera in my handbag at all times and whip it out to take pictures of taxis, lorries, buses, police cars, carrier pigeons and bicycle couriers - and just let anyone try and stop me.


If you are not all chocolated out after Easter, this recipe might be just what you fancy to please family and guests. I served it at a dinner party recently, together with two other desserts, and carefully wrapped the uncut portion for the following day's meal. The next morning I discovered that it had vanished, someone (who shall be nameless) had decided that they would eat it for breakfast! I've made it again, so that I could photograph it, but it didn't last any longer second time round.


Serves 8 (or 4 normal people and 2 greedy ones!)

200g plain flour

120g butter
2 tablespoons caster sugar

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons cold water


300g butter
200g good quality dark chocolate

3 eggs
3 yolks

100g caster sugar

2 tablespoons brandy or dark rum

Cocoa powder and icing sugar for topping

Whiz the flour and butter together in a food processor, stir in the sugar, and then the egg yolk and water to form pastry. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C. Roll out the pastry and line a 23cm loose-bottomed flan tin. Prick the base and bake blind for 15-20 minutes. Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt it together with the butter in the microwave - approx 2 mins on high - until it is all liquid, mix well together. Allow to cool slightly. Whisk the egg yolks, eggs and sugar into the chocolate mixture. Stir in the brandy or rum. Pour the mixture into the pastry case and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until just firm to the touch.

Dredge the top of the tart with a little sieved icing sugar and cocoa powder.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.


nick said...

You may remember I posted myself about the clampdown on photographers - even trainspotters taking pics of rare locomotives! I suspect police officers are being privately encouraged to cite Section 44 simply to intimidate people, knowing full well there's no such restriction. A pity the police don't concentrate on the real terrorists, instead of harassing photographers and picking up innocent people in elaborately-staged raids.

The Petina Gappah book looks good. Must keep an eye out for it.

herschelian said...

Nick, I think you're right it is intimidation, which would be about as much use as a fart in space suit in detering determined terrorists!

Kit said...

I can't believe it about the photography - sounds like an Iron Curtain country - I'd better start posting all my double decker bus shots from our trip to London on my blog!

The chocolate tart sounds wonderful - I could well be making that tomorrow.

Jeanne said...

[splutter!] No photos of anything transport related? Hah. I'd like one of these jobsworths to try and stop me or look at my camera - I will insist on being taken to the nearest police station and make such a fuss they'll wish they'd never met me!!

I've been reading about Elegy and I'm dead keen to get a copy when it's released - sounds outstanding. (I'm almost done with Silvertown btw - sorry for the delay but it had the join the queue of books that I was reading! It really is set exactly where I live - quite astonishing. Thanks :))

And as for the chocolate tart, it never stood a chance, did it? I'd also chuck in a few fresh raspberries as it's a great flavour combo!