Monday, March 01, 2010


Hearts and Minds is the latest book by Amanda Craig, and I think it is her best so far.  
In the last few years there have been several books (The Road Home by Rose Tremain, The Other Hand by Chris Cleave, My Cleaner by Maggie Gee) and one or two films (Dirty Pretty Things, Breaking and Entering) tackling the subject of what life is like for an immigrant/refugee/asylum-seeker living in Britain. In Hearts and Minds Amanda Craig has given the most readable, detailed – and at times depressing – overview of how our society functions only because of the huge underbelly of people from other countries who live and work here.  As I read it I kept thinking that this is the book everyone should read if they want to understand something of London life in the Noughties.

Like many big cities, London is a place of contrasts, and these are unveiled to show everything from the pampered luxury of life in a Hampstead mansion, the comfortable middle-class terraces of Islington, and the squalid apartments in ‘Kill Burn’ and Camden where brothels are called Massage Parlours.

The novel has five points of view: there is Job, the Zimbabwean mini-cab driver who is an illegal immigrant fleeing the horrors of Mugabe’s regime and who hasn’t heard from his wife for nearly a year; Anna, the fifteen year-old girl from Russia, who thinks she is coming to work as a cook or chamber-maid but finds she has been enslaved as a prostitute, her passport seized by the traffickers and without any access to the outside world. Katie, a young American who is escaping from a broken engagement, and is working for a pittance on a temporary visa. Ian is a white South African supply teacher working in a sink school in Hackney, and then there is Polly a divorced mother of two school-aged children who is struggling to advance her career as a human rights lawyer. These seemingly diverse individuals are connected through various chains of events which cross each other and interweave, all beginning when Polly’s Russian au pair, Iryna, vanishes without a word, and later when her body is discovered in a pond on Hampstead Heath.

Whilst I wouldn’t exactly put Craig and Dickens side-by-side in the pantheon of English literature, I certainly felt that the author was a very worthy successor to Dickens’s crusading zeal for depicting London life with all it’s social injustices, and she does so with a page-turning story and real characters who are tragic, frightening, charming, endearing and above all, believable.

Rated 4.5*


I have never been one for using much in the way of make-up, though as I get older there is no doubt that from time to time my complexion needs a little help to look its best. I call myself 'low maintenance' but what that really means is 'lazy'. However I do tend to put on some lipstick before I leave the house - that is if I remember.  For some reason I feel better dressed and more confident if I have applied a quick slick of lippy. 

I don't think I'm alone in this, thousands of women would probably choose  lipstick as their desert island luxury and nearly every handbag (or purse as the Americans  call it) probably has a tube of lipstick lurking somewhere in its depths.  Apparently during economic recessions - and we all know about those don't we? - the sales of lipstick actually rise because they are a small, feel-good purchase; if you can't afford a dress by Dior at least you can buy the lipstick.

As I am not what might be called a fashionista, I have a three lipstick policy, one shade for winter, one shade for summer and one shade for special occasions - I also have a little pot of lipgloss, but that is just an optional extra.  Last week I had to buy myself a new lipstick as my default winter shade was worn down to a nub. It should have been easy, but no, yet again the lipstick I like, the lipstick I want, has been discontinued.  
Instead of  just stopping at the beauty counter to pick up a replacement I ended up faffing around for 20 minutes in a swither of indecision whilst being 'assisted' by a young woman with glossy navy-blue fingernails, a tatoo or two, and at least five facial piercings.   

I am sure the cosmetic companies do this just to irritate me. I don't mind them bringing out new ranges of colours (although they always seem perilously, but not quite, like the previous range) with wacky names like 'Just enough buff', 'Wine with Everything' or 'Toast of New York' but please, please, please don't keep discontinuing the colours I like.



This area of North London has many Greek Cypriot and Turkish grocery shops, and I love some of the products they sell. Recently I bought a large tub of Taramasalata  (for which I have a great fondness) from a shop I use regularly and which always stocks good quality produce.    When I served it up with some hot Pitta bread I was most disappointed, it was artificially pink and bland. On close reading of the listed ingredients  it seemed there was very little cod roe in it, and rather a lot of vegetable oil, water and bread. The pink colour apparently came from beetroot juice! Beetroot juice - what the hell was that doing in taramasalata? 
I decided to make some myself, after consulting various recipes I phoned a Greek friend and she told me what to do - and also told me to leave out potato or bread which some recipes give to pad it out. Likewise any garlic, the flavour of the cod roe doesn't need garlic.  So here is the recipe:

TARAMASALATA - Helen's version

250g smoked cod roe
Juice of half a lemon
250ml olive oil - though you could need a little more
Boiling water

Soak the cod’s roe in a bowl of cold water for several hours or overnight.
Drain and peel off the outer membrane.
Put the roe in a food processor  give it a quick pulse - do not over process it.
Bring the speed up a little and add the lemon juice.
Now, just like making mayonnaise, start adding the olive oil in a thin stream, little by little whilst the processor is running slowly  Keep adding the oil until the mixture begins to look like a puree . The amount of oil needed varies and you will have to keep an eye on it.
Then add boiling water, a tablespoon at a time, until it becomes light and mousse-like.
Scoop into a serving bowl and scatter chopped parsley on the top.
Keeps well in the fridge (cover it tightly)


Alan in Belfast said...

Glad you're back. I do enjoy your unusual (unique?) triptych posts.

Ash said...

I am with you on the lipstick. I am dreading going to look for a new winter shade, but was surprised on digging through my makeup bag that a previously unopened shade that I got in one of those giftbags and that I thought wouldn't suit me suddenly does. There are advantages to getting older!

Thanks for the book review. I'll def read that one (being an immigrant myself).

Anonymous said...

Welcome back! Have missed you and your 3 R's! Am going to check book availability on kindle! Capetonian

Marj said...

Yip welcome back - def look out for the book and totally agree on the lippi front- why oh why do they discontinue products........

herschelian said...

Thanks Alan, good to know there are still some blog readers who havn't given up on me. ;-)

Ash, so glad I'm not alone in my lippy feelings!

Capetonian, you will really enjoy this book if you can get hold of a copy.

Marj - they discontinue products to deliberately annoy people like you, me and Ash!