Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The post that I was too tired to name

We descend into the bowels of the restaurant- it is a fairly simple, yet sophisticated place somewhere in the west of London. We are soon seated, and have just had our orders taken when I spot her- her face immediately familiar to me from the days spent glued to CNN in hotel bars and lounges, when satellite television was the tenuous link that seemed to sustain my connection to the outside world after the price of Time magazine and Newsweek and the Economist all soared out of reach.

Here, years later, I am seated at a table in a restaurant just a few feet away from her. She is in full flow, commanding the attention of the others seating at her table, and as I glance at the rapt faces, I realize that this is what might be called "a power table". There are two UK ministers, I soon realize, at the table and as the conversation heats up, I hear the words: Darfur, Rwanda, Millennium Development Goals and social entrepreneurship flung in rapid quick fire succession around the table. It is all I can do to concentrate on my dinner, my friends who have kindly invited me out and my own table and our conversation.

I whisper to my friends "It's Christiane Amanpour", mortified that she will hear me, but am met with fairly blank faces. It's only when I screech "and Mark Malloch Brown" that they become interested- the former UN mandarin and now minister in Gordon Brown's government of all the talents, has the day before been in the news- the Spectator and the Evening Standard.

The third face that I recognize is James Rubin, former aide to Bill Clinton and Amanpour's husband, and then across the table from him, Shriti Vadera whom I later overhear being introduced to someone as the "most powerful woman in the UK government" She smiles bashfully but I do not hear her demur….

Later sated on our dinner, we walk to the Underground- me on the way, happily regaling my friends with all these details. How, one of them asks me, do you know all these people…how indeed? On my way home the question continues to plague me…

An interesting harvest of books these past few days- finally I get round to reading The Kite Runner and I, almost to my surprise enjoy it. It opens my eyes and tells me new things and is beautifully written and yet in some ways I feel that it lacks soul. Perhaps it should have been stretched out a bit more

On Chesil Beach is another much-hyped book which I get round to finally reading. I enjoy it so much that I immediately go back to the library for another McEwan- this time, Enduring Love, even though it's only available in large print. Although I enjoyed the latter, I thought the former was more accomplished….

Poor Gordon Brown’s government seems to be lurching from crisis to crisis and the Prime Minister’s face shows the strain. Watching a BBC documentary on Blair’s last days in office, I almost found myself nostalgic for Blair....

Meanwhile the Tories rub their hands in glee, like schoolboys who can’t quite believe their luck....there's something almost school-bully like about their gloating that I find distasteful, or perhaps it's the fact that I'm just biased....

Nigeria makes the front page of the Financial Times at the weekend with a story about Chevron and Shell being implicated in the Ibori corruption about the same time, several Nigerian topshots are mentioned in an investigation into corruption at Siemens in Germany...perhaps the chickens are finally coming home to roost....


to Molara Wood of Wordsbody for honourable mention in the Commonwealth short story prize

to Chimamanda Adichie for making the IMPAC prize list

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

made up stories, immigration blues & democratic hypocrisy

I am watching the couple as they walk to the station with their big shaggy dog lolloping beside them. He is dressed in a business suit, sharply cut, formal. She is blonde, more casual in a jogging suit and yet there is something carefully groomed about her. I glance at my watch; I am still a few minutes too early for my meeting. I look up to see the dog depositing a steaming pile on the pavement, she immediately whips out a plastic bag and tries to scrape the offending mess off, but she struggles, hampered by the dog lead in her hand and the active squirming creature at its end. He moves just after a second’s hesitation to take the lead from her, give her room to clear the pavement properly. I make up a life for them- he never wanted the dog but she insisted, and so he is irritated. Minutes later, I see my colleague approach and as I walk over to meet her I see the man disappearing down the stairs into the station having given the dog a last friendly ruffle. The man’s face is transformed, as he tickles the dog’s belly and I am forced to rewrite my made up narrative….

Such a long time away from blogging- busy with work and the million little things that seem to have piled off and need to be dealt with before the year’s end- November- where has the year gone?

Immigration issues fill the front pages again and I can’t help but feel uncomfortable. No, everyone explains, or hints, it’s not people like you we mean, it's the others.... but hearing people speak (not in so many words) about "us" and "them" I can’t help but feel uneasy- hoping that someone else speaks out instead. When in any case does one stop being "them" and become "us"- 5 years, ten years, never?

It is all about the pressure on public services- housing, hospital, council services- very little about how the booming English economy is surely in part due to the immigrants. Do the Mittals and Abramoviches and the American investment bankers who swell the streets of Chelsea count in these statistics at all? Perhaps there needs to be a trade off but maybe the Mittals and their ilk are comfortable here precisely because of the openness and diversity that London offers… maybe it is one or the other….

In spite of the hectic pace of life, there has been time as usual for some reading- In the library one weekend I stumbled across Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee, an account of a young Korean American woman newly graduated from an Ivy League university and caught between her poor Korean parents and the glittering lifestyle offered by her peers- there were I thought lots of echoes of Nigerian immigrant family tensions but I suppose in some ways, all immigrants face similar issues. The writing was assured but I’m not sure that Lee did her skills justice in this book- I’m not sure if it’s the plot but there was something that didn’t quite ring right….

I’m currently reading Hari Kunzru’s- My Revolutions which is beautifully written- I think it’s the best of his three books so far. While I loved his first two: The Impressionist and Transmission, it is in this book about a Sixties activist living a comfortable bourgeois life in 21st century Sussex who finds his past catching up with him….I’ve always had a soft spot for Kunzru ever since he won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for Transmission and turned it down because it was sponsored by the Daily Mail. Instead he asked for the prize money to be paid to the Refugee Council- an action that must have riled the Daily Mailers no end…

Glad to see that Etteh finally did the decent thing and resigned as Speaker and even “gladder” to see the House members ignore the PDP order to vote for her self-nominated successor and elect someone who appears to be articulate and intelligent instead. Now the House members must prove their vaunted patriotism and get to work and not start squabbling over committee memberships…

In Pakistan, the hollowness and hypocrisy of the champions of democracy is again put on display – lawyers are beaten by the police, judges are sacked and the opposition are put under house arrest- all for speaking out in favour of democracy- you would imagine that for the self-appointed supporters of democracy- these stirrings in a Muslim country would be heart-warming and deserving of support. But no- it’s too complicated, cutting off aid would not be constructive, etc etc Pity the poor young Pakistani lawyer who believes the rhetoric about democracy and finds himself bruised and battered tonight in a police cell…..If you are in any doubt, go and ask the monks in Burma…


Cassava Republic's new website
It's poppy season with a difference here or here
And Kambani promotes Nigerian artists and art here