Saturday, October 18, 2008

Credit crunch autumn, Sisyphean tasks, Sarah Manyika, Nnenna Okore and other miscellany

It has been so long since my last blog that as I finally sit down to write an update, I find that I have forgotten my log-in password. After two attempts, I finally type in the right words and feel a wave of relief as I am let in...

It is autumn in credit-crunched London and the days are often sunny but the pavements and roads are slowly acquiring a cover of brown crinkly leaves as the trees shed their garb as a chill enters the air. I retrieve my hat (with my recent haircut, my head is cold) but note that soon, the rest of the cold weather gear will have to make an appearance- first the coat, then the scarf and then the gloves and then the layers. Now I begin to understand why a Nigerian friend says she loves getting dressed in winter....

Walking to the tube station, I spot a cleaner with a weird machine blasting at spots on the pavement- it soon becomes clear that he is engaged in the thankless task of blasting the chewing gum spots from the pavement. I have read somewhere of the vast cost to councils of cleaning up chewing gum from the pavement, but watching this poor man blast away at spot after spot and then seeing people drop new bits of gum on the parts that he has already cleaned, I am reminded of the legend of Sisyphus, eternally condemned by the gods to roll a boulder up a hillside, only for it to roll back each time he reached the summit...

In Marks and Spencer, I dash in late one evening to grab a bottle of milk for tomorrow's cereal, and after queuing find myself face to face with a check-out clerk that I am pretty certain is Nigerian. My eye goes to his name badge to confirm my suspicion, but it only bears the unhelpful moniker "Trainee". Why , I think to myself humiliate someone with the badge- is the idea to alert us to the possibility that our service might be less than perfect? Surely the badge could say " Ola (Trainee)" or whatever..

In the event when I move to his corner, he greets me with a parroted spiel of obviously recently memorized words" Goodeveningsorryforkeepingyouwaitingwould youlikeabag.. The words tumble in an unrestrained rush from his lips as if he is afraid that pausing for breath would rob his memory of the next line in the obviously carefully crafted script. All the while, he does not make eye contact, seemingly staring at a space behind my left shoulder in a bored and lethargic manner. As I leave, the last customer for the night, I hear him whispering into his phone in Nigerian pidgin.....

I find myself in Leicester Square one Sunday and discover that the large building at one corner which included the Swiss Centre has been torn down, leaving a gaping hole in the heart of the West End. Suddenly the higher floors of some of the buildings behind it are exposed to view, and I marvel that I have walked past this area so often without noticing so much....

While I have been away, so much has happened- from Chimamanda's Macarthur "genius grant" to the emergence of Sarah Palin to the credit crunch to Colin Powell doing the Yahooze dance at the Royal Albert Hall- too much to talk about

On the credit crunch, it is so reassuring hen it is clear that even the so called experts have not got a clue what the right thing to do is. Meanwhile politicians squabble over who to blame, when in reality pretty much everyone carries their own share.

A late summer holiday gives me the chance to catch up on my reading- from Oona King's fascinating accounts of life as a young mixed race Blair Babe in Parliament in House Music to Edward St Aubyn's chilling Some Hope which I later discover is based on his own life- including being raped by his father at the age of five

Two new books worth getting are Sarah Ladipo Manyika's In Dependence and the UEA Anthology of Creative Writing 2008

At the reading for the UEA Anthology, in a packed downstairs room at the Poetry Cafe, the air fervid with the compressed ambitions of fifty potential Ian McEwans and Anne Enrights, my eye was caught by Christie Watson dressed head to toe in dazzling red, as she read from her forthcoming novel set in the Niger Delta.....

Finally for Londoners, don't miss two Nigeria events over the next few weeks- Nnenna Okore's stunning Ulukububa exhibition at the October Gallery and the Partnership for Nigerian Health Conference at UCL next month

I've also stumbled on a number of interesting Nigerian related ,art blogs in the last few weeks, Bisi Silva's
Princeton art professor Chika Okeke-Agulu's and Santa Barbara professor Sylvester Ogbechie's

Also stumbled across this about Abuja on Monocle, the uber-hip magazine

Friday, August 29, 2008

Addressing elders and other miscellaneous musings

Before I leave for the meeting, I ask one of my colleagues to print out the briefing paper for me. As he hands it to me, I notice that one of the names on the list for the team that I am to meet is Nigerian. Getting to the office, the receptionist is chirpily efficient, from her groomed blonde hair, pulled back in a ponytail to the well-manicured nails with which she taps at the terminal in front of her, confirming that I am expected. I enter the meeting venue and we are all introduced, first names only- here my dilemma surfaces- the Nigerian is much older than I am, and in Nigeria I would ordinarily call him Sir, or at least preface his name with the friendly but deferent Oga. In this London office, I grin and call him boldly by his fist name, wincing inwardly, decades of "good home training", casually tossed aside....

I have just finished Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation, a humorous but informative tour of US presidential assassination trivia. When a friend offered it to me, I was sceptical but once I started I was hooked. Vowell's humour is grounded by a deep knowledge and intelligence which makes it even more rewarding. I wasn't only laughing when I finished, I was thinking as well...wondering for instance how the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln which fought the Civil War and signed the Emancipation Proclamation morphed into the Republican party of today...

Also on the recently finished list is the Kenya issue of Farafina which I had been meaning to read for a while. It made for great reading and highlighted what great talent there is across the continent....

We sit in the garden after a dinner of delicious salmon and tender lamb chops infused with rosemary and served with a Scotch bonnet pepper jam, a delicious mix of searing heat and sweetness. As we sit, sated, we listen to the wife of a friend, originally from the North of England, but now a true-bred Londoner, talk about going home for her father's funeral. As she talks about the gaping gulfs in attitudes and manners and culture that now exist between her and some of her friends and family members, I am struck by the awareness that estrangement is not just a question of language, or kilometres....

The Olympics have come and gone and for the first time ever I am so busy with work and with meeting up with visiting friends and relatives from Nigeria, in London for the summer that I do not manage to watch any of the events live. Thankfully BBC iplayer means that I can catch up on the breathtaking moments. Funny how in the euphoria over the events the media went quiet on China and human rights.... poor Tibetans

Friday, August 15, 2008

Storytelling, childhood memories, lunchtime reading and worrying signs from Yaradua

The young boy is sitting opposite me, his mother beside him. He is playing an interesting game, taking the Hula Hoop snacks one by one from the crinkling foil bag and adorning his fingers with them. The hoops slip down neatly and marvelling at the smallness of his fingers and looking at my stubby fingers, I think that once too my fingers were that small and the Hoops would have gone down with ease. His mother watches him half detached with that stoic look of fear, determination, hope and weariness that is often worn by many new immigrants, a look I know well, having once worn it....

A few days later I am sitting in a leafy garden at one of the parties that are de rigueur in the summer, and spy a bowl of Hula Hoops, gingered by my memory, I go and grab a handful. I find that as I thought, my fingers are too big to squeeze them on, and eating them I find I dislike the vinegary taste of them...

Poor Georgia and Georgians, to take the international community (read USA and NATO) at its word. The whole thing reminded me of the playground fights back in primary school, where one bully would goad a weaker boy to attack another bully, implying that they would back them up if bully 2 erupted. Often bully 1 would watch from the sidelines while weaker boy got mammothly thumped...

In London, the weather oscillates between bright sunny, fine days and tropical type storms with strong winds and heavy rain. one morning, I find myself drenched walking from the tube to my office, even though it is only a short walk and I have an umbrella. I spend the rest of the day slowly steaming in my drying out clothes...

Yesterday, the papers were awash again with pictures of youngsters who had achieved their A levels. The results were published yesterday and it is virtually obligatory that all the newspapers will have photographs of youngsters celebrating their results- often trying to find a group with a particular quirk- some recently arrived refugee who makes 3 As or twins or triplets who all do well. Yesterday, many of the papers focused on the Okes, quadruplets of Nigerian heritage brought up by a single mother in Woolwich. Almost inevitably, the papers also focus on the endless debate about whether the standards of the exams have fallen- this year there was a 97 per cent pass rate prompting the same arguments about whether it meant schools were doing a better job or not. Judging from my limited experience of the youngster I met last week, predicted to gain three As, but shockingly inarticulate, verbally or in writing, I wondered....

I'm reading The Hakawati by Rabi Alahmeddine, it's an ambitious sprawling book, including an almost modern version of the Arabian Nights interspersed with the story of a young boy growing up in Beirut. It's an ambitious style and I'm not always sure the switching back and forth works, but the story grips me, leaving me wanting to know more- the ultimate mark in my book of a true story teller...

Thinking of storytelling reminds me of my childhood in Nigeria where my mother and grandmothers told us Nigerian folk tales complete with songs, often every night, but on other nights, my mother would read to us the fairy tales found in the Ladybird books, of princesses and peas; and Hansel and Gretel... Reflecting on the dual heritage, I'm grateful for the richness of my memories...

I read recently and was underwhelmed by Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone, his account of his experiences in Sierra Leone during the war there, including his time spent as a child soldier. The accounts were harrowing and yet I felt that there was something lacking in the felt a bit too dry...

Other recent reading include a book abouth the infamous Kray twins, criminal lords of the East End in London in the Sixties, which I found tedious but which contained the interesting story about the Krays' attempts to set up some sort of scam involving a seaside resort apparently set in Enugu, Nigeria. Try googling Krays and Enugu for more on this...

I'm also struggling through Saul Bellow's The Dean's December, which is actually the first time I have tried reading Bellow. I'm finding it hard going- a bit too ponderous for me and I wonder how much of that is my mood at the moment- perhaps I'm so busy and stressed with work that I find it difficult to ponder deeply meaningful fiction. And yet, I think Alameddine addresses many contemporary issues adopting a suitably light approach

Another afternoon, it's lunchtime and I carry my book to the cafe where I am to have lunch, placing my order at the queue, I spot a colleague sitting on her own eating her lunch. i smile and wave to her and then struggle with whether I ought to go over and join her. In the end I decide she'd probably I didn't anyway and so I sit on my own and read my book. I wonder if she will think me aloof and I suspect this is one of those peculiarly English situations where neither party really wants to sit with the other but are forced to out of politeness. Thankfully, I'm not English and so am allowed some latitude- perhaps I don't quite understand the etiquette- an excuse that I grab with both hands...

In Nigeria, the brouhaha around the demotion of some police officers including the former boss of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu reeks of the typically Nigerian muddleheadedness. Some people celebrate thinking Ribadu has got his comeuppance for his arrogance and yet, although no great fan of Ribadu's I can't help but wonder if the exercise is justified. Assuming that due process had not been followed in the promotions, is demoting them the best way to address this? What about the impact on the morale of some of he officers who were actually promoted because of their good performance?
What with the appointment of various individuals of potentially questionable integrity to key posts, it appears that President Yaradua is losing the battle with the forces of negativity, meanwhile the alleged picture of his young son, toting a gun and brandishing currency notes posted on the Photo Speak section of the Sahara Reporters website adds to my sense of unease, as does this Youtube video of his wife's visit to Harlem

And to show that it isn't just Yaradua that is at issue, there is the now infamous Obama dinner, which had me shaking my head in wonder...

Monday, August 04, 2008

Bookslam, Nonso Anozie and a whiff of nepotism

Walking out of the tube station, I am at a loss whether to turn left or right- the map on the wall of the tube station isn't much help, and so I find myself taking a gamble and heading in a direction that I assume to be the right one. It soon becomes clear that it isn't, and it has begun to rain, a fierce drizzle of the irritating kind that sometimes appears in London, making me want to shout at it, make up your mind and fall like a proper tropical storm, rather than keeping up this piss-pissing all day long. It is a Thursday night and as I am in the edgy trendy area between Notting Hill and Kilburn, I pass revellers a plenty. After several false turns, I find myself walking down a deserted walkway that ends up at the back of a council estate. There is a gathering in front of one of the flats, many young black men and women, all dressed in black. I assume that they are coming from a funeral until I walk a few steps further and run into another crowd, this time all dressed in green. Conscious of the recent headlines about gangland stabbings, I quicken my steps and soon find myself standing under the Westway, the huge fly-over in West London. the air is alive to the sound of skateboarders, twisting, turning and landing with a loud thump. Someone, the council perhaps has converted part of this space to a skateboarder's paradise with a wooden floor that sweeps and swoops back on itself providing a loud echoing thump from the many skateboarders packed into the space. Wandering past them, I come across a nightclub type queue which I initially pass and then realize that it is the queue for Bookslam, the literary nightclubbing event started by author Patrick Neate that I am headed for. The very polite security men soon let me in to the vast dark cavern of a night club where the event takes place, which is filled with some cool rhythmic music at a volume that allows conversation. I buy myself a drink and stumbling to find a place to sit, I bump into the star of the evening, James Frey- he of the Oprah scandal around the "fictionalized memoir" A Million Little Pieces. He politely extricates himself from me and thankfully I haven't spilt any drink on him.

Patrick soon mounts the stage and introduced the first act, a hilarious young poet called Byron Vincent who soon shakes me out of my work induced apathy. Then it is time for Frey who asks the crowd of maybe 200 if they would rather hear about sex or guns. Sex is the near-unanimous choice and so he launches into a reading from his new book, a novel, Bright Shiny Morning set in California. I am caught up in the story and when the next act Bryn Christopher launches into his rousing gospel-infused R and B songs, I head to buy a copy of Frey's new book and queue to have it autographed.

He asks me what he should write and when I tell him my name and shrug, he asks if I mind if he swears. I shrug again and that is how I end up with a book inscribed "To XXXXXX, the coolest motherfucker in London, indeed, indeed" What that means coming from arguably one of the world's best known fabricators is a matter for conjecture, but I have had a good night, having tucked into the affordable Thai food on offer at the night....

Nonso Anozie is a British-Nigerian actor much in the news this week with the debut of the film Cass in which he stars. The film based on the life of the "infamous football hooligan" Cass Pennant has received good reviws. Anozie is perhaps following in the footsteps of Cyril Nri,Chiwetel Ejiofor, Adewale Akinnuoye Agbaje and David Oyelowo. As is Chuk Iwuji another rising British Nigerian actor...

Recently stumbled across this website which appears to have interesting events listed...

In Abuja and here in London, rumours brew thickly of an imminent cabinet reshuffle. There is much discontentment on both sides with the current leadership, but while a regicide appears imminent in London, there appears to be no such luck in Abuja....or could the still rumbling election petitions provide any surprises?

Meanwhile a little bird whispers to me that the current Nigerian Chief Justice much praised for his uprightness has in the last six months sworn in not one but two of his sons in as judges- one of the Federal High Court and the other as a member of the Abuja High Court judiciary. Perhaps David Milliband need not worry about whether or not to appoint his brother and fellow cabinet member Ed to a high office of state if he succeeds in toppling Brown- he can take notes from our own Chief Justice, although whether the UK press will be quite as obliging as the Nigerian press remains to be seen....

From Farafina Publishers come news of their latest offerings including Nnedi Okorafor Mbachu's Zahra the Windseeker and The Weaverbird Collection, edited by Akin Adesokan, Ike Anya, Sarah Manyika and Ike Oguine

I've recently finished two relatively hefty tomes from British literary stars of years past- Hanif Kureishi's Something to Tell You, i found really difficult to get in two but halfway through, became more engaging, if still somewhat unsatisfying; while Adam Mars Jones' Pilcrow, an interesting account of a disabled boy growing up in Fifties Britain was engaging page by page but seemed to go nowhere, and by the end, left me slightly puzzled with why I had to plough through all those pages...

The Booker longlist is out and the only book on the list that I have read is Linda Grant's The Clothes on Their Backs, which I quite enjoyed soon after it was longlisted for the Orange Prize, but which frankly isn't really all that....

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A fleeting return...

Getting on the train, I see him at the far end of the platform, I recognize him by the colourful African print shirt which he wears these days in the summer to the office. I move to wave to him and then notice that he is engrossed in an active, almost aggressive conversation with the woman beside him. She is smartly dressed in a grey trouser suit, and my first thought is that she must be sweltering in that outfit on this hot summer day. She seems to be haranguing him about something and so not wanting to embarrass him, I move to the far end of the carriage and bury my head like a good Londoner in one of the free Metro newspapers that litter the carriage. For the umpteenth time I wonder whether the newspaper companies responsible for all this extra litter pay extra to the local authority for cleaning up. These are the same newspapers that harangue us daily about reducing our carbon footprints and I can't help but wonder how many extra kilograms of carbon the free newspapers they churn out are adding....

When it is time to get off at my stop, I notice that my colleague and the woman who I now think must be his wife gets off as well. I am surprised as I am going to a meeting at a hotel and so quicken my steps. As I enter the lobby, I pause at reception to ask where the meeting is being held. In that instant they catch up with me and I stammer out a good morning. His reply is perfunctory and he makes no effort to introduce me to his companion. As I move towards the room where my meeting is to take place, I bump into a lawyer friend who appears surprised to see me- are you testifying in the investigation, he asks. I know it was your office but I didn't see you mentioned in the documentation. It is then that the truth sinks in, rumours have swirled about how my colleague has threatened to take our employers to an employment tribunal. Evidently some sort of pre- meeting is going on- as I make my way to my meeting, I reflect on the coincidence that has roped us all together this July morning....

I have just finished reading the autobiography of Clarence Thomas, the African-American judge on the US Supreme Court, whose confirmation hearings nearly two decades ago descended into a fightfest as he was accused of sexually harassing Anita Hill, a former subordinate who was also AfricanAmerican. Reading it, I am filled with sympathy for him, coming from a very poor family from Georgia and struggling up the ladder in a country where his dark skin made him the target of much derision not just from whites, but also from his black schoolmates who dubbed him America's Blackest Child. What that sort of trauma can do to a man's psyche can only be guessed at, but in reading the book I am filled with pity for him....I am also struck by how many people do not remember who he is, while for me the image of his accuser Anita Hill, pretty with her face tearstained testifying before the Senate is indelibly marked in my memory...

Speaking of memory, I've just finished Dancer, by Colum McCann, whom I have only just discovered. McCann vividly recreates or reimagines the life of the dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov that you almost believe that he is writing from memory... I'll be looking out for more books by McCann, whose lyrical voice sings with the stereotypically Irish rhythms of his heritage

Theatre loving Londoners are in for a treat with the programme of plays by Tiata Fahodzi, the Black British Theatre Company opening at the Almeida from the 28th of July to the 1st of August featuring actors from Nigeria and Ghana among other places, including Cyril Nri , Superintednt Adam Okaro from the television series The Bill

In Kenya, the Kwani Literary Festival is set to kick off in Nairobi featuring a slate of African writers including Ishmael Beah, Monica Arac de Nyeko (who recently outed herself as a fan of this blog), Chimamanda Adichie, Dayo Forster, whose Reading the Ceiling I enjoyed and of course, the host Binyavanga Wainaina. It sounds like good fun for those lucky enough to be in Nairobi...

Sefi Atta's new book, Swallow is out on Amazon now and here she talks about it with Ike Anya

So much to blog about, and so little time....I'll try to be more disciplined....

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My post on 14th and serenity

Over the last few weeks, I have been privileged to be part of an innovative, unique project involving a variety of Nigerian bloggers. Today I posted my own contribution, the final one, to the blog 14th and Serenity

When I agreed to take part, I had no idea what to expect, but it's been fun- challenging, especially in my currently severely time-constrained state, but fun. I hope I get a chance to work with these talented bloggers again

Hopefully, I'll be back soon....

Friday, May 30, 2008

Chimamanda, Binyavanga, Dave Eggers and Marie Elena John to run workshop in Lagos

Chimamanda Adichie will be organizing a creative writing workshop in Lagos from August 19 to August 29 2008. The workshop is sponsored by Fidelity Bank. Guest writers who will co-teach the workshop alongside Adichie are the Caine Prize Winning Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina (author of DISCOVERING HOME), the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award nominated Caribbean writer Marie-Elena John (author of UNBURNABLE) and the Pulitzer Prize nominated American writer Dave Eggers (author of A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS). Workshop participants will be expected to read and discuss a wide range of fiction and non-fiction, as well as complete short writing exercises. The aim of the workshop is to encourage published and unpublished Nigerian writers by bringing different perspectives to the art of storytelling.
Participation is limited to those who apply and are accepted. A symposium open to the public will be held at the end of the workshop.
To apply, send an e-mail to
Your e-mail subject should read ‘Workshop Application.’
The body of the e-mail should contain the following:
1. Your Name
2. Your address
3. A few sentences about yourself
4. A writing sample of between 200 and 800 words. Please indicate whether your sample is fiction or nonfiction. Acceptances will be based on the quality of the writing sample.
All writing material must be pasted or written in the body of the e-mail. Do NOT send any attachments. Applications with attachments will be automatically disqualified. Deadline for submissions is July 12 2008. If accepted, you will be notified by August 5, 2008.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Fourteenth and Serenity...coming soon

Catwalq's roped me into this. Sounds like fun. For more info see here

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Racially profiled in the West End and other stories

It is not very late, at least by the standards of the West End- perhaps ten thirty or so. I have finished dinner in Chinatown with the friends visiting from Nigeria, and am now making my way to Tottenham Court Road tube station to catch the tube home. The weather has suddenly turned chilly in that capricious way that English weather in the spring has, and I decide that I am best off retrieving my scarf and gloves from my coat pockets and putting them on. Seeing the bustle of the busy street, I stop and make my way to a street corner, my back pressed against a lamp post, my work backpack balanced firmly between my legs and proceed to make the necessary adjustments to my attire. I am nearly done, the gloves pulled snugly on, when he walks up to me. He is wearing the fluorescent yellow waistcoat over what I soon realize is a police uniform.
“Ere” he barks “what are you up to?”

I look behind me, certain that he isn’t addressing me.

But he is. He repeats his question “So what are you up to?”

I am so surprised by the aggressive tone that I stammer out “Just on my way home”

“Well, go on then”, he retorts

I slowly, deliberately, give my gloves a final tug, reach down and lift my backpack on to my back and then head down the road.

Ten steps later, I am filled with anger- why on earth have I walked off so meekly? Since when was it a crime to stand on a busy street corner in the West End? Why has he picked on me? It is too late to turn back and so I continue home seething.

The next day recounting the story to an English friend who works nearby, he explains that I must have been mistaken for a purveyor of chemical substances- apparently the private clubs nearby where English media types and celebrities congregate also lead to a lot of traffic in materials, and PC Plod must have mistaken me for one of them.

I am incensed, and wonder why the mostly white middleclass users are not accosted in the same way. Two weeks on, I remain bemused by it all….... It's the sort of thing you expect in South London, but in the heart of the West End?

The London mayoral elections loom, and in spite of (and perhaps because of) the heavy campaign by the London newspaper, the Evening Standard against the incumbent, Ken Livingstone, I’ve firmly decided to vote for him. The thought of Boris Johnson, the faux-bumbling Tory toff, who once famously referred to black children as piccaninnies in an article, becoming Mayor, fills me with dread. He’s so obviously of a type – tousled untidy hair, Etonian drawl and all- that harks back to another, less open London. Brian Paddick, the Lib Dem candidate hasn’t a chance in hell, so why throw away my vote? Many of my English middle class friends loathe Ken, but it isn’t a loathing I share. He may not be the most likeable person but I think he’s the best candidate for Mayor and that he’s done a fairly good job. It’s bad enough that Gordon Brown and his dithering may end up handing the country on a plate to the Tories. Let’s at least try and make sure they don’t get London as well….

On the subject of nasty Tories, I’ve just finished Andrew Hosken’s Nothing Like a Dame- about the shenanigans of Tesco heiress, Dame Shirley Porter as leader of the Tory dominated Westminster Council. It makes for chilling reading, and highlighted for me why for many who lived through those years, the Tories are still seen as “the nasty party”

Another chilling read was Violation: Justice, Race and Serial Murder in the Deep South by David Rose. Through the prism of one African American man’s trial for a series of murders in Columbus, South Carolina, Rose paints a shocking picture of the long history of racism and the justice system in the Deep South. It horrified and saddened me, particularly the story of the lynching of a young black boy after his white friend was killed, probably accidentally while they were playing with a gun….

The Obama and Clinton fight continues and as it drags on, potentially putting a Democratic victory into jeopardy, I continue to marvel at the viciousness that is being unleashed….

Back home in Nigeria, our president remains in a German hospital, while the country remains without a Minister of Health. We are assured that the president is doing well, yet no-one explains why he is still recuperating abroad if this is the case. I certainly hope he makes a full recovery soon as the prospect of a President Jonathan sends shivers down my spine….

Granta magazine has launched a new website, and on my first visit, I found it while nicely designed, strangely insipid, bare, like a newly renovated house that no-one has moved into. Nevertheless, there is an interesting letter from Petina Gappah to Thabo Mbeki on the continuing crisis in her home country of Zimbabwe

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cyril Nri in Oxford Street at Royal Court Theatre

Runs 2nd to 31st May, Mondays to Saturdays 7.45pm, Satuday Matinees 4pm

Oxford Street

Written by Levi David Addai

2 - 31 May

"I don't want to work here much longer, I got bigger plans than dis place... I gotta make it. Can't be living in my forties and still working in retail. Can¹t be living in the struggle no more."

Oxford Street: where the streets are paved with gold, if you just know where to look.

At Total Sports, security guard Kofi and his workmates are making sure everything runs smoothly, easing the daily grind with plenty of jokes and chat about the future. Young or old, they all want more from life. The only difference is how they'll go about getting it.

This boisterous and comic new play from Levi David Addai (93.2FM & House of Agnes) looks beyond the glossy facade of the high street at the stories and ambitions of the workers within.

Director Dawn Walton

Designer Soutra Gilmour

Cast: Reece Beaumont, Preeya Kalidas, Daniel Kaluuya, Kristian Kiehling, Amelia Lowdell, Nathaniel Martello-White, Cyril Nri, Ashley Walters, Shane Zaza

Sunday, April 20, 2008

October gallery Sale, ends 26.04.08. In lieu of a "proper" post

From 17th to 26th April 2008

Up to 80% off original artworks, paintings photographs and works on paper.

Come along and take a look!

October Gallery

24 Old Gloucester Street

London, WC1N 3AL

020 7242 7367

Nearest tubes are:- Holborn & Russell Square

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Form-filling, Obama, I want to drink small stout and other miscellanies

He is concentrating hard, his tongue stuck out, his brow furrowed. He writes in answer after answer and then turns the page. I wonder what the form he is filling in is for. And I realize that I like filling in forms- have done ever since I was a child. I liked making sure that I had the correct ink- usually black and I liked forming the letters in clearly aligned blocks, listing my first name, my middle name, then the surname and then all the other personal details that the form demands. I have plenty of opportunity these days to fulfil my form-filling desires- what with visa forms and landing cards and applications for mortgages and now job applications....or rather applying for "new roles" as our HR people put it... Watching the young man struggle with his form, I realize that I am probably that rarity- a bureaucrat's dream, someone who actually likes form-filling...

The plumber tells me he's got a visa to relocate to Australia. He doesn't like this country any more, he says, it's all going downhill. He's Sarf London born and bred and I was introduced to him by a colleague some four years ago. He's done most of the plumbing work I've needed done and has introduced me to electricians and other workers that I've needed. We have had a good relationship and yet I am scared to ask him what he really means, and so refrain and wish him good luck, as he gets into his white van....

To dinner in Spitalfields, an area whose funk I like. As I approach the flat of the City couple who have invited me, I spot a group of Bangladeshi elders white-bearded, leaving the house next door, perhaps heading for evening prayers. In the distance, the Hawksmoor church gleams white in the dying light, as a dreadlock-headed brother pauses to touch fists with me. I can see why they like living here, trustafarians and arty types- it's edgy and vibrant, but I fear that the more City types move in, the more that vibe'll be lost, as happened in Notting Hill years before I'm told...

At dinner, a mouthwatering simple spaghetti in a rich meaty, tomatoey spiced with just a hint of chilli, the talk is of Obama and his race speech. When my white English host confesses that he had wondered what the fuss was about Reverend Wright's speech was, I feel like hugging him. I too had wondered at the shock and the backlash- thinking that perhaps he had advocated the extermination of all white people or some such radical talk- and was surprised to read views that did not seem radically different from what some of my leftish American classmates had expressed a few years ago...

I have just finished Anton Gill's Peggy Guggenheim: The Life of an Art Addict ahead of a planned visit to Venice later in the year. It is well-written and gave me new insights into the world of modernism and impressionism and the building of art collections, although it took me a while to get through and could perhaps have been a touch lighter in tone...

I am reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali's The Caged Virgin: A Muslim woman's plea for reason and so far I am not impressed. I'm not sure whether it is the translator's fault but the writing is staccato, the ideas are not fully developed and the pieces seem cobbled together, some of them reading like a B grade essay by an undergraduate for their social science class. There are flashes of brilliance and poignant personal insights but so far I'm not impressed....

In Nigeria, some good and not so good- the resignation of the health ministers and their investigation by the EFCC is welcome, as is the investigation of Iyabo Obasanjo Bello, the chair of the senate health committee; but this article in Sahara reporters, innuendo or not, I found slightly worrying. The governorship elections in Kogi State being repeated today following the annulment of the previous elections is welcome but the fact that the two front-runners are the two immediate past governors is less heartening

Petina Gappah writes a beautiful piece for the Mail and Guardian inspired by an amazing photograph, which is truncated and rendered almost meaningless by the Guardian in the UK

Meanwhile I was much tickled by this "gospel comedy" song from Nigeria- not just the rhythm and the lyrics, but the concepts behind it....

Friday, March 28, 2008

Adichie and Jackie Kay, Nii Ayi Kwei Parkes and other London events

In lieu of a proper post...(coming soon, this weekend, I assure you), note the following upcoming London events:

Chimamanda reads in London

South Bank Centre events here and here

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Quick round up

I can't believe I haven't posted in over a month, but life has been such a whirl that I am only just stopping to catch my breath. In any case it's all good- as my old boss used to say "If you think your job is stressful, try being unemployed"

They walk in hand-in-hand, the bucket of popcorn delicately balanced in her other hand, he clutches the drinks in his. They take the seat in front of us, exchange a light kiss and begin to chat in low tones. I can't help but overhear- their accents are strong- his is Latin (Spanish or South American), hers is Eastern European. As they murmur their endearments in heavily accented English- their only common language, I think how this is one of the things I like about London...

On the train again, another day, I am seated opposite a middle aged man and woman. I try to read the body language- not husband and wife I think. They begin to talk as the train pulls out and the picture emerges- he is the chief executive of a company about to merge and she is one of the directors. They are on their way to a retreat with the staff to update them on the merger. They appear relaxed as they talk over the events for the unfolding day, but when she leaves to get a coffee, I notice he discreetly swallows a tablet from a bottle marked with the brand name of a popular tranquilizer. I realize that this seemingly powerful man is so nerve-wracked that he needs medication to help him along. I suppose a chief exec with shaking hands is not the most reassuring of images. His colleague slips back into her seat and they continue their conversation- she is none the wiser....

It is near midnight and I am chatting to my friend in New York when she says "Oh, our governor has implicated in some prostitute using mess- and his wife is standing beside him as he gives the press conference" We wonder why the wife has to stand beside the man at the press conference. Personally I think the woman should say "Yes I'll support you and stand by you privately but you are going to face those cameras ALONE"

My ambivalence towards Obama and Clinton is slowly undergoing a shift not least driven by the "everything plus the kitchen sink" approach of the Clinton campaign, with Ms Ferraro's recent comments particularly annoying. I am reminded of the aphorism that a prejudiced white liberal is probably more insidious than an out and out right wing racist...A friend sent me this link, which in many ways reflect some of my own feelings..

And I think Michelle Obama is an incredible asset.

I've enjoyed the Rose Tremain books that I have read- there's no doubt that she is an accomplished story teller, able to spin out a yarn that holds you, but my reading of her lates book The Road Home was less satisfying. The story of an Eastern European immigrant to the UK, I could not shake the sense that Rose Tremain had decided "I am going to write about immigrants", which laudable as it is ultimately in my opinion undermined the story...

More satisfying was Dayo Forster's Reading the Ceiling. I was browsing in Daunt's one weekend not too long ago when I stumbled across the book in the Africa section- I immediately bought it, thinking Dayo might be Nigerian. In the event she was Gambian but I was struck by the similarities in the society and culture and even the food. It's a well-written story of a young middle class Gambian woman and her growing up and employs an unusual literary device which kind of worked- I won't spoil it by saying any more...

I've also just finished David Profumo's Bringing the House Down, his account of the scandal (he hates the word) that brought his father John Profumo down as Minister in the 60s. Written from his perspective as a child, it's a good book, although I sometimes felt he was showing off with big words and Latin and French phrases- the product of his first class degree from Oxford or Cambridge. That said there was something honest about it that struck a chord..

I'm behind on Nigerian politics-but thought that the compromise candidacy of Vincent Ogbulafor, the new PDP chairman was a good thing. He'll certainly be less abrasive than the immediate past chair, although his recent call for all Nigerians to join PDP was slightly worrying...

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Barcelona breaks my heart, singing for my supper and the definition of corruption

He is perhaps in his fifties, dressed in what I have come to know is the casual wear of a certain type of English man- the brightly coloured jumper ( or sweater, as I'd have called it back in Naija), the corduroy trousers and the lace-up shoes. He is tall and appears hunched down in the small seat of the tiny two-carriage train running into the Cotswolds. As I look out through the window at the unfolding vast landscape, I hear him speak in a quiet, again almost quintessentially English diffident manner, his words directed to the plump middle aged woman dressed in a ticket collector's uniform making her way through the carriage, checking tickets. I do not hear what he says to her, but I hear her asking him to "give her a moment", I return to the report that I am reading on my laptop and am startled a few minutes later as the conductress plops herself into the seat beside the man. He begins to fire off a series of questions which I cannot hear, but from her answers, it appears he is asking about her work- what hours does she work,how long has she worked for the train company and so on.... As she leaves to continue her work, he thanks her for her time in a soft voice and leaves me wondering what that was all about. Is he a director in the train company, or a novelist doing research for his next book, or is he just exploring a midlife career change?

The first time I travelled on my own outside he UK after I arrived here, was to Barcelona, and I promptly fell in love with the city- its relaxed vibe, the mix of beach and urban sophistication, the Gaudi buildings, the eclecticism of the Ramblas the long pathway filled with market stalls and street artists and impresarios- and I loved the fact that no one seemed to care where you were from. Barcelona was my introduction to Spain, a country I have often returned to, but the photographs last week of racist fans taunting Lewis Hamilton upset me.....

I finish the presentation and step back from the lectern, enjoying the heady adrenaline buzz that accompanies a successful speech or presentation. The audience swarms round and then recedes and I am left with the two organizers who offer to take me to lunch. We head for Covent Garden and end up in a dark room, painted with black walls enlivened by bold splashes of red and green- red roses, red chilli peppers, vegetables. We are in L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon and as we take our seats round the bar that surrounds the cooking space, I prepare for a dining experience. In front of us, a large Jabugo ham is painstakingly being cleaned and trimmed by one of the staff, further in, our meal is being cooked. I have a deep fried soft boiled egg on a bed of salad to start and it is amazing to see what looks like a scotch egg served warm, but without the sausagemeat and with the yolk still runny... the venison canneloni is a huge tube of pasta filled with a rich, meaty sauce that reminds me a bit of cowtail pepper soup, without the pepper, and the warm chocolate tart wih vanilla icecream is simply delighful. As I stagger out sated, I can't help but think that I have sung, almost literally for my supper..

It's been a busy time in UK politics with the MP Derek Conway scandal like something lifted straight out of Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty, then the fuss over whether the government plans to tax the non-domiciled wealthy would lead to an exodus of the rich and talented from the City of London and bring about London's demise as a financial powerhouse. Yet only a few months ago, everyone- pundits and players alike were hailing the idea, first put forward by the Tories as brilliant, and pontificating on how unsustainable the current situation was...sometimes I think I must be living in a parallel universe...

Just finished two books, non-fiction that I would strongly recommend. The first is Ian Burumas Murder in Amsterdam which is a thoughtful exploration of the Netherlands in the context of Pim Fortuyn and Theo Van Gogh's murders. It reminded me that I still haven't read Ayaan Hirsi Ali's autobiography. Buruma gets it wrong though in one page where he refers to countries like Saudi Arabia and Nigeria where women are stoned to death for adultery. As far as I know, no Nigerian woman has been stoned to death for adultery, or have they?

The second book is Poor Story by Giles Bolton who used to work for the UK Dept. for International Development in Rwanda and is one of the best accounts of the aid industry by someone who has been there, acknowledges the problems but hasn't become completely cynical. I particularly liked his exposition about why it might not be such a good idea to send a goat/cow/sheep to Africa....

Is it just me, or does Nigerian politics seem to have slipped into a bit of a lull at the moment? I had looked forward to getting a list of the 419 fraudsters posing as distinguished senators after Nuhu Aliyu, a former police boss who is now a Senator threatened to reveal their names. He however soon withdrew his claim and apologized, obviously after having had his ear bent by his colleagues. The pulling together to cover u and protect each other is sadly reminiscent of the way UK MPs have pulled together to defend their right to employ family members as their staff. In Africa, that is corruption and nepotism, in Westminster, its a long and noble tradition that fosters family ties....

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Transformation, the fragility of peace & Wainaina's columns

On my way to a meeting, I board the train, and take my seat behind two friends, female, young, blonde; obviously, like me on the way to work. They, unlike me, bag a table and proceed to chatter and giggle their way through most of the twenty minute journey, then five minutes to the first stop, they whip out little purses, unzip them and in a moment, I stare transfixed as the table surface is transformed into a display to rival that of any salon. I watch as they carefully, slowly, layer by layer, lay on the make-up, seemingly unaffected by the jolting of the train- first, various liquids are applied to the whole face, or to pars thereof and then it is time to concentrate on the eyes with various wand-like implements, and then the lips are outlined, filled in, shaded and tinted with a delicacy of movement that would put Van Gogh to shame. As we pull into the station, they pack up their gear, put the purses away and lift their bags to leave the train- as they walk past my seat, I see that they are transformed- those amongst you who think that makeup does not work should think again....this was such a slick operation, miles away from my mother's spartan pancake and eye pencil routine when I was growing up...

A colleague waylays me in the small office kitchen, I had somewhat foolishly given her a copy of Half of a Yellow Sun at Christmas and so now she wants to know more- "Do these", she stumbles over the word, waves a hand, "differences still exist in Nigeria?" I want to say, well, yes to some extent but that things are a lot better now, especially among the younger generation like me and then I remember Kenya, my visit last week to some of the Kenyan blogs and forums and I realize how fragile our peace is. And so I stammer a reply, pointing out the role that economic tensions play in situations like this.To bolster my case, I quote from Winnie and Wolf, the fictionalized account (by AN Wilson) of the relationship between Hitler and Winifred Wagner, daughter-in-law of the composer which I read over Christmas. I describe how Wilson captures the mood in Germany between the wars, charting convincingly what it felt like to ordinary people. The humiliating grinding poverty following the First war and then the rise of Hitler and his thuggish hordes who appear to restore German pride and confidence and the what if as a consequence a small minority suffered, the majority were glad to revel in their improved circumstances....The lesson I think is that peace is fragile, no matter where you are...

I stumbled across this DFID supported site which seems like a good idea if you are sending money home

Nigerian writer Nnedi Okoroafor Mbachu who has dropped by here before is one of the winners of the Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa in the junior category for her book Long Juju Man

If, like me, you are a fan of Binyavanga "How to Write About Africa" Wainaina's, acerbic but thoughtful writing, my recent discovery of his columns for South Africa's Mail and Guardian will please you as it does me. His articles on the troubles in his home country of Kenya are poignant and insightful...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Burantashi etc

Having not had the chance to check my uknaija email in a while, I finally got round to it and was pleasantly surprised by the number of emails there. The most interesting was from a gentleman asking if I could tell him where to buy burantashi as he has “suffered from ED” for a number of years. Burantashi had almost mythological status when I was growing up in Nigeria- it was the Hausa herbal answer to Viagra- and stories circulated of boys and men who had used it and subsequently ended up in accident and emergency units, laid low by the -ahem- potency of the product. Reading the email made a welcome change from the hundreds of spam messages asking if I would like to buy Viagra or other similar products. My correspondent appears to be based in Yugoslavia, and so it appears a business opportunity beckons for Northern Nigerian herbalists. If anyone knows suppliers of burantashi in Europe, please drop me a discreet line…

The six boys cluster round their teacher, smartly dressed in school uniform, obviously on a school trip or excursion of some sort. Seeing them, I am taken back to my school days, the prestige of being selected to represent the school at debates and quiz competitions; the freedom of being allowed to cut classes for the day and breathe the air of the outside world. Even more exhilarating were those occasions when we were successful and brought the trophy back- ah the heady giddiness of those days….

I’ve been reading a lot of what my literary friend disparagingly calls bubble-gum reading- perhaps it’s the January blues that are making me averse to plunging into anything too meaty or tasking. Having just finished Tina Brown’s The Diana Chronicles- with its lurid pink cover- a challenge to lug on to a train-, I progressed to Elinor Lipman’s My Latest Grievance, which had me laughing all the way through and looking forward to more Lipman tales.I am now simultaneously reading The Importance of Being Eton, a slim volume by an Old Etonian exploring the school’s place in English mythology and society and Murder in Amsterdam by Ian Buruma which examines changes in Dutch society through the prism of the murder of Theo Van Gogh. I quite enjoyed The Diana Chronicles for its insights into contemporary British royal society, and while it was criticized for not having any new revelations in it, it certainly did pull together lots of different strands together in a very readable way. And reading it while the inquest goes on, breathlessly covered in the newspapers, perhaps made it even more readable.

I’ve also just finished Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope and gained a newer respect for him- I don’t always agree with him, but I can appreciate his freshness and appeal and his willingness to admit that he hasn’t necessarily got the right answers. His humanity comes across so vividly. And he writes well. I still remember a Nigerian friend from the US ringing me, breathless with excitement after Obama’s speech at the Democratic Convention four years ago, convinced that he had just experienced a dramatic historical moment. Yet if I was in the US and a Democrat, I’m not sure who I’d vote for….don’t ask me why- I’m not sure I know the answer myself….

In Nigeria, the sadness of dysfunctional families doomed and locked into a cycle of hurt and despair grabbed the headlines, and made me cringe even as Lucky Igbinedion another of the hapless ex-governors was detained by the anti-corruption body the EFCC. Let’s hope he doesn’t fall ill and end up at the National Hospital Abuja like his mate Ibori…

I was pleased when Gordon Brown appointed Jacqui Smith as the first female Home Secretary, a refreshing break, I thought, from Blair’s tradition of appointing tough-talking bully-boys to the post. I was even more impressed when only a few days in post, she responded to the attempted bombing of Glasgow airport with level-headed calmness. I set this out to explain my bewilderment at her recent admission that she would not walk the streets of London at night- not in notorious Hackney and not in salubrious Kensington and Chelsea. Having walked the streets of Hackney late at night recently after seeing a play at the Arcola and then a meal at Obalende Suya, I am appalled by her comments, especially for the naivete she betrays when she says walking after midnight on the streets is not something people do. I have often argued with some of my City friends about the degree to which the rich and powerful are cocooned from “real life” but Ms Smith’s comments suggest a gap even wider than I had imagined…

Petina Gappah who’s visited us on this blog more than once now has her own blog and Igoni Barrett of Farafina has an excerpt from his forthcoming novel published in Guernica

Writing for radio workshop Nigeria

Sent to me by a friend of a friend...will blog properly later

Are you interested in writing for radio and live in Nigeria?

British Council Nigeria would like to pilot a programme to promote literature development through radio. This programme will be established as legacy activity following the Crossing Borders online mentoring project. It is further stimulated by feedback from the Beyond Borders Festival of Contemporary African writing (October 2006) outlining the need for more holistic literature development policies to continue to provide professional development opportunities for writers and to support the development of new audiences for writing.

The programme will provide critical support from UK-based professional writers who will deliver 5-day creative writing workshops in Nigeria in March 2008. We hope to produce, record and air some of the selected creative pieces in collaboration with a broadcast partner in Nigeria later in 2008.

We are looking to work with 48 writers across Nigeria on this pilot phase. We would like to engage writers who are keen to develop new skills in radio writing that explore exciting topical issues. We invite applications from writers who must:
• be Nigerian citizens
• be aged between 18 and 40 years
• be experienced writers with a portfolio of original work and a strong interest in short fiction, the use of dialogue, and narrative voice
• have an excellent standard of written English and be able to use its idioms creatively
• have a strong commitment to developing their work and that of other writers, through participating in creative writing networks
• be able to dedicate the time to complete writing assignments by agreed deadlines and fully engage in all aspects of the process
• be available for the live workshops (March 2008 exact dates to be confirmed)
• possess word processing and basic Internet access skills

Former Crossing Borders participants are encouraged to apply.

If you are interested in applying for a place please send:
- a one-page letter of interest with an original idea for a short story (theme and narrative treatment) and a statement explaining how you expect to benefit from participating in the programme
- a one-page Curriculum Vitae with your name, age, gender, contact details and details of any publications
- 2 sides of A4 prose writing – can be an existing story or novel extract. Remember that the first sentence has to attract and hold our attention!

The closing date for applications is 30 January 2008. Successful applicants will be notified by 18 February 2008.
All applications should be sent or e-mailed to:

The Project Coordinator (Connected Africa Arts)
British Council
20 Thompson Avenue

E-mail: Olamipo.bello@ ng.britishcounci

Monday, January 14, 2008

Happy New Year

I am a few minutes from the train station swaddled in the several layers that the now-icy weather has forced me to adopt when I hear the heart stopping shriek. Like many other commuters, busily burrowing our way to work, my head swivels in the direction of the noise. There are three teenage girls, all black, dressed in school uniform, stopping on their way to school, and the shrieking is apparently, merely an expression of their exuberance. At first I cringe, wondering why we are so noisy, a thought guiltily repressed as I remember a poem by an African American poet from the thirties I once read in which the poet mocked high class “Negroes” bitching about low-class “Negroes” and their shaming ways. As I reflect guiltily on this, I board my train and soon another bunch of giggling teenagers, this time white, indulge in their own hilarity and banish my casual stereotyping..….

Christmas Day in London was a revelation- the empty streets, the silence, was strangely quite soul-warming. Christmas lunch with my British Nigerian friend and his extended family meant a first course of turkey and stuffing, with all the trimmings (produced by my friend’s wife) and then later a course of pepper soup, jollof rice, moimoi and plantain produced by his mother and sister.

On Christmas Eve I was silly enough to agree to meet a friend who was on his way back to Nigeria at John Lewis on Oxford Street. Emerging from the Underground, I found that I could not walk but had to let the crush of bodies which had enfolded me propel me along until it spat me out on a pavement on the other side of the road. My progress was not helped by the crowds of gawkers stopping to stare in shop windows and I wished that there could be two lanes- one for those of us with appointments to keep, and another for those who had come to admire the window displays and the Christmas lights….such an unseasonal thought

Going back to work- chatting to a couple of our female senior executives and enquiring after their exertions, I was struck by how, for all the talk of equal rights, ultimately the task of ensuring a happy family Christmas is still a female evidenced by my own experience... 

So much has happened while I have been away from blogging- Kenya, Obama, Benazir, Ribadu, and trying to capture my thoughts on these will be too difficult. The lowest point for me though, was Kenya. Sitting at a dinner party on New Year’s Eve, I vainly tried to argue that what was happening in Kenya was no general descent of savage Africans into tribal killing and mayhem. As I listened to the smug interpolations from various other guests, I thought to myself, “Why do our leaders do this to us?” If Kibaki and Odinga and all the others realized what damage they were doing to the African cause worldwide with their antics, perhaps they’d be a little bit more conciliatory in their utterances and actions. In the end I resorted to Binyavanga Wainaina’s exhortation to remember that the oldest African country is barely more than fifty years old..

The break was a good time for reading- I finished off The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Hamid Mohsin, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. There was plenty to reflect on in the pages of that slim book, especially for an immigrant from a developing country to the West… I also read Cathy Flynn’s What Was Lost, surprise winner of the Costa Fiction Prize and Anne Enright’s The Gathering which won the Booker- Flynn I enjoyed in its bare description of a gritty shopping centre which reminded me of a centre near where I used to live, but found Enright a bit less gripping than I had expected. Perhaps, stereotyping again I had expected the Irish gift of the gab to unravel in a richly woven story, and the elements and language were there but I felt I could have stopped reading it at any time and not missed it…

Happy New Year to all the faithful and passing readers of this literally keep me going :-)