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Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

 Cover image (c) HarperCollins Christmas in the Kelly household means a few things: seeing Gran in the morning, a midday trip to the Falcon Inn, a mountain of food, an animated film, sleeping, drinking and then a Poirot murder mystery on TV. This year, being on the Agatha Christie binge that I am, I figured that I would have a read of a Poirot novel to get me in the mood. Having focused my Poirot reading on the Middle-Eastern mysteries so far with the intrigue that they present to the reader, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is a much more traditional Christie novel. All the necessary elements are there: the big house in the countryside, a rich old man, the ‘black sheep’ of the family returning, mysterious strangers, jewels and a squabbling family. The story starts on December 22nd and centres on a family Christmas to be hosted by Simeon Lee, a millionaire who made his money in South Africa as a diamond miner. Alfred and Lydia Lee, his son and daughter-in-law respectively, l

From a Crooked Rib by Nuruddin Farah

Cover image. © Penguin Books. I stumbled across Nuruddin Farah’s novels when searching for something written by a Somali author. Perhaps due to the conflict that has raged for years in Somalia, it is very difficult to find much from Somali writers published in English. From a Crooked Rib was published in 1970 and tells the story of Ebla, a young, orphaned, illiterate nomadic girl, who runs away from her encampment. She takes the decision to leave upon learning of her Grandfather’s intention to marry her off to an older man within their Jes (a group of families living in an encampment together). She firstly escapes to a town, Belet Amin, where she finds her cousin and his pregnant wife. She also finds a guide and confidante in a character known only as the widow. Things seem settled until, yet again, Ebla finds her freedom compromised by a male character – this time her cousin, whose wife and child Ebla has been nursing. In her haste she leaves Belet Amin with the w

Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh

Cover image. © Penguin Books. It is unfortunate that, although thoroughly enjoying this book, you can't help but feel a little bit dirty for having read it and liked it. That said, Evelyn Waugh picks apart the colonial world of the inter-war years wonderfully and treats most parties involved with the contempt they deserve.  The story itself follows the story of a fictional African island state of Azania. Their Oxford-educated monarch, Emperor Seth, starts a programme of reforms to modernise his country. Emperor Seth recruits an Englishman, Basil Seal, who, needing something to do with his life, decides that working in Azania is a great idea.  So with a cast of characters designed to add an element of chaos to the story, things move forward at quite a pace. The French consul, Ballon, becomes increasingly disgruntled with the modernisation plans, as do the church leaders - especially when their place of worship is threatened in an infrastructure building programme. 

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

Following on from my first foray into the world Agatha Christie's Poirot earlier this year , I couldn't resist picking up another novel from the collection. Similarly to last time, I selected a novel set in the Middle East, this time in the British Protectorate of Mesopotamia, what is now Iraq. Published in 1936, and set prior to Poirot's most famous case,  Murder on the Orient Express , this novel is centred around a group of scientists on the site of an archeological dig - something close to the author's heart as her second husband, Max Mallowan, was himself an archeologist. Most of the action doesn't take place at the dig though, but rather focuses around the claustrophobic confines of the staff compound. The narrative starts with a preface by Dr Giles Reilly, who goes about introducing us to our narrator, Nurse Amy Leatheran. Nurse Leatheran assumes the narrative, retelling the story of what happened subsequent to her employment by Dr Leidner, one of

World Food Day 2011: Food Security

Mass catering at Kigezi High School, Uganda. In one of my endless Twitter conversations with Inii Ukpabio , I recently learned of something that had gone hitherto unnoticed in my knowledge of development studies. It related to different types of security and the fact that there was such a thing as ‘food security’. Unknowingly, I had already shown some awareness of the issue of food security in East Africa by looking at the choices families may have to make between food costs and education , and also when looking at aid distribution during the current East African famine . And so, being a latecomer to the international development party, I scratched my head a little and then realised what a massive issue it really is and could continue to be for the world and in particular, to my beloved corner of East Africa. In Uganda, where the shilling remains so weak and inflation so high, the implications on food security are seriously high for the average citizen on the street. I

The Right Kind of Aid II: East African Drought Crisis

Umi, three months old, in a medic's arms. Anyone with a heart, or even a scrap of interest in their fellow human beings, will find it hard not to have been moved by the scenes of hunger and desolation coming from the Horn of Africa. Countries such as Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Sudan are having all been affected in some way by an immense drought that has it the region. Eritrea may also be affected, but according to the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) data is hard to come by there. At a time like this the support of a foreign government towards an affected group of people shows the great degree of compassion that people can show to their brothers and sisters around the world. Indeed, it can go some way towards restoring my faith in humanity – especially where the Western powers are involved. In this spirit, on the 6th July, the UK Government stated that the size of their assistance will run to £38 million pounds (

Coucher de Soleil en Normandie

Whilst London was gripped by fleeting madness, I was fortunate enough to be in Ouistreham, France. It is a small coastal resort in the Calvados département in Basse-Normandie. The weather was extremely good, with the exception of the last day when the rain made a brief appearance. The above picture was taken on the broad expanse of flat sand that makes up part of Gold Beach, in Ouistreham, at sunset or coucher de soleil . 

Moonraker by Ian Fleming

Cover image © Penguin Viking The third novel in the series Moonraker (1955) , sees a noticeable shift from the style of the first two. The first noticeable difference is the division of the novel in three parts: 'Monday', 'Tuesday/Wednesday' and 'Thursday/Friday' - in a way reflecting the normality of a working week for many readers. Indeed the first few pages seem to portray a mundane start to an average week at the office for Bond, away from the international jet-setting, dangerous, man of mystery role that we've seen graphically displayed in the previous novels. The action starts in a low-key manner. M, Bond's boss at the Secret Service, is a member of a Gentlemen's club and has been alerted by the management there about a famous character who insists on cheating at cards, despite his wealth. So it is that Bond is invited to play Sir Hugo Drax at cards, in turn teaching him a lesson and softly putting an end to his unfair winning streak.

Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming

Cover image © Penguin Viking So, having read and enjoyed Casino Royale , I couldn't really resist reading Live and Let Die (1954) . Most people who have seen the films maybe haven't read the books and frankly they're missing out. What has continued to delight me about the novels is the fact that they are a lot darker and more serious than the Bond films.  In the second novel, James Bond is called into action to take on a Harlem gangster, Mr Big, and his network of criminality that inevitably leads back to SMERSH. The nature of Mr Big's activities revolves around the selling of 17th Century gold coins in order to bankroll Soviet spies' operations in the USA. Meaning that the locus of the tensions moves from British-Soviet relations to US-Soviet relations - the biggest area of tension during the Cold War.  From Harlem and the jazz clubs, all the way to the Everglades, it seems that Mr Big's network is endless and this claustrophobia is recreated in F

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Cover image © Penguin Viking It was always going to be the case that, after reading a 'new' James Bond novel authored by Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming, I would need to go back to the roots of the story. So, when looking at the vast back-catalogue of Fleming's Bond novels I was surprised to see that Casino Royale (1953) , one of the most recent Bond films, was actually the starting point for Bond as a character in the series of novels.  The first novel follows Bond, a British Secret Service spy, on a mission to a Casino in Royale-Les-Eaux, a (fictional) northern French resort. His aim is to bankrupt Le Chiffre, an operative and paymaster for the Soviet counterintelligence agency SMERSH - a name which means 'death to spies'. Operating undercover as a Jamaican playboy, Bond very nearly comes unstuck at the baccarat table, before getting a little financial help from his CIA friends.  Job done? Not quite. From here events move quickly as Le Chiff

Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie

As a child I was brought up on a cocktail of television adaptations of Agatha Christie’s work. It is only in my adult life that I have realised just how prolific a writer she really was. My favourite of all her characters was undoubtedly the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. This, combined with my love of Middle Eastern culture, led to choosing Appointment With Death as my first ever Christie novel. Appointment With Death was published in 1938 and is based in Jerusalem and Petra. It follows the fortunes of a satisfyingly diverse range of characters: the Boynton family and their domineering matriarch; an old friend of the Boynton family; a young female doctor; an internationally renowned psychologist; and a couple of well-to-do English ladies. We see remarkably little of Poirot at first in this novel, with the exception being when he overhears the words, “you do see, don’t you, she’s got to be killed?” through the walls of his hotel room. To many, this could be throwaway s

Basil D'Oliveira: Cricket and Controversy by Peter Oborne

Cover image © Time Warner Books It is sometimes difficult for someone who was only seven years old at the time of Nelson Mandela’s release from Robben Island to understand the magnitude of Apartheid in South Africa. I remember watching an old looking black man on the TV in 1990, walking along a dusty street, waving at loads of people and that was it. When you’re seven, you don’t always understand that history can actually happen – you think it is something from the past. Basil D’Oliveira, or Dolly as he became known, was born in Cape Town in 1931. Being of mixed Indian and Portuguese heritage he was officially classified by the Apartheid regime as ‘coloured’ – what in the UK we would now term mixed race. This immediately barred him from many things in South Africa, the most notable of which was the right to ever be able to play his beloved cricket for the country of his birth, despite his talent. This excellently well-researched and heavily referenced book by Peter Oborne

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

Never one to do things in the most logical of orders, I watched the film version of A Single Man , starring Colin Firth as the main protagonist, before I had read the novella. In fact I had no clue about the existence of Christopher Isherwood prior to watching the film. The film was a fantastic piece of cinema so I decided to investigate the novel behind it. A Single Man  is the story of one day in the life of George, a gay Englishman working as a professor in a Los Angeles college. The narrative focuses an intense light on George's movements and actions from the moment he wakes until the end of the day - maybe that should say the end of his days. George is living in a neighbourhood that was once bohemian, but has been slowly populated by homogenous, Stepford-esque suburbanites. They all aspire to have clean lives free from anything 'queer' infringing upon it. To this extent George exists very much on the periphery of this way of life with the character of Mrs Strunk as g

Breaking the Barriers to Girls’ Education in the Developing World

Shakila. A student at Taufiq Islamic Primary School, Uganda. Whenever I have written about time I’ve spent in East Africa, I often talk about the fact that geography plays such a big role in how different my life is compared to someone there. What I hadn’t realised until much more recently is that not only does somebody’s physical location in the world play a massive part in the opportunities available to them, but so does their gender. One question that begs to be asked is: why is it that girls in particular are less likely to get access to education in poorer countries? According to Plan UK , women earn 30-60% of men’s earnings for similar jobs and women are more likely to be in low-paid employment, yet an extra year of secondary school boosts a girl’s eventual future wage by 15-25%. Many don't even have the opportunity to get this far. There are obvious cultural and economic pressures dictating that boys, as historical breadwinners, should be pushed to the fore and afforde

Cotonou Club by Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou

Album artwork. I often dream and get ideas into my head about some great voyage into the unknown that I wish to take. I have been lucky enough to have had a few chance meetings and brief conversations recently which have already taken root in my mind. With a bit of effort they should definitely come to fruition. So, my most recent dream? Bénin and Ghana, by way of Togo - most likely over a two week period. With thoughts of visiting a project in Bénin firmly planted, I made the effort to indulge in a bit of research related to a West African country that, although looking small on the map, seemingly has an immensely rich cultural heritage. I found a couple of things in my initial efforts: a novella called The Viceroy of Ouidah  by Bruce Chatwin and an album called Cotonou Club  by Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou. The former, although a beautifully intriguing novella, was written by a yovo (the Béninois equivalent of mzungu ). I needed something a little more African and the Orche

Babylon Revisited by F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald. Author of Babylon Revisited. In the aftermath of the Credit Crunch of the late 2000s, it seems fitting that one of the texts that the Daily Telegraph were giving away last year was F. Scott Fitzgerald's Babylon Revisited - published around two years after the stock market crash of 1929. The world then, as now, was suffering from a serious headache after the bubble of the boom years had burst. The short story follows American Charlie Wales arriving in Paris - his personal Babylon and a place of great corruption in his life. From the moment that Charlie arrives at the Ritz, a place he had frequented before the crash, it is all too apparent that the ghosts of his past are just waiting to drag him back in.  The purpose of his visit to Paris is ultimately for him to face the biggest legacy of his debauched past, the loss of his daughter Honoria into the care of his sister-in-law Marion and her husband Lincoln. This situation, we learn, had come about as

A Thought for Mothering Sunday

Midwife Grace teaches Zainabu to care for Yasini. I am in a position of privilege. I was born at a healthy weight, by caesarian section, in a clean, safe and warm theatre of the old Warneford Hospital, Royal Leamington Spa, in 1984. My mother, although 42, was safe throughout the procedure. As was I. With Mothering Sunday approaching, amid all of its cheap CDs of songs our mums all already own, cards from service stations and flowers that last until Monday morning, and with my own thoughts turning to my trip to East Africa in less than a week, we should think not only of our own families, but also of those in a less fortunate position to ourselves - especially mothers in the third world. After attending the Save the Children Born to Write Blogging Conference  I received an email talking about a report that the charity had commissioned. The report, entitled Missing Midwives , brings into sharp focus the extreme danger that up to 48 million women face annually by giving birth witho

Friday Five Questions: Asya Satti, Singer-Songwriter

Photo © www.aysamusic.com Every so often Twitter can bring to light something a little bit special. This may be anything from something free you never thought of asking for, to a musician starting out in the big bad world of the music industry. Asya Satti is of Sudanese extraction, but has spent time in both Sweden and Egypt before starting out in music from her North London home. Her website describes her musical and lyrical style as 'unhinged', 'honest' and 'humourous' and she has just released her debut EP online. Ayohcee: Music, many people feel, is “in their blood”. Is this true with you or did your interest in singing and song writing really only start in your teenage years? Asya Satti: I definitely think singing is in the blood. According to my mum I'd lie on my back after having my nappy changed and 'croak' to myself for hours - I must have been enjoying what I was hearing! Lol! I started working on my singing technique in my teens

Friday Five Questions: Matthew Jenkins, trustee of Solomon's Children

Photo © 2010, Tugce Ozcan. Navigating your way through the maze of charitable ventures is seemingly getting more difficult. There is quite literally a UK-based charity for everything imaginable and I am convinced that they all deserve our attention. In amongst this labyrinthine web of .orgs, one charity that I have become close to is Solomon's Children . Matthew Jenkins is one of the trustees, a colleague and a good friend of mine. Along with his university professor and fresh batch of trustees, he is transforming Solomon's Children as a charity, expanding its remit and preparing for a large relaunch later in 2011. Matthew talks to Ayohcee about the charity and where it is going. Ayohcee: What are the main goals or objectives of Solomon’s Children and how do you go about accomplishing them? Matthew Jenkins: Our primary goal is to provide an ever expanding network of support for disadvantaged young people in Uganda. Our main focus in achieving this is to provide a link be

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit!

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit, or that's Happy Saint Patrick's day to you if you're not up to speed with your Gaeilge (Irish Gaelic) lessons - which I'm not anyway! If you've ever met me in person you'll know that it isn't immediately apparent from my voice, but I am actually a proud passport-wielding Irishman. Back in 1959 my father left Ireland as a little boy and settled in the United Kingdom, albeit via Luanshya, Zambia. From a very young age, and much to the confusion of my friends during the 1994 World Cup in the USA and thereafter, I was taught to cheer for a team that wore green jerseys, not white ones! A few years later, I have for some purposes re-adopted the Gaeilge spelling of my name - there is, after all, no 'k' in the Gaeilge alphabet. I then used this name when I started this blog  back in 2005. Anyway, by way of a Saint Patrick's Day offering, I have included Sinéad O'Connor's version of 'Óró, Sé do Bheatha 'Bhai

Friday Five Questions: Chris Horner, member of The People's Supermarket

You would have had to have had your head buried in the sand to have missed the buzz that has been growing concerning The People's Supermarket recently. This supermarket takes aim at the ruthlessness and soullessness of the big supermarkets in attempting to create a local supermarket that sources its produce ethically. Chris Horner , a colleague and friend of mine, is responsible for bringing The People's Supermarket to my attention. He is a member and thus a worker at the supermarket in Lamb's Conduit Street, Holborn, London. He agreed to take part in a Friday Five Questions interview for Ayohcee about his involvement in the project.  It must be stressed that his views are his own and don't necessarily reflect the views of The People's Supermarket. Ayohcee: The People’s Supermarket (TPS) has risen to prominence over the last month or so, thanks in part to the Channel 4 documentary about it. What’s all the fuss about? Chris Horner: I’d say it was an idea whose t

A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

My desire to read something by Ngugi wa Thiong'o stems from a couple of different things. On the one hand my involvement with developmental and cultural exchange projects in East Africa meant that it was about time I read a work by an East African author. The second reason was curiosity aroused by the author's name which, to this day, I am still slightly unsure of how to pronounce. That aside, this book does not disappoint. In a manner that is typical of postcolonial literature, the richness of the language use and narrative style surpasses a large number of texts written by English authors of a similar period. The story that Thiong'o creates feels epic. The weight of the book's content and the intertwining of its characters' tales, as the small Kenyan town of Thabai prepares for Uhuru - Swahili for 'freedom' - from the British Empire, almost seems too much to take in. We follow the story of a seemingly simple man, Mugo, who is revered by all of the villl