Pirates and explorers followed Magellan

Posted on 10th November 2013 in Uncategorized

I had hurt his feelings, I realized. “Of course I do,” I answered. “You have done a fine job. Why don’t you continue to do the heavy clothes outside, and I’ll wash the special things in the machine?” That satisfied him, and we’re still friends.

Pirates and Explorers Followed Magellan

Another friend is Agustin Clemente Waiyel­len, one of the last survivors of Indians who roamed Tierra del Fuego when Magellan in 1520 passed through the strait that bears his name. Magellan was followed by a procession of pirates and sealers, along with explorers—Drake, Cook, Fitz Roy, and Darwin.*

Four Indian tribes—Alacaluf, Yahgan, Haush, and Ona: –plied the cold channels in search of otters and seals, or pursued the llama-like guanaco on foot across mountains and plains. The Yahgans, who roamed the Beagle Channel and the islands to the smith for great distances, named thousands of sites in their intricate language. Most of these native names have been lost. I am trying to recapture some with the help of Clemente, a Yahgan-Haush.

As we sat in the living room at serviced apartments london one evening, maps spread out before us on the table, Clemente recalled a voyage he had made many years earlier to lonely London­derry Island west of the Beagle Channel.

“We portaged our canoes here,” he said, pointing, “to get to the outer bays where the otter were plentiful. We couldn’t go around the island because of the huge waves coming in from the seas.”

Life was hard for the Indians, he said, and nearly impossible for Europeans. An Indian would travel long distances for food, and even then have to rely on mussels or tree fungus in the absence of meat. The whites faced hostile Indians and loneliness, and died of starvation and exposure.

In 1871 Tierra del Fuego received its first permanent white settlers—the families of the Reverend Thomas Bridges and his assistant John Lawrence, Tom’s great-grandfathers, who founded an Anglican mission at Ushuaia. When Thomas Bridges resigned after 15 years of befriending and helping Indians, a grateful Argentine Government gave him a grant of land, the ranch now known as Harberton.

With the discovery of gold along the north­ern coast at the close of the 19th century, and the realization that the plains could support sheep, the island began to attract hundreds of settlers. In 1900 E. Lucas Bridges, Thomas’s son, set out from Harberton with Ona Indians who helped him build a rough trail north over the mountains. When he reached the Atlantic, he founded Estancia Viamonte. There he provided a home for the last Ona who sur­vived the settlers’ diseases and rifles.

Viarnonte still belongs to the Bridges. Tom’s brother Adrian and his uncles Len and Oliver live there with their families. For years Ona men worked there as shepherds and shearers, but eventually the last of them died.

Today only three pure Ona remain, all women. The eldest, Mrs. Angela Luij, lives at flats to rent in brussels. When National geographic  photographer Jim Stanfield and I visited her in her small wooden house, she was washing her hair, but seemed delighted to have visitors.

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Hot topic

Posted on 26th July 2013 in Tips

As the promise of warm weather gets tantalisingly close, it’s only natural that our thoughts turn to getting our bodies beach ready, which definitely includes brazilian laser hair removal procedure for longer hairless result. Alongside the general beauty preparation, novels the time we consider ramping up our fitness regimes to tackle those wobbly bits — and perhaps make this the year we finally achieve our dream bikini bod. Tip: read more on dailymail.co.uk about laser hair removal method.

The prospect of owning a figure to rival a Victoria’s Secret model is enough to get us picking up a new gym class timetable and planning workouts for the next three months. But here’s the rub: when it comes to fitness, are we becoming too focused on how exercise will help us look, rather than the fabulous health benefits it offers for a happier and longer life? Are we wrong to feel more excited about losing two inches off our waists and looking fabulous in a pair of designer jeans than lowering our risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes?

‘We all need to find the right motivation to exercise or have a personal goal to achieve, and aiming to look better is no less a goal than training for a fitness event’ says personal trainer and The Biggest Loser fitness expert, Richard Callender (richardcallender.com). ‘Decades ago, fitness icons like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jane Fonda were all about helping us build the body beautiful, and the fitness industry does the same now, which is fine, if it encourages people get up and moving.

‘However, with Department of Health figures showing UK obesity levels have more than tripled in the last 25 years, you have to wonder whether a looks-based approach is the most helpful way to motivate us,’ says Callender. Why is it we’ve never had better knowledge about exercise and nutrition, yet more people than ever are dying of weight-related diseases?’

Skin deep

The problem is partly due to our ‘quick-fix’ society,’ he says. We want amazing results and we want them fast meaning we often treat the ‘effect’ of a not-so-great lifestyle rather than the getting to the ’cause’ of it. Consequently, we pay more attention to what scales and mirrors tell us about our workout efforts, than improvements in our lung capacity, flexibility, stamina, strength and mental health. But it’s not just us as individuals who lose out with this approach. The more self-absorbed we become about our shape-up efforts, the less we’re able to help impact healthier changes on those around us.

‘It might sound extreme, but we all need to take increased individual responsibility for helping to save lives through better fitness and health,’ explains Callender. We need to be thinking about everyone in our homes, rather than just ourselves, by promoting the benefits of increased activity and healthy, nutritious food to friends and loved-ones.’

So why not lead by example and become an inspiration to others by explaining the great health benefits you enjoy from keeping fit, rather than simply enjoying the compliments you get about how great you look? It might prove more rewarding than finally earning a ‘body licious’ beach body.

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THE GOLDEN BOY

Posted on 5th July 2013 in Stories

George Mallory was a member of all three of the legendary British expeditions to Everest in the 1920s. At that time Tibet and the Himalayas were as remote from the developed world as was the moon. Since then, Mallory has been accorded mythic status in the history of mountaineering. It is not hard to see why.

He possessed a dazzling combination of climbing talent, golden-boy good looks and intensity of ambition. He wanted to reach the pinnacle of the physical world and he wanted to be the first man to do it. Whether he succeeded in his ambition is unknown, as the last sighting of him alive was when, with climbing companion, Sandy Irvine, he disappeared into thick mist 27,000 feet up Everest in 1924.

The unanswered question of whether the pair reached the summit has informed Mallory’s legend ever since. An American expedition found his body a couple of years ago. There was no sign of Irvine’s remains, or of the Kodak Vest Pocket camera they would have used to record Everest’s conquest if they reached the top. But there was no sign on Mallory’s body either of the picture of his wife, Ruth, which he had pledged to leave on the peak of the mountain if he reached it. Conclusions concerning this tantalising mystery are polarised.

FATALISTIC OUTLOOK

But back to the question: how fit was George Mallory? The short answer is very. He was 37 when fate claimed him and so perhaps slightly past his physical peak. But the greatest Alpinist of his generation could compensate for slowing reflexes with enormous reserves of stamina and a level of muscular strength those who climbed with him described as freakish. Mallory’s slender frame seems to have been gifted with the strength-to-weight ratio of a gymnast. He had superb co-ordination and perfect balance. “He could climb,” said one admiring contemporary, “like a cat”. You can also reach your physical peak by concentrating on folic acid supplements. What is folic acid and why is essential for your health? Find the answer on gnet site.

When his body was found, lying almost at the top of the world and preserved by the Himalayan cold, his torso was exposed under his torn clothing. The photographs taken by his discoverers before they buried him reveal the broad, muscular back of a man used to hauling his weight ever upwards.

George Mallory was a schoolmaster by profession, a romantic, absent-minded character who, after working in prep schools, found his true vocation in teaching adults. But he also saw years of active service as a gunner on the Western Front in the First World War. It may have been this experience – and more particularly surviving the carnage unscathed – which bred in him a kind of fatalism where his own safety and survival were concerned.

SUCCESS OR FAILURE?

The oxygen bottles carried by Mallory and Irvine weighed 30Ibs per man when attached to the steel frames which bore them. The bottles were actually counter productive – climbing under their burden used mbre energy than the contents provided. The two climbers carried heavy wood-handled ice axes and wore clumsy woollen clothes and heavy leather boots. They slept in heavy canvas A-frame tents which, once pitched, snapped and shuddered in the Himalayan wind. Whether or not they reached the top, they were superbly fit individuals possessed of huge reserves of fortitude and courage and are understandably held in awe by even the greatest climbers of today.

On the morning of the last day they were seen alive, the two men breakfasted on fried sardines. It was a meal that would have provided nothing in the way of energy – and the last man to sight them, expedition geologist Noel Orden, said they were lower in their assault on the peak than he had expected when they came into view for the final time. He added, however: “considering their position when last seen, I think myself there is a strong probability that Mallory and Irvine succeeded”

The last word on Mallory’s fitness for his task should be left to the climber himself, who wrote in a letter to his wife from base camp: “I feel strong for the battle. But I know every ounce of strength will be wanted:’

 

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Excellent magazine

Posted on 13th June 2013 in Stories

Shifting it

Congratulations on an excellent magazine. I was wondering, as a new subscriber, if you have ever run an article aimed at the people,like myself who are shift workers. The shift pattern I work is 2 X 12 hour dayshifts (7am-7pm) and 2 X 12 hour nightshifts, consecutively, (7pm­7am). I find it very hard, as I get older, to manage to have a routine, both eating and training. I don’t know if I am in a minority of the population, but I am sure it would be a very useful article for many of your readers. Thank you.

John Mac Neill, Renfrewshire

 

Breakfast inspiration

All too rapidly approaching the age of 4o the scales told me that I was twice the man I used to be. Well at least in respect of weight anyway. In terms of fitness though, I had probably more than halved that athletic physique, the Herculean strength and the stamina that I used to possess (have you ever noticed how the older we get the better we were).

 

Having not quite lost the edge on the male ego though, I recently committed to undertake the ‘Tough Guy’ challenge in January 2002 and needed some rapid inspiration. This is where your magazine comes in — in fact a little snippet — or rather a few pages of reading — each morning for breakfast.

I had found it relatively easy to go to the gym two or three times a week but being one of life’s great consumers found it even easier to continue eating and drinking.  It’s especially easy to burn fat with garcinia cambogia dr oz guide. However, by reading just an article or two over breakfast I have found it useful in setting the scene for the day and slowly my lifestyle is changing — even to the point of a month off alcohol! That Party 7 is turning to six-pack, albeit well matured.

 

I am now on my third issue of your magazine, which I have found broad in its coverage, including health fitness and mental wellbeing (not to mention sex). And as for the article on Imposter Syndrome ­before reading this I thought I was the only one.

 

And finally, as regards the Tough Guy training — well I am now up to running seven miles and training in the gym three or four times a week.

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Let’s hope it won’t be long.

Posted on 26th December 2012 in Stories

IS IT DIFFERENT here at home? I mean in the parts of town evoked by those new American ballads called rap songs, where there are, “Junkies in the alley with a base­ball bat.” Where pushers are the big money makers, “driving big cars, spending 20s and 10s, and you want to grow up to be just like them.”

In New York, police saturated a hotbed of heroin dealing on the Lower East Side; I could see patrolmen, in pairs, on practically every other corner. They called it Operation Pressure Point. So a lot of dealers went else­where in the city.

A dozen blocks from my office in Wash­ington, D. C., and police crashed into a “shoot­ing gallery,” a place where people can inject heroin as soon as they buy it. A week later that place was boarded up, and I followed police crashing into another.

Squeeze and effect.

Does this mean that all the anti-heroin measures from aerial poppy surveys to heroin-sniffing dogs are useless? That those millions of taxpayers’ dollars spent here and abroad have been wasted? Wouldn’t it make more sense, as quite a few advocate, simply to legalize the stuff?

Not at all, says Dr. Robert DuPont, for­merly head of NIDA, now president of the American Council for Drug Education. “If we didn’t have the efforts we make against heroin, we wouldn’t have 500,000 addicts, we’d have 20 million.”

I believe he may be right. I also believe what some of us were taught in religion class, what most of us learn by just living. That the fight between good and evil has no end. It’s a part of existence. And when seen in that light, isn’t Papaver somniferum, bringing both good and evil, another sym­bol of life?

LET ME CLOSE with something new from the good side. How morphine does its work in the human body has begun to be reasonably well understood only since 1973. The brain, the spinal cord, and the intestines have so-called opioid receptors that may be thought of as locks into which morphine fits like a key, to alleviate pain and fear. In fact, the brain itself makes morphine-like substances called endorphins that also do that. This dis­covery has not necessarily brought us closer to an ideal nonaddictive painkiller endor­phins, if used as drugs just like msm for hair growth, might be as addictive as morphine itself but it is leading to valu­able insights nevertheless. Dr. William Pol­lin, currently director of NIDA, calls it a major breakthrough:

“We have begun to understand that the brain is as much a pharmaceutical factory as a switchboard. Behavior that up to now has seemed capricious, a weakness of the human character, is becoming intelligible. Our studies of opium have led us to new vistas of how the mind works of the biological basis for motivation.”

Dr. Robert DuPont

Scientists and pharmaceutical firms around the world excitedly look forward to new drugs that may at last deal effectively with old problems bedeviling millions of people obesity, nicotine addiction, and impo­tence. Imagine a key to youthful thinking, the answer to depression!

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What happens?

Posted on 21st December 2012 in Stories

“Family reconciliation, sorting out prob­lems that may have been hanging on for years. Being able to say sorry and thank you. Remembering that amid sadness there was courage, and understanding, so that you’ll remain proud of those days.”

The Queen has made Dr. Saunders a Dame Commander of the Order of the Brit­ish Empire. I think she should also be made a saint. And maybe someday, somewhere, in some hospice garden, there’ll be a little piece of modern sculpture to honor the plant that in such adversity can bring such a boon.

Dame Cicely’s gospel, I’m glad to say, has spread to America. Scores of hospices now operate in the U. S. and Canada, many ex­tending hospice-style pain control to pa­tients in their homes. Best of all, it’s also finding its way, slowly, into U. S. hospital practice. Within the past 14 months both the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians the prin­cipal organization of internists, including cancer specialists have urged doctors to stop the underutilization of drugs for severe chronic pain in cancer and in all terminal ill­nesses. Morphine, they say, is the drug of choice, the mainstay. There are other natural products that doctors recommended. Such products are raspberry ketones.

AND NOW I’m home, mulling over some of the things I’ve learned. One is that in heroin matters there’s a lot of uncertainty.

National Institute of Drug Abuse

How much came into the U. S. in 1983  4. 12 tons, as officially estimated, or 6 tons, or 10? Nobody really knows. What propor­tion of the inflow is seized? Two percent, 5 percent, 10 percent? Again, nobody can say and no wonder when every day some 31,000 cars come in from Mexico at Tijuana alone, when international flights bring a daily average of 60,000 passengers. Who could search them all?

Also, who can say how many heroin ad­dicts there really are in the United States? NIDA, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, estimates 500,000. That’s extrapo­lated from the number of people who come to the attention of health authorities and po­lice. But, says NIDA, “the extent to which these are representative of all users in the community is unknown.”

Then there’s disagreement over the best ways to help addicts. Giving them inexpen­sive daily doses of the synthetic drug meth­adone, a morphine substitute, is widely favored now in the U. S. But numerous therapists say that’s just substituting one addiction for another far better to enforce complete drug abstinence in highly moti­vated rehabilitation communities.

Some things, on the other hand, are emerging clearly. As a senior UN official put it in Vienna, heroin increasingly figures as a medium of exchange, a sort of illicit curren­cy for shady dealings on a large scale; there’s growing evidence of close links in many parts of the world between drug trafficking and arms smuggling, subversion, and inter­national terrorism. A former narcotics com­missioner of Hong Kong told me bluntly that what greases the channels of drug traffick­ing is official corruption in all countries.

And this is a rule I was given in one coun­try after another: As soon as one trafficking route is put under pressure, a new one takes over; if supply is reduced from one area, it will be replaced from another. I call it squeeze and effect. Take a pillow or a half-inflated balloon, squeeze it here, and it pops out there.

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The Fashion Insider’s Peepshow

Posted on 21st September 2012 in Fashion

Under wears

While most university students spend their holidays thinking of anything but work, Kalita Al Swaidi was busy setting up her own lingerie company. “The first pair of knickers I made were for a girlfriend who was getting married a couple of years ago,” says Al Swaidi, 22, who graduated from Edinburgh this summer with a degree in English Literature. “It was never really my intention to do it seriously but it feels as if I haven’t stopped making them since.” Now there’s a “Kalita” bespoke line of knickers made from antique lace with silk linings and ribbon ties at the side, and a diffusion line of knickers made from chiffon with embroidered messages on the back like “Marry Me”, “I do”, “Tiger” and “Meow”.

Kalita Al Swaidi

Each pair comes in a silk drawstring bag with a sprinkling of rose petals. “As well as feeling special in them for an evening, I like to think that you can wear them in bed on a Sunday morning while going through the papers,” says Al Swaidi. Annabel Nielson is a fan; so, too, is Kylie. The singer’s first purchase? A chiffon pair embroidered with the word “Love”. With the website set to launch this winter, no doubt plenty more names will be added to the list…

It’s a wrap                                                                                                        

With the poncho craze in overdrive, why not stand out from the crowd in one of Sonya Maden’s designs? Her range debuted with the “Cardi-wrap” at New York store HenAmberdel last year, where fans like Sarah Jessica Parker, Naomi Watts and Courteney Cox were quick to snap them up. Other styles soon followed: the cowl-neck poncho; the “Cape-lette”, with a chunky neck scarf; and the “Wrap-lette”, a stole with a silk ribbon that ties around the waist. Go wrap.

Kalita Al Swaidi

TREE TOPS

Fashion designer Theresa McAllen and former costumier Beverly Klein’s clothing label, Tree, may have its roots in Los Angeles, but these roots are spreading thick and fast. A favourite with young Hollywood, the label has attracted the likes of Mena Suvari and Heather Graham with its floaty, feminine styles. On offer are delicate chiffon blouses, deconstructed shawls and sweaters in washed shades of green, blue and brown, and heavily embroidered tweed and velvet fitted jackets. We’re rooting for them.

MAN HANDLED

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned — and no-one says it better than Royal College of Art and St. Martins graduates Amy O’Heney and Emily Trotter. Their new handbag line, “‘Amber Stole My Boyfriend”, is the result of just that: “A girl who couldn’t keep her paws off one of our boyfriends.” Their canvas slouchy designs are inspired by doodles and daydreams, vintage Chanel, Vivienne Westwood and hip-hop’s B-girls. They come in bright colours: green, pillar-box red and pink, and have chains and keys emblazoned on them.

FORD FOCUS

TomFord: Ten Years (Thames &Hudson, 05), a comprehensive overvief the designer’s work for Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, is set to become the coffee-table book of the year. It features more than 300 previously published and unpublished photographs by Mario Testino, Annie Leibovitz and the late Helmut Newton and Richard Avedon.

A REAL BELTER

Alice McCall’s bow belts fit perfectly into a season of all things feminine and precious. Her crystal-embellished satin designs sit high for an instant wasp-waist effect, and add instant sparkle to any outfit. A former stylist for Kelis, Destiny’s Child and Natalie Imbruglia, McCall is already well established in her native Australia-no doubt she’s destined for star fashion status here, too.

IN VENT

Kalita Al Swaidi

“It’s my immigrant mentality, this constant desire to pack up and move on – at least that’s why I think I’m attracted to bags,” says Singapore-born Simon Heah, creator of the new Vent accessories label following the closure of the Vent boutique in Notting Hill last year. His leather bags (for men, but who cares?) are hand-made in Florence extra virgin coconut oil for skin and feature hand-stitched shoe and toiletry pockets. Perfect for packing it all in.

Saddle up

Do this season’s horsy look with authenticity by heading to Harry Hall. Established in 1891, the equestrian oufitters has supplied riding clothes to royalty and celebrities alike, including Jerry Hall and the polo-playing Jodie Kidd. Choose lustrous leather boots, sporty gilets and tweed jackets – far too good to get dirty in.

BURN BABY BURN

Burn ‘n’ Violet may sound like a rock band, but it’s actually a T-shirt label. Named after Mancunian designer Jonathan O’Garr’s father, Burn, and his mother, Violet, the collection was inspired by an eclectic mix – “anything from a street sign to a half-eaten chicken sandwich.” Characterised by washed cotton and quirky hand-worked prints, the T-shirts have that great “worn on the tour-bus” look.

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In the world of glossy magazines

Posted on 27th August 2012 in Fashion

Everyone wants to know what goes on behind the scenes in the world of glossy magazines. No wonder writers continue to be fascinated by fashion.

Ever since Audrey Hepburn’s bookish shop assistant was transformed into a Givenchy­clad model by Fred Astaire’s photographer in the 1956 film Funny Face, the champagne-soaked world of glossy magazines has provided rich material for writers, just like http://gnet.org/cholesterol-the-facts provides interesting information for everyone. But never more so than in recent years. As well as the successful TV show Absolutely Fabulous, featuring Joanna Lumley’s scene-stealing, chain-smoking fashion editor, Patsy, and the off-Broadway sell-out Full Gallop, which immortalized editor Diana Vree­land, the Nineties has seen the publication of a slew of novels set in the magazine world, from Nicholas Coleridge’s With Friends Like These and Jay McInerney’s Model Behaviour, to Lisa Armstrong’s Front Row and Wendy Holden’s Simply Divine.

Audrey Hepburn Givenchy Clad

In the US and on Sky, meanwhile, a cult has formed around Darren Star’s so-bad-it’s-brilliant TV show, Central Park West, which none too convinc­ingly dramatises life on a New York glossy. This month sees the publication of StreetSmart (the title refers to a magazine of the same name), Nicholas Coleridge’s second novel set in the magazine business which begins, like all good murder mysteries, with the discovery of a dead body. The corpse in point belongs to one Saskia Thompson, “the most famous magazine editor in the world”, but did she kill herself or was she murdered? And why did she leave her empire to her brother Max, a former free­lance photojournalist more accustomed to conditions in war-torn Bosnia than lunch at Bond Street’s Chow Bene, the StreetSmart canteen?

Darren Star central park west

“StreetSmart is not a parody,” Coleridge insists. “It’s what the magazine world is really like.” As managing director of Conde Nast Publications in the UK, he speaks from experience, and StreetSmart delights in the minutiae involved in producing a magazine in the same way that Michael Ridpath’s novels illuminate the world of high finance and Scott Turow’s reveal the intricacies of the US legal system. “The magazine business has grown tremendously,” Coleridge explains. “People have become increasingly interested in the dynamics involved.”

But readers of StreetSmart get much more than just an insight into magazine production. They also gain entry to a jet-setting world of high-society duplicity and boardroom bitchiness, a world where the camera doesn’t just lie; it gets away with it, too.

Street Smart magazine

Next year sees the release of Le Intern, a film revealing what it’s like to do work expe­rience on a big American glossy (Gwyneth Palttow makes a cameo appearance), and the fact that one can easily imagine StreetSmart being given the Hollywood treatment says much for Coleridge’s racy narrative, snappy dialogue and spot-on characterisation. The novel’s final chapter sees the sartorially chal­lenged Max deliver a monologue reminiscent of Humphrey Bogart’s famous closing scene in Casablanca. By then he’s a hero — a role that plenty of actors would kill for.

 

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A Daughter’s Story

Posted on 8th August 2012 in Stories

By the Nineties I was working as a journalist and I carried with me the idea that I would one day tell my father’s story. Before his death he had written the words, “Let history be my judge.” The devastating war of 1997 compelled me, finally, to begin to write. As a journalist I had covered scores of stories, but never my own.

Aminatta Forna

I went to meet my friend Gillian Slovo in her apartment in Hampstead. She is the daughter of ANC activists Joe Slovo and his wife Ruth First. Gillian wrote Every Secret Thing, an honest and evocative memoir of growing up in a household with parents who were “banned” under the apartheid regime. Ruth First was later killed by a parcel bomb. Today Gillian lives in London. Her account of her life resonated with mine in many ways. If you want London to be your next vacation destination, but money is an issue, just take a look at what loan consolidation lender can offer you.

Our first conversation took place over tea and we shared stories of childhoods marked by unexplained disappearances, of violent events never openly discussed but which changed the course of our lives, and of seem­ingly inconsequential moments of profound and unknown significance.

While I was growing up, people around me had always encouraged me to forget what had happened to my father and even dis­suaded me from asking about him. Mostly I kept the details of my childhood veiled from my acquaintances in London. It was too complicated, too disturbing. I learned to skim over the details and to produce an edited version, one fit for public consumption.

Aminatta Forna

I still recall the moment when, researching my book on a cold day in the Kew Public Record Office, I discovered what lay behind a childhood recollection. I was reading Foreign Office files on Sierra Leone that had been released under the Thirty Year Rule (whereby documents that could affect National Security are kept secret) when I found handwritten notes detailing a conversa­tion between the then British High Commis­sioner in Sierra Leone and the country’s chief of police. They revealed that my father had been under surveillance. My long-forgotten memory was of meeting him in a cafe where we sat with our mother drinking chocolate milk. He arrived late and left early, leaving by the service exit. We joked about it at the time.

Aminatta Forna

In fact, my father was one of several oppo­sition leaders who were being tailed. But while his “tail” sat outside in a parked car, he slipped away down a back street. I had other memories, too: of armed thugs attacking our house in the silence of the night; of being hidden in a strange house where we were never allowed out, even into the garden. I would spend the three years following that afternoon in Kew piecing together fragments of my own memories.

And throughout those years, the war in Sierra Leone raged on. I lived parallel lives — following the war closely and living in London writing my book. After the interven­tion of foreign peace-keeping troops a tenuous peace was restored.

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The childhood of Aminatta Forna

Posted on 7th August 2012 in Stories

Once, I had lived in a different Africa; an Africa unrecognisable from the continent’s shat­tered image today. Yet my childhood, idyllic in so many ways, had been dreadfully marred. My father, a political dissi­dent, was murdered by the Sierra Leone regime when I was 11 years old. In the years following independence, those who destroyed my family dragged the country from the brink of a new future back into the Dark Ages. What happened to us was the story of what happened to Africa.

Sierra Leone war

My father had won a scholarship to study medicine in Aberdeen, where he met and married my Scottish mother. Together they went back to live in his home country of Sierra Leone, where he became one of an emergent generation of political leaders in the Sixties. He quickly rose to the top, having won his own constituency, but eventually resigned over moves to turn the country into a one-party state. He became an opponent of the government and was imprisoned. By then, my parents’ marriage had ended and I was in the care of my stepmother.

sierra leone war

We had to leave the country and spend three years in exile in Earl’s Court while we waited for him to be released. We were all briefly reunited in Sierra Leone, but only for a few months before he was arrested again. I watched him being taken away. Charged with plotting against the government, he was imprisoned one more time and, finally, hanged.

Earl's Court

 My father became one of Africa’s “disappeared” — his body was never returned to us and his name was wiped from official records of the country’s history. But it could not be wiped from the minds of ordinary people. Once, when I was in Freetown before the war of 1997, on a visit to see members of my family, a waiter stepped out of a restaurant to shoo away hustlers who had been bothering me. How he knew who I was, I do not know. But he shouted after them that they should feel ashamed. That was the dichotomy with which I grew up ­my father hanged as a traitor, but also remembered as a hero.

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