Monday, August 30, 2010

Cycling Cruise - the Sean Kelly Tour of Waterford 2010

I did it! I took part in my first cycling event today and absolutely loved it - the 50km Sean Kelly Cruise in the Tour of Waterford 2010. Long-time readers of this blog will know that hubby Jan did this cycling challenge for the past few years and I have been on the sidelines to cheer him on and welcome him past the post last year, which is documented here.

This year was different though. I got a bike for my birthday in March, and you can read about it here - it's a lovely lipstick red Hybrid Kelly's Kappa bike, part touring, parttown bike. Suits me to a tee, and I even got a basket much to the horror of the cycling purists in the family. It's black wire mesh and detaches from a small fitting on the handlebars, and is perfect for those little forgotten messages (= things from the shop - a peculiar Hiberno-English-ism which tends to confuse anyone unfamiliar with our oft-obscure terminology). I knew Jan was planning his assault on the 90km Coastal Route, which was pretty daunting as it traversed plenty of steep climbs which would challenge the pros, let alone the amateur enthusiast. I wondered whether I'd be able for the 50km and decided to get a bit of training done. Shayne, our eldest son, decided to go on this one too, using his dad's old racer.

So since June/July I've been cycling regularly, about three times a week, from a 15km cycle a couple of evenings after work to a longer one at weekends - the longest being39km. Not alone did I surprise myself at my ability to cope with the longer runs, but I felt great afterwards, despite being exhausted when I came home at first. My stamina improved very quickly as did my speed andIenjoyed seeing the proof of my progress when Jan logged it onto a nice Excel spreadsheet with line graphs as evidence. For example (without getting pedantic or too boring!) the first 15km I did took just over an hour, whereas now I can do it in about 50minutes. I knocked 9 mins off a 22km run in the space of three weeks, which I felt very smug and virtuous about. I got plenty of encouragement from Jan and the family and also colleagues at work, some of whom were participating themselves or had family members taking part.

The great thing about this cycle is that it's all about fun. There's a professional element to the longest run, 160km, and then for the amateur enthusiast like hubby there's the 90km run. That's along a rugged coastal road with lots of steep inclines and some spectacular scenery - the Copper Coast and Geopark are famous for their beauty and historic significance in the Bunmahon area of Co. Waterford and the scenery might serve to distract the cyclist from the pain inthose calf and thigh muscles on the climbs!

The 160km mountain trail is for the serious amateurs and the professionals who enjoy a day's stage equal to an Etape in something like the Tour de France or the Giro or Vuelta. There's steep mountain passes to negotiate and endurance is needed to keep going to the end. So not for the fainthearted, and it was evident in the numbers that the 160km drew the biggest crowd and that cycling is fast becoming one of Ireland's most popular leisure and sporting activity.

The 50km started cycle for the beginners like me and eldest son Shayne was perfect - short enough to be attainable without huge time commitment and long enough to give a good adrenaline rush and an immense sense of satisfaction. And there was plenty of time to enjoy the view. The scenery from Dungarvan to Cappoquin via Ballinameela and Villierstown is beautiful especially the Villierstown-Cappoquin section which runs parallel to the Blackwater River and foms part of theDromanaDrive, a scenic route along back roads in the lands once owned by the local governor Lord Villiers-Stuart for whomVillierstown is named. Nowadays Villierstown is famous for an Olympic medallist John Treacy who won Silver in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in the Marathon. Today Villierstown was transformed into a haven for cyclists, who were given refreshments at the first water stop of the day. A very welcome break after 23km and I enjoyed the banana and Flahavan's Flapjacks (locally made in Kilmacthomas - supporting local produce is a hallmark of these events).

In Cappoquin we had a food stop in the magnificent new Community Centre, and I had to laugh to see the bikes thrown around outside in seemingly random fashion - everyone being very trusting. Shayne was on a racer and he went ahead quite early on, and we didn't meet up till Cappoquin when he passed me on the home stretch while I was heading for the food stop. We had pasta and sandwiches and delicious Barron's Brack, with hot tea and plenty of meeting up with other cyclists and some friends who were around the hall. The home stretch to Dungarvan was along the N72, the main road I drive daily to work. It was a lovely run with gentle hills and hollows, and a nice tail wind to push us along. I felt no pain and apart from the odd numb bum, which was alleviated by dismounting for a few minutes rest every 15km or so, I felt great at the end. Shayne and me waited for Jan to return from the 90km, which he duly did, and it was a far greater challenge than ours, as some of the hills were so steep many had to dismount to walk them.

We took some photos at the start and finish, and a few along the way of the rest stops. We collected our certificates of achievement at the end, and I will be very proud of mine, as I hope it will be the first of many Tours of Waterford for this keen cyclist. By the way, my time was 2hrs and 30 mins for 44km, which was what I clocked up - my speedometer wasn't connecting at the start - but I am very happy with that - average speed was over 17km/hr, given the crowds that was pretty good, as there was little opportunity for setting a pace along those narrow roads for the first 15km. So if you are contemplating a new hobby or some gentle exercise, you could do worse than to take up cycling - I did after a 30 year gap and it got bridged in no time.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hand in Glove, Caps and Crochet Knitting Challenges

I got a lovely knitting book recently called How To Knit which does exactly what it says on the tin - and it has some lovely patterns as well as tips on everything you wanted to know about knitting but were afraid to ask. I thought I was a cool knitter who knew all the basics - which I do - but this book has really opened up a whole new world of knitting tips I knew nothing about.

This includes putting names on the different methods of casting on, and different ways of casting off, and about the different types of seams which was all news to me. I guess I was a casual knitter who just got on with the job and didn't think too much or at all about the details like finishing off and seam-sewing,and yet ended up with reasonable end results. So I hope this book will enhance thewhole knitting experience for me and not inhibit me into a stressed-out striving for perfection type who ends up fretting over the minutiae of a project instead of going all out for something because it appeals to me.

Terminology is a whole new world to me - American vs. British/Irish terms which I didn't even know were different - but binding off/casting off, and stockinette/stocking stitchare two that I discovered here. The needle sizes would wreck anyone's head as there is no correlation between the US/Metric/UK sizing. They appear to be completely random and thought up by some hungover sadist having a bad Monday, and I am constantly referring back and forth between various charts.

I've made a lovely cricket vest for eldest cricket-madson, and realised after reading this book I should have used a so-called Backstitch Seam (?) for strength, and I didn't - I just top-stitched the side seams. Now they look fine and I guess they are fit for purpose, but it would be stronger with the correct backstitch one. I would correct this in future, and will do so on my next cardi or jumper. So I have learnt a whole lot of new stuff in this book - and I'll take it on board as needed.

I learnt to knit from my mother and she knew it all in her head, so I never needed to learn from a book. Techniques like blocking and pinning and pressing are Greek to me, and tension squares are only of theoretical interest - more a suggestion than a necessity. Now I do try to match yarn and project within reason, and will aim for the correct yarn and needle size on the pattern, but I've never let such considerations get between me and an interesting project, be it a crochet pot holder or a pair of gloves or a hat.

I have made a nice cap from cotton yarn from Lidl, cheap as chips with a lovely finishand soft texture which washes like a dream, and I decided to make a pair of gloves from the same yarn. I used the pattern in this book, and totally changed the specs.

Result - a terrific pair of gloves of which I am inordinately proud, and which will probably be useless for keeping me warm in winter as they are a) cotton which is a summer fabric and b) a bit big which means they won't be snug fitting. On the plus side,they match the cap, which was also knitted totally off spec, and turned out just fine, and I love it - it's quirky and different and very cosy - so maybe the same will apply to the gloves.

I actually made a glove according to the pattern, using wool and correct tension and guess what? I didn't make the second one because it was a) scratchy and woolly and b) uncomfortable at the seams. So I am unconvinced by the merits of being too bound by patterns - use as a guide and let your imagination flow a bit. I made three bolero cardis last year and love them all - one is cream baby wool with a hint of a shiny thread running through it and is a perfect summer evening cardi; one is the correct wool as per the pattern, and is fine but has a few mistakes I didn't notice till itwas finished, but as I wear it with jeans it doesn't really bother me, and the third is black mohair which is quite classy - all turned out fine and as it's a lacy openwork pattern it has some flexibility built in.

Here are some photos of the gloves and cap - and the book. I made some cool crochet pot holders from leftover cotton yarn, and put a picot edging on them - just to see if I had any memory of crochet left as it was years since I did any and I aspire to make a granny squares throw this winter!

I hope this post inspires you to give theunusual a shot and not be daunted by a seemingly intimidating project - I found the gloves great fun to make and even though they were listed as challenging I made them in a few evenings. There are wonderful sites out there like Ravelry and Garnstudio, so just get Googling for millionsoffree patterns and ideas for inspiration.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

As You Like It: The Musical - Video Clips from Lismore Castle 2010

I thought I'd share some more videoclips from the open-air production of As You Like It in Lismore Castle last Monday night to add to those I posted during the week with the still photos. It was a great night and I am delighted to have got some half-decent videoclips up on YouTube. These are mostly the songs that interspersed the play, with their relevance to the scenes. It's often thought that the songs are randomly thrown in to bring a bit of light relief to the monotony of a play and to keep the multitude of kids sweet but they are all well chosen to have a link with the overall plot of the play. Here's some of those and on my previous post you have the rest.

Elvis Costello's "Oliver's Army" is particularly relevant to the woodland scene where the exiled Duke Ferdinand is hanging with his loyal mates, and Orlando flees to join him when he discovers his brother Oliver is plotting to kill him.

Meatloaf's "Dead Ringer for Love" is a good choice for the finale as the disguises of some of the cast - particularly Rosalind in her cross-dressing as Ganymede - fitted these lyrics well: I don't know who you are but you're a real dead ringer for love.

Queen's "Somebody to Love" is perfect for the scene where the confused crew are all looking to find somebody to love - with the convolutions of this lot in their love lives it's a wonder Shakespeare could track them all not to mention a distracted audience who would need to give the play 110% attention to track them all.

The final clip is a piece of dialogue from the final denouement scenes where children are reunited with fathers, brothers with brothers, and the lovers all pair off. Weddings ensue and they all live happily ever after - Shakespeare didn't just do tragedies and his comedies all seem to have real fairytale endings

The quality is not great but the weather was fairly inclement and I wasn't in clear view of the "stage" but given those restrictions and the fact it was dark for most of these clips I don't think they came out too bad. Enjoy them as I did - warts and all - and if you ever get the chance to see this great company then make sure you do and tell them they are a big hit in Lismore Castle with the entire town and especially this blogger!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

As You Like It - Shakespeare revisits Lismore Castle

Last Monday night saw the long awaited production of Shakespeare's comedy As You Like It in Lismore Castle Courtyard. It was presented by Off The Ground Theatre who come over from the Wirral in the UK every summer and put on a terrific outdoor show in a number of "Big House" venues around Ireland. I wrote about their last play a year ago in this blogpost (Much Ado About Nothing) and I have been to nearly every show for the past 10 or so years, since A Legend of King Arthur.

This year they didn't disappoint, even thought the weather forecast was for rain on Monday, despite Sunday being the hottest day of summer. We had wonderful hot sunshine ensuring we stayed in the garden all day and had a barbecue to round it off a perfect day. We have been very lucky this summer with a good June and even though July was the wettest on record it didn't feel like that because it was warm and a lot of the rain seemed to fall at night. I can live with that sort of rain allocation, and it keeps the farmers happy too - seems this year we'll have a decent spud (potato) crop unlike last year when the ground was so sodden the harvesters and tractors couldn't avoid sinking to their axles in the mud. We know we'll have a bumper crop of apples as the windfalls are already making their way to Apple Jelly and the first few Apple and Blackberry Tarts have been made - even though the Bramleys are still quite tart they make a perfect tart with a little extra sugar. This is a big change from last year when we had a total of 6 apples from our 3 trees.

How I digress - Shakespeare would be proud of me! I go off on as many tangents as the Bard himself, without the poetry or lyricism. I have learnt so much about Shakespeare from Off The Ground productions as they present the plays in a totally anarchic, quirky and fun manner while staying true to the script and the plot, all the while interjecting song and dance routines from the present or recent past - this year being no exception and I will post some of the video clips here. What I love is the way the songs - usually about unrequited love as so many of these comedies are - are relevant to the play and segue perfectly from the script to the song and back again.

There was a wonderfully moving soliloquy which moved me to tears as it was one of those that my mother recited frequently when I was a child - All the World's a Stage - which I used to know as The Seven Ages of Man. She had a great love of Shakespeare and could recite many of the soliloquies word-perfectly along with lots of other poetry. So as I didn't realise this soliloquy was from this play it came as a bolt from the blue - and I surprised myself by remembering most of the lines as it was being played out. I'm here having a debate with youngest son about the semantics of Monologue vs. Soliloquy and I'm not sure which category this fits, but have decided the melancholy Jaques could have been talking to the other characters or just being reflective.

This year the anachronisms were many and varied - while last year's play was set in the 1930s of tea dances and floral frocks and dandy youths, this year's was a miscellany of ages - from the original Elizabethan doublet and hose and maximum cleavage to - punk rockers in the Forest of Arden! The banished Duke Ferdinand who lives there with his Robin Hood-like band of brothers is festooned in chains and black leather, and there are some wonderful cockscomb hairstyles among his buddies.

The love interests are many and convoluted and you'd need a map to track them all - but as I see the pattern emerging in Shakespeare's comedies there were few surprises - banished brothers, nefarious villains, and cross-dressing youths and comely maidens abound. This play had less cross-dressing than Twelfth Night which was on a few years ago, but as characters go, fair Rosalind made a very convincing Ganymede.

Orlando, the impoverished dispossessed heir to a fortune, loves Rosalind, the soon-to-be-banished daughter of exiled Duke Ferdinand whose evil brother Frederick distrusts her as much as her father; Touchstone the clown loves Audry the goat-herd (should that be goat-herdess?); Silvius the shepherd loves Phoebe the shepherdess - whose accent is pure Chav, and who, to complicate matters, has fallen in love with Ganymede, while Oliver, the evil fortune-hunting brother of Orlando loves Aliena who is actually Frederick's daughter Celia in disguise as she accompanies Rosalind/Ganymede in exile.

Now that was easy to follow, wasn't it? Yes, I felt the very same whirlwind of confusion and thank goodness for the programme notes or I'd be totally lost. As the actors from the company have remained largely unchanged over the years, there's a tendency to typecast them and certainly the lead characters reprise similar characters in the different plays - the buffoon clown and the burly philosopher and the droll wit and the buxom lass and the winsome waif - they're all there and the skill and talent is exceptional.

The key to enjoyment is comfort so it's imperative to come prepared for all weathers - there was an eclectic assortment of fashion and accessories among the audience, with the seasoned veterans bringing sleeping bags to snuggle into as night fell, picnic rugs for the kids sitting on the ground, and lots of scarves, shawls and waterproof ponchos - umbrellas not being very audience-friendly. I had about 4 layers of clothing on under a shawl I got in India 30 years ago, and one of my knitted cotton caps, and as the rain was but a drizzle in the first half, I was quite cosy. I went for a stroll in the upper gardens of the Castle at the interval as it was still quite bright, and I was keen to see the summer gardens as it was April since I'd been there, at the launch of the Castle Arts Summer exhibition.

Here are a few videoclips from the play, and some still shots - you get the idea of the ambience from these - and I will add more when I upload them to YouTube - a tiresomely slow process but worth it to build a nice video library of personal clips over the years - if you like to see them then just check out LismoreLady on YouTube - they're all there!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Just Desserts - having our Pineapple Upside-Down Cake and eating it

I hadn't made this in years until just over a week ago when I was heading to visit a friend in her mobile home in Clonea Caravan Park. My previous post here was on the howler road sign near the park entrance so it's fitting that the cake recipe follow.

It was a very pleasant evening with a group of friends and colleagues and we had a great laugh; it was one of those girly evenings that are just inexplicably enjoyable. Our hostess had laid on a lovely cold buffet - an assortment of delicious salads - which we enjoyed alfresco as it was a warm sunny evening. For dessert we all brought something to the table - including my Pineapple upside-down cake. It was eclipsed by a fab Pavlova laden down with fresh strawberries and raspberries nesting in the whipped cream, and a lovely Swiss Roll. I cheated a bit and bought along a tub of ready-whipped fresh cream on my way to the beach, as I didn't know if the caravan would have the wherewithal to whip cream and anyway it seemed like too much hard work for an after-work get-together.

As we were all driving home (except the hostess who was already home!) we passed on the wine which meant no sore heads the next day. Always a good thing on a weekday. The provenance of this recipe is an old Dutch magazine cutout - I have the original on a pulled-out page from a Margriet (I think 1988 or thereabouts - the date is obliterated) which is tattered and dog-eared, but as it lives inside one of my mother's old cookery books it will last another few decades. I used to make this frequently when we lived in the tropics as we had such delicious fresh pineapples - even from our own garden in some instances - and it's so simple that the ingredients were always to hand. Now I use the canned slices with the hole in the middle - you could use fresh but it's a bit of a lottery how they turn out - sometimes they are just right but often they are either underripe and hard or over-ripe and starting to rot in spots.

Hubby has a theory that I feel has some merit - that it's preferable to eat pineapple that's locally canned close to the source (i.e. the pineapple plots) at its prime ripeness than to eat dodgy "fresh" pineapple that's got huge airmiles clocked up (or shipping miles) after being picked under-ripe on the off-chance that it'll reach optimum ripeness as it arrives on the shelves or market stalls. When we lived in Tanzania the Dabaga Canning Factory was next door to the Concern office in Ipogoro where the most wonderful smells emanated throughout the year, contingent on the seasonality of the crops - this is a prime example of green organic and fairly traded food production and I have a lot of regard for it; you can check out its brochure here.

So give it a try and you won't be disappointed.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
(translated from the Dutch by me - hope it's accurate enough!)


  1. 175g/6oz self-raising flour
  2. 200g//7oz sugar
  3. 65g/3oz soft butter/margarine
  4. 1 egg
  5. 1 teasp. vanilla essence or 1 sachet vanilla sugar
  6. pinch salt
  7. 1 can pineapple slices
  8. Whipped Cream or Ice Cream to serve


  1. Grease a Springform Baking Tin
  2. Line with drained Pineapple slices and half-slices as shown in photo
  3. Mix all the other ingredients together to make a smooth semi-stiff batter, more pouring than dropping consistency
  4. Pour the cake batter over the Pineapple slices
  5. Bake in oven pre-heated to 150 degrees Centigrade/300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 40 mins until baked through and golden brown
  6. Cool in tin, then turn out onto serving plate
  7. If you want to glaze it after baking, see Handy Tip below and be sure to use ovenproof plate while browning in oven
  8. Serve slices with Whipped Cream or Ice Cream

Handy Tip

Instead of greasing the Springform baking tin, you could line it with 50g/2oz melted butter with 100g brown sugar dissolved in it. This will caramelise in the baking to give a nice golden-brown glaze.

I forgot to do this at the start but at the end I improvised (in the manner of the best/most forgetful bakers!) by adding the melted butter to the finished cake and sprinkling over the brown sugar and then returning it to the top shelf of the oven for 5-10 mins until the same effect was achieved.

This is delicious with a nice cuppa tea or coffee, and it has a lovely sticky-pudding-y texture which is quite filling (so you shouldn't over-indulge), yet healthy enough to be one of your Five-a-Day (fruit'n'veg) portions if you are seriously guilt-tripping yourself!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Spelling Howler - or the chickens coming home to roost?

I just couldn't resist this howler I saw last week in the Caravan Park in Clonea outside Dungarvan - no point in not outing it as it is declaring itself to all and sundry on the roadside just at the park entrance. Makes you wonder is this an effort to protect hapless chickens from terrorist dog attacks or are the dogs in Clonea under threat from some wayward fowl? Whichever, it brightened up my evening when I saw it on the way to visit a friend who's spending her summer on the beach and if the weather is good I can't think of anything more chillaxing. We had a very pleasant evening so this just added to the fun.

I posted a few beauties from the local papers some weeks back and I'm happy to report that the Sponsor's are now sans apostrophe and this week are plain old Sponsors! I doubt they read this blog for their Eureka moment but were probably advised that in this instance their use of the "Greengrocers' Apostrophe" was a tad excessive.

This is the fourth post on ghastly grammar and spelling typos and it probably won't be the last - they are so irresistible and if they hit my "Eats Shoots and Leaves" radar then they will inevitably end up here. Have a look at the others here if you feel inclined and I hope you'll get a giggle from them as much as I did - I'm not quite Lynn Truss going around hijacking offending signs with stick-on apostrophes, but I do try to capture them for posterity when possible, though I often miss the best because the camera's not to hand passing the butchers, or the small ads in the supermarket notice board, or wherever unedited notices are posted.

May they brighten up your day wherever you are - and keep on sharing your gems with the rest of the blogosphere. I've had some great links to other blogs in the past via comments so keep them coming.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Bloggers' Book Club - The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Phew! I just put down this amazing book after re-reading it with pleasure for the Bloggers' Book Club's July choice. I first read it for our own book club about 10 years ago and the decade did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for what must rate as my best book ever! It left a lasting impression on me and it drew so many images and brought back so many African memories that I thought it was just me who was so taken with it, so it surprised me that so many of my fellow-book club friends felt the same. It wasn't just that a number of us had lived in Africa for prolonged periods of our lives, it seemed to resonate equally with those who had never set foot on the continent.

It spoke to me particularly because I could identify with the characters she described; I had met many Baptist missionaries in Tanzania and had flown on a number of occasions with Baptist pilots who didn't quite inspire confidence by praying before take-off. This was before I knew them and their ways well enough to know this was the norm - and indeed I had a few issues with their evangelising and their lifestyle which seemed to be at complete loggerheads with the Africa I knew. At the risk of offending any Baptist readers, I couldn't reconcile the loving God I was familiar with and the intolerant wealth-loving God they promulgated. Nor could I accept the luxury in which most of them lived, with aircon homes straight out of their home states in America, even carpeted and replete with Lazy-Boy recliners in the heart of the bush. They relaxed by hunting down and killing anything on four legs that didn't have CITES status, and kept their NRA membership as active on the African savannah as in the deer-hunting woods back home. There was such a dichotomy in the presumed humility of those out to spread the word of God and the arrogant smugness at the righteousness of their mission - when asked how long they planned to stay in Africa the stock answer was "As long as the Lord wishes" - which led to my approaching the book with all my prejudices and preconceptions alive and well.

It didn't disappoint. I just give this background to place the book in context - I re-read with the anticipation of visiting a well-known familiar place - and it brought the smells and sounds of Africa alive for me. Many an evening in Kigoma we sat on the veranda of the then Railway Hotel and looked across the second-deepest lake in the world, Lake Tanganyika, and admired the sunset behind the hills of then-Zaire, about 70km away, where the lake shared a border and where the port town of Kalemie could tell as many tales of derring-do and boys' own adventures as could Kigoma. After all, Kigoma is only a few miles up the lake from Ujiji, one of colonialism's most iconic encounters - where David Livingstone was found by Henry Morton Stanley and was greeted with "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" It is marked by a papier-maché sculpture of both men, and is a must-see for every backpacker and expat on the trail of the "real Africa".

The book tells the tale of the Price family's decline into disaster and tragedy over the course of a year or so, after the bullying insecure patriarch Nathan takes them under extreme duress to the "Heart of Darkness"; the Congo in 1959 - 60, just before independence and the subsequent conflict when Katanga Province attempted to secede to protect its mineral wealth and stay under rule of the former colonial power, Belgium, while the US and Western powers installed Mobutu as their puppet after the democratically elected Patrice Lumumba was tortured and killed, having been reviled as a Communist Marxist - part of the Red Terror of the Cold War era.

You know you're in for a treat when you read of the Betty Crocker cake mix taken by the family, and of the layers of clothing and household implements they wore to compensate for the weight restrictions on the airlines. The diversity of the four girls is remarkable for its reality - in any family there are bound to be such extreme personalities. The oldest, Rachel, is a stereotypical airhead blonde. Adah never speaks and has a physical disability, but she and her twin Leah are geniuses intellectually, and her palindromic brain keeps the reader challenged to track her mirror phrases. Ruth-May is the baby at five, and her innocent voice is one of the joys of the story as she reflects the racial prejudice of the segregationist Deep South. The story is told by the girls and their mother, Orleanna, who is downtrodden as her hopes for a happy life with her dour preacher husband fade before her eyes, and we never hear Nathan's voice telling his story. He is a deeply damaged personality, probably suffering from what would now be PTSD, as he had survived the March on Bataan in the Philippines in WWII - one of the few, and is wracked with survivor's guilt, which he channels through God and his unfortunate family by imposing his iron will and the Bible on them. The downward spiral is predictable and inevitable and it is both thrilling and chilling to see how the whole family disintegrates in the face of Nathan's stubbornness - so much so that they are even abandoned by the parent mission back home.

Kingsolver has a great facility for getting inside the broad sweep of this book's characters - the empathy for the Congolese villagers and their culture is outstanding and not patronising or condescending in a post-colonial-guilt fashion. The character of Anatole as a passionate advocate of human rights in an inherently corrupt society, is credible in the context of similar African activists like Nyerere in neighbouring Tanzania - a poor country but not one that succumbed to the corruption of the Congo under Mobutu. Kingsolver doesn't shy from criticising her country's involvement in the whole debacle of the Congo, nor does Belgium escape, as it was their decision not to educate the Congolese leaders of the future that left the vacuum filled by Mobutu and his henchmen.

It's impossible to summarise a work of such breadth and depth in a simple online review - suffice to say it encompasses four decades, with most of the action in the first year or two, until inevitable tragedy befalls the family leading to them going their separate ways. The description of their lives in the rainforest is vivid, and the hilarity of their naiveté is reflected in the narrators' different perspectives on their lot. Rachel struggles to maintain normality and have her hair and clothing pristine, an impossible task in such a hostile environment. The twins adapt remarkably and befriend the local kids, as does Ruth-May who plays group games with the kids and has a pied-piper ability to be a leader, despite her youth.

I loved this book on first reading and it was great to revisit it as I took away a lot more of the history of the Congo as it became Zaire and returned to its Congo name in later years. I read a lot of books on the area in the intervening decade, one of the best being Tim Butcher's Blood River which juxtaposes brilliantly with Kingsolver's book and I would highly recommend to anyone with more than a passing interest in Africa. Both books highlight the beauty and resilience of the people, and the post-colonial legacy is worth remembering as Ireland has just commemorated the Niemba Massacre, when nine Irish UN peacekeepers were killed, an event that struck a deep chord in the Irish psyche as it was controversial for decades; the dead were seen as heroes and those who survived were treated as pariahs who have only recently been vindicated.

There's everything here - the cultural clashes between the missionary and the village witch doctor and tribal chiefs, the strong women who faced adversity and death on an almost daily basis and with stoicism bordering on fatalism. The grinding poverty and lack of materialism is in stark contrast to the material wealth of the West. There's no doubting the writer's sympathies with socialism and democracy in the African context; she cites Angola as another of the West's failures with their overthrow of democratically elected Neto and dos Santos - all part of the Cold War - if Cuba was sending in medics and teachers to prop up the Angolan regime it had to be opposed and suppressed by whatever means possible - and that Leah and her family ended up in Angola is reflective of their values. The family are followed to the present and their voices lose none of their power and personality as they grow up to adulthood. I don't want to spoil the story by disclosing denouements - particularly the main tragedy - but I do hope that you read it as something that may stay with you long after you close the final page.

It will change the perception of Africa as a downtrodden entity and even though there have been and are despotic regimes throughout they can often be traced back to the colonial experience of divide and conquer (where one tribe was favoured over another by the ruling power - as in Belgian-run Rwanda and Burundi with genocidal consequences - a story best told by the many authors who wrote extensively and authoritatively after the 1994 genocide -These are among the best and I can vouch for them having read them all. If you're interested in Africa - contemporary and colonial - then get an excellent foundation African book is The Scramble for Africa by Thomas Pakenham. It gives the colonial background for all the woes that have beset Africa in the 20th Century and beyond. A large part of my heart is in Africa, the birthplace of two of our four children, so I refuse to lose heart over the bad news - after all, Ireland or Europe criticising Africa for its problems would be a bit ironic, given our recent history.

So it's back to finishing off The Lacuna - her new book, which I set aside for the book club. It's another great read - about Mexico in the revolutionary years with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera as the focus around which the story revolves, somewhat akin to setting the Poisonwood Bible in the midst of the Congo conflict.


Currently, the other Bloggers' Book Club Members are:

  1. Susan @ Joyous Flowers
  2. Cathy @ Rumble Strips
  3. Marie @ Diary of a Country Wife
  4. Lorna @Garrendenny Lane Interiors
  5. Val @ Magnum Lady
  6. Jen @ Smurfette Jen
  7. Jenny @ Stitchcraft Jen
  8. Kirsty @ The Road Less Travelled
  9. Steph @ The Biopsy Report
  10. Susan @ Queen of Pots
  11. Winifred @ I'm Trying, Honestly
  12. Ann @ Inkpots n'Quills
  13. Una @ Just Una's Blog
  14. Paysan @kickoutthejams

Some have posted reviews, others will read but not post, and some will just read the posts! In any case, just visit them and leave a comment if you like, we bloggers always enjoy feedback and most will respond enthusiastically to any comments.