Popular Posts

Friday, April 26, 2013

EXPLORE


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Over the Edge of the Wild


A NEW TOOK ON MIDDLE EARTH

‘.... and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.’ 


 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Sunday Evening Walk in Cheshire


GATHERED IN
 
Days of dust and hayseed set aside,
For once a gradely jaunty family ride.
Let's take a Sunday tootle in the car
And leave awhile the drudging, aching farm,
Where slog and maul are sanctified.

Ahead stand Beeston Castle’s broken walls
By Four-Lane-Ends and Bunbury Heath -
Beyond the fields and oaks the evening falls,
And trudging up, the plain is swath beneath.

Fifty summers now the scene divide
As hindsight strains to glimpse that far -
A family cut and kenched and tied -
Grey and faint the snapshot evening star.

Ashes scattered, stubble standing wide -
Seasons past, the scars of harvest hide .


 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bill Roache, Keith Johnson and Coronation Street




FIFTY UP

Last Wednesday, I slipped out for the evening on one of my very occasional Surrogate Yummy Mummy solo nights out. I went along to the ‘COROnation Street’ Stage Show at St James Theatre in Courtenay Place.

The Show celebrates the plot lines that have sprung up, evolved and resonated since the TV show was first broadcast in Britain in 1960. The serial-soap ‘Coronation Street’ has been running for just on 50 years on New Zealand TV.

The Stage Show is a Lancashire Hot Pot with Bubble-and-Squeak concoction of meaty bits from old dramas, plot thickening and yesteryear’s sprouts and spuds fried up as circus slapstick, pantomime or Blackpool Pier special.

I generally enjoyed it, though sometimes it seemed [in a second choice off the menu cliché] a bit like eating old fish and chips that had been stored in the fridge. And I was struck by the advanced age of most of the audience and strained for a sniff of accompanying mothballs and embrocation.

It raised all sorts of emotions for me. About time passing, about the nature of place and the curious predicament that we find ourselves in nowadays in seeing ourselves and others age so obviously and then fade.

I had planned a heavyweight article about nostalgia and solastalgia but maudlin thoughts are not really appropriate for such a working class and Northern English series of story lines, in which the characters often pride themselves on their earthiness, stoicism and humour.

So I have taken some time to muse.

As a start, I went along to one of our bars in Courtenay Place, The Library, for a quiet beer and some time for reflection after the show. The North of England seemed a long way away from the gaggles of girls on hen night outs and smart young predatory foxes on the prowl. Smart and trendy versus eh-by-gum.

And I have since been catching up on some of the early episodes to remind me of what I used to watch back then, what I saw and what TV producers wanted me to see.

It is fascinating to contrast two clips from 1964. The first shows the opening episode of ‘Seven Up’ – the programme that provides a longitudinal study of the way in which British society is evolving by following a cohort of kids born in 1957 [unfortunately deleted from this site due to 'copyright' issues but probably still available on YouTube]. The second is a clip from Coronation Street in 1964 [see above].

The comparison shocked me.

The Coronation Street episode for my money is much more ‘real’ and dates better. In fact the early episodes of Coronation Street were remarkably punchy. They tell, for example, of mental illness and its stigma, political protest and its impact in dividing families, and the heavy-handed policing of the infringement of local by-laws on shop opening hours.

And the sets and camera work were innovative, as was the use of the back street scenes and the vernacular.

By contrast the pomposity of the opening trailer for ‘Seven Up’, with its James Bond-type music and the highly modulated ‘Received English’ of the presenter, immediately alienates modern viewers.

GREAT DIALOGUE AND ACTING TOO

If you watch through the Coro clip that I have embedded above, you can pick up on the disintegration of Ken Barlow’s marriage to Valerie [she who notoriously paid off all her debts to life at the wrong end of a faulty hair-dryer].

The acting is marvellous, as is the script:

Ken Barlow, the young school teacher, is upstairs lying on the bed. His wife Valerie calls up to him from the kitchen.

Valerie: “Ken your dinner’s ready!”

Ken: “Yeh!”

Val: “Pardon”

Ken: “Alright, I’m coming!”

Val: “It’s getting cold – I’ve done you some kippers.”

Ken: “What are you doing up there, anyway?”

Valerie comes into the bedroom

Val: “Ken?”

Ken: “What’s up? Nothing - I’m just having a lie down.”

Val: “Well, your dinner’s on the table. Are you feeling alright?”

Ken: “Yes. You know, it’s getting just about impossible at school”.

Val: “What is?”

Ken: “Everything. Every time the headmaster looks at me it’s like being cut with a knife.”

Val: “Look, are you coming down to dinner or not?”

Ken: “Valerie I’m talking about my life – not discussing the price of cabbages. I’m your husband”.

Val: “Well, I’m not your headmaster, I can’t do anything”.

Ken: “No true enough – you could be on my side. That’s marriage for you isn’t it – great institution!”

Val: “Oh it is. There are you are somebody agrees with you – that’s what you like isn’t it.  I think marriage it’s terrific. Lonely but it's fun – there you are I agree with you.”

Ken: “What the hell are you talking about?”

Val: “About you ‘Luv’. It’s the only subject your interested in.”

Ken: “Is it? Is that why I’m trying to do something with my life – is that why I’m going through all this?”

Val: “Oh I’m not talking about that.”

Ken: “No of course you are not - because it’s important – because you might have to think. Because I might need your help and that wouldn’t do would it? No - all you’re fit for is mithering about me dinner.”

Val: “Oh stop it I’m your wife, I’m supposed to get your meals”.

Ken: “If I had wanted a house keeper, I would have married one. I thought I had married a person – someone with feelings - and someone who thinks about me. And you don’t even know what I’m talking about do you?  You never did!”

After being roughly thrown aside, Val goes back downstairs. Ken continues to lie on the bed and starts smoking a cigarette.
...

Wow, I was struck by what a prat Ken was – and incidentally, how he spoke for so many of us Bright and Angry Young Men who entered the 1960s with a most distasteful combination of chips on our shoulders and extraordinary expectations / entitlements of the homage that we were owed by the less educated in general - and women in particular.

BACK TO ‘THE LIBRARY BAR’

As I mused over my bottle of best Emmerson’s beer in lone splendour on a two couch enclave on Wednesday, I was startled to find the entire cast of the ‘COROnation Street’ Stage Show plonk themselves down next to me for a wind-down drink at The Library Bar.

And I suddenly found myself addressing Bill Roache as Ken – how many times must that happen?

He is a charming guy who will talk to anyone and we chatted briefly about his school days at Rydal School in North Wales where he was a contemporary of my brother-in-law, and his home at Wilmslow, Cheshire.

Like many Northern men who were passably good-looking when we were young, I owe a lot to Bill and the Beatles for stamping my passport to Lothario. There was a time when we were fashionable. But, come to think of it, he still is.

As Bess Manson explains of the Auckland Show:

‘A giggling gaggle of women a third his age cluster around William Roache at the bar. Freshly lipsticked and highly coiffed, they hone in on the star of the COROnation Street stage show after its opening night like birds do to prey.

'They want another photo with him. They want to snuggle up real close for their own personal encounter with the tousle-haired actor.

‘Roache, a glint in his 80-year-old eyes, obliges.

'The older audience members - and there are many many pensioners - are equally fawning.

‘Loitering in the Auckland Civic Theatre's lobby to catch a glimpse of him, their adulation is palpable. He's been in their front rooms for half a century. His unyielding dullness filling our screens and, apparently, fuelling some pretty intense fantasies for some viewers. Seeing him in the flesh must be quite surreal.

'Roache links arms with one after the other, smiling, kissing, signing. Maybe the actor really has bedded the thousand or more women he alluded to in the press last year.

‘As Roache himself said: "There's life in the old dog yet!"

'Any thought to the controversy Roache stirred up in recent weeks - he implied victims of sexual abuse are paying for past sins - appears to matter not to any of these Street-struck fans.

‘His second newsworthy comment, flirting with a daytime TV presenter last month telling her of his urge to smack her bottom "You naughty girl", seems only to have added fuel to this playboy's fire.

‘Eh oop, there's nought as queer as folk.

'While his alter ego, Ken Barlow, has had a pretty good innings with the ladies over the past 50 years in sunny Weatherfield, Roache's popularity is perfectly astounding. For the women of Auckland, he's hotter than one of Betty's famous hot pots’.

But I’m a pale imitation of the real thing and I decided to finish up my beer and get home to the kids. Val and I have as much in common nowadays.

And I have subsequently made a vow to can the line: ‘I’m trying to do something with my life – is that why I’m going through all this?’
 
After all, I’m generally the one who has to mither about dinner.
 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Maori owe a lot to Pakeha [or at least Pakeha-Maori]


RENDER UNTO VICTORIA WHAT IS VICTORIA’S

In January 1850, Britain’s Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston became enraged at the Greek Government’s long record of dishonesty, incompetence and hostility to the trans-national banking sector. And after the Greeks reneged on all their outstanding debts to British Subjects, he ordered a naval blockade of the Greek coast.

As the historian E.L. Woodward explains:

the ‘immediate circumstances of this action were a little ridiculous. One Don Pacifico, a  Portuguese money-lender who claimed British citizenship on the grounds that he had been born in Gibraltar, asked for a large sum in compensation for the pillaging of his house in Athens. Palmerston took Pacifico’s exaggerated complaints at face-value and treated it as the last count against the Greek Government ...’

As it was explained to me in History Class back in the 1960s, this confirmed the doctrine of ‘Civis Britannicus Sum’ under which the King or Queen of the United Kingdom could request from foreigners [according to the Preamble in your passport] your safe passage hither and thither without let or hindrance – on pain of gunboat.

Fittingly, unlike the application of ‘Civis Romanus Sum’ to St Paul, which was applied in matters of freedom of thought and religion, the British equivalent was applied to dodgy banking.

It does raise an interesting issue though for New Zealanders in general - and Maori in particular - as to what was actually intended by Article 3 of the Treaty of Waitangi (1840), which reads:

‘In consideration thereof, Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand Her Royal Protection and imparts to them all the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.’

Particularly, as this is in marked contrast to the provisions of other deeds of cession / acquisition across the British Empire.

For example, the Deed of Cession of Fiji to Great Britain (1874) summarises the expected outcomes under Article 7, in the following terms:

'That on behalf of Her Majesty His Excellency Sir Hercules George Robert Robinson promises;

1.      that the rights and interests of the said Tui Viti and other high chiefs the ceding parties hereto shall be recognised so far as is and shall be consistent with British Sovereignty and Colonial form of government;
2.      that all questions of financial liabilities and engagements shall be carefully scrutinized and dealt with upon principles of justice and sound public policy;
3.       that all claims to title to land by whomsoever preferred and all claims to pensions or allowances whether on the part of the said Tui Viti and other high chiefs or of persons now holding office under them or any of them shall in due course be fully investigated and equitably adjusted’.

No British Citizenship here, even though any ‘financial liabilities’ to the banking sector are given an explicit mention!

MAORI OWE A DEBT GREATER THAN THEY ACKNOWLEDGE TO PAKEHA [-MAORI]

I had been thinking about writing on the Treaty’s Article 3 for some time – but another delightful re-run from TVNZ’s ‘Heartland’ archive stock of ‘Country Calendar’ programmes finally got me going. You can see some of the stash [but unfortunately not the one to which I am referring] at:


The programme in question catches up with the contemporary Maori descendants of a couple of notorious and colourful ‘Pakeha-Maori’ – that is Europeans who slipped the leash of civilisation and embraced the Maori way of life [and their women] prior to 1840.

In particular, the episode covered the story of ‘Barnet Burns’ and the descendants of his son Hori Waiti [George White] by Amotawa the daughter of a Maori Chief Te Aria of the Te Whānau-a-Ruataupare hapu which was part of Te Uranga Wera or the ‘Burnt Post’ tribe on the East Coast of the North Island.

Barnet was reputedly born around 1805 and spent less than 4 years living in New Zealand and trading flax and muskets between February 1831 and October 1834 – during which time he was, according to his own account, married to a Maori princess, captured and nearly eaten by a Ngai Te Rangi war party from whom he escaped half-tattooed with a facial tā moko, and ultimately appointed Chief of a tribe of over 600 people.

There are a couple of entertaining articles on the Internet about Barnet, so you can catch up on them through the links below:



Suffice it to say that he was a man of mystery, proven braggart and stranger to the truth who died as an alcoholic. Some of the best quotes:
 
  • ‘So here I was amongst a set of cannibals ... not knowing the moment when they might take my trade from me, and not only my trade, but my life’
  • On his settling in England in 1836, ‘Barnet Burns styled himself as Pahe-a-Range and in May 1836 he appeared at the Chichester Mechanics' Institution, where his lectures were described as one incongruous jumble of impudence, of ignorance, of low wit, and bare-faced presumption’
  • And in 1844, one of New Zealand's early colonist-entrepreneurs, Jerningham Wakefield, recorded being unimpressed by one of Burns' lectures described how the lecturer ‘dressed with sandals and strings of beads on his legs and wrists, a leopard-skin petticoat, a necklace of pig's tusks, and a crown of blue feathers a foot long - sings NZ ditties to a tune! - and talks gibberish, which he translates into romantic poetry’.
I was fascinated to find though that he had a connection to Jamaica that has some resonance to one of my recent articles about the pervasive influence of slavery:


Barnet Burns claimed to have been born in Liverpool around 1805 and to have shipped as a cabin boy around 1818, eventually deserting his ship in Kingston, Jamaica. While there, he took up with Louis Celeste Lecesne, a relatively successful merchant who was following in his father's footsteps. Louis was 6-8 years older than Barnet. The two men appeared to have travelled together to England around 1825, with Lecesne assisting briefly in the continued education of his friend and charge.

Lecesne became a major figure in the Anti-Slavery Campaign and you can check out his story at:


Prior to settling in England around 1825, Lecesne had been the subject of a cause celebre in which, as a ‘person of colour’, he was accused of being an alien who had entered Jamaica from Haiti on false papers. The presence of educated, mixed-race traders like Lecesne posed a problem for the authorities as it breached the general rule that skin colour and slavery could be equated.

The Jamaican Government under the Duke of Manchester sought to prove that Lecesne was guilty of a conspiracy then under the 1818 Alien Act and that he could be repatriated to Haiti, following the confiscation of his goods.

A lengthy court case ensued which Lecesne and his brother-in-law John Escoffery won by proving that they had been born in Jamaica of Haitian immigrant parents. However, the determination was not accepted and the case eventually reached Westminster.

As Hansard reports of the Proceedings in the House of Commons [May 1824]:

‘Dr. Lushington rose to present a petition to which he requested the attention of the House, and particularly of ministers of his majesty's government. If the facts alleged were true, there never was a case which called more loudly for their interference; not only with a view to do justice to the oppressed, but also to punish the oppressors.

‘The petition stated, that the petitioners are freemen of colour, natives of Kingston, in the island of Jamaica, where they had constantly resided; that they were married to women, also natives of that island, and had each four children—that they were engaged in business as liquor-merchants—that they held the rank of serjeants in the militia, in which they have served since the year 1813;

‘and that they possessed property in the island, consisting of houses, land, and slaves: that about the latter end of September last, the petitioners underwent an examination before certain magistrates of Kingston as to the proofs they possessed of being British-born subjects, when they produced, in support of that fact, the certificates of their baptism, and other necessary documents

 'and that on the 7th of October following, petitioners were apprehended, and carried to prison, for the purpose, as they were informed, of being summarily removed from the island of Jamaica, as aliens, and dangerous persons; but a writ of habeas corpus having been issued, on their application to the grand court of the island, their case underwent a full and minute investigation before Mr. Chief-justice Scarlett, and the two assistant judges, Mills and West, on the 25th of the same month;

'and that the sentence pronounced by the court was, that the petitioners were both British-born subjects, and as such entitled to their discharge, and to the enjoyment of all their privileges as British Citizens’.

So, across the British Empire, a legitimate claim to British Citizenship was a very big issue.

As for Barnet Burns, nobody seems to have ever questioned whether or not he had been born in England – or whether or not his moko concealed a somewhat swarthy face?

I note only, with respect to his presumed birthplace, that:

  • A search of the online parish records for Kirkby [Liverpool] does not disclose any record of the birth of a Barnet Burns – or indeed of any Burns family members in the decades surrounding 1805
  • Kirkby Ireleth [where some Burns family members are recorded] is in Cumbria and is not to be confused with Kirkby in Liverpool.
Following this up, I had a look online at the 1852 Census for England and Wales – and found Barnet with his wife Rosina [described by one commentator as a ‘pedlar’ who used to play tunes on variously filled glass tumblers].

The pair was lodging in a boarding house at 167 High Street, Linton near Ely in Cambridgeshire. Rosina is described as a 50-year old Professor of Music who had been born in London. As for Barnet, he does not record his birthplace as Liverpool, rather he describes himself as a 44-year old Lecturer who was a 'British Subject'.

It is my guess then that Barnet was probably born in Jamaica. And that in the lead up to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, Barnet and his fellow ruffian Pakeha-Maori [many of whom shared an unconventional history] made their guests very well aware of the virtues of being classed as British Subjects.

 If I’m right, Maori got a good deal from the hospitality that they extended to people like Barnet.
 
Though the Treaty of Waitangi has created many problems, nobody has ever questioned Article 3 – and it may well have never been written in had it not been for Fifth Column Pakeha-Maori who knew its implications all too well from their experience in other corners of the British Empire.

 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

For Chinua Achebe


 






ONLY ONIONS BRING TEARS

Nigeria’s first university opened in 1948 as University College, Ibadan. The Department of Geography was there from the beginning and its foundation Professor was Keith M. Buchanan. Keith died at his home on the Kapiti Coast, Wellington, New Zealand in 2002 aged 78, much respected in his field.
 
Among the first student intake of the future University of Ibadan was Chinua Achebe who had been awarded a bursary to study Medicine. After an unhappy year, he switched to English, History and Theology. Chinua has recently died aged 82 – an acclaimed giant in world literature.

Both men influenced me and my understanding of the world – Achebe profoundly.  As you see from my header, when Queen Elizabeth II made a State Visit to Nigeria in 1956, she was heads and tails were palms. Chinua Achebe flipped the coin - and gave currency and voice to the African face.

And I find the interplay between the narratives of the two alumni fascinating.

Let’s start with Keith, my namesake.

Keith Buchanan [in collaboration with J.C. Pugh] published in 1955, what to a dreamy youngster like me was a wonderful book, ‘Land and People in Nigeria’. I can still remember poring over the text and illustrations during the long, dark winter’s evenings in our farmhouse in Cheshire.

For me, studying Geography was pure escapism. In my mind’s eye, I could conjure steam trains from the cross-hatched lines denoting railway lines; I could visualize camel caravanserai trekking into the desert where the isohyets ran thin; and a street map of Buenos Aires would see me there exploring the boulevards along Avenida 9 de Julio.

But Buchanan and Pugh did better. They provided line drawings of ‘euphorbia-girt villages’ on the Jos Plateau and they quoted Hausa Proverbs. It brought Nigeria to life to me.

For years, I would interject my favourite Hausa bon mots into conversations, when they flagged: ‘Komi kyaun ba ta yi tafannuwar, kamar albasa ba’ [or something that has some vague resemblance to that – we are talking 50 years ago].

Apparently, the proverb [in its true form] means something like: ‘However fine the garlic, it is not onions’.

And what you may ask is its point? It’s all about people and places and being in the right place with your kinfolk. If a stranger from a different tribe visits, he is fine – the highest quality garlic if you like. But he doesn’t know his onions – he doesn’t have a place around the cooking pot where your own people are king.

As a young regional planner / economist, in the period 1976-79I spent a good deal of time in Nigeria. Nobody ever understood me when I quoted the proverb but I grew to learn that it spoke of a deep tolerance of other cultures that went hand in hand with a pride in one’s own.

The really great thing about being a European in upcountry Nigeria in those days was that you were just from yet another tribe – a nuisance to be tolerated or a guest to be celebrated – but never the real McCoy, and therefore never worth taking over seriously.

 Of course, this had its dangers. As Chinua Achebe comments:

“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”

RADICAL HUMANISM, POWER ELITES AND CULTURAL LIQUIDATION

But the unity of the Europeans is also skin-deep in places. Like the other Keith, I was a product of Britain’s fractured tribal identities, class distinctions and noblesse oblige burdens.

When I read some of what Keith wrote, I hear myself as a young man from The North in the 1960s full of crusading fervour, with no-shoulder unchipped. As for windmills, neither of us could pass one without trying to lance it.

 Writing as the descendant of Scots, who was born in England and got his first job as an academic in Wales, KB starts an essay on ‘Economic Growth and Cultural Liquidation: The Case of the Celtic Nations (1977)’ in the following uncompromising terms:

'This makes no claim to be a detached and objective paper. I write as one who has lost the Language my ancestors spoke many generations ago and who has only a slender knowledge of that other Celtic language my children learned in a tiny school close to the silver Welsh Sea.

'I write as one who has in many lands seen “the immeasurable destructive potential of indiscriminate economic growth who has seen, in the words of the greatest living Welsh poet:

 ‘Behind the smile on times’ face
The cold brain of the machine
That will destroy you and your race.

 [R.S Thomas]

... I write as one who (perhaps against all evidence), is unprepared to believe that our Affluent Society, our technologically sophisticated yet socially disintegrating society of Chrome, Cream and Crime, is the only possible type of society.

 'We have lost the old tongue, and with it
The old ways too ...
... the language, for us
Is part of the old abandoned ways’.

 [Herbert Williams]

 In ‘The Geography of Empire’ (1972), Keith rails like a half-starved, half-mad prophet:

‘At first sight, the seventeenth century writer John Donne would seem irrelevant to the analysis of modern imperialism. But the John Donne of whom I think is not John Donne the poet, the rumour-ringed, enigmatic, sensuous adventurer, but John Donne the preacher, the passionate, compassionate and probing Dean of St. Paul's.

‘And when I think of John Donne in the context of this paper I think of his sombre and fearsome warning: "Foole, this night they shall fetch away thy soule".

‘For, as I see it, these sombre words can be extended to the long night of colonialism and the tormented neo-colonial night which has followed. The physical spoliation of those who lived, who still live, in the dark night of imperialism, the filching away of gold and copper and foodstuffs and fibres, is something all can see - but this material impoverishment may well prove to be of less significance than the undermining of indigenous cultures, the destruction of the personality, the stealing of the soul of those colonised.

‘Moreover, as we shall see in this paper, this "stealing of souls", this cultural imperialism, is by no means a thing of the past, for, as the old forms of imperialism withered, new, more sophisticated and more subtle forms have taken their place ... The physical pillage of the world by the developed nations continues and to this has been added an even more destructive and pervasive intellectual pillage.


Keith was in the words of his NZ colleague Ray Watters a ‘radical humanist and polemicist, a socialist, a champion of the dispossessed, and an unrelenting critic of orthodoxy, capitalist regimes and power elites’ - or what I sometimes term myself a Left-Libertarian.

But another geographer R.D. Hill flips the coin here and is ambivalent in his praise:

'Buchanan’s research and fieldwork in China, undertaken from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, when both were difficult, were marred by his lack of Chinese. Nevertheless he was a notable student of the People’s Republic at a time of great interest, great ignorance and great polarization of viewpoints.

‘Buchanan was a fierce “Cold Warrior of the Left”, unpopular to the point of being perceived as a threat by the forces of reaction.

‘But he was far too individualistic and idiosyncratic ever to make a formal political commitment or develop a consistent political stance other than that of a romantic revolutionary, happy enough to feed the backyard furnaces of the Great Leap Forward and to be a thorn in the flesh of New Zealand and American politicians and bureaucrats of the Cold War –

 ... ‘but too comfortably bourgeois in his position as professor of Geography at the Victoria University of Wellington to “forsake all” in the manner of Rewi Alley and commit his life to the betterment of the proletariat and the peasantry.

So there we have it – passionate, opinionated Europeans both clever and foolish at the same time. Well meaning to an apostrophe but determined to have the edge in the argument and in worthiness. It only remained for Geography [and China for awhile] to be overwhelmed by the cleverness [and foolishness] of Marxism.

 AUTHENTICITY, DIGNITY AND A DIFFERENT ORDER OF REALITY

 “If you don’t like someone’s story,” Chinua Achebe told The Paris Review in 1994, “write your own.”

 This was as much advice to Europeans as it was to Africans.

 With a light mastery, he flipped the coin.

 In the words of the white South African writer Nadine Gordiner:

‘I read his work with the sense of extraordinary entry into a brilliant (I do not use that word fashionably or lightly) mind, a writer's continuing achievement of penetrating the variety, possibilities, mystery of being human in the presence not only of one's own people and country, but of the world’.

 And Nnaoma Cassidy Ibe has this to say:

'He wrote with passion without minding whose ox is gored. His pen was indeed relentlessly fearless, as he tried to communicate the deep thoughts that flowed from the innermost recess of his literary being.

‘He was simultaneously a novelist, poet, broadcaster, professor and critic. Achebe wrote more than 20 works, some of which were fiercely critical of politicians and a failure of leadership in Nigeria. The most widely acclaimed of his works, Things Fall Apart is generally regarded as the most widely read book in modern African English literature.

'Things Fall Apart is a story that transcends. It has classic qualities that a typical African can confidently say, “this is my story”: from Nigeria to Kenya, from Senegal to Zimbabwe, from Morocco to Tanzania, from Sierra Leone to Rwanda. If you want to know how proverbs are used in African literature, rush to Achebe.

‘He was a warrior, a literary ‘four-star general’, who went to the battlefield and emerged undisputedly ‘the champion’. All through his life, he was armed with every necessary ‘machinery’ a 20th century writer ought to be armed with. Truly, he paid his dues perfectly well. He was an embodiment of the fight against injustice, within and without.

‘He was a whistle blower. He blew the ‘whistle’ when it was most necessary. In his Things Fall Apart, he blew the whistle against Joseph Conrad (Achebe in 1975 went ahead to describe Conrad as a ‘bloody) and all those misinformed white folks that viewed Africa from subhuman lenses.

‘Today, Africans have understood that they can tell their own story and tell it so well. (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has wonderfully demonstrated this fact).

'Twice, he was offered national honours (under Obasanjo and Jonathan respectively); twice he rejected it on two justifiable grounds: (a) because of the existence of a cabal, (in his own words “a small clique of renegades”) that has turned “my homeland into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom” (b) in my opinion, I believe strongly he did not want to share a national honour with personalities whose characters are ‘recurringly questionable’.

As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie herself writes:

 ‘Things Fall Apart’ is the African novel most read – and arguably most loved – by Africans, a novel published when ‘African novel’ meant European accounts of ‘native’ life. Achebe was an unapologetic member of the generation of African writers who were ‘writing back,’ challenging the stock Western images of their homeland, but his work was not burdened by its intent.

 ‘It is much-loved not because Achebe wrote back, but because he wrote back well. His work was wise, humorous, human. For many Africans, ‘Things Fall Apart’ remains a gesture of returned dignity, a literary and an emotional experience; Mandela called Achebe the writer in whose presence the prison walls came down’.

As for me, Dr Keith Johnson, the eager young technocrat and project manager for the preparation of the Kwara and Benue Regional Plans [and economist for the Bauchi-Gombe Slum Upgrading and Low Cost Housing Project], in the period 1976-79, I both loved and hated Nigeria. As my driver Lawrence once said [he was an Igbo like Achebe], there is ‘too much suffering in dis Nigeria’.

But you had to love the people – and reading ‘Things Fall Apart’ and ‘No Longer at Ease’ back then, I suddenly saw myself reflected. Well-paid, having made it, a global citizen ... insecure, cut-loose from my roots, facing a switch-back ride of social change, adrift in materialism and greed, threatened by anomie and dystopia.

 After all:

"It is the storyteller who makes us what we are, who creates history. The storyteller creates the memory that the survivors must have - otherwise their surviving would have no meaning."

It was nice / is nice that well-meaning Europeans want to write other people’s stories but Chinua Achebe forced the onlookers to confront the images that fade away mirror upon mirror in Africa. We are not Black, we are White - but as the images recede it is clear that we are all simply human and that if I close my eyes, I can begin to understand.