Those were the days

I really must get around to reading Michael Asher’s Khartoum. Every time I stay at Meskel Square’s house I flick through his copy (I note a corner is still turned down at page 164) and think what a good read it looks. At every turn of this Arab-African city you get a sense of history, whether it’s the old Union Flag layout of the city centre, the confluence of the mighty Nile which shapes so much of Africa, or the Republican Palace where Gordon finally met his death.

Maybe it’s my western, colonial outlook but this is something I don’t feel in other African cities. Nairobi for example is a sterile, ugly place disconnected from the countryside where so much of Kenya’s history and traditions were born and live on.

I’ve always been lucky enough to work for newspapers whose stories are intertwined with the country they reflect. The Press and Journal claims to be the oldest paper in Scotland, begun on the hills of Culloden. And The Herald, with a masthead that still features a horny handed son of toil who made Glasgow the second city of The British Empire.

The Times too crops up over and over again through Asher’s book which uses chunks of writing by the paper’s then Khartoum correspondent Frank Power. He led the sort of life that I suspect all foreign correspondents dream of (up to a point). All you need to read is his entry in the index:

Power, Frank (war correspondent): dysentery attack xxiv; predicts disaster xxiv; proved correct xxv; hears Muslim bell 7-8; feels strain 9-10; hears of massacre 11; records exodus 12; appointed British Consul 17; more sanguine 17; sees Gordon arrive 134; impressed by Gordon 136; refuses to leave 137; reconnoitres White Nile 144; guesses all is not well 162; leaves by steamer 174, 175; killed 181

At the end of my career I’d love to have a footnote saying “guesses all is not well, leaves by steamer” but would probably settle for “dysentery attack” in the preface.


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