Not inspired by me...

Not inspired by me...

It seems as if John le Carré almost joined the Soviet Unionback in the old days when he was still a spy and before he started writing. It reminded me of the time I almost “met” John le Carré when I was still working at Oxfamand he was working on a little movie he was making – The Constant Gardener. If only I wasn’t asleep at the wheel…

Things got crazy at Oxfam. We were always running from one place to another. From one issue to another. From one campaign to another. I hardly had time to come up for air. Just too many campaigns to juggle. I was heading up the Coffee Campaign, representing Oxfam at Publish What You Pay dealing with the extractive industry, negotiating with the European Commission on corporate responsibility and getting my soul drained by the bureaucrats over there, and I still had to try and keep the ship running on Access To Medicine. And I was continuing my fight against Oxfam for my salary! Too much to handle for a lazy guy from Africa who only joined Oxfam a year earlier – and saw his new boss leave two weeks after he joined. So I really didn’t have time to hang out with anyone to do interviews for an upcoming movie.

So I was really pissed when I was told that I had to do this interview with some guy doing “research” for a movie he is involved in. Like I had time to hang out with movie researchers. But I didn’t have a choice. It was apparently pretty important that I speak to him. The Big Boss said so – and I must obey. What bloody movie was this in any case?

It was a movie that was going to be based on a story written by John le Carré – The Constant Gardener. Now really, I read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Little Drummer Girl, A Perfect Spy and The Tailor Of Panama. Good stories even though I wasn’t really into spy novels. But I liked his spy writing more than others. So why couldn’t they send him over? At least I could get him to sign one of my books or something. I knew that I still had one of his books somewhere in the basement or in a box in the garage. Why did they have to send some lackey in his place? And why the hell do I have to talk to this lackey in any case?

But well, the movie was about HIV/Aids in Africa and corruption by Big Pharma and I was heading up the “private sector” angle of the Access To Medicine campaign. So I guess it made sense for me to be interviewed. But still. It was going to waste my time. Who was going to watch it in any case? People hardly cared. Right?

“Mr Cornwell is here to see you.” I wish I was in Cornwall. Then I would meet the “real deal” John le Carré and not some lacky doing the dirty work for John Le Carré. But I was friendly. Picked the guy up at the front desk and was surprised that they send such an old dude. He must have been in his 60’s or 70’s. Maybe he is an old varsity professor that retired and does some research and consulting on the side. You know, to keep the mind ticking over and wallet from drying. I got us a good cup of Fairtrade coffee each and jumped into one of the meeting rooms.

(Actually, the coffee was pretty crap at Oxfam. We were committed to Fairtrade not because of their great coffee, but more because of their commitment to the social cause we supported.)

David had an hour booked with me. He asked so many questions. Probing this way and that way. I gave him all the answers he wanted. Didn’t hold back on anything. Gave him my view unfiltered- as always. But I was a bit short with him. Didn’t want to waste time. Gave him the standard smile. I might even have been a little bit full of myself while I spoke to him. Educating the guy. Him learning from the “master”. But I peeked at my watch every now and again. Just making sure that I didn’t give him more than the allocated hour. Had loads to do. Had to move on to the next thing. Really.

David was very pleasant though. A very nice old man. I liked him. He spoke with a soft voice. Took slow notes. Thought of his questions. Probed to get more detail. Didn’t really give any of his own opinions. Just nodded his head and took in all the info. But then. He was just the researcher and it wasn’t his job to have an opinion in any case.

But in all honesty, I could hardly remember what we spoke about. I knew I gave him all the info he wanted but never really took any notice of the old man. Couldn’t even remember what he looked like. Grey hair and… hum… old. My mind was everywhere else during that interview. Planning what I needed to do for the rest of the day and week. Checked my watch and ended the conversation when the hour was up. I remember he was friendly and never waivered or seemed rattled with my behaviour. I wasn’t rude or anything, but just didn’t really give him the attention he deserved. But he was obviously pleased and happy that I gave him some time in my busy schedule.

Time to go. I walked him to the front door, shook his hand, gave him a warm smile and a nod, and waved good bye. A “Thank you Mr Cornwell and have a nice day” was the last words he heard from me. Turned around and walked back to my office. Ready to face the rest of the day and get some real work done.

I got to the office and a colleague asked me all excitedly, “So, how was it to meet John le Carré?” I laughed at her and said, “John le Carré? I wish! I met some lackey called David Cornwell. I don’t think John le Carré would hang out with me!” My colleague stopped and stared at me. “Are you being serious?” she asked. “Of course! You really think he would come over for an interview with me? In any case, John le Carré lives in Cornwall somewhere. No way he would come all the way to Oxford just for an hour long interview with me.”

Her reply…

“You know that John le Carré isn’t his real name. Right? You know that John le Carré is the pseudonym of David Cornwell, right? You DO know that David Cornwell IS John le Carré?”

I am an ass.

John le Carré... I mean... David Cornwell at his home in Cornwall

John le Carré... I mean... David Cornwell at his home in Cornwall


I learnt a big lesson that day. Never assume you know anything of the other person. Find out as much as what you can about them. Always be nicer than what you really have to be. You never know when you might want their autograph. And, you don’t get a personal thank you in the movie if you treat famous people like a lackey or like sh*t. And I learnt that David Cornwell used the name John leCarré to publish his books whilehe was still a real spy. I guess the book he wrote after our little meeting was not inspired by me – Absolute Friends. Thank God I never told him to say hi to John or that I liked John le Carré’s books. Or rather, that I am not big into spy novels! Yeah. I am an ass.


Me... Back at my desk...

Me... Back at my desk...


A bumper addition. Can’t help it. Too much news going around I guess. Lost in Africa. And guess what. I am not touching US politics this week! Okay, maybe just a little…

1. Fighting corruption the Nigerian way

Oh Nigeria… Good old Nigeria decided to fight corruption. At last. Get rid of this plague that has been haunting this beautiful country. But it didn’t go according to plan. This week Nigeria’s anti-corruption police had to sack 11 of its own officials. Why? Because most of them lied about their academic credentials and one for trying to defraud a suspect. Or as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) called it “forgery and other fraudulent acts”.  I can think of another word that also uses a “F” and a “C” that might be a better way to describe the Nigerian anti-corruption efforts. I think these guys used to work as consultants for Jack Abramoff’s and worked as Tom Delay’s special advisers.

2. Parliamentary priviledges the Zimbabwean way

What a big week in Zimbabwe. The newly(ish) elected parliamentarians got to go to parliament for the first time. And it was meant to be a changing of the guards. You know. The MDC won the election. Even after loser Bob “I-Murder-Before-Breakfast” Mugabe tried his best to get his party to win. And it was going to be a big day. They had to vote for the Speaker of Parliament. Guess what Bob “Crazier-Than-Bush” Mugabe did? He arrested opposition politicians as they entered parliament to be sworn in. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF hoped that enough opposition politicians would get arrested so that they (the ZANU-PF) would have enough votes to elect the Speaker. And how sad is this? They still lost the vote. Enough ZANU-PF members voted for the opposition MDC. So the new Speaker is from the MDC. I think that these people were the same people who organized the FEMA response to Katrina.

3. Mugabe is a “…”

We all want to say it. Hell. Some of us have actually said it. But you can’t do that in Zimbabwe. A guy got arrested in Zimbabwe for describing Bob “I-Have-No-Morals” Mugabe as a “female genital organ”. In all fairness, I would do it as well. Chuck the guy in jail. I mean really. It is an insult to… hum… “female genital organs”. Here is the clincher. Guess what was the guy’s name? And I am not joking. His name is Pinas. I think these were the same guys who worked for the main-stream media from 2001 to around 2006 in the US. They got fired and some journalist actually started developing a backbone again.

4. OMG! I just switched you off! LOL!

This one puzzles me a bit. The Kenya Power and Lighting Company has introduced new cutting-edge technology to communicate a very third world thing. They are going to text people to tell them that their electricity will be cut thanks to “supply interruptions” – read, we’re outa juice. Now here is the three things that puzzles me. Firstly, why can’t they introduce some new technology to keep the electricity flowing? You know? Buy some new cables instead of the latest iPhone. Secondly, where the hell do you get the electricity to charge your phone? Do you have a long extension cord to a neighboring country with a steady supply? Lastly, how the hell can you send a text if the electricity is down? You know, everything shuts down. Even the towers sending the signals. But then. Logic shouldn’t be part of it right? I think the guys who worked on this plan were the same guys who works on the US energy efficiency and oil independence policies.

5. A trial leading nowhere

Looks like the ANC is pulling the trusted “good cop, bad cop” treatment on the judges looking into Zuma’s corruption trial. First Blade “Short-Shit” Nzimande climbed into the judges for investigating Zuma. Do remember that Blade has a casual relationship with justice. I mean, as the leader of the Communist Party, he has a very old-school communist way of looking at justice. Then Motlanthe came out defending the judges. Okay, I won’t even try to explain it, but according to party leaders these two positions are not at odds with the party line. No idea how that logic works. I know these guys worked for the Bush administration. Why? Because in a Scooter Libby type move, Blade also said he is not going to rule out the possibility of an arms deal amnesty as a way forward. Hello Scooter.

6. Circumcision not a rip-off

And you thought I was joking! They actually found a new way to do circumcision. But, to quote them, “the question that arose was how the procedure could be rolled out universally. The new method is called the ShangRing. I think it is very unfortunate that this is a Chinese inventor. I don’t think anything to do with circumcision should have the sound of a knife as part of its name – “Shang” (can you hear the ring as the knife cuts through the… hum… you know…). How does it work? I am not going to tell you. But if you know what mulesing is… It is something similar. I like the fact that Dr Marc Goldstein said that “Shang promises to be faster, safer and more acceptable to patients than conventional surgical circumcision methods”. I am sorry. No “Shang” will be more acceptable to the guy getting his willy cut. And how about this one by Dr Howard Kim, “The beauty of this device is its simple, innovative design”. Sorry Dr Kim. The ShangRing is not an iPod or iPhone. It is never going to take off. No pun intended.

There is no foreskin toothfairy

There is no foreskin toothfairy

7. What’s in a name?

It seems as if the Thai people are getting fed up with the corruption that is so rife in their government. And like all good people pissed off, they decided to take to the streets. And they protested and ranted and threw their toys. All for democracy. The People’s Alliance for Democracy has drawn the line and want change now. No more corruption. And that is what democrats everywhere would want – a democratic government free of corruption. And with a name like that it is clear they want new elections. Right? Wrong! They aren’t protesting to get new elections. Nope. They are protesting for a “new coup”! They want the military to take over again. Either the Thais just don’t get this democracy thing or something got seriously lost in translation.

8. Canadians are weird

At last. At last they broke one of the major crime mysteries in Canada. A crime that has Canadians on the edge of their seats. Choking on their blubber because of the audacity of this crime. The Canadian version of Capone. The thief of all thieves. You could lock it but he always found a way. No chains could hold him back. But they got this man who terrorized communities all across Moose country. Free. Free at last. They got him. Him. The bicycle thief. Yes. The bicycle thief. But not just a run-of-the-mill bicycle thief. No. They found over 3,000 bicycles. 3,000 bicycles. What the hell was he going to do with 3,000 bicycles? I don’t know. But then, it is Canada. I think he was planning on starting their version of NASCAR.

Be afraid...

Be afraid...

9. Just don’t answer the phone

You sit there in your lounge and the phone rings. Bloody phone. Interrupting American Idol. And who called? The dreaded telemarketer. So you do what every proud American does at least once a week. You hang up on the idiot who phoned. That’ll teach them. You just sat down and settled in for some more Simon Cowell – to see how high he can pull up his pants this time. And the phone rings again. It’s the telemarketer again. But this time they have a message for you. “If you don’t want to get contacted if somebody wins, then don’t put your name in it.  That was just such a girl thing to do. Wimp,” yelled the telemarketer to poor old Randall Whited. And then slammed the phone down. One mistake though. The telemarketer must have forgotten that this is America. In England you just shake your head and say, “How rude.” And then go back to watch EastEnders. But this is the US. Here you will get your ass sued baby. And that is just what Randall is thinking about. I guess it could have been worse. If Randall was in England he would have been called by a telemarketer in India shouting insults at the British version of curry. And you know you should never touch an Englishman and his curry. Mind you, I don’t think they would have understood each other in any case.

10. When Obama is right…

Remember when McCain and Bush laughed at Obama and his plan to get American troops out of Iraq in 16 months? To get a timetable for the pullout of the troops? Well, it seems as if John “100-Years-In-Iraq” McCain has to eat some major humble pie. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani called her bluff just a week after Condoleezza Rice said that America was only in Iraq on the invitation of the Iraqi government. And then the Iraqi government said, “Get the hell out”. And gave them a deadline. Come Condi, you said it yourself. You will leave when you are not wanted anymore. Message clear? Come on McCain? Get the message? You were wrong. And Obama was (and is) right. Now take a cue from the Iraqi pullout deadline and get yourself a pullout deadline. I call it November 2008.

Like I said. A bumper issue! Hope you had fun.