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I. P. A. Manning's Blog

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Roger Rory McKay, ever onward.


I. P. A. Manning

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When wearying of the seemingly constant and unbridgeable cultural divide in Africa, I think of old friends, good food and drink, and of a quiet place in good game country. Two of these good friends are Roger McKay and John Eaton, regular habitués at midday noggin-time at the Memorable Order of Tin Hats club (M.O.T.H.) in Lusaka: John, a veteran of the Burma campaign - who had escaped capture by the Japanese by taking a long walk through part of China, and for many years a charter pilot in Africa; Roger, a former professional soldier, and, when the going was good, a professional white hunter and bush pilot, but more recently a mini-taxi operator in London.

Last week I went round to John’s flat to take him down to the Moth club for a couple of his favourite Vodka’s (drunk with tap water, sans ice) and a pie, only to find in the one battered chair a visitor who looked as though he had met up with an elephant on its path leading through a wait-bit-thorn thicket, with neither giving way. This rather mangled personage mumbled that he had just come out of hospital. It was Roger, begod!

Some years ago, Roger had produced a cheaply printed book entitled, The Safari Cook Book. On coming back to Zambia five years ago I got hold of it and with the help of a professional chef and food journalist, Alexandra Riley, attempted to ready it for publication some time this century.

In the forward, I wrote:

Roger is an old Africa hand of whom I have often said, if he were not here we would have had to invent him. He is our Don Quixote, ever tilting at windmills, resolute, quite fearless when once charging off into the blue on his beloved Rocinante - usually a single-engined tail-dragger. No airstrip for him was too short, too narrow, too hedged about with forty-foot trees; undeterred, wiping furiously at the windscreen, at his pebble glasses, he would side-slip down and bring her in. His prangs have the whiff of a Compton McKenzie story: is aircraft – so the bush legend goes, litter Africa, the Western Isles of Scotland, the Mediterranean. Once, on his way back across the Atlantic in a push-pull, he ran out of fuel as he reached a Scottish island and landed in a field, accounting for a few sheep unused to attack from the sky. As he ruefully surveyed the scene, an aged Highlander of fierce mien waving a crooked stick in the air staggered up the hill towards him. Roger reached – as Biggles would have done, for a revolver, but the Highlander had not come for war but for profit. Here was a member of the Cargo cult, sheep placed in a field to tempt aerial attack. Perhaps one of them would crash. They did! Roger! A totting up of damages on the back of a cigarette box was duly completed. Of course, Roger was broke and was thus lead muttering down the hill to work it off in the Highlander’s pub.
And then on another foray, out of fuel again – thinking obviously that E meant enough, over the Med, he ditches next to a large yacht owned by a Danish millionaire, spending an agreeable month with the man. And there is the time he flew some members of Emperor Haillie Selassie’s family out of Ethiopia at the time of the coup, down the Omo Valley, a little above the trees.
Roger has stopped flying now, and he no longer hunts, no longer shoots off to London to terrify Japanese tourists in his mini-taxi. But he is planning something, of that you can be sure.’

And here is a tasteful Roger McKay hors-doeuvre to invite future salivation:

Salads

One morning after an early hunt, I came back to my camp on the Omo River in Southern Ethiopia at about eleven in the morning to find Peter Beard, author of the classic ‘End of the Game’ tucking into my cook, Tadessa’s version of ‘Salad American’. It subsequently became rather obvious to my clients and myself, that Peter’s only visible garment, a dirty old mackintosh, was indeed his only garment. On a whim he had rushed out of his home in Karen, ‘Hogs Hall’ with no clothes under the Mac, and had flown the five hundred miles from Nairobi (at only a hundred MPH) to visit me in an ancient four-seater Piper Tri-pacer. Apparently he had been bored to death with Nairobi.

TADESSA’S SALAD AMERICAN Very finely shred a white cabbage and lettuce and mix with sliced cucumber, salt and pepper to taste, and stir in a mixture of half cream, half mayonnaise, garnish with parsley, sliced hard-boiled eggs and water cress. Alternatively mix the cream and mayonnaise with grated blue cheese, (Danish or more usually Kenyan) and whisk until smooth again.

Pasta

I had an Italian friend in Ethiopia, the chef of the foremost hotel in Addis Ababa who claimed his method of determining ‘al dente’ – the point at which pasta is ready to be served, was infallible. Singing in a rich baritone as Leporello in ‘Don Giovanni’ “Notte e giorno faticar per chi nulla sa gradir” – ‘Slaving, night and day for one whom nothing pleases’ he would take a spoonful of pasta and hurl it against the wall. If the pasta was al dente it would stay adhered to the wall, and the remainder would be served with sauces and dishes, both various and outlandish (remember this was Ethiopia in the sixties). If it slipped to the foot of the wall, he would start on the second verse, pleading with God to accord him, in exchange for his great talent in cooking, the life of a gentleman and a scholar, before slinging the next gobbet. Although enjoying the Mozart, I always regarded this method of judging the product as a bit ‘over the top’ and not to be advocated in a serious family manual of culinary instruction such as this, however there is little doubt that Italian passion plays a large part in Italian cuisine, especially south of the meridian placed in the region of Abruzzi.
I always add a teaspoon of olive oil or butter to my pasta, believing it to help in preventing it sticking together, but stirring it vigorously will probably achieve the same results. Do not force the pasta under the hot water, bend it gradually as it softens, cook gently and after about seven minutes (depending on the type) look for the pasta to rise to the surface as it swells, - then taste for al dente, just tender, but still firm. You must not continue cooking or it will become a soft mush, which is the American, English or South African way of ruining pasta for ‘fast food’ In northern Italy the chef will now normally lubricate it adding butter, in the south of Italy, oil or cucinca povera – cooking water.

SPAGHETTI CON COZZE This is a southern dish, cucina povera, semplice e espresso Economic, simple and quick. Use one can of mussels, remove the shells and retain the liquid. Fry several garlic cloves in olive oil or butter, a small chopped onion, and add in several finely chopped tomatoes, the mussels, the mussel liquid, a tot of dry sherry, chopped parsley and cook slowly for several minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm. By now you will have cooked spaghetti, al dente, drain it, add the sauce and the mussels and serve immediately. Of course in the African coastal areas, the Grecian islands and the Mediterranean of my early flying years, con cozze could be made very cheaply and variedly with clams, finely chopped octopus, prawns, oysters, crab and crayfish.

And so on ad gloriosum…

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