Saturday, 4 June 2016

Born Wild by Tony Fitzjohn: book review

Born Wild by Tony Fitzjohn

Born Wild is about Tony Fitzjohn's life in the African bush, specifically at Kora in Kenya, the wildlife camp where he learnt his trade under the guidance of George Adamson. If that name sounds familiar, it's because George Adamson was one half of the couple whose story was told in the film Born Free.

Born Wild differs from other books on similar topics in that it's not written by a scientist or a conservationist -- not an intentional one anyway. Fitzjohn was born and raised in Cockfosters in London, and without any background in science, ended up working with -- and successfully leading conservation projects to rehabilitate and breed -- lions, leopards and rhino, among others.

It's a brutally honest read, revealing Fitzjohn's brushes with alcoholism and less than perfect relationships, and yet the final chapters read in an almost self-congratulatory tone. Deserved, perhaps, but slightly grating to read.

It's not exactly a no-holds-barred account of George and Joy Adamson's life either -- Fitzjohn's admiration and respect for George is prescient throughout -- but it certainly takes the Hollywood sheen off of the couple portrayed in Born Free.

Anyone with even a passing interest in wildlife conservation -- particularly in Africa in the latter part of the 20th century--will be aware of how much conservation is about the politics as well as the science. If the political side of things is something that interests you, get stuck in. If not, a large part of the book will seem like an incessant amount of name dropping, reading like a who's who in the power rings (both legitimate and corrupt) of Western Africa.

I confess, I found myself skimming over these parts as I was struggling to remember who was who anyway, and I don't feel like doing so reduced my overall enjoyment of the book.  What I would like to have seen more of is the detail of day to day life in Kora camp -- the methods used to raise and release the lions, the living conditions. In reality, very little of the book is set in the camp itself, and it's the poorer for it.

I'm always on the lookout for decent wildlife/animal/conservation non-fiction books, so if you've got any recommendations, please let me know in the comments. Here's a free tip for you: Killing Keiko by Mark Simmons.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Pedler Peckham Rye: restaurant review

Have you ever been to a restaurant where the broccoli is the best part of the meal? That's not to discredit our recent trip to Pedler in any way -- the food was all exceptional -- but when you roll out of a restaurant, stomach completely full, and it's the broccoli you're talking about, that's worth a mention, no?

Set on Peckham Rye, Pedler specialises in smaller sharing dishes - not quite small enough that I'd call it tapas, but three to four dishes plus a couple of sides is plenty for two people. Actually, it's more than plenty, and leaves no room for dessert. Bad move.

We cracked on with the bread basket to start with, which in hindsight we could have done without, but it came with Marmite butter, which had me intrigued from the off. 

By the time I got round to photographing the broccoli, most of it had already gone. Sorry about that.
That'd barely touched the sides before our other dishes started arriving as and when they were ready: spicy meatballs, frizzle chicken, beef dripping chips and the now-famous tempura broccoli. To be honest, we'd only ordered the broccoli in a half-hearted nod to our health -- and because the menu said it would be purple, and I'm easily intrigued (remembered the Marmite butter).

We kicked off with a cocktail - yes, that's an actual flower on top.
Purple the broccoli was not, but we'd forgotten it was meant to be, because it was so darn delicious. Crunchy, crispy, and completely bereft of that healthy taste that usually taints broccoli, we'd almost guzzled it completely before remembering that we had other dishes that required our attention.

The fizzle chicken and spicy meatballs are the ultimate comfort food - meaty, cheesy, saucy, nicely spicy. Definitely decent, but our hearts were with the broccoli at this point.

So Pedler's great but the, er, cosy atmosphere means it's not the place for a first date, or a private conversation. 

While we're on that, a note to all restaurants: a three inch gap does not two separate tables make. It's a trend I've been noticing for a while and I'm not a fan. I get that squeezing as many people in as possible is key for your profits, but having to ask the person on the next table to stand up just so that I can get out to the toilet makes me feel like I'm on an aeroplane. And we all know how popular aeroplane food is. 

The menu changes daily at Pedler, as they use all fresh ingredients. If the broccoli's not on the menu when you get there, bad luck. Console yourself with a cocktail or two.

Pedler, 58 Peckham Rye, SE15 4JR

Apologies for the awful photos you see before you. Low-lighting rules at Pedler - great for creating an atmosphere, not so helpful for those of us trying to photograph the offerings. That, and I was too busy stuffing my face with food to focus on my focus.