“There are three possible parts to a date, of which at least two must be offered: entertainment, food, and affection. It is customary to begin a series of dates with a great deal of entertainment, a moderate amount of food, and the merest suggestion of affection. As the amount of affection increases, the entertainment can be reduced proportionately. When the affection IS the entertainment, we no longer call it dating. Under no circumstances can the food be omitted.” – Judith Martin, America’s Miss Manners and etiquette guru.
Miss Manners’ advice could well be applied to Chris and me, only the course that she charts above, in our instance, was protracted over a period of 29 years. Food was seldom omitted. Words, never.
We met at a party in Zimbabwe when I was 21. Chris was eight years older than me, and had just returned home from Maryland in the United States. He was a farmer while I was an aspiring journalist. He was urbane and learned while I, well, wasn’t. Chris was also kind. I confessed to him I was trying to satisfy a lifelong yearning to become a writer, and he became the first person to ever encourage me to go for it. Chris had an English Literature degree from Dublin, and was a writer himself. I had a diploma from a French-inspired cookery school, and couldn’t write for toffee. Still, I wanted to learn, which meant plucking up the courage to apply to a newspaper. After our conversation, I did.
Cut to some months later. I am a cub reporter on one of Zimbabwe’s national newspapers. Chris is farming in Karoi, two hours north of Harare. I’ve just been handed the coveted Gastrognome column critiquing the city’s restaurants, not because of my writing skills, but because of my knowledge of food. I invite Chris to accompany me to review the upmarket L’Escargot, a well-regarded French restaurant in downtown Harare. Halfway through the meal I challenge him to write the critique instead of me, and he agrees. I hand in Chris’s review and I am approached by the editor soon after. “Annabel Hughes,” he says with a smile. “Well done. Your writing is really improving.”
Words and food.
Cut again to me visiting Chris on his farm in Karoi weeks later. Sitting chatting after dinner I’m trying to articulate how I despise a man we both know. “He makes me want to become a … a … a … What’s the word for the opposite of a misogynist?” I ask Chris. For once he doesn’t have an answer. “I don’t know,” he says, rising to fetch his trusted Collins English dictionary. It turns out there isn’t a word. (Back then it was inconceivable that women should hate men as men could hate women.) We agree this is an appalling omission. We move to Chris’s typewriter in his office next door, and begin crafting a letter to Collins.
Charged with an impressive amount of port, combined with an impressive command of word derivations, Chris creates a new word. Misandrosist: miso meaning ‘hate’ in Greek, and andros meaning ‘man’. Together we draft a letter, with intended pomposity, the beginning of which I can still recall:
To whom it may concern,
Sitting as I am at the foot of the Wazarira Hills, it has come to my attention that, in your erudite lexicon, there is no word listed to describe the hatred of man. …
Chris signs it, but is sceptical when I suggest I take the letter to post on my return to Harare. “They won’t respond, Annabel. Why on earth should they?” I take no notice, put the letter in the mail, and forget about it. Weeks later I receive a call from Chris. “I’ve heard back from Collins … and they are putting the word into the dictionary,” he says. “The etymology is not exactly as I thought. Their word is misandrist. Close enough, though. They said they’d already planned to include it in the next edition.” Right.
Words and entertainment.
Cut to December 2012, and this time it is me returning to Africa from Virginia in the United States. Life’s circle, in the intervening years, has carried us this way and that, allowing only the occasional chance to reconnect. I have come back to Africa to start over, propelled by a desire to learn more about the natural world, and in particular, wild food. Chris suggests I come to his farm in the Zambezi Valley, which I do following a brief interlude in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert. Shortly after my arrival the amount of affection increases, and the entertainment is reduced proportionately. Today the affection IS the entertainment and we are no longer dating. Under no circumstances is the food omitted.
Words and affection.