If Words be the Food of Love …

“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.

Chris, around the time I met him in the mid-1980s.
Chris, around the time I met him in the mid-1980s.

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.

Chris's old Collins English dictionary, which we still use today.
Chris’s old Collins English dictionary, which we still use today.

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.

Chris and me today.
Chris and me today.

Annabel Hughes Aston is a writer and an award-winning chef in Livingstone, Zambia. She is the creator of "bush gourmet" cuisine.


  • Beautiful, delightful, and delicious story!

    • Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Jennifer! All the best to you, Annabel

  • SUCH a fantastic story, Bella – I love it!! What an amazing circle you’ve done in life so far! Neither you nor Chrissy have changed one bit either! xx

    • Thank you, lovely Kate! I wish that were true … haha. While gravity is taking hold on the outside, joy has taken hold of the inside!

  • Love it Bella! What an inspiration to us all. May the affection, food and humor
    be constant for always xox

    • Thank you, dear Bridgey. What a sweet comment. May it be so for you, too. xo

  • I don’t believe that you were never able to write Annabelle you display too much literary talent now. The circle of life must include food and affection in healthy doses, both life lines and indivisible. Thanks for allowing me to share in your writings via you blog, as enjoyable as any gourmet delicacy!

    • What a kind comment, Lori. Huge gratitude to you. Writing, as I’m sure you know, is a craft. Like with most things, the more you practise the better writer you become. I had a limited education, therefore the learning curve was steep! Thank you for stopping by my blog. All the best to you, Annabel

  • Thanks Annabel for that lovely story. You are handsome – and healthy looking – couple. I’m giving you two credit for the word. And I’ll never again doubt the role an impressive amount of port plays in the etymological process. 🙂

    • Oh, Jim, you made us both laugh out loud! Thank you for your kind comment. You’ll be amazed what port can do, especially lots of it! Take care in the cold. All the very best, Annabel

  • Love this Annabel. Think this applies not just to romantic connections. I have a friend with whom I spend a lot of time and whom I’ve known since I was 18. There is deep affection, food is always involved and if it’s not (right now I can’t think of when it’s not!), we end up talking about it! I cook, he eats and always shows deep appreciation. There is nothing like the ritual of preparing a wonderful meal and enjoying it with people one cares about.

    • I completely agree with you, Zsa Zsa. The ritual of “breaking bread” with loved ones, no matter the connection, is a sacred one, especially when the food has been prepared with love. Thank you for your lovely comment. Lots of love to you … and happy communing around that table! xo

  • Why don’t you add this story to the half written booked that you read to Camilla & me about 6 years ago? This can be the happy part of the story. Happy & healthy. It is lovely to see.

    • Thank you yet again, Kathy, for such a lovely comment. I didn’t know then what was going to happen later … it seems that the Gods know more about timing than I do! Lots of love, Annabel xo

  • Time abbreviated with Africa setting the table 🙂

    • Beautiful, Georgie. Thank you! xo

  • Words, always. Thanks for sharing your wonderful story, and here’s to 29 more!

    • Thank you very much, Michelle. I so appreciate your interest … our connection has improved my isolated blogging life immensely!

  • Your writing HAS improved, Annabel 😉

    • Thank you, John! That’s a relief … phew! 😉

  • Lovely story!

    • Thank you for stopping by my blog, Susie. And gratitude to you for your kind comment. All the best, Annabel

  • Beautiful – ask Chris to tell you about the time we concocted curry from scratch in Dublin: “the bowel ache heard ’round the world”.

    • Haha, Lindsey! Thank you for stopping by my blog … it’s lovely to hear from you. Chris says you obviously never put enough turmeric into the curry because 40 years later he only has a faint recollection of the event! Love to you and the family from both of us. xo

  • How BEAUTIFUL!!! Just read it at Munich Airport where I’m stuck with Luna – missed our connecting flight to Stuttgart…time to thin out my mail and read some beautiful blogs:-) How inspiring!!

    Much love


    • Thank you for your sweet comment, Daniela. Sorry you missed your flight, though! I hope the wait is not too long … and that you have a lovely time with your family. Happy holidays! xo

  • Gorgeous couple, gorgeous story. Bob and I are so happy for you, Annabel. You deserve to love and be loved!!!!
    You and MMB conspired all of those years ago to bring Bob and me together and because of your kindness, I have experienced the joy that you express. Thank you, dear Annabel.
    Wishing you a very Merry Christmas from Madrid. 🙂

    • Ahhhhh, Courtney … what a sweet, sweet comment … thank you. How completely happy I am that I ‘saw’ the possibilities between you and Renaissance Bob … and now there are four! I hope one day you will come and visit, and bring my lovely goddaughter here to experience this unique place. Much love to you all … and wishing you a wonderful holiday season! May 2015 be all you hope for …. xoxo

  • Beautiful Read, Well Done

    • Thank you very much, Linda. I hope your 2015 is filled with love, fun and happiness! All the best, Annabel

  • What a lovely story Annabel, and my goodness, what a good writer you have become.

    • Thank you for such a kind comment, Jacquie! My writing is still very much a work in progress … but I do love it. All the best to you, Annabel xo

  • Brilliant, Annabel! You do have a way with words.

    • Thank you, Peter … You were there at the beginning! All the best to you.

  • […] both our pasts. Yet thirty years ago our friendship was forged around words, as I once wrote about here. In honoring Chris at our wedding, I wanted to showcase this again. I found the following poem, […]

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