Wednesday’s Child: Cocktails on the Veranda (Free to the Public)

Desmond and I were for a time neighbors when I lived in London, and one really comes to know a person when one’s drains clog up.  We used to lunch together – Desmond was the only acquaintance whom I encouraged to take me to Indian restaurants, as he was born in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and knew the best places this side of the Thames – and it was refreshing to have as my vis-à-vis a man who made me feel like an adept of teetotalism.  Before pudding he would finish a bottle of Scotch, of which I had claimed no more than a glass, and at that point, to all appearances resolutely sober, would order cognac. His demeanor in those days had something in it of Orson Welles – splendid, gargantuan, larger than life.

And so, to other people, those who never made common cause with him against drain blockage and such other natural disasters as lead neighbors to bond, he was a towering, indeed terrifying, figure.  Desmond de Silva – Sir Desmond, as he is now become – Queen’s Counsel, criminal barrister extraordinaire, had put away more villains than bottles of whisky in nearly half a century of practicing law.  Now, as though to terrify the general public yet further, he has published a memoir, and kindly sent me a copy by post.

The memoir is entitled – and I would argue that the title alone is evidence that Desmond’s way of thinking is unlike that of most lawyers – Madam, Where are Your Mangoes?  The publisher is Quartet, and officially the book comes out at the end of this month.  I urge the gentle reader to get his hands on this strange, original, and genuine chronicle of bloody misdeed and eventual retribution, a book that one reviewer in England, Sir Christopher Ondaatje, has already described as “enthralling and brilliantly funny.”

An episode in the book that reviewers will undoubtedly dwell on is Desmond’s stint as the first British chief prosecutor of an international criminal court, when he was installed in Sierra Leone to bring about the extradition and arrest of Charles Taylor, Liberia’s bloodthirsty chieftain. The subsequent trial in The Hague – at which, famously, the fashion personality Naomi Campbell was made to testify about Taylor’s gift of rough diamonds to her during a party at Nelson Mandela’s house – uncovered a history of atrocities attendant on Taylor’s rape of West Africa that the henchmen of ISIS may well envy.

The episodes of my particular preference, however, are those that take the reader back to the British colonial idyll where Desmond spent his childhood years and which, as I had ample opportunity to observe during the quarter-century of our friendship, stiffened his worldview against the deluge of all the politically correct nonsense that England is now sinking under.  His Ceylon childhood, in other words, made him what he is today, the thinking man’s reactionary pin-up.

In a couple of days I’m off to London, where a lunch with Desmond is on the agenda.  If I don’t file anything next week, you’ll know why.

Andrei Navrozov

Andrei Navrozov