Shell Shock

Margaret Visser

  • The English, the French and the Oyster by Robert Neild
    Quiller, 212 pp, £18.50, October 1995, ISBN 1 899163 12 3

In landlocked Zambia, then Northern Rhodesia, where I was brought up, oysters were a piece of arcane folklore, one of those memories, precise but inexplicable, of Britain. Oysters were right up there with the Times having no headlines, just adverts on the front page; with Marmite carefully imported and spread on your bread; with little girls’ dresses bearing a rectangle of smocking on the chest. ‘A noise annoys an oyster,’ we sang, ‘But a noisy noise annoys an oyster more.’ What was that? An old music-hall song? How did it reach Central Africa, and why did it stay? Why do I remember it so vividly now, in Canada, forty years later? The British guarded their wanton peculiarities fiercely. It made them seem powerful, to be able to afford to do so.

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