When I was a little girl of about six, my father was the editor of the Stockport Advertiser, the local weekly paper in our hometown. One of his reporters was an exotic Indian journalist, Sunanda Datta-Ray, then in his very early 20s.
I thought him incredibly dishy and, being a very precocious small child, distinctly remember telling him that if he stopped having any more birthdays until I caught up with him, I could then marry him.
He quickly moved on from Stockport, going on to become roving features editor and later editor of The Statesman. His travels took him back to India, to Hawaii and to Singapore but he always kept in touch with my parents and for a long time, always signed off his letters to them with a short message for me – “still waiting”.
Inevitably though, I was forgotten and he went on to marry and have a son. He and his family continued to visit my parents from time to time and stayed in contact with my mother after my father's death. Mother introduced them to the delights of the Cheshire jumble sales and helped Sunanda find some collectible pieces of blue and white porcelain. But as Mother fell prey to dementia, that contact too was lost.
Sunanda has been published in Asia, Europe and the United States. He has been described as: “an elegant writer with an eye for story-telling and a no–nonsense analytical pen.” From time to time, I would catch glimpses of his articles, such as his famous piece on Mother Teresa. But inevitably over time, we more or less lost contact, especially when my brother, my mother and I moved to France in 2007.
Then a few months ago, I received an email, purporting to come from Sunanda and from the last email address I had for him, saying he was on holiday in Spain, had been robbed of all his worldly goods and could I possibly help out with a loan to set him back on his feet?
Now being a cynical ex-journalist myself, I know an email scam when I see one. I also knew there was no way it was from Sunanda since he would a) know there was no use asking me for money as I never have any and b) never be in that position, since an internationally renowned journalist of his calibre would only have to go to the nearest newspaper office to receive all the assistance he might need.
But just in case, I tracked down his son via the miracles of Facebook and discovered, as I expected, Sunanda's account had been hacked and he was fine and we got back in touch. I mentioned, in passing, that I had written a book and he said, also in passing, as I thought, that he would read Sell the Pig.
Now some people are very sceptical of book reviews left by friends, family and friends of family. But I find they are some of the harshest critics, especially of something as deeply personal as Sell the Pig. I was particularly worried that the picture I painted of my father would be vastly different to the public face of him Sunanda had known on the Stockport Advertiser.
So I was, as they say, tickled pink when Sunanda contacted me again with his review of my little book. It's not yet up on Amazon as like me, Sunanda is still finding his way round the wonders of t'internet and has not yet succumbed to the Amazon shopping phenomenon so doesn't have an account with them.
But here, in his own words, is what this eminent journalist has to say about my modest little memoir:
“Having known Lesley Tither when she was a girl in Cheshire, I knew a book by her would be both witty and illuminating. But I must confess I wasn’t prepared for quite such a poignant mix of the funny and the sad as Sell the Pig.
One could say fate didn’t stint with raw material. Not every English girl has a Luxembourgeoise grandmother, a gifted journalist for a father (who was my editor) and a mother with an artistic eye as much for English country gardens as for precious old porcelain. Lesley’s own eventful life and her brother’s escapades add to the treasure trove she can draw on. But it’s what she has made of all this material that really signifies her talent.
As an Indian journalist who has lived in England, India, Singapore and Hawaii, I found the effortless ease with which Lesley leapfrogs cultural chasms especially fascinating. She has produced a very enjoyable account with a serious underlay of an English family's move to France, and of how the daughter of the house takes on a man's job (MCP?) to overcome a host of challenges.”
Thank you so much, Sunanda, for your very kind words. They almost make up for you forgetting to wait long enough to marry me. Almost.