Book Review: King Leopold’s Ghost

I just finished reading King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa, by Adam Hochschild, who I’ve now realised is the spouse of Arlie Russell Hochschild, one of my favourite sociologists.


King Leopold’s Ghost is a long and carefully-researched book that tells the story of how the Congo was plundered and its people enslaved by the shrewd, wily, ambitious and greedy King Leopold II of Belgium in the 19th century. Leopold felt that Belgium was “a small country of small people” and that he was entitled to be the sovereign of a mighty empire like some of his European cousins. He regarded Africa as “a cake” and helped himself to an enormous slice of it – an area 76 times the size of Belgium. Through a combination of deception, theft and brute force he made hundreds of African chiefs sign away all the rights to their land and amassed a terrifying army of soldiers to subdue the people of the Congo and loot all the ivory and then rubber that the region could yield.


In the course of this activity, Leopold was responsible for the deaths of 10 million people. Yes, you read that right. Ten million. Africans in the region of the Congo were shot, beheaded, drowned, beaten to death, worked to death, entire towns were burned down, infants were snatched from their parents, and too many other types of murder for me to recount here.

rubber coils

Added to this, Leopold’s agents cut off people’s hands. They did this for two reasons. First, to punish slaves who rebelled or who failed to deliver the required quotas of rubber. Secondly, because Leopold’s army, the Force Publique, was prone to mutiny. To prevent soldiers from hoarding bullets that could be used in an uprising, they were required to account for each one by presenting a severed hand of the person upon whom the bullet was used. Naturally, this system was destined to fail and led to many innocent people having their hands chopped off.

missing hands

All the while, Leopold was advertising himself to the heads of state of Europe and North America as the world’s greatest humanitarian. Seriously. He borrowed money from everyone and rented out African land using the rationale that he was ending slavery in Africa (which he blamed on “Arabs”) and bringing a peace-keeping and civilising influence to a savage land that was unable to mind its own business. He said he was building schools, hospitals and railways and delivering Christianity to save everyone’s souls. In reality, the schools were colonies for training child soldiers for his own army, the hospitals were strictly for his white officers and thousands of enslaved Africans lost their lives building the railways that existed solely to transport valuable loot out of the interior of the Congo and to the coastal ports where it could then be shipped to Europe for Leopold to sell.

These are the things we all should know (don’t feel bad if you didn’t know; I didn’t until I read the book).

Now for some things that fewer people know. The story of Leopold’s Congo is clearly a horror story of terrible magnitude, it is a story of genocide. It is, then, an astonishing achievement on the part of Adam Hochschild that parts of his book are hilarious. When you look at some of the buffoonery of Leopold’s major players, you marvel at how they managed to get anything done, never mind slaying 10m people and making Leopold rich. Here are a few special moments.

According to Hochschild, Leopold as a young man was far from impressive. He was annoying, whiny and sexually repressed. Here he is in his youth with his wife, Marie-Henriette, whom he disliked.

young leopold

Soon after his wedding, Leopold and his bride went to England to visit Leopold’s cousin, Queen Victoria. During the visit, Victoria and her husband Prince Albert surmised that the young couple had not consummated their marriage because apparently they didn’t know what to do. Albert had to take Leopold aside and explain to him how babies are made and how this concerned his sleeping arrangements. Leopold eventually caught on and later in life developed a fondness for teenage prostitutes, but this is not as funny so we shall gloss over it.

In other news, Captain Stanley was a lunatic. If you don’t know who I mean, this important-looking man is Captain Stanley.


He was quite a celebrity in Europe and the United States at this time. He was a famous explorer and Leopold sent him off to Africa to “discover” the Congo, which was ridiculous because there were already people living there in well-established societies, but they were black so they didn’t count. Stanley set off on a massive expedition through the region of the Congo, looting and burning villages and taking whatever he wanted, mapping a path from east to west and leaving a trail of destruction behind him. At the time, white people thought he was very impressive, but they didn’t know these fun facts.

He was insanely bad-tempered and would constantly throw tantrums and have screaming matches with his senior officers for no reason. Hardly the dignified pillar of Victorian society that his European fans looked up to.

He was an insecure man who couldn’t stand the thought of anyone on his team being better or smarter than him so he used to appoint totally unqualified people with no travel experience to take key roles in his expeditions. On one journey through the Congo, his right hand men were a hotel clerk and a chap whose best skill was playing the bugle.

As a result of these attributes, he regularly fucked things up. On another expedition, he was sent to a province in the Sudan to rescue a chap called Emin Pasha who was having a few problems with local Muslim rebels. In the course of this he managed to ruin a steamboat that he borrowed, lost his personal belongings down the river, lost most of the food that was supposed to support his 800-man entourage and turned up at Pasha’s place in a state of near-starvation and with nothing to offer his rescuee but a linen suit that turned out to be much too large. In any case, when he arrived, Pasha no longer needed his help and was doing fine – or at least he was until Stanley showed up with his army of starving men and upset the Muslim rebels again. So then Pasha had to allow himself to be evacuated out of trouble that Stanley himself had caused. Together they travelled all the way to the east African coast in what is today’s Tanzania, finally arriving at a German military post. A dinner was held to celebrate Stanley’s “success” in “rescuing” the Pasha, in the course of which Pasha had one too many glasses of champagne and fell out of a second-floor window, landing in the street where he was knocked unconscious. He spent two months in hospital and Stanley had to go back to Europe without him.

This is the sort of nonsense that used to go on.

I could say more. I could tell you about the behaviour of a European royal at one of Leopold’s anti-slavery conferences, who couldn’t have been less interested in the proceedings and sprang out of his chair every time a lady passed by in the street outside, so he could ogle at her through the window. I could tell you about Henry Shelton Sanford and his tragic attempts at business. However, I have to stop somewhere so I urge you to read Hochschild’s book instead. It’s the best thing I’ve read in the last several months; a real page-turner.

Oh – if you are wondering about the Congo. Eventually Leopold died. It took the Belgian government 14 years after his death to unravel his finances because he had buried his stolen money hither and yon. Belgium took possession of Leopold’s colony (which he regarded as his personal property) and ruled it for 52 years. Republic of the Congo finally achieved independence in 1960, which should have been the start of a brighter future. Unfortunately it then had nearly 35 years of being a totalitarian state under the warlord Mobutu, then there was genocide in Rwanda, a Congo war, then a second Congo war in which another 5.4m people died and which is Congo’s equivalent of WW2. The region is beset by conflict to this day. The next round of presidential elections is scheduled for April 2018. I hope it brings peace. People have suffered enough.

Further reading: Hochschild, Adam (1998) King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa. Mariner Books.


At last, I am able to bring you some travel photos. I did a lot of travelling in 2017, particularly to the Netherlands, including two trips to Rotterdam. It is NL’s second largest city and Europe’s biggest port.


Rotterdam was bombed very badly in WW2. Consequently, there are lots of sculptures and pieces of public art which memorialise that event.


You sometimes see red lights in the ground and these mark the exact spots where bombs fell during the war.

red light

The war also explains Rotterdam’s famous abundance of modern architecture and even its wide roads which were once canals. Before that, Rotterdam would have looked more like Amsterdam.

A mix of modern and historic architecture exactly captures the appearance of Rotterdam.

It’s easy to find the cool district of Rotterdam, simply go to the self-titled Cool District (this is such a practical, Dutch thing to do). It has shopping, art, bars & restaurants etc.

Cool District Shopping

Check out the animatronic penguins at the Xmas shop.

Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art

 This is a very fashionable contemporary art museum. I was there in August and there was an exhibition about the relationship between hip hop, minority groups and architecture in Rotterdam. I’m now a particular fan of Dutch artist Navin Thakoer, aka Nafer Loves You.
An impressive, if oddly-curated, collection of art from the Middle Ages to the present.

Markthal is a spectacular achievement of design and architecture in the Cool District and the place to go for foodie snacks and speciality items to take home. There’s also an Albert Heijn supermarket directly downstairs for more everyday groceries.

More Food & Drink

The Fenix Food Factory is a great place for an evening meal and has interesting independent shops, selling food, a huge range of beers and ciders and also books. It is in a converted warehouse in what was once the red light district.

Bitterballen, a local dish.


Where to get bitterballen, as well as strong beer. Bars and cafes in the Cool District.

More food and drink around Rotterdam.

Pelgrim is a brewery with great beer and food in an attractive setting.

Coming soon: Amsterdam, Delft and Den Bosch.

What happens is less important than how you deal with it. TW: dentistry.

Good afternoon everybody. There’s so much news all the time but I just have 10 minutes to write to you right now and I want to talk about teeth and dentistry.

As longtime readers know, my teeth are fucked. I am now the wrong side of 50 (eek!) and I have aggressive periodontitis, which gives you sore gums, loose teeth and bone loss. This is a problem as it is not good for your general health, also I am very vain and I need to look presentable for work.

Five years ago I had six molars removed on the right side of my face, then I had a sinus lift which means the bone in your face is artificially built up by a surgeon, then I had six dental implants. It took several months to do all the work. I blogged about it all here. At the start of that process I was a very nervous patient. I was afraid of dentists and very panicky and distressed about the state of my teeth and the implications for the future.

My periodontist/implantologist here in London is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Despite this, I remember sitting in a Harley Street clinic in a state of shock as he and two of his colleagues used diagrams to describe what seemed like a terrifying, lengthy and incomprehensible plan involving metal posts and cadaver bone. I was like a rabbit caught in the headlights.

Well, it’s now 2018 and things have changed. I still have bone shrinkage and aggressive periodontitis and probably will always have that to some degree. However, I’m much more confident and knowledgeable now, I don’t cry or freak out at the thought of having teeth removed, I’m not scared of dentists and I don’t regard major oral surgery as something to be dreaded because I’ve done it before, I know what’s involved and I know it is actually fine, just a bit painful for a short time immediately post-surgery. And what’s pain? No big deal. It’s just pain, it doesn’t last for ever. You just put ice on your face and play World of Warcraft.

Here’s my plan.

  • I saw my everyday family dentist this morning, immediately followed by the dental hygienist. He patched up a couple of fillings so I can look respectable.
  • Periodontist/implantologist at the end of this month to set a plan for rebuilding some more bones in my face. I’m ready for a second round of this now.
  • I am ready for the quote on this to be eye-wateringly expensive but business is good and in any case if it is astronomically out of reach then I will attempt to get the work done in Slovakia or somewhere in Central Europe.

I am happy that I am more confident about this now because it makes the whole process of buying and receiving treatment easier to deal with. I am an oral surgery warrior now, let’s just get on and do the work.

2017: The Year In Review

It’s New Year’s Day already and that means it’s time to do our annual Year In Review. At this time last year I had almost completely freed myself from a terrible, punishing job at the World’s Worst Company – I was almost at the end of my contract, slogging through the last of a huge pile of paperwork and looking forward to being formally released mid-January. I was in love with a Person who I wasn’t supposed to be in love with during the second half of 2015 and much of 2016 but by the time 2017 materialised it seemed to be really over, at last, and I formed a new and more worthwhile relationship with my Playstation that I had for Christmas.

By the end of 2017 I had visited 5 countries and set up home with someone new, in my first serious relationship since this blog began.


January arrived, as it is wont to do. I handed back my keys at the World’s Worst Company, left the building and returned to full-time self-employment. This was definitely the high point of the month. I was in terrible physical shape due to being overworked for a long time but I was optimistic for the year ahead. I joined a local community choir, to give my lungs some exercise and to provide an opportunity to keep dressing up in outrageous, huge-skirted, 1950s frocks, a habit I formed during the last few months of going to work. Check out this little number, it has dinosaurs, which turned out to be rather a theme for January.


I played Far Cry: Primal on my Playstation and it was the TLYW Game of the Month.

Far Cry® Primal_20170118035629
Far Cry® Primal_20170118035629

I celebrated my new-found freedom going out around London. I saw some art: I went to the Robert Rauschenberg exhibition at Tate Modern.


I went to the British Museum to look at some African masks


and to see the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum.


I went to the gym, which was a new thing. I despaired about the state of my teeth, which is never a new thing.


I got seriously into live music in February and started going to concerts and operas around London. The first event was a performance by the London Philharmonic Orchestra of Haydn’s Creation at Royal Festival Hall. Then I returned to Royal Festival Hall for a performance of music by Philip Glass. After that, I went to the comic opera The Pirates of Penzance and then to Rigoletto, both sung by the English National Opera.

I went to the British Museum again, to look at John Dee’s crystal ball. Dee was a 16th-century mystic who advised Elizabeth I. Then I went a third time, to see the South Africa exhibition, which was amazing. I felt relatively well-informed about South Africa, having visited in 2016 and learned as much as possible about its history while I was there.


I went to an exhibition of board games at the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, London, which is an extension of the Victoria & Albert Museum.

I ate heartily, at South Bank Food Market and Comptoir Libanais.


In February I conceived the idea of the TLYW Year of Console Gaming, an organised programme of console gaming, in which I lined up a total of 14 console games to be played at a rate of one a month. This programme continued well for the first three quarters of the year. Game of the Month for February was ARK: Survival Evolved, which was awesome and turned out to be my favourite game of 2017. I will definitely return to it. I will do a separate post about my 2018 plans for gaming.

ARK: Survival Evolved_20170227004731
ARK: Survival Evolved_20170227004731

I went to the gym and caught two colds, which was so predictable. At least I was trying.


I continued to be excited about music and went to hear the Philharmonia Orchestra perform Stravinsky’s Firebird. The below clip shows Stravinsky conducting the last three scenes of The Firebird himself, it was recorded in 1960.

The story of The Firebird comes from Slavic folklore, a theme which held my attention for the rest of the month while I was reading The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden.

I fulfilled a lifetime ambition by seeing the wonderful Marc Almond perform live in Camden.


I went to the Royal Academy to see an exhibition called America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s, which featured Edward Hopper and Grant Wood.


Then I returned to the RA to see an exhibition of Russian art (mainly paintings and ceramics, some films) from the period 1917-1932, that is, immediately following the Russian Revolution.


Dress of the month was this turquoise Ophelia by LindyBop.

ophelia turquoise

Game of the Month of was God of War III: Remastered.

God of War® III Remastered_20170327221550
God of War® III Remastered_20170327221550


My interested in classical music continued in April and I went to Royal Festival Hall yet again to hear Mahler 5. I’d been in hospital with cellulitis, having had a run of bad health for about three months, and they let me out just in time to go to the concert.

mahler 5

I also went to the Royal Opera House to see a performance of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which was one of the best things I’ve ever seen. The production took my breath away with its scale and beauty and I cried at the end. 10/10, would go again.


Then my interest turned from opera to ballet and I went to see George Ballanchine’s 20th-century ballet Jewels, performed by the Royal Ballet. It was glittering, as one might expect.

Game of the Month was Witcher III: Wild Hunt.

White Orchard
White Orchard


A fabulous month. There was more opera and ballet. I went on holiday to Spain and France. I fell in love twice, latterly with Harry, who was about to change my life by becoming my first serious partner in several years and moving in with me before the year was over.

Opera of the month was Mozart’s Magic Flute. I enjoyed it so much, I saw it twice. It was performed by the Charles Court company in the back of a pub in London’s Islington. The second time, I was with Harry and it was our second date.

flute 2

Ballet of the month was Casanova, a new ballet by Kenneth Tindall, performed by the Northern Ballet Company.


I went on holiday to Spain, where there was a resort and a beach, then I went to Paris, where there was wine.



Game of the Month was Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. It was glorious and I particularly enjoyed sailing ships and fighting at sea.

Assassin's Creed® IV Black Flag_20170528183133
Assassin’s Creed® IV Black Flag_20170528183133


There were terrorist attacks in London and Londoners were annoyed. I went to the historic Black Friar pub in London, which was built in 1875 and has stained glass windows.

I went on another date with Harry, this time to see Wayne Thiebaud at White Cube.

thiebaud 6

Then we had still another date and went to London’s Kew Gardens. The summer weather was beautiful, we had weeks of sunshine, not to be underestimated in the UK.

kew tree house

Dress of the month: Nadia, by LindyBop, in a nice guitar print.

nadia guitar

I cleaned my house magnificently because of being in love. I had new, matching tableware from Portmeirion, the first of two sets this year.


Game of the Month was Red Dead Redemption.

rdr camp


July saw two things happen: Harry started cooking at my house, revealing fantastic cooking skills, and I went on a health kick. I purchased a Nutribullet, made smoothies twice a day and started doing a lot of exercise. I felt v healthy and only stopped with the hours of punishing cardio because my hair was falling out (I am not good at doing things in moderation).



There were some nice walks on Hampstead Heath.


We had an interesting meal at the Carousel restaurant at Tate Modern, including green matcha cake.

The restaurant has this view across the Thames. That’s St Paul’s Cathedral on the other side.

view across thames from tate

While we were at Tate, we also went to see Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (and finally blogged about it in September).

soul of a nation

emory 2

George Romero died and I wept.


Game of the Month was Battlefield 1.

Battlefield™ 1_20170729223245
Battlefield™ 1_20170729223245


My business life heated up. I had to blog far less and do less video gaming but I travelled more. In August I went to Rotterdam, Den Bosch and had my 51st birthday in Amsterdam. This is the point where I suddenly had a lot of photos and no time to post them, so you are still waiting for pictures of all these destinations. Here are some teasers.



Den Bosch.




Harry and I managed to squeeze in a date at London’s Camden Lock.


Game of the Month was Batman: Arkham Asylum.

bat screenshot 3


Work was in full swing. By this point I was right in the middle of the busiest four months of 2017. There were no more fun dates around London or outdoor exercise sessions. I just worked and focused on meeting deadlines. I don’t even have any photos from that whole month.

Harry was supportive while I got all my work done.

Game of the Month was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, arguably the greatest of the GTA series.

gtasa 9

This turned out to be the last month of the TLYW Year of Console Gaming that I could fit into my diary. We are reviving the programme this January.


We celebrated the blog’s 7th birthday.

I went to Rotterdam again. Here are a couple more teaser photos. I’ll do detailed travel photo posts in due course.


delft canal

I then went to India. Managed to get this quite nice snap out of the window on the plane.

plane clouds india

Spent a few days in Bangalore.


Managed to carve out a very small amount of time to see some art, of which more later.


Finished working in India, went straight to Orange County in California.

Really nice weather, was like a British summer.

Back in London, Harry and I went shopping at The Japan Centre to celebrate his birthday.


Continued to work at a breakneck pace during the first half the month, then gradually began to slow down long enough to do a few Xmas things.

xmas market leics square

Harry and I went to see The Nutcracker performed by the English National Ballet.


Then, quite suddenly and very near the end of December, I finished work for real, cleaned my house, visited some relatives and settled in for a slightly delayed Christmas Day in London with Harry.

xmas cocktail 2017

And that was 2017. I wish everybody a very happy and prosperous year to come. I wanted to say that before hitting publish last night but someone was very keen for me to get off my PC and come to bed. Anyway, happy new year.

Xmas 2017

Christmas Day came at last.

Here are my Xmas flowers.

xmas flowers 2017

Harry made an amazing Xmas breakfast with lemon goujons and salmon.

xmas tableware 2017

As you can see, I have my longed-for Holly & Ivy tableware – there was a 50% off sale at Portmeirion before Xmas, so I bought just enough china for two place settings. It looks so pretty and makes me so happy.

xmas tableware 2

Then Harry cooked again and made Xmas dinner with roast chicken, Yorkshire puddings, vegetables, pigs in blankets and the best cauliflower cheese I’ve ever tasted. He made the cheese sauce from scratch and it had loads of cheese in it.

xmas cauli cheese

xmas dinner 2017

I made cocktails. The ingredients are white rum, Baileys, coffee, ice cream (vanilla or chocolate), whipped cream, fudge sauce and raspberries. You can also include chocolate milk if you have any.

xmas cocktail 2017

Harry had a chess set for Xmas – actually, he bought the pieces himself and I supplied the board, which is made of inlaid wood and is very large and heavy. The pieces are models of the Lewis Chessmen which were probably made in the 12th century and which are in the British Museum.

lewis chess

My breath was taken away by Harry’s present to me, he got me a glockenspiel. I love xylophones, vibraphones and all that family of instruments, yet have never owned so much as a chime bar, so I was bowled over to receive an actual glockenspiel. I love it and I don’t think it will be too hard to learn how to play.


The glockenspiel has a rather magical sound, like tinkling bells, and plays a part in Mozart’s Magic Flute, which is ‘our’ opera because we went to it on our second date. Here’s the glockenspiel scene, it is an excerpt from a 1971 production of The Magic Flute by the Hamburg State Opera.

So that was Christmas chez Gloria. We had Boxing Day today and tonight’s dinner is slices of turkey with broccoli and roast potatoes, cooked (okay, heated up) by me. I feel like we are now caught up with the rest of the world and are all ready for New Year’s Eve tomorrow. We are planning to make a cheese fondue and I cannot wait.

Merry Christmas, readers. I hope you had or are having a wonderful break.

90 minutes to go

About 90 minutes until Harry comes home.

Things I have done:

  • Two loads of laundry
  • Nearly all the tidying
  • Cleaned the hall
  • Finished knitting the scarf
  • Been to the supermarket for the remaining ingredients for Xmas dinner

I may have over-compensated with Xmas food as the fridge is rather full and there is a large chocolate cake that I think we will struggle to finish. Tomorrow we are going to roast a chicken because Harry is around to help me cook – in  previous years I’ve been content with pre-cooked slices. There is chicken gravy and all the veg and stuffing. Pudding will be a choice of traditional Christmas pudding or else there’s a pumpkin spice sponge pudding, both with custard. We have wine.

I remembered to get ice for cocktails and we have this year’s Christmas flowers too, there were still a few bunches left in the supermarket. I’ll post a picture of the flowers tomorrow, in daylight.

Things I still need to do (quickly!):

  • Clean the small bathroom
  • Put a table cloth and flowers on the dining table
  • Weave in the ends on this scarf and wrap it up
  • Have a shower and make myself more presentable

In the supermarket, there were heavily-discounted gift wrap and tags so I bought a couple for next year.

Xmas Eve

I just want to sit around and do nothing but Xmas is tomorrow and Xmas Eve is this evening, so I have a to-do list which I had better get on with.

  • Clean the smaller bathroom and give the larger bathroom a once-over.
  • Give the kitchen a quick clean and put the rest of the groceries away.
  • Reboot the laundry.
  • Superficial tidying in the bedroom and living room.
  • Clean the hall, this will mean disposing of some junk as well as mopping the floor.
  • Take the rubbish out.

At this point, all my rooms are clean at the same time, this always requires several days of housework and basically only happens once a year when I am on holiday from work.

  • Finish knitting that scarf, quick. There are only 22 rows left to go and I have to weave in the ends, then we’re done.
  • Find out what time Harry is expected. Have a shower, put on some clean clothes and make-up. Put a bottle of something fizzy in the fridge.

I’d better start on the hall. Hopefully it won’t take too long.

Maybe we can have a Xmas tune to help ourselves get in the mood. Check out this upbeat medley from the 1930s and 1940s. ‘In my Christmas letter, I asked Santa Claus to bring me you’.