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"Erotic dreams about a man half my age": Sarah Ladipo Manyika reveals the value of pleasure

Manyika’s Goldsmiths Prize-shortlisted Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun makes a valuable case for finding delight in the pleasures of the flesh, even at – shock! – 75.

Morayo Da Silva is a retired literature professor from Nigeria approaching her 75th birthday – “ancient” by her home country’s standards, having “outfoxed the female life expectancy by nearly two decades”. Living in a similarly “old but sturdy” apartment in San Francisco, she is surrounded by the debris that you accumulate in an ordinary life: papers, unopened bills, junk mail, books, unfinished mugs of tea. She has no family and likes her freedom. Then an accident at home forces her to spend lonely days in hospital and a nursing home. On the surface, it’s not the most vibrant life. But Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun is a novel that is profoundly dissatisfied with surfaces.

The Goldsmiths Prize sets out to “reward fiction that breaks the mould” and, as a result, it occasionally unearths buried gems. Ladipo Manyika’s novel, shortlisted for this year’s prize, fits the description. Published by Cassava Republic, a Nigerian imprint that launched in the UK this year, it received no reviews in the national newspapers. As the Goldsmiths judge Bernardine Evaristo has noted, “A fiction about a septuagenarian black woman is almost completely uncharted territory in British literature.”

The novel’s title comes from a strange, esoteric poem by Mary Ruefle, “Donkey On”, which finds joy in everyday, persistent living. Even the most mundane activities jog Morayo’s memory. Her folded clothes hold “the smell of Lagos markets still buried in the cotton – diesel fumes, hot palm oil and burning firewood”. The act of cleaning her glasses provokes recollections of an eye hospital in Jos, the doctor’s breath “smelling sweetly of mangoes”. A book picked at random from a shelf contains a postcard from a former lover, his signature conjuring the image of hands held in a darkened cinema, “his thumb tracing circles in the centre of my palm”.

Morayo has a sense of adventure that belies her years (it is while she is balancing on the edge of her bathtub, trying to get a better view in the mirror of the perfect place for a birthday tattoo, that she slips and falls). She has a striking capacity for sensual pleasures – in walnut bread, in (not too sticky) pains aux raisins, or “melted drops of honey lavender and salted caramel” ice cream, or the bright green eyes of a shop assistant. And she is deeply sexual. It’s something that occasionally surprises her, as she is caught unawares by a “wave of desire” or “unexpected surge of feeling”. But why should arousal be unexpected because Morayo is over 70?

“Old age is a massacre,” she muses. “No place for sissies. No place for love songs. No place for dreaming. No place for dreaming erotic dreams about a man half my age.”

This generous treatment of character, eked out one sideways glimpse at a time, extends beyond Morayo. The novel is crowded with often incidental figures. As they brush against Morayo, the “I” of Ladipo Manyika’s first-person narrative passes between them like a talking stick. A passing homeless woman and a man Morayo meets at the nursing home are given as much time as her ex-husband or her closest friend, Sunshine.

Some of her dearest companions aren’t Ladipo Manyika’s creations at all. Morayo spends many hours in “the company of old literary friends”, and textual references and physical books litter the novel’s landscape – writing by authors as varied as Charlotte Brontë, Paul Auster, Émile Zola, Beatrix Potter, Ernest Gaines, e e cummings, Gwendolyn Brooks and James Baldwin. The loosest of connections can bring a work swimming to the front of Morayo’s mind.

The overall effect is to breathe new life into an old cliché. Like the dusty spines on Morayo’s bookshelves, every character in this novel hides a vibrant, teeming inner world behind an unspectacular façade. When she goes to buy two bunches of flowers, she thinks of “Mrs Dalloway and her delphiniums”. Morayo is a woman who takes her search for pleasure into her own hands, sometimes literally. In the end, Ladipo Manyika’s book reminds us of the value of indulgence and delight – in sex, in food, in company, and in reading. 

Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika is published by Cassava Republic (118pp, £9.99)

Anna Leszkiewicz is the New Statesman's deputy culture editor.

This article first appeared in the 03 November 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The closing of the liberal mind

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Why do politicians keep making podcasts?

Nick Clegg is the latest to take to the internet airwaves.

“Rage is the opposite of reason. Discuss!”, Nick Clegg declares jauntily at the start of the first episode of his new podcast, Anger Management. The former Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister can now be heard on the internet airwaves fortnightly, grilling guests about what he calls “the politics of anger”. Since his show is introduced by a montage of angry politicians shouting, it’s guaranteed to raise the listener’s blood pressure before the host even starts talking.

Clegg is just the latest in a long run of politicians to try their hand at podcasting. Perhaps the most notable example in the UK is the former Labour leader Ed Miliband, whose Reasons to be Cheerful show made in partnership with the former Absolute Radio DJ Geoff Lloyd hit number two in the iTunes podcast chart when it debuted in September 2017 and was recently nominated for a 2018 British Podcast Award. Jacob Rees-Mogg, too, has a fortnightly podcast called the Moggcast, which launched in January 2018 and is hosted by Conservative Home. Where once a politician might do a phone-in show on LBC or guest host The Jeremy Vine Show  on BBC Radio 2 to show how in touch and relatable they are (as in Call Clegg, which aired on LBC from 2013 to 2015, or Ed Milibands lunch time death metal scream), they can now go it alone.

In his column in the i newspaper introducing the podcast, Clegg puts his finger on exactly why it is that politicians find podcasting so attractive: it’s all about control. “I have grown to abhor the tired and tested confrontational interview format,” he writes. On his podcast, “there is no wish to pounce on a slip of the tongue or endure a soundbite being hammered home”. There’s a freedom to this kind of on-demand internet audio, which can be delivered directly to an audience without having to get past the traditional gatekeepers of broadcasting. There’s no need to put up with John Humphrys or work with the BBC’s requirement for political balance. The politician, usually on the receiving end of whatever the interviewer wants to throw at them, is in charge.

Given this, it’s unfortunate that in his first episode Nick Clegg falls foul of his own edicts. His first guest is former Ukip leader Nigel Farage (coincidentally also the host of a podcast called Farage Against the Machine). It’s a slightly odd choice of guest to launch the show — made, no doubt, to generate controversy and a higher iTunes chart position — and it doesn’t exactly show Clegg’s broadcasting skills in a good light.

In a recorded disclaimer that plays before the interview, the former Lib Dem leader and vocal Remainer tries to pre-empt criticism that he’s giving a platform to someone with pretty unpalatable views. He explains that the first half of the 47-minute episode is meant to be about Farage’s “life, not really me cross-questioning him”, and that to hear them “locking horns more on the issues of the day” listeners must wait until the latter part of the show.

This approach results in Clegg letting Farage get away with a number of fact-light statements early on, and then later adopting the Humphrys-style tactic of repeatedly interrupting Farage before he can finish a point. As an interview style, it’s the worst of both worlds — neither spacious enough to allow the guest to explain their thinking fully, nor robust enough to provide an effective rebuttal. Hosting a podcast is a deceptively hard thing to do. It would take someone substantially more skilled behind the microphone than Clegg to completely reinvent the one-on-one discussion format in a single episode.

The lure of podcasting for politicians is in the way listeners react to the medium. The entire burgeoning podcast advert market is founded on research that points to a strong sense of intimacy between podcast host and audience — it’s a level of loyalty and engagement that surpasses many other forms of media. In politics, that can be harnessed for electoral gain: for instance, Hillary Clinton had a podcast called With Her that ran during her 2016 presidential campaign.

The trouble is that politicians aren’t necessarily that good at making podcasts. They’re not journalists, and they don’t often have a good nose for what makes a strong show for the listener, or take the advice of those who do. For those still in office (or, like Clegg, still wanting to participate in politics despite losing his seat), there are other pressures that can prevent them being completely honest on air. As Amanda Hess pointed out in the New York Times in 2017, the best episodes of Clinton’s podcast were made after she lost the election, when she moved out of campaign mode and just tried to process what had happened like everyone else.

The rise of the podcasting politician is the result of a few different factors: an increased dominance of personality in politics; the tendency for us all to gravitate towards our own “filter bubbles” of reassuring content; and an ever-more polarised media climate. For my money, the best show to come out of this trend so far is Ed Miliband’s. He leans in to the “geeky” stereotype that haunted him for his entire career and, guided by veteran broadcaster Geoff Lloyd, is seeking to make something that looks beyond the political bubble.

Podcasts are at their best when they serve a particular niche interest group: there’s clearly a community of people who enjoy listening to Jacob Rees-Mogg intoning bleakly about obscure areas of policy, and best of luck to them. Politicians should realise that it is not a form that works when you try to appeal to everyone. Otherwise, like Nick Clegg, they will end up telling Nigel Farage that he’s “very good at the high horse stuff about how the EU is ghastly” in a strained tone of voice.

Caroline Crampton is head of podcasts at the New Statesman. She writes a newsletter about podcasts.