I know Heidi Kingstone, writes Pat Lancaster. I wouldn’t say we were exactly friends but we bump into each other at certain events and I have always enjoyed chatting to her. One such event was a New Year’s Day party held at the home of our mutual friend, the journalist Adel Darwish.
I can remember being surprised and impressed when Heidi said she would shortly be leaving London to work in Afghanistan. I didn’t bump into Heidi again for a very long time.
In her brilliant new book which fills in the fascinating detail of those missing years, Heidi comments: “There are rare moments in life when the planets align. For me, this was my time in Afghanistan. There was nowhere else I could have been. As a journalist, there was also no more exciting story – at times I filed articles that virtually wrote themselves; the words just spilled out. And personally, I encountered people who changed my life. My first impression when I arrived on a miserable February day was of a city covered in mud. It felt primitive and shocking – like being transported back to the Stone Age. It was difficult to distinguish anything at all, so when people talked of the good life in the sixties, when Kabul was called the Paris of the East, of the parties and the jazz clubs, I found it impossible to believe them. Even pictures of that period seemed unreal. But as I spent time there, and the early spring brought a thaw and flowers started to bloom, the city unfolded, and I began to see what once was, and the tarnished beauty that was still there. I had no idea then what a hold the country would come to have over me; like so many others down the centuries, I would become bewitched. By the time I arrived, NATO had already been in Afghanistan for six years, trying to bring peace and stability and to rebuild the country. This is where my story begins.”
Heidi’s book goes onto chart myriad events and experiences, some poignant, some, like the account of her workshy cleaning lady, very funny; together they provide a lively and fascinating read. It is an account of a time and place that few readers will fail to be entranced by and I am really hoping to bump into its author again soon. I have questions!
Dispatches from the Kabul Café
ISBN 9781910408018 available fromAdvance Editions www.advanceeditions.com