My God, I remember that visit to the London Book Fair, I was blackmailed into it by my publishers, Unwin and Hyman, who thought that having an author around would help to sell copies of Steaming Through Britain (subtitle: Maybe This Time People Will Spot That I Know Nothing About Trains) and they may well be right, but is also means an author standing around for 40 minutes, half of it at the wrong stall (we had already helped ourselves to a drink and an ashtray at this likely looking stall which turned out to be the stand of the Remainders People ), talking to the most empty-headed people on earth (publishers’ underlings who have been with the firm for two weeks and old men who should have been fired years ago), so if only you had introduced yourself, I would have fallen on your neck with cries of “My God, at last a human being, let me take you away from all this and give you a good night at the Remainders Stall” and you would have backed off, horrified. Moral: Always go over and introduce yourself to someone. It can’t be worse than not doing so. I wish I’d followed that advice myself.
Not having done the Observer piece yet I don’t want to waste all the detail, but suffice to say that I thought Madacasgar was wonderful. All we did, really, was go by train from Tana to Tamatave, excurse a little up the coast to Mahambo and beyond, fly back through a cataclysmic storm to Tana, do the train trip to Antsirabe, spend four or five days in and around Tana, and back home. Oh, and stay overnight at Perinet. I had determined to be the first writer in M not to mention lemurs, but alas, I was taken to see a gang of indris. They were great. What really made the trip for me was that my French was better than average, so I talked to a lot of Magaches… Malagasy…Malagies… people who live in Madacasgcar. And I was delighted to find a) that Maurice is French for Mauritius b) some damn good local wine c) a praying mantis in the gents loo in Tamatave. Though I have to admit that my French isn’t quite good enough for “Excuse me, but do you mind if I bring my wife in to see the praying mantis on the back of the gents loo?” Amazing what sign language can do, though.
It’s been my great good luck in life to get to three countries which seem to have the same bewitching effect on most people – Peru, Burma and Madagascar. Ok, I know people go crazy over Bhutan, Bali and Mexico, but the first three are good enough for me, and it’s odd that our paths should have crossed unwittingly in two of them. Yes, I enjoyed writing that PERU FOR BEGINNERS piece. There’s quite a good story behind that. But I’d like to get in touch again after I’ve written the piece – I have a superstition about not blabbing stuff out till I’ve written it, Your book was very valuable. My wife took along, alas, Dervla Murphy’s Muddling Through Madagascar which she enjoyed while feeling that Murphy does invite disaster the whole time and loves whatever the opposite of luxury is. I thought that the verb to describe this might be “Dervling” as in a new book called “Dervling through Denmark”. There should be a whole series, said my wife, like Impetigo in India and Herpes in Hungary. After ‘Foot and Mouth in Finland and Moravia’ we gave up.
Sorry about the typing. Sunday afternoon. What’s Sunday afternoon got to do with it? I don’t know but it seemed like a good excuse at the time,