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A Nice Time Being Had By All (Peter Biddlecombe, 1999)

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ISBN 0-349-11145-6


 
 

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A Nice Time Being Had By All is Peter Biddlecombe’s seventh travel book, as far as I can tell, and, although the writing is still witty and generally of a high standard, the strain is beginning to show. Feeling he has to break the monotony, I suppose, the gimmicks are more obvious; more intrusive. For example, the chapter on Tbilisi, Georgia (no, Virginia, the Republic) is written as if it were an after dinner speech to his Georgian hosts, complete with slurred ‘speech’ and wavy print. I couldn’t be bothered with it in the end. It would be interesting to meet Manana, however.

As usual, the format is one city per chapter and, as usual, Biddlecombe (mostly) sticks to cities – no chasing about in the mountains and forests for this fellow. Not enough champagne for a start. About the closest to nature he gets in this book is Victoria Falls. In this, one of my favourite chapters, the author does a hatchet job on the Livingstone of "Doctor Livingstone, I presume" fame. If half of what Biddlecombe recounts is true, Livingstone must have been a complete twat. Sadly, he omits to mention my favourite piece of Livingstone trivia: that Stanley was dispatched to Africa by none other than the original Gordon Bennett.

“But, just as we have seen in Europe and Southeast Asia, a crisis in Africa has emerged out of the vacuum of power in countries whose geographic and ethnic boundaries are in conflict – particularly when vast riches are at stake, as they are in Angola, the Congo and Sierra Leone.” Richard Holbrooke, International Herald Tribune, 24 August 2000.

There is one very serious – and very sad – chapter on Luanda (Angola), inviting comparison with some of P.J. O’Rourke’s writing on Africa. Biddlecombe is far less partisan in his politics, but he makes the same point just the same: No democracy, no rights, no education, no food. It burns me up whenever I come across one of the vast legions of well-meaning bleeding-heart organisations begging alms to buy food and medical supplies for the unfortunate inhabitants of these godforsaken hell-holes. These countries are often rich in resources. Angola, since we are talking about it, contains some of the world’s richest diamond reserves. But all the money, including your donation thank you very much, is squandered or stolen by their inept and corrupt government and civil service. The feed-the-masses brigades are trying to solve the wrong problem. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. But that’s enough of that....

Back to the book. Good, yes. Well written, certainly. But hard work to finish. Enough is enough, Peter. You’re obviously a talented writer but please give us something fresh. How about a "Best of Biddlecombe’s Travels" followed by a slightly different genre?

Recommendation:  Sort of recommended (but no more thanks).

Look and Feel:  My edition is the usual matt-finish paperback.


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