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A Nice Time Being Had By All is Peter Biddlecombes 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 couldnt 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.
There is one very serious and very sad chapter on Luanda (Angola), inviting comparison with some of P.J. ORourkes 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 worlds 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 wasnt so tragic. But thats enough of that....
Back to the book. Good, yes. Well written, certainly. But hard work to finish. Enough is enough, Peter. Youre obviously a talented writer but please give us something fresh. How about a "Best of Biddlecombes 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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