Saturday, 27 September 2014

Book Review: Desert Taxi

English: Sahara desert from space. Русский: Пу...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You'll find it hard to find a copy of this. Amazon's selling one - if I were you, I'd rush over and snap it up. It's out of print - a gem that deserves SO much more than oblivion.

I love this book. It's a treasured possession. My copy's not worn well, the paper's yellowed and brittle, dried out to the point where one page has simply cracked apart and is nestled loose, torn from tip to toe by an unknown hand - likely that of of gravity or being boxed up for a house move.

Anyone selling a mint copy? Hit me up - I'm a buyer.

I've just re-read it. Yes, I even put my Kindle aside to read a booky book. Having finished Alexander Frater's Beyond the Blue Horizon, I was ripe for another travelogue. And I slid this out of the shelf as I realised I hadn't read it in 20 years.

And what a read it is.

Mike and Nita embark on a madcap journey from London to Nigeria, where he has a posting, using an 18 year old Hackney Carriage. The kicker is this book was written (and the journey undertaken) in 1956. So the taxi's a sort of pre-war Model T sort of thing, not the Black Cab we know today.

Marriott writes brilliantly, observant and wry with a glorious command of language and an engaging style. The challenge they take on is clearly insane and his account of trawling through the Sahara in an ancient cab is peppered with scenes in which Foreign Legion and Touareg alike are left open-mouthed by the mad dogs and Englishmen puttering through their midday sun.

He's English - the sort of English of Empire and Evelyn Waugh. Nita - pretty and clearly possessed of a saintly demeanour (or a love of lunatics) beyond reason, is as bashed about in the journey as Bertha the taxi - but our self-deprecating and potty author makes everything come alive; you end up consuming the pages, rooting for these idiotic, impossibly hardy and resourceful people.

It's a book that deserves to be re-published, enjoyed and shared as a classic of travel writing. And it's been lost in the cruel mist of time - what a shame.

If you can find a copy, snatch it up. This book is charming, delightful, gripping and - yes - inspiring.

I wonder where Mike and Nita are today. If they've made the longer journey, they'll be in their eighties. I would so love to sit and sip a snifter and listen to them, creaky and smiling-eyed, tell me where their lives went next.

This book so deserves to be in print again...

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