When Moffatt went to Brazil in the late 1960s he was charged with investigating ‘how the soils influenced the complex pattern of distribution of a hitherto undisturbed habitat’ and, as he admits, this is ‘not the stuff of a Boy’s Own adventure.’ This does not diminish the appeal of Moffat’s tales from the Rio das Mortes, or the stories about his time in Egypt and on the banks of the River Gambia. This is an unvarnished, often humorous portrayal of expeditionary life, with all its inconveniences, distractions, and excitements. Bureaucrats live up to their reputations, armadillos make appearances, and football is played in unlikely places. The descriptions of African nations in the early post-colonial days are particularly rewarding: with many of the old imperial Africa hands still in situ, ‘the social life was a bit like something out of Somerset Maugham.’
The personal touch is welcome, the tone is warm, and many an interesting factoid steams into view. Apparently, when Guinness was first exported to Nigeria in the 1800s, the Irish brewed it twice as strong fearing some of the alcohol would evaporate during the long journey. No such damage occurred, but the Nigerians developed a taste for the souped-up stout and still make it according to the more potent recipe. I rather hope that’s true.