Books and My Life: Part 11

This blog outlines my life, seen through the lens of the books I have read.

My reading at the end of our time in Aberdeen was mostly focused on how to survive in Africa. I had got a job working for HM Government in the Republic of Cameroon. As part of our preparation, we had to absorb a lot of information and attend courses to give us a taste of what was to come. My personal choices included reading Gerald Durrell’s The Bafut Beagles, set in the north of Cameroon. That was a light, fun read.

We lived with my boss, Joe, just outside the botanic garden, when we first arrived in Limbe, at the base of Mount Cameroon. Our house was being built and was due to be ready in a few weeks. I spent a year travelling up, down, round and round the mountain, based in the botanic garden. The job was to support the Cameroonians in establishing a rainforest reserve across the mountain and upgrading the facilities of the botanic gardens. I spent most Mondays walking up the mountain to a volcanic cone called Mt Etinde with a local villager pointing at every plant that caught my eye asking “What’s that?” “How do you know it’s that?” “What do you use it for?” I wrote up this ethnobotanical information into a report for the bosses back in London. Another part of my work was to train the garden staff in tree surgery. This was great fun. The third element of our work was to catch illegal loggers working on the mountain. This was also exhilarating. We’d get a tip-off that someone was logging in the bush and zoom off in our Land Rovers with our team of local lads. We would then either search through the area we’d been tipped off about, or we’d wait near the road and catch them as they head-portered the planks of timber and heavy chainsaws out of the forest. Yet another task was to educate the villagers living on the mountain about the importance of looking after the forest and not over-cutting it or overhunting in it.

While in Limbe I enjoyed reading Bernard Cornwell’s novels about rifleman Richard Sharpe in Britain’s war against Napoleon. I started devouring these while at Aberdeen and kept reading into the late 1990s. I have been interested in the history of the Napoleonic Wars since I was a teenager, so I thought they were great. However, there’s a lot of them and they eventually felt a bit predictable and formulaic. I also read an anthology of Horatio Hornblower stories by CS Forrester. I found them good stress-busters.


These were the days when videos were new technology. There was a video library in Limbe, but it didn’t take us long to work through the interesting films. We would watch our favourite videos over and over again. Pretty Woman and Blackadder Goes Forth remind me of those times – but when we watch them now, we don’t have an inquisitive night-watchman peering through the curtains behind us.


The music from that time includes African singing and the cassette tapes we took with us. A Best of Spandau Ballet album and a compilation of Abba stand out in my mind.


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