YEARS AGO WHEN I was on The Observer our chief travel writer, Alexander Frater, although only occasionally present, was one of the paper's legends, known to have been born in Vanuatu and to have been everywhere except outer space. He kept winning the big travel prizes, and was very friendly, and slightly hard to follow when he spoke about something because he always added an oblique detail so fascinating one forgot the original subject.
Tales from the Torrid Zone has the same characteristics as Frater's conversation. It consists of two intertwined strands, the more obvious one being church bells. Frater's father had been a missionary doctor in Vanuatu, and when Alex heard