It is 1959, you are a retired brigadier living in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika. A friend of yours, a colonial officer, has offered to drive you up-country to Morogoro. But when your friend arrives he is already accompanied – by a stranger: a stout, elderly man named Evelyn Waugh. You have a long day's journey ahead of you. In his book A Tourist in Africa, published a year later, Waugh describes you as a man of 'imperturbable geniality' and adds of his two travelling companions, 'I don't know if they enjoyed my company. I certainly enjoyed theirs.' I wonder ... How one would love to know what the retired brigadier really thought.
I mention this tiny incident because one of the experiences of reading Waugh's travel writing is that I constantly speculate as to what it must have been like actually to meet him while he was on the road, as it were. It strikes me that a day in a hot car driving through the African bush with Evelyn Waugh could well qualify as a minor circle of hell. He was not a tolerant or easy man, that much is clear, but he also had a weak grasp of how he himself was perceived. He was genuinely traumatised after a visit to the Caribbean to discover that his hosts thought him 'a bore'. I remember once meeting Fitzroy Maclean - Waugh: travelling there was little love lost between him and Waugh – and asking him what Waugh had been like when they knew each other during the War. Maclean said, with candour (and no axe to grind, as far as I could tell), that he had never, in his entire military career, met an officer so loathed by the men who served under him.
One of the reasons why one tries to imagine an encounter with Waugh on his trips abroad is that he seemed always to be travelling under duress of one sort or another. And such duress is not conducive to congeniality: there never appears to be any real enthusiasm for the