Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £25 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

Book review: Red Nile, By Robert Twigger

Twigger of the Nile turns his crafty Old Hand to ripping yarns of the greatest river. Is he for real?

Less well known than the famous Long Range Desert Group of the Second World War was the Short Range Verandah Group, which operated from Cairo's Shepheard's Hotel (motto: "a long bar, long drinks, a long wait"), its members downing gin-slings. Robert Twigger, veteran of many a 4x4 desert foray to lost oases and forgotten wadis, would have been at home in either set. Part ITMAs Colonel Chinstrap, part a GPS-equipped petrolhead desert Jeremy Clarkson, Twigger has a Boys' Own Paper, gung-ho style which recalls a bygone era of all-male bull-sessions at Nairobi's Muthaiga Club. Unlike most cut-and-paste histories from secondary sources, this is an insider's account, not just of the river Nile but of Egypt, Sudan and Uganda, their histories, geographies, quirks and characters.

Get money off this title at the Independent book store

Twigger has lived in Cairo for seven years, is married to an Egyptian and stares at the Nile every day from his study; he has fallen in the Nile, swum the Nile, drunk the waters of the Nile, kayaked and rafted, and travelled the length of it by plane. He is, in fact, an Old Hand, Twigger of the Nile. The stock-in-trade of the Old Hand is warning the rookie how dangerous everything is: killer crocs, enraged hippos, bilharzia, the gay scene in the Pharaohs' day, floods, cannibals, mutilations, plagues – all are recounted with lip-smacking enthusiasm. Can baboons really rip your head off? Can crocs devour men hiding 12 feet up a tree? Do hippos eat people? "When a hippo turns red - then you've really got to watch out," Twigger admonishes. I'll bet.

Rambling, discursive, chatty, anecdotal, funny, often implausible, this account is laden with suspect information and dubious theories, often qualified with a "perhaps" or a "maybe". "The Nile is a clean river," we are told. Er, no it isn't: I inadvertently drank a glass of unboiled Nile water in Luxor, caught paratyphoid, was on my back for three weeks, and nearly died. "The Arabs discovered how to distill alcohol," Twigger claims. No, they didn't: archaeologists have discovered ceramic alcohol stills in Paphos, Cyprus, dating back centuries before Johnny Arab loped out of the Empty Quarter.

Many of the usual suspects have been rounded up - Napoleon and Champollion, Burton and Speke, the Mahdi and General Gordon, Flaubert and Florence Nightingale. Some slipped through the net – I missed Popski and his Private Army, Hicks Pasha, Slatin Bey, Bimbashi Valentine Baker, Colonel Stirling and his SAS, Evelyn Waugh and Randolph Churchill at Groppi's. Twigger could have had much more fun with King Farouk – and where is "Tears Before Bedtime" Barabara Skelton, Farouk's mistress, and the notorious flagellation session with a dressing-gown cord on the steps of his palace? Never mind. It's a series of ripping yarns, and highly entertaining.

My advice is – collar a pew, pour a stiff one, light up a Burmah cheroot, hoist your jolly old ankles over the arms of a Bombay Fornicator, and lie back and savour this Twigger cove's often dotty ruminations. Anyone who appreciates Julian Maclaren-Ross's classic cod-colonial tall tale "A Bit of a Smash in Madras" will adore this book. I think Twigger may have invented a new genre – the Ramblelogue.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test