TRAVEL: COMPETITIONLITERALLY LOST NUMBER 83

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The Independent Travel
This excerpt has been taken from a work of travel literature. Readers are invited to tell us: a) where is the action taking place? b) who is the author?

Blackwell's Bookshops will award pounds 30-worth of book tokens to the first correct answer that is picked out of the hat. Answers on a postcard to: Literally Lost, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL. Usual competition rules apply. Entries to arrive by this Thursday.

Literally lost 82: The book was `The Fearful Void'. The author was Geoffrey Moorhouse. The action took place in Mali. The winner is Susan Shaw from Penge.

es, the steep valley sides become almost gorges, and there are trees. Not forests such as I had imagined, but scattered, grey, smallish oaks, and some lithe chestnuts. Chestnuts with their long whips, and oaks with their stubby boughs, scattered on steep hillsides where rocks crop out. The train perilously winding round, half-way up. Then suddenly bolting over a bridge and into a completely unexpected station. What is more, men crowd in - the station is connected with the main railway by a post motor omnibus.

An unexpected irruption of men - they may be miners or navvies or land- workers. They all have huge sacks: some lovely saddle-bags with rose-coloured flowers across the darkness. One old man is in full black-and-white costume, but very dirty and coming to pieces. The others wear the tight madder- brown breeches and sleeved waistcoats. Some have the sheep-skin tunic, and all wear the long stocking-cap. And how they smell! Of sheep's-wool and of men and goat. A rank scent fills the carriage.

They talk and are very lively. And they have medieval faces, never really abandoning their defences for a moment, as a badger or a polecat never abandons its defences. There is none of the brotherliness and civilized simplicity. Each man knows he must guard himself and his own: each man knows the devil is behind the next bush. They have never known the post- Renaissance Jesus. Which is rather an eye-opener.

Not that they are suspicious or uneasy. On the contrary, noisy, assertive, vigorous presences. But with none of that implicit belief that everybody will be and ought to be good to them, which is the mark of our era. They don't expect people to be good to them: they don't want it. They remind me of half-wild dogs that will love and obey, but won't be handled. They won't have their heads touched. And they won't be fondled. One can almost hear the half-savage growl.

The long stocking-caps they wear as a sort of crest, as a lizard wears his crest at mating time. They are always moving them, settling them on their heads. One fat fellow, young, with sly brown eyes and a young beard round his face, folds his stocking-foot in three, so that it rises over his brow martial and handsome. The old boy brings his stocking-foot over the left ear. A handsome fellow with a jaw of massive teeth pushes his cap back and lets it hang a long way down his back. Then he shifts it forward over his nose, and makes it have two sticking out points, like fox-ears, above his temples. It is marvellous how much expression these caps can take on. They say that only those born to them can wear them.

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