The roads in Africa
I’ve mentioned before – oh, probably only a few hundred times – that editing Petrol in My Blood has been fascinating. Reading all the material is wonderful. Not only the manuscript; I’ve also got press cuttings, letters, books, old ads and lots of material that hasn’t made it into the book. The book is already over 400 pages and my dad told me this morning that he’s just writing ‘another little chapter’.
Last week he sent me a fascinating book that he bought at an antique fair a couple of years ago. It’s entitled Trans-African Highways and it was published in 1958 – just five years before the London to Cape Town record was broken.
It is supposedly about the ‘main trunk roads in Africa’. Is your idea of a trunk road the same as mine? Like the A1 or something? Or, if you’re in my neck of the woods, Federal Highway? Believe me, ‘trunk’ road in Africa in 1958 was as likely to refer to elephants’ trunks as anything else.
The book will give a route and then say that you’ll be able to average a good speed of 20mph – the Eric Jackson and Ken Chambers Cortina regularly exceeded 100 mph in Africa in 1963. It describes how many roads are excellent but that they are impassable between May and September because of the rainy season. These trunk roads were such that the book gets quite excited when it’s describing one that is actual tarmac rather than packed sand or dirt.
It warns severely about driving at night (don’t do it, it says, ever), it says that some roads need to be travelled in a convoy of at least two cars and explains that spares, water, petrol and food should always be carried. One again, it gets very excitable when it finds a town that has water AND petrol AND food available. Very, very occasionally, it describes a town that has ‘telegraph facilities’ so that the motorist can send a telegram. (Remember those?) It warns very strongly against ‘driving on railway tracks’. There are some routes, which were actually driven by my dad and Ken where it says that the only way to travel between point A and point B is by riverboat.
When my dad and Ken Chambers did their first epic African drive in 1963, I can promise you, it was a different world to today.