Jungle Tales

Actually they start in the woods of Galloway, drift off to the fishing grounds of Newfoundland, and wander many places in between.

But for much of his life Donald MacIntosh was in West Africa, a tree prospector and surveyor in places like Liberia, Ivory Coast and Nigeria.  He lived the life in the equatorial rainforest; bearers and houseboys, and tales to tell, some taller than others.  And does he tell them well.

Many times had I picked up Travels in a White Man’s Grave in the bookshop.  But never did I buy and read, an error I may have to change soon.  MacIntosh’s previous book was on the prizelists; six he has written, and other writings post retiral.  I’ll need to find out more.

Gone Native was published in 2010.  It is a collection of essays and memories.  They go back to childhood in the lands of Galloway, where he learned of the wildlife and woodland as had Gavin Maxwell at nearby Monreith a few years before him.  He has written about the area and the times in other works and I’ll need to add them to my list for he is a man of some interest, a man with a life well lived and a way of telling it.

He was there when The Dandy launched, translating it into the Gaelic for his grandfather to enjoy; a grandfather convinced that Desperate Dan must have been a man of Mull.  I’d like to read more of the guddled trout shared in a shelter in the woods with the local tramp; of grandfather’s little clay pipe and stash of baccy cached in a dry nook in a tree.  And I’d like to read more of the girl on the beach at Ballantrae.

But those mysteries, of gypsies and Sawney Beane are nothing compared to the tales from the jungle; the characters of the ex-pat club or the whore-house.  Oh yes, I’ll need to read more MacIntosh.

But it was another Mackintosh that swayed my decision to buy Gone Native.  For one of the essays is called Marie of Roumania, and she has been a favourite of mine since I stuck my head round her bedroom door, on the edge of Transylvania, and was dazzled by a room that could only have been designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, all silver and swirls.  So there’s a biography of Marie on the shelf, and even a book of her own, of her life with Ferdinand through the dark days when monarchy fell out of favour.  She was of course related to our own mob, as they all were.  But that is another story for another day.

Anyway MacIntosh has an essay of that name.  I have read it three times now, and I know not why it is so called.  For the lovely Marie is not mentioned, does not feature or even seem to be remotely connected.  It is a tale that starts in a Lagos courthouse – Wife decapitates husband’s penis with one bite – and progresses to a 94 year old seeking advice in an agony column on the wisdom of removing false teeth in giving gratification to her husband, before heading off into the realms of female circumcision.

The tale ends with the visit of Betsy, in Lokoja, cafe-au-lait colouring, pink stetson, scarlet cowboy boots, and an offer he managed to refuse.  All good stuff, but what it has to do with Marie of Roumania I have yet to discover.  Read on, young man, read on.


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