Here is a volume of personal reminiscences with a difference. True, it was
conceived, as has been the nature of a number of comparable memoirs, as simply a
record for the family, of days that have passed - and never will again be; and it is at that
leisurely, discursive and often undiscriminating level that the gentle story continues.
But what sets it apart is not so much the narrative contents as their physical context.
For what we have, all for under 15 pounds, is 400 well-printed
pages, good paper and really generously bound, and with adust-jacket.. and, to boot,
spoof press comments from such 'Thunderers' manques as Home and Colonial, the
Bath Echo and The Oxford Examiner, the last roundly endorsing the author's
vigorous attempt to play down anything that might hint at scholarship - 'an effort that
he may not have found particularly demanding'.
But, more seriously, what do we find between these handsome covers? Unlike the
reviewers' quoted comments, the author really is who he says he is, and some
may remember Richard Wollocombe as an Assistant District Officer in Northern
Nigeria (principally in Sokoto and Zaria) between 1954 and 1960 - or, in Oxford,
Lagos and Kaduna, as a brilliant cricketer and a notable hockey player. It is this
century of pages that constitutes the essence of these memoirs for those interested in imperial history. How commendably determined Wollocombe is not to overlook the full names of this
Resident ('a man on whom authority sat easily and with charm') or of that District
Officer ('one whose example I would do well to emulate') and this and that fellow
ADO. ('relaxed and sure of himself or 'rathere an intense young man'), and of all those
other officers, their wives and their pets, whom he encountered in his years in the
North ('They're gentlemen up there'. Sir John Macpherson had reassured young
Wollocombe on his arrival in Lagos, leaving open just which 'they' he had in mind).
Wollocombe is not the only one among ex-Nigerians to have revisited Lagos in the
1980s and to have recalled, wistfully if not nostalgically, our earlier, maybe easier (for
all the lack of minor luxury as constituting the basic essentials of life), and certainly
tension-freer Nigerian days.