[Note: there seem to be one or two letters missing prior to this]

March 22nd 1974.

Dear Folks,

                Another letter under way. This is going to be the longest yet, I think, and it's going to have to be written in stages. It's now coming up to midnight on Friday 22nd, and in this section I'll answer the letters from you for the period 5th-19th, and begin to tell you what I've been up to since my last letter.

                Incidentally, what happened to the letters I was going to get from Rosie and Yvonne [my sisters]? One, so far, from Rosie. Anyway.

                First, the letter from Dad, on the 5th. Only question, do we get BBC news? Answer, yes, the World Service, which you can get anywhere in the world. It means I normally hear all the news every day as it happens—that includes football etc, and I probably hear some news before you do. Time-wise, by the way, we’re 3 hours ahead. Apart from the World Service, we get the Daily Telegraph airmail the day after it’s published in the U.K., plus the International Herald Tribune, Time and Newsweek as soon as published. So you don’t really need to tell me any news about football, politics, etc., it’s at least a day old by the time you tell me, under normal circumstances. While the strike was on we had no papers, but we still had the World Service.

    Next onto Mum’s on the 12th. Answers: no, I never watch TV, too many other things to do; the papers I’ve already explained about. As for looking after myself, I always eat out, it’s the simplest thing to do and there are some great restaurants. Washing, cleaning etc. is all done by servants, who are paid as a rule about $50 per month. That, you may say, is crap wages, as it is, but since the average income is $65 per year, servants of Europeans and Americans are at least ten times better off than average. Actually, I say I always eat out, I do at present, but from next month I’ll have a cook.

    The riots have been sporadic but quite bloody. Ethiopia is basically a feudal dictatorship. A couple of guys at the office got their cars smashed, and a couple of weeks ago it was quite dodgy, a lot of shooting, window-smashing, looting and so on. The road outside was littered with rocks and broken glass, soldiers all around. Also, my plane was the last from the airport (this was to Mogadishu) for nearly a week, and just as we were taxiing for takeoff, an army jeep with a heavy machine-gun mounted stopped us. Did I tell you this? Anyway, don’t read on if you’ve heard it before, but the pilot said, “Please keep calm everybody,” in a panic-stricken voice, and after maybe fifteen minutes we were allowed to take off. As we did I saw tanks ringing the airport. In fact, I learnt later that the army closed it to all traffic for about five days. Then I had a scary flight to Nairobi, Kenya, which is the transit stop for East African Airlines. Either the pilot was practising aerobatics, or he got his nerves shot at Addis. Anyway, I switched to a Somali Airlines Viscount at Nairobi, and had a smooth flight to Mog. Back was direct on Alitalia.

    Anyway, despite all this, we’re not much affected at the office. It’s pretty quiet right now in Addis, though there are still rumblings. The troubles, as I said before, don’t really concern foreign nationals, but just in case, we’ve all had to register with the British Embassy, who will whisk us out in the event of any dangerous activity. Either way, it’s no problem.

    The job is still going okay, I’m running more or less in second gear right now, loads of power in reserve. More of this later. As for getting time to myself, loads. As I said, it’s back to the old way of life, lots of work, lots of friends, lots of women, lots of booze. Later I’ll tell you my typical working day. Incidentally, I have an Ethiopian girlfriend now called Guenet. I met her nearly a month ago, shortly after I got here. She’s a nice girl, and we have a good working arrangement. I mean, we both have lots of other things to do, and it’s pretty easy-come-easy-go. There are thousands of girls here, whose sole ambition, mainly, is to get their hooks into a rich Westerner. Understandable. Meanwhile, so long as you recognise what the score is, a good time can be had by all and no complications. Anyway, as for my address, keep writing to Geosource, I thought I’d said this once. We don’t have postmen like in the U.K., everything lands at the G.P.O. and gets filtered into P.O. Boxes. The mail to Geosource is collected twice a day by our fixer/driver, and it’s a very reliable system.

    Finally, Dad’s letter, no questions, except do we get English programmes on Ethiopian T.V.? Answer, I believe there are a few, but as mentioned earlier I never watch T.V.

    Right, now onto what I’ve been up to since I last wrote. If I remember, I’d just got back from Mog, and almost all of Addis was on strike. That I think was Thursday. Well the next Monday I flew out again, this time to the Ogaden [South-East Ethiopia, near the Somali border], and got back to Addis last night. At this point I need to divert and explain what I was doing out in the bush for ten days, and since that’s going to take some time, and it’s now one o’clock, I’ll leave it till tomorrow. Don’t go away.

    (Sunday 24th) Back again. Now, what I actually do to earn my money. My normal working day is: get to the office between 8:30 and 9:00, have several cups of coffee, few cigarettes, chat with a few people. If anything breaks down during the day I have to fix it, but as a rule things go okay. So I spend my time reading the manuals on how different sections of the computer processing system works, writing programs, reading books on geophysics or new circuit techniques. Lunch at one till about two-thirty, home at six. Sundays the computer’s usually free, sometimes Saturdays, so I take the opportunity to test out my programs or investigate the electronics of the system. The whole system is called ComMand.

    Anyway, what the ComMand processes is data, gathered in the field. There are three crews out in the Ogaden basin who gather this data. Basically, the idea is to make a noise (we use dynamite a lot), and record the echoes on tape. By looking to see how long the echoes take to return from different strata, you can tell the shape of the sub-structure. This is a massive over-simplification, but to give a reasonable account of the processes involved in layman’s terms would take ages, about a dozen pages. So, once these tapes have been made in the field, they are flown to Addis for analysis on our ComMand system. We produce cross-sections and plan views of the strata, and the geophysicists decide on the basis of this whether or not, and where, to drill for oil.

    Right, so having explained roughly what goes on, you can see why I wanted to go out to the field to see for myself these processes in action. Accordingly, as I say, I went out on Monday to one of these crews, called Ray-3. Ray-3 base camp is about 350 miles south-east of Addis, near the border of Kenya and Somalia. The nearest town is called Kabiderre, a few miles north. In fact, Kabiderre is just a hamlet, a collection of ramshackle houses and huts, a few stores, couple of bars. I stayed at Ray-3 two days, before going to Ray-2 fly-camp. The fly-camp is the temporary camp that moves about once a week as they move along the line of shooting.

    So, Ray-3 base camp was pretty civilized, air-conditioned trailers, showers and so on, good food. Different to Ray-2 fly camp, to which I come shortly. They have two cats at Ray-3, African Lynxes, which they’ve had since they were kittens. Beautiful animals, much nice than the mole [my mother’s cat], they let you stroke them and tickle them, but you have to be careful, because when they play, the natural instincts come out and they can rip your arm to shreds. I am writing this, by the way, listening to Brahm’s 1st. Anyway, the Ogaden: it’s very, very hot, over 100F at midday, hotter than Mog, but it’s a very dry heat, so it’s surprisingly bearable. The terrain is scrub, the classic scrubland, in fact. Heat-haze, dust up to two feet thick, bare, blasted bushes, bleached skeletons of animals. The bodies of the trucks get scorching hot, and you sweat so much that, in the evening, when it’s cool, your shirt is stiff with the salt you’ve lost. At night, there are millions and millions of stars, fabulous, just to sit and look at them.

    The wildlife, of course, is like you’d imagine, you’ve seen it on T.V. nature programmes, but of course it’s different to see it first-hand. You wouldn’t think anything could live out there, but there are hundreds of multi-coloured birds, kudu (a type of antelope), dik-dik (Bambi, on the Babycham bottle), and lions. A lion strolled across the line when I was there, but unfortunately it was further up the line from where I was, and I didn’t get a good look. Camels, ostriches, and so on. In fact, I’ve skipped forward a bit, this is Ray-2 I’m talking about now. I flew down to Ray-2 fly-camp maybe forty miles south-west of Ray-3 on Wednesday. Fly-camp, as I said, is rather different from base. You live in tents, no running water, no lavatories. The men who work out of these are the classic tough guys you might imagine. Brown, hard. It was interesting to stay there a week, but I wouldn’t want to work out in the field. Give me a nice comfortable office any day.

    They had a couple of monkeys at Ray-2, and a dog. Animals attach themselves to the camps out there because of the food. Anyway, I had a good week at the camp, working in the sun, boozing in the evening. That’s all there is to do there, drink, and a tremendous amount of beer is got through. The regular guys work three weeks, then get flown to Addis for a week. Naturally, you don’t spend any money out in the field, so a month’s pay goes on the week in town. All the people I met out there liked the life. I flew out one day on a Cessna light plane to view operations from the air. A joy-ride, really.

    Anyway then last Thursday I got back to Addis after a very bumpy flight on an old wartime DC-3.

    So, that brings me nearly up to date. By the way, I read a great book this last couple of weeks, called Mila 18, by Leon Uris, I’m sure you can get it in Paignton. Ask for it, it’s really a great story, a dramatized account of a true event, I’m sure you’ll like it.

    Meanwhile, I’ve been quite busy since I got back. I’ve bought two chess sets, one carved in ivory, the other more of a standard set, to play with. I’ve had a dozen or more games already, with three different people, and only lost once. Maybe you could post me a couple of books. They should be in the left-hand side of my desk. One is called Chess Endings—Essential Knowledge, by Yuri Auerbach, the other is On Openings, by Aleksandr Suetin. Identify them by the authors. Don’t send them if it’s going to be too expensive, but find out how much first.

    Also I’ve been to the duty-free shop. I don’t know if I told you before, but we get duty-free privileges. 72 bottles of scotch, 2000 cigarettes. Cameras, watches, everything. You aren’t allowed to use this privilege till you have a work permit, and I’m still waiting for mine to come through. But of course, you can order stuff, and pick it up as soon as the work permit is okayed.

    So that’s what I’ve done. I’ve ordered an Asahi Pentax SPII camera—professional affair, and an Omega Seamaster watch. The prices, duty free, are £120 for the camera, and £55 for the watch. I’m not certain how much I’ve saved on the camera, probably 30 or 40 quid, but the watch used to be £125 in the U.K., probably more now. It’s a really beautiful watch, I’m dying to get it. And of course, once I’ve got my camera I can get some pictures of my own, instead of looking for postcards that show what I’m looking at. It’s a 35mm camera, which means you get 36 shots per roll of film. I expect I’ll use the first roll in the first day. I really missed a camera out in the Ogaden, and maybe I’ll wangle another trip out later, just to get some photos. Incidentally, despite all this high living and wild spending, I still seem to have plenty of money. I expect to have about £250 in the bank at the end of next month. All in all I seem to have it made right now. I love my job, the people are great, I’m travelling, I have loads of money, nice things. I live well. There must be disaster ahead. Meantime, I shall make the most of it. Right now I’m listening to Ritchie Havens singing Bob Dylan on Radio Ethiopia, and drinking a beer. It’s one p.m. This is my first day off for ages, and shortly I’ll go for lunch, probably to an Italian restaurant up the road. I don’t have much at midday, maybe lasagna, hamburger, or a veal cutlet. Dinner, about 8, is the real meal. Usually there’s three or four people from the office in any given restaurant, and then often dinner lasts all night, by the time we’ve had a leisurely meal, then sat at the bar, having a few drinks and a natter. Last night, for instance, I had avocado with fresh crab and French dressing, followed by shrimps brochette with Caesar salad, then a cognac. That’s about typical, the food is fabulous. As a matter of course I eat baked lobster, beef fondue, bourbignone, tournedos, stuffed veal. Marvelous. Bet you’re green. Certainly beats the ITT canteen [where I previously worked] anyway. On a different note, I’ve just heard on the news that a group called the Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary Activist Organisation has claimed responsibility for the attack on [Princess] Anne and Mark.

    Anyway, I’ve opened a new bank account in the Channel Islands—Jersey—just in case. I think it’s wise, it’ll keep the Inland Revenue off my back just in case they were thinking of sniffing around.

    Now, onto what’s been happening politically. The riots and strikes have in fact been pretty successful. The basic minimum wage has been raised from 50 cents a day to 75. Big deal. But there are some more important concessions. The right to strike has been granted, a reason now has to be given for dismissal, land reform is promised, censorship has been eased. At present all local news is still heavily censored, and the farmers pay up to 90% of their produce as tithes to land barons. The old corrupt government is gone, Selaisse has reluctantly relinquished many of his dictatorial powers. All good stuff. But I don’t think it’s enough, I expect there to be further demands. And once Selaisse dies the army will almost certainly take over. That will probably be good for Ethiopia.

    Anyway, that’s about it. This week’s newsletter from Ethiopia.

    Incidentally, I imagine you’re keeping these letters. Do. I’m going to use them as notes for stories or maybe a novel when I pack this travelling lark in. About four years hence. Already I’ve got loads of ideas for stories, but there’s neither the time nor facilities to write them.

    Well, I still have a lot of letters to write, five more in fact. Sharon is the only person I’m corresponding with regularly, I hope to get a flood of letters from other people in due course. Letter-writing is pretty time consuming, though, because most of my letters are fairly long.

    So, I’m going to sign off here, and have lunch. Reply soon, or sooner, I don’t get enough letters.

    So long for now, love,