Friday, December 25, 2009


Hey ho and away I go!



I am invited to coffee at the Indian Coffee House in town by two late middle aged advisers from the Ministry of Education, Delhi. I remark on the language handicap for a traveler trying to understand India to which one says, “We Indians are most complicated. We are friends for a thousand years, then in a moment we are all killing each other - killing each other for no reason – only because some politician is saying so.”
His companion assures me of the extraordinary advances over the past ten years. The quantity of cars, milions of mobile telephones.
“Even ther cast system,” he says. He himself knows Untouchables in high positions. The Minister of Justice is himself an Untouchable. “Now that they are in power they are the most corrupt. A hundred times worse. It is their turn that has come. Human nature is to use such opportunity.”
“You British were always more honourable,” his companion says. “And now look at you. Your Blair has destroyed all your reputation. Such a liar. It will be centuries before you are able to recover.”


Gwalior sprawls as do all Indian towns and cities. The fortress commands the town from high on a solitary plateau 3 Ks in length. Entry is barred by massive wooden gates that, open, would permit passage to an elephant with howdah.I duck through a small portal for pedestrians. A guide at the ticket office accompanies me back to my bike and lifts it in.
For facts on the fortress read the guidebooks or check the internet. I write impressions and my impressions here are of decay other than at the small museum that contains wonderful scuptures ranging from 1st century to the 17th
Of the palace, the top floor is closed and crumbling. Down a floor and you find typical rooms of the period of hewn stone and pillars opening to courtyards, small in scale and not impressive.
I remark to a probable English speaker, middle-aged, intellectual, on the difficulty of imagining how it once was.
He replies that it will be gone in fifty years, destroyed by neglect and coruption.
The truth of the palace lies below in unlit layers carved from the rock and connected through narrow twisting stairways and through dog leg doorways and corridors down which no man, however thin, could pass another. Such is the Man Sing Palace, surely a dark sinister creation of regal paranoia - or excavated as a cool retreat from the summer heat.
Or let the walls speak to you of prisoners incarcerated in pain and fear-filled misery.
As always, in India, make your choice.
Better scurry back down the hill to enjoy a later Maharaja's opulent fantasy caprice, the 19th century Jai Villas Palace.
Curse, it's closed on Wednesdays.

AGRA TO GWALIOR - Brrrrm Brmmm

Yes, I know. Dates are confusing. However I am attempting to get up to date.

From Agra south I ride an excellent highway through flat fields splodged with yellow rape. Traffic is sparse and I make good time between village. Millennium of monsoons have gouged twisting gulches between pinnacles of gray-red earth tufted with sparse scrub. Or did thousands of years of brick-making create this chaotic landscape, thousands of men and women endlessly picking at clay to feed the kilns?
Tumbled walls of a fortress cap a long ridge. What in this ghastly land was there to protect? Yet, suddenly, appears the magic of a bridge that once carried the trunk road and is now bypassed by the highway. Seven pointed Islamic arches of red brick span the river, delicate spires at each end, pepper pots in the middle – beautiful!


The hotel is a cloistered rectangle surrounding on the lower level a lawned garden divided into four quarters by low hedges – Persian in concept. And on an upper level, a charming swimming pool.
The walls are pale ocher while the pillars and Islamic arches of the cloister are a deep teracotta outlined in white. Red and white bougainvilleas and pale plumbago drape the arches while trees shade the lawned-surounds of the pool terrace and carpet the grass with deep pink blossom. Lapis domes on slender pillars rise above the roof line, perfect size for a single rotund but diminutive sentry.

A servant leads me across the lawn to my room and opens French shutters to display the river fifty meters down a sloping bank. The sun will rise directly across the river. I must be up by dawn. Now a hot shower in a vast marble bathroom, walls patternd in blue and white tiles and towels thick and big as a winter blanket. What delight...


Take the right fork out of janasi to Orcha (I took the left and had to backtrack fifteen Ks) so watch for the sign. Once on the side road the countryside changes to a gentle switchback with patches of woodland between small fields. Massive walls of dry-set rock breached by a gateway that has lost its gates announce the traveler's arrival on what was once the Maharaja of Orcha's domain. Drive a further kilometer and turn left beneath a high arch onto the driveway leading to the Maharaja's hunting lodge, now converted into a hotel.
I have ridden 160 Ks. I am whipped physically, continuing to cough and have the runs. The hotel manager is a miracle of welcome. Face him towards a winter cold-front back home and apple trees would glow with blossom.



A mile left of the road two massive palaces or temples dominate a small town. Should I investigate? Such is the traveler's dilema in India, a myriad magical buildings to explore yet only a few months to journey. I recall driving through Rajahstan all those years ago in convoy with Elizabeth Camus and stopping at everything. We camped at night, me with a foam rubber mattress on and under Afghan kilims, Elizabeth with a VW camper and an Orissa marriage tent. What was her boyfriend's name, Swiss Italian, who later studied the tabla at University in Varanassi. We were intent on reaching Goa for Christmas yet one day managed only twenty miles.
I was young then. Time seemed infinite and no, I don't stop to explore.''



Thank God for history graduates...I have had two hours of joyful conversation with Nagendra Singh Bayal, Front Office Manager at Usha Kiran Palace (Taj hotel in the grounds of Jai Villas). We begin with motorbikes, progress via religion in history to God as love, family and the insanity dictating much of the region's politics - splendid accompaniment to a fruit salad and black coffee breakfast.
A dual carriageway to Janasi is under construction. Trucks and construction machinery have ripped the surface of the old road. Not a fun why do I enjoy myself? Afterglow of the morning's conversation ripened by memories of Cuba and the warm humid scent of sugar cane in the fields and of over-loaded trailers swaying towards a sugar central.
Two men work on the top of an electricity pylon. Hard hats? Safety belts? Don't be ridiculous. Men are replaceable.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I have been ill most of the time since arriving. Now I am finally on the move. Here is a blog of today.I will catch up with past days after Christmas.

ORCHA - Hotel Bundelkhand Riverside
I have dysentery. I should be miserable. I have discovered Paradise. 8 a.m. and I have been sitting for the past hour on the balcony of my bedroom and watching dawn break across the river. A pale mist lies across the water and across the jungle on the far bank. Not a mist of carbon monoxide, a true natural morning mist. Water tumbling over a low weir and over boulders is the only sound. An Indian in black walks down to the river bank and washes his hands before facing the sun, I think in prayer. He turns, sees me and, hands together, Namastes. I return his greeting. His disappears up the steps to the courtyard garden only to return and, standing below my balcony, reaches up to offer me two saffron coloured flowers. My mobile buzzes – a happy message addressed to Grandpa from Nagandra Singh at the Taj in Gwalior. Yes, Paradise. So my bowls are loose – I can deal with that! I shall dress in a little while and sit in the garden and have fresh fruit and black coffee for breakfast. Then a wonderful day of exploration. Orcha, though no more than a medium sized village, boasts two magnificent though abandoned palaces and three superb temples. strike>

Monday, December 21, 2009


I am having tea in a large State emporium with the motherly manageress. Beautifully coiffed, beautifully dressed, she has adult children and must be in her early fifties. Her husband is an engineer and both their children are professionals. I mention the street children.
"Very clever," she tells me. "Yes, they are very clever. But nothing can be done with them. Such people do not like to work."
The children connect in my hostess's mind with her new servant girl. The servant girl is one of fourteen children. The father is a manual worker. "We are giving her soap. Now she is wanting shampoo. Can you imagine? Shampoo. This is what these people are spending their money on."


This is the bride's big day. The owners of a hotel beside the wedding tent give her shelter in the lobby where she cowers on a sofa surrounded by mother and aunts and siblings. She is tiny and thin and vulnerable and looks to be fourteen. Is she most terrified of her future husband or of damaging the scarlet and gold sari and head scarf or lose a piece of the gilt wedding jewelery, all hired for the occasion. The mother and aunts depart to add their screeches to the contradictory instructions at the marquee. A plump female German tourist in her mid fifties photographs the bride. Wanting closeups of the make up and jewelery, she holds the camera half a meter from the child's face.
The child bride remains immobile, a fear-frozen statuette. Oh that she were brought to life. Oh that she would spit in the German's lady's eye - or kick her future husband in the balls.
Enough, I am off to bed...


A five-man cornet and drum band heralds the groom. The bandsmen wear white uniforms and red and gold cockaded hats. The groom, also in white, and with plastic gold threaded through his wedding turban, sits a skeletal white horse. Four men, not in uniform, carry electric candelabra powerd by a small generator on a push cart. Male guests or family in ill-fitting dark suits shout contradictory instructions. They need to speed up the decision making before the horse founders.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Lack of a common language has me scared. And that I contracted bronchitis with the first inhalation of what, in Delhi, passes for air. Add a broken camera and things look bad. Lack of language has seemed most catastrophic. Who should I talk to? My fellow foreigners? Then why travel?
I determine to conduct myself as I would in Hispanic America. Get out on the street...
It is a narrow street of down-market apartment buildings and down-market hotels. The Municipality had the road tarred some years ago, perhaps by mistake. The tar is mostly gone. My vantage point is a plastic chair outside a tailor's shop. I am one of a group of four men. One is a travel agent, good-looking, mid-thirties, one ear-ring. A second, Nepalese, has been in Delhi eighteen years and works as a packer for Sikh brothers in the export business. I learn nothing of the third. He may be the tailor's brother.
The street is being taken over by preparations for a wedding.
The arrangers of the wedding have erected a ridge marquee in the street. The marquee is thin washed-out saffron cotton that began life cheap and hasn't improved. The frame looks to be iron reinforcing rod. Twin gates stand open my end of the marquee to receive the wedding party. The gates have been draped with marginally less faded saffron cotton. A very old man squats in the dust and weaves bouquets. A younger man wires the bouquets to the gate.
The Nepalese dismisses the flowers as cheap plastic.The wedding is for a sweeper family. Bad people, they will get drunk and fight. Who would rent such people a hall?
Chairs, tables and a sort of altar arrive on three hand-drawn carts.
I ask whether a permit is required to close the street for a wedding.
Why would they require a permit?
The occasional cow strolls the street, sheep, sometimes a goat. Why not a wedding?


A large overweight bearded buffoon faces a class of diminutive Indian waifs. Were this Hispanic America I would sit on the floor with them. We would talk, mostly the children asking questions, and we would laugh together and perhaps learn from each other. Certainly there would be a sharing of emotions. Here the most that we can accomplish is to grin and giggle at each other. A grin seems insufficient when confronted by thirty ten-year-old ex-Typex addicts. Or should that be Typex addicts in recovery?
Meanwhile a young project manager has been giving the Trust's spiel while the University students take notes. The project manager is from North Carolina. She worked here as a volunteer whilst studying for her Sociology degree. Next step is her Masters - followed perhaps by a Phd and a career with NGOs or the State Department. She tells me that the street children are the victims of Multinationals who expropriated their families' land without compensation. Interesting...
The Salaam Baalak Trust is a worthy cause. Your contributions will be well spent. Clothes, money, whatever...
Right, that's enough on that subject. Let's move on.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I have found a seat outside a cafe on a main drag. Buildings are run down or never came up. TukTuks weave between overladen trucks and busses. Rich men own cars and presume on their right of way. Every driver has his hand on the horn. Noise and smog are stupendous.
Four laden camels plod by.
The hoarding on a bookshop proclaims: ALL TYPES OF RARE PERSIAN AND URDU BOOKS.
Earlier in the day I passed a splendid sign: ELECTRIC CREMATORIUM.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Street kids are a solemn subject. Hence I have slotted in the odd BLOG on a different subject.
Here is my take in the changes from the Delhi of the 60s: more cars, less cows and the cabon monoxide smog is thicker.


We climb four flights of stairs. Our guide asks if I wish to rest. I reply that the climb is easy - that I am in training. And I picture, for a moment, Malvern Spa and my almost daily visits to the gym where I bicycled, speed walked and rowed before luxurating by the pool or took a sauna or sat a while in the steam room to aclimatise myself to India's heat. Yeah, yeah...
Our guide lectures again, recounting names of street kids who made good through being rescued. I peak into a classroom. Thirty or more kids sit cross legged on the floor. Why are they here? Why did they run from home?
Hunger, abuse - or chasing a Bollywood dream of the kid made good. And what they get is drugs (Tipex is the drug of choice, cheaper than a can of glue) and more abuse from which Salaam Baalak strives to save them.
Salaam Balaak gives security, education - and, most importantly, the knowledege that someone cares for them - that they matter.
To look at, they are cute kids, ten years old or twelve. I look at them. They look at me. They giggle.
There is always a voice, the class comic, class leader. This one sits in the front row. Good kid, very bright. Give him a chance and he'll transform himself from urchin to plutocrat - or spokesperson for a splendidly corrupt politician (of which India has many).

Monday, December 14, 2009


I was at the Honda factory today outside Delhi. I sat on my bike, a 125 naturally, but what a 125, a new model red Stunner with electic start and fuel injection - 64K to the litre and only 2000Ks on the clock. I started the engine. Brmm Brmm sweet!
OK, so I hear you middle-aged BMW crowd tittering in the back ground. A 125 again! Sad old guy, what can you expect from a septuagenarian?
So let me set you straight: Honda designed the Stunner as a slick kid's cafe racer. It has style!
Though wrecked somewhat once the fat old Blimp takes to the saddle.
Honda are trying to fit panniers to it and find me a suitable helmet plastered with Honda decals. I meant to pack, when leaving home, my Mexican scarlet-and-white Honda racing shirt. I looked everywhere. Maybe my sons burnt it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


We follow our guide down a potter's alley. He lectures the students with statistics. I watch an elderly potter turn tiny bowls that, at home, might be used to serve salt at the table. The potter works with a large tower of clay on the wheel, turning rapidly bowl after tiny bowl, cutting each free with a thread, setting it to dry beside its bretheren. Eighteen seconds - no pause, not even as he looks up briefly to present me with a smile...


The South African is filming two street urchins on the railway platform. The urchins are movie buffs. They understand film. Hands in pockets, they swagger and smile for the camera. And they dream of becoming movie stars. Every slum child dreams. Such is the influence of Bollywood. Without such dreams there would be less disapointment, less heartbreak.


I am invited to accompany a South African woman on a tour of a rescue project for Street Children. We are a party of six. The other four are Indian university students. One, a woman, is studying philosophy. Her mother is a teacher. Her grandmother was a school Principal. Thus she inherited the joy in thinking. The other three students are studying for degrees that will lead to careers. Our tour is geared to these three and they take notes. Our guide (lecturer) is an ex-street child. Our tour begins at Delhi's Central Railway Station where the Project has one of its nine collection centers. The collection point is a small concrete hut. A dozen children not yet into their teens sit at a table. Two good women are attempting to teach them to read and write. The children giggle when I introduce myself. We are at the end of the longest of the railway platforms. Where the platform ends, tiny shacks begin, homes to adult outcasts and their families. The scene is heart wrenching. It should breed fury. Sadly I have seen far worse in South America. I wrote in Peru of puzzlement as to what the poderosas of the country, the powerful,thought as they drove past slum encampments. I remember one such out in the desert. The huts were black plastic sheeting beside an ilegal refuse dump. A truck had dumped a stinking heap shortly before my arrival. Men and women and children hunted through the refuse. Vultures perched on the skeleton of an overturned trailer and waited their turn. Cacti held their arms aloft in surrender to the horror - or in an apeal to God.
So, no, I am not shocked at what we are shown.
But sad? Yes, of course...


0550: In getting out of bed I knock over the water bottle on my bedside table. The top was loose. Water flows into my shoes. Bottled water is symbolic of the developing world. In the Americas the requirement extends from the Rio Grande (Mexico's border with the US) to Bolivia's frontier with Argentina or Chile.
How many tens of thousand of people live from the bottled water industry?
In lands of great unemployment clean water would be an economic disaster for such families.
I am aware, of course, that dirty water is a major cause of infant mortality.
I am also aware that my shoes are wet.
In composing this BLOG I am attempting to go with the flow...

TB and GWB

0530. I have been awake an hour. I click the TV to BBC World News. The Iraq Governerment is auctioning Iraq's oil fields to foreign oil companies. Thank God our invasion of Iraq wasn't fueled by desire to exploit Iraq's oil.
TB is a secret social desease...

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Go with the flow down narrow whitewashed alleys punctuated with small stores toward voices raised in prayer. I am amongst small men dressed uniformly in white skull caps and long white shirts and loose white trousers. The moment is familiar from a dozen cities that I've travelled, cities in a dozen countries. Yet in my memory there is one incident that surfaces again and again. It is of crossing the frontier from India into Pakistan. The bus was crowded and I stood beside a man dressed similarly to the men I am now following to the Sufi shrine. I remember him as tall and slim, pale eyed and with clipped grey beard. And I remember mostly that he was a serious man - not that he was being serious but that he was serious in himself. Wise might be a better description but different from what I felt then on the bus or, more accurately, knew then on the bus. He questioned me politely as to where I was going.
"To Afghanistan," I said.
He said that Afghanistan was not a good place for me, that his village was a community of Sufis and that I was welcome to be their guest.
He was offering more.
He was offering a retreat and a new direction - and the opportunity to begin to learn whether I could begin to understand wisdom.
I was certain of this and certain that I should go with him - that doing so would change my life and give me at least the chance to be a better person.
I knew all this while I said to him that I had friends waiting for me in Afghanistan.
He made no attempt to persuade me.
So I continued deliberately in a direction I knew to be wrong and from which I had been offered an escape. It was a path that gave great pain to those who should have been foremost in my thoughts and it is a decision that I have regretted often and deeply over the years.
Yet this evening I feel an immense gratitude for having taken that wrong path. Had I taken another I would never have met Bernadette, never been the father to Joshua and to Jed and privileged to be adopted by Anya as her father. My joy in them in no way lessons the regret I feel for those I hurt.
This is rather a solemn BLOG. As I wrote at the beginning, perhaps more suitable for a book - or to be kept in private.
I expect an Email in the morning from Bernadette ordering me to expunge it...

Friday, December 11, 2009


Thursday after prayers and the devotees are singing at the shrine. Their voices swell and fade, swell and fade.


A young Frenchman arrived yesterday evening from Kabul where he works for the UN - this is probably immaterial information, however I was about to leave the hotel to pay respects at the shrine of the Sufi saint, Hazrat Nizam-ud-din.
A maze of alleys separates the shrine from Marthura Road. No need for a map, follow the flow of devotees. The flow is tranquil and, what joy, free of that curse of Delhi, pestering touts.


I have delayed writing of yesterday evening. I have delayed writing through concern as to what I should include. A book demands disclosure of the writer's thoughts. A BLOG is not a book and my wife, Bernadette, is in my head warning that I should keep it light. And no rants...!

Thursday, December 10, 2009


My Footprint guidebook recommends a walking tour through New Delhi from the Broadway hotel: R350 including a great lunch. The tours no longer take place. Management at the Broadway hotel telephoned a guide: R2400, no mention of lunch.
So I walked without guide.
Study a map and advice comes from all sides. Some of the advice is accurate, some is useful, much is either incomprehensible or not pertaining in any way to my goal. However all is well meaning so relax and go with the flow...

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


No partridge and the Moti Mahal suffers from having been excessively guide-booked in the 45 years since my last visit. I shall go on a walking tour of Old Delhi tomorrow and commune with ruins.


Most of a day spent toing and froing across Delhi in search of a Panasonic service agent capable and willing to fit a new screen to my damaged Lumix. My driver for some five hours was an elderly, very thin, kindly and helpful Sikh. His PukPuk was equally ancient. I had to push the time he stopped at an intersection with a rear wheel in a pot hole. Only faith and a few prayers got us up a fly-over. Fortunately Delhi is mostly flat.
And I am in the flow.
The flow is to banish all expectations.
Ming, in his monastery, should he read this, will be pleased with my progress (however temporary) to a state of acceptance...though he might frown at the partridge.


I ride to dinner in a rickshaw and pass men struggling with huge loads - not beasts but men of burden. My destination is the Moti Mahal where 45 years ago I glutted on a superb partidge. Does the Moti Mahal continue to serve partridge?
And why do I feel guilt as I pass the men with their loads? My guilt is of no help.
Yet I continue to feel, if not guilty, at least uncomfortable.
India, all ready...

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


My neighbour on the flight from London intended becoming an extreme sports instructor - specialising in rock climbing. Early into this career he discovered the attractions of capitalism. He is married now with two young children at Private school and is an associate partner in a branch of IBM.
He keeps fit rough-water life saving.
My youngest son, Jed, is night portering at a hotel in Tignes this winter season and snow boards all day. He intends becoming a ski instructor.


I have a memory of taking a rickshaw in Bombay.
I instructed the driver, "Drive slow."
The driver nodded happily.
I emphasised, "Slow, slow, slow..."
The driver did a U turn and slammed into a pedestrian with a wooden leg. The leg snapped.
Today I was about to hire a rickshaw when a young man from the mobile telephone shop offered me a lift on the pillion of his motorbike.
Politeness made me accept.
Fifty yards of side street and ten near-death experiences separated us from the junction with the main road. The young man stopped at the T junction.
I abandoned ship...


Crossing a Delhi road near Connaught Circle. I am on the side of the pedestrian crossing closest to oncoming traffic. Terrorised, I shift to the outer side of the pedestrian crossing, felow pedestrians between me and the traffic.
A gentleman smiles and says, "No matter where you cross, death is Fate..."


This evening's meal awakened a memory of 1960s Bombay (as it was then) and a Parsee Bombayite recalling great food at a restaurant in Bombay's Muslim Quarter. Neither he nor his friends had eaten in the Quarter since Partition. Four of us took a cab. The restaurant existed, though with few patrons. Tables were in tall-backed wooden booths similar to those in a workman's cafe on Chelsea's Kings Road in the early 50s, bread and dripping, bubble and squeak, massive white mugs of tea. The cafe is long gone.
As for the restaurant in what is now Mumbai?
I'll make enquiries in hope of discovering food as delicious as it was back then.
As for this evening, I chewed a while on unchewable chunks of mutton and mopped up a divine brain curry with a mediocre nan.
The curry remains within - no mean feat given a drunken driver weaving an unsprung rickshaw on Delhi's humpity and cratered roads...


I took a rickshaw across town this evening for dinner at a Muslim restaurant behind the Jama Masjid mosque. The driver was moderately drunk. I told him not to wait. He waited. He stopped at a bottle shop on the return journey for a small bottle of 999 Rapidsmash whisky. He showed me the label. I may have mis-remembered the name. He wants to drive me tomorrow. I shall hide....


I have been travelling round Delhi in motor rickshaws much of the day in search of solution to my camera. Here are a few observations on Delhi traffic. Right of way goes to the most determined. A gap opens, go for it - left or right lane is immaterial and red lights are for wimps. Side mirrors are obligatory yet would survive a few minutes. Car drivers fold them in while on rickshaws they are on the inside. What can the rickshaw driver see in his mirrors? His passengers.


I am in Delhi!!!!!
Flew in with BA, arriving 0125 this morning. Car from the Jyoti Mahal hotel met me. Great room, HOT WATER! Bliss...
One small problem - the flight attendant dropped my computer bag. The screen on my camera is broken - fun given that I am writing for BA in-flight magazine! So off now to the BA office...
But my telephone functions and I know how to use it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Today is both my eldest son's and my youngest son's birthday. There is a twenty-five year difference in age. I love them totally and they both speak to me so I am an exceptionally fortunate dad.
I am also a fortunate writer. The Times travel editor asked for a piece on why and how I travel. The piece will be in The Times for November 21.


The Resident ex-Teenager has three friends staying. They were out in Worcester last night. Nearly noon and they should surface soon - meanwhile I have the radio turned low.
Jed asked whether I would mind collecting them from the car park at 3.45 am.
The piece I have in the latest Lonely Planet anthology, BEST OF LONELY PLANET TRAVEL WRITING, ends on this exact topic - that it is an honour to be asked, part and parcel of the joy in being a Dad.
As was telephoning my daughter on her wedding anniversary the day before yesterday. I am a very very very lucky and privileged old man.

Monday, November 09, 2009


My writing of William Dalrymple's books may lead readers to question my preparations for India. Why do I read a Brit - a Catholic Brit educated at a Benedictine boarding school. I attended the same school and recognised in Dalrymple's writing a similar views of history - though mine were of Hispanic America.
And my recent reading has been broader. Pavan K. Varma strikes me as a Must while Mark Tully's years as the BBC's India expert has led, for me, to irritating presumption of all knowing infallibility.


I wrote a piece a while back for a Lonely Planet anthology, FLIGHTLESS.
Now Lonely Planet has included the piece in a new anthology, BEST OF LONELY PLANET TRAVEL WRITING.
I am in there with some of those I believe truly great. One is William Dalrymple. In preparation for my journey through India, I have read, enjoyed and learned from four of Dalrymple's books:

FROM THE HOLY MOUNTAIN is equally brilliant,


Tomorrow is Jed's twentieth birthday. Goodbye to the Resident Teenager - though Jed has always been mature for his age. He gave a party Friday night. Bernadette and I stayed the night at my brother's. We came home yesterday afternoon. The house was immaculate.


Sending a new m/s or article to an editor is similar to presenting an exam paper for marking. Believeing or feeling this makes me a septuagenarian schoolboy and both Bernadette and the Resident teenager are irritated by my lack of confidence. I argue that I am gaining confidence - ok, so a little late in life. Writing articles for the first time in fifty years helps. Send the m/s of a book to your agent and you wait months. Send a piece to a broadsheet editor and you get an immediate response. Bliss...


Seventy-six and off to rediscover India, fantastic (even if I am nervous).
So why are the recent posts depressing?
Mostly because the past months has been waiting for answers to Emails and waiting for telephone calls. Having no control over one's life makes one (me) feel helpless, powerless. Which is depressing!
Are writers manic depressives by nature or does being a writer lead to manic depression?
Only fellow writers should reply.


I haven't described last month's car crash. I had been feeling dopey for two days and was booked to drive a neighbour's granddaughter to the train station in Cheltenham and collect our resident teenager. Dopey as in falling backward into the bath and not making too much sense - only in the mornings, Afternoons I was fine. Nights I wasn't sleeping. To continue the saga: having collected the granddaughter and luggage, I reversed the car into the neighbour's wood-frame house. The car was OK. The front of the house has had to be rebuilt - so much for wood-frame construction!
The resident teenager claimed I drove through two red lights on the way home.
Bernadette put me to bed.
It was only then that we discovered that the pharmacist at the clinic had accidentally added a very strong sleeping pill to my monthly sack of cardiac medication. The sleeping pills were the same size as a blood pressure pill I take in the mornings!


The Indian journey is fact. I fly out from Heathrow to Delhi on December 7.
How do I feel?
Yes, and a little scared.
Am I recovered from the accident in Tierra del Fuego - not the physical damage but the fear of getting run down.
Will Indian traffic be totally terrifying?


Weird...I sought commisions from various editors before traveling the Americas. None of them gave me the time of day, I presume, because the odds were against a septuagenarian surviving such a ride. I'm a couple of years older now. The odds are worse. Yet I turned down an offer from the Guardian and have been signed for both High Life and MCN. MCN want a fortnightly video plus a couple of articles...


I will be covering my journey through India in the British Airways in-flight magazine, High Life. and writing a monthly diary for the High Life web site.


The Victoria and Albert museum in London is hosting an exhibition of the Maharajas' treasures. The Taj Hotel Group are co sponsors of the exhibition and kindly invited me to a reception at the museum. I have been reading history for the past months. The history cast a thick veil over the exhibits, often of blood, and made the exhibits difficult to see simply as works of art.


I was greeted with enthusiasm in my first approach to ROYAL ENFIELD. The use of a bike for my tour of India seemed assured. I warned Enfield in my Presentation that I wouldn't lie. Now I am back to Honda. Why? Perhaps there is a question of reliability? And, to be truthful, I was unhappy at changing steeds. My Brazilian built Honda 125 carried me 40,000 miles through the Americas without mechanical failure or problem. We reached an altitude of 4,700 meters, not fast, but without a splutter. I expect the same reliability from an Indian built Honda. All that I would change is the seat...


Where have I been? Malvern Spa most days attempting to get fit for India. Also traipsing to London, visiting and having family visit. And wondering whether the India trip is fantasy or reality...and wondering whether I can cope if it does happen. And feeling fat and ugly and old old old...

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Life is exciting. Firstly I am represented by a new literary agent, Piers Russell-Cobb and a new agent for Foreign Rights, Camilla Ferrier. I've had meetings with the Marketing Manager for the Taj Group and with the Royal Enfield representative for Europe.
Last week I was in London and down to Kent to meet with Toby Brocklehurst.
Tomorrow I drive north to talk with members of the Wakefield Branch of the Classic Bike Club.
Tuesday I'll be at MCN in Peterborough.
Friday to London again for a meeting with Dan Foley of DF Entertainment.
And I've had my hair cut...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Planning for this winter's exploration of India progresses. MCN will follow the journey both in print and in a fortnightly video. The Guardian want one three-page spread on completion similar to the coverage of the Americas journey. I hope for more than the single broadsheet thtee-page coverage on completion on offer at the Guardian so will try elsewhere - Telegraph, FT (and the Mail).

Friday, September 11, 2009


In the previous Blog I refer to the US invasion of Panama - Operation Just Cause.
Those interested can find the entries made during my travels in Archives for 2006-07-08 and 2006-07-16
My experience of Hispanic America was quite wide.
I reported what people said.
That much of what was said was critical of the US is hurtful to many US citizens.
As is criticism of Britain hurtful, however justified, to this Old Brit Blimp.
I have listened to an immense amount of anti-British criticism!
I may well listen to much more while traveling through India this winter.
I will strive to report truthfully.


I am sad that you should think me anti-US. There are many facets of the US that I admire and of which I am envious, the Supreme Court being an example and one of the world's great institutions. However US foreign policy, particularly as regard Hispanic America, has been ill-informed and often disastrous both for the peoples and for the US.
In general, when traveling, I report the beliefs of the people - what they tell me. I try not to inject my own opinions. This is difficult in countries I know well - such as Guatemala. However of Panama I knew almost nothing prior to my recent journeys, certainly almost nothing of the US invasion. Thus I was surprised at finding it so prominent in Panamanian conversation. In reporting these conversations I wrote that I had no idea of the truth. I do know what many Panamanians believe to be the truth.
Finally it is important to differentiate between attitudes to the people of the US who are generally popular and with US Government policy which is usually unpopular. No one doubts the kindness and generosity of the average US citizen - I, least of all. My adopted daughter is a US citizen by birth and by residence. I visit her often and through her have a wide and close and treasured friendship with an extended family.
Ride safe,


Mr. Gandolfi: I enjoyed your book, which I read promptly after you so promptly sent it.
You are truly an inspiration to those of us who are slightly "long-in-the-tooth," but still dreaming of unknown horizons and unrealized adventures. But I would have enjoyed much more if not for your formulaic anti-USism..... which intrudes on nearly every page. Your wife was right to worry about you writing a polemic. To blame us for all the world's ills is intellectually anemic, and unworthy of the extreme talents you possess. I had to say that, of course.... makes me sick at heart to know you believe that way. Other than that, thank you for your book and for your inspiration....

Saturday, September 05, 2009


What bike for India? I visited the British importer of Royal Enfield Bullets yesterday, Watsonian-Squire. Could I handle a Bullet? Was it too heavy? I wheeled it round the parking lot, backwards and forwards, lifted it onto its stand - no problem. And that big broad seat mounted on coil springs, Bliss!

Saturday, August 29, 2009


I have started a new BLOG to record my transformation from fat old man to silver fox. To see, hit the title

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Writing tends to be a lonely business. Close on a year usually passes between completing the manuscript and the book going on sale. Painters show their work and watch people's reaction. Musicians enjoy a live audience. The chance of a writer seeing a reader engrossed in his work is remote. Receiving a letter from a reader is immensely rewarding. The letter helps recharge the writer's battery. So my gratitude to MUPPIX who posted on Tuesday's BLOG. Thank you, MUPPIX, and my gratitude also to those other readers who have taken the time to write me...


Telegraph readers and Private Eye mock the Guardian for its spelling errors. Dyslexic, I am no judge of spelling. However I can spell my own name - thus my irritation at finding in the Guardian's The Full British supplement today a double spread on Herefordshire under the byline, Simon Gandalfi.
Ah, well...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Good day - though I am in a state of collapse. Bernadette has ordered me to take it easy for a couple of days. Meanwhile anyone wanting a signed copy of the book recording my septuagenarian ride south from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, OLD MAN ON A BIKE (HarperCollins), can go to my web site by hitting the above title.
You may not need the read - I definitely need readers to help fund this winter's ride through India. For those who don't read books - remember that books are the perfect present - easy to wrap, cheap to post and everyone complains that books are expensive. £8.99 as an expensive gift - I told you, perfect!

Friday, August 14, 2009


remnants of open air stage

My take on the Big Chill is in this Saturday's Guardian. I am dyslexic and write slowly. Hence I have not worked on this diary while writing the Guardian copy. I am about to drive to Gloucester to collect a young Australian law student who is visiting her grandmother here in Colwall. This done, I will get to work bringing both this Blog and the BIGCHILLDIARY up to date. Meanwhile here is a pic taken yesterday - good-bye Open Air stage...

Thursday, August 13, 2009


DONE THAT! And have finished the piece for the Guardian for this Saturday's Travel Section. All four sons were here for the Chill, wives, babies, girlfriends, friends - total bliss seeing them together on the lawn at the cottage for brunch before heading back for another day of music and weird happenings.
My only sadness - that Anya and Michael weren't here with Shane...

Saturday, August 08, 2009


Thank you all for reading my stuff...and to those who comment. It helps. I have been busy these last two weeks with the Big Chill festival. I am due to produce 1500 words on the festival for the Guardian by Wednesday morning. Readers can check progress at my BIGCHILLDIARY Blog by hitting the KIND READERS heading above. Cheers...

Friday, July 31, 2009


Dear Readers - or what ever...
You may hate what I write on this BLOG, find it moderately interesting, totally boring, unpleasantly arrogant, presumptuous, bigoted, ill-informed, pretentious. Your comments would enlighten me. No bad thing...

Thursday, July 30, 2009


My apologies to any Telegraph or News of the World readers I deceived into buying the Guardian last Saturday. I was in error earlier. The piece on Herefordshire for the Travel section comes out at the end of August...


My wife accuses me of ranting. I do rant. Ranting goes with being a Fat Old Blimp. - probably because we know that we are powerless to change the evils and injustices we witness or counter the multitude of stupidities born of a failure to study even recent history.


I come of a generation with military service. We have fierce feelings of loyalty to those serving today. The Regiment in which I served as a moderately incompetent junior officer, the 16th/5th Lancers, is now amalgamated with the 17th/21st. Though leaving the army more than fifty years ago, I take very personally the casualties the Regiment suffers.
This vile Government orders young men, many of them in their late teens, into mortal combat. Some are killed. More suffer appalling wounds. Meanwhile the Ministry of Defense takes Court action in an attempt to curtail disability payments.
I listened today in enraged disgust to the weasel excuses for this Court action offered by the new Minister, Mr. Ainsworth, in an interview on Radio 4. New Minister? Of course. Frequently changing Ministers stops the present Minister being held responsible for even recent errors. It was all a previous Minister's fault. Or a previous Minister's...
In this case, the previous Minister was Mr. Hutton. Mr. Hutton is favoured by many in his Party to replace the present Prime Minister. Mr Hutton was Secretary of Defense for a mere six months before accepting promotion to the Ministry of Health. A man of honour would have refused to leave his post until those he had ordered into battle had completed the task this Government set them. Honour? Amongst a Governing Party of which less than a dozen Members of Parliament bothered to attend either of the last two Parliamentary Defense debates? Presumably they were too busy seeking excuses for fiddling their expense accounts.
Are the Tories any better?
Probably not - though David Davies seems to be a man of honour.
Well, well, well - got that off my chest. Do I feel better? A little...


I should be concentrating on the build-up to the BIG CHILL, finishing an article on Herefordshire for the Guardian, praying for good weather so that I can mow the lawn before it grows into a hay field, reading more books on India, writing the final two chapters of a new novel and, most imperatively, attempting to converse with the Resident Teenager who has been in full grunt mode for the past three days. Am I to blame? Probably. Presuming my guilt, yet not knowing of what (in this case) I am guilty has kept me awake most of the past two nights.
This morning my anxieties have been replaced by fury. Why? Read the next entry.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


The Guardian is running pull-out this Saturday on holidaying in England. I have a long piece on Herefordshire. Readers can check the Guardian's web site. Meanwhile readers of this Blog can follow my doing on my BIG CHILL DIARY Blog by hitting the GUARDIAN title.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Blogs become confusing. I should have written the two Americas journeys as separate Blogs with a third Blog for Home. Otherwise readers wanting to check a place or a How to must search though the entire archive. Irritating. I know. I have to do it when writing articles or what ever. So this new Blog, BIG CHILL DIARY, is the product of a learning experience. The Blog will cover the Big Chill Festival and its build up at Eastnor Castle. I am covering the Big Chill for the Guardian newspaper and making a presentation. Weird - I thought festivals were for the hip young - and for those who enjoy mud. However the Big Chill is different. Leonard Cohen headlined last year.

Thursday, July 02, 2009


My teeppee has a central post. I can haul myself out of bed and stand upright whilst pulling on my trousers. Not for me the bum-shuffling necessary in the sort of tent that the teenager considers cool. You know? Dragging you pants on (or off) while seated on a cold damp groundsheet?


I camped at the Horizons Unlimited Spring meet at Ripley, Derbyshire.
Or had the Weermacht landed? A meadow of gleaming BMWs!!!
Grant and Susan Johnson founded Horizons Unlimited on the Web as a biker community for travelers. The Spring meet ran for four days with a dozen or more bikers giving talks on their travels. The fun is in meeting people in the flesh whom you have communicated with over the years. I heard from bikers recently in Tierra del Fuego that the sainted Graciela (she who rescued me after my accident) has opened a Bar and reopened the Hotel Argentino. Travelers passing thru Rio Grande please stop by with messages from me of adoration. Graciela will show you my wheelchair...



I have been camping at a biker meet and will do so at the BIG CHILL festival.
My life is a rearguard action against teenager supremacy.
Anti-cool is my only weapon - thus I bought a silver teeppee and two zebra-striped camp chairs that no teenager would be seen dead in - particularly not a teenage supreme sports suicide kid camping out at a supreme sports championship (at which all gear gets trashed). So my gear is safe. As is my pink pen...


Anna has a new cousin - and I have a second granddaughter, Emily, daughter of Sarah and my eldest son, Antony.
Wow! Woopee! Cheers!


I haven't written in a while. My head has been too full of anxieties personal to my family: tears shed for a new-born granddaughter in intensive care, pain for the parents, helplessness in the face of their fears, sense of utter failure in not possessing a magic wand - such is fatherhood.
Tiny Anna is home now. She is utterly beautiful, gurgles softly, joyously, and is gaining weight.
And I ask myself why am I so emotionally pathetic when my son and his wife are so strong...

Thursday, May 28, 2009


I find myself at ease with William Dalrymple's writings. I telephoned my brother yesterday to ask what he knew of Dalrymple – was he a Catholic?
Yes, educated at Ampleforth, the Benedictine boarding school which both my brother and I attended.
The persecution of Catholics in Scotland and England began under Henry V111 in 1535 with the Act of Supremacy and continued through to the Emancipation Act of 1829. Laws that forbade Catholics from Government service and from the Armed Forces and from the practice of Law made us onlookers to the conduct of our nation. Excluded from responsibility, our understanding of history is less partisan.


India is next on the itinerary. I hope to fly to Mumbai in October. Meanwhile, I have returned William Dalrymple's THE AGE OF KALI to the bookshelves and am reading his brilliant depiction of 19th Century Delhi and its destruction, THE LAST MUGHAL. Dalrymple's WHITE MUGHALS and THE CITY OF DJINNS await my attention in company with Mark Tully's INDIA IN SLOW MOTION.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


A factual account of Anglo-Danish espionage during World War 11 contained inaccuracies regarding my stepfather, Colonel C E C Rabagliati. The writer, Mark Ryan, has corrected those inaccuracies in the second edition. The book is a good and exciting read. Find it on Amazon: THE HORNET'S NEST (HarperCollins UK) - or in your local library.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Matt Holland organizes the Swindon Festival. He is a neat man of trim figure and clipped beard. Amongst his attributes is a wonderfully childlike enthusiasm. This enthusiasm is shared by Matt's brother, Robin.
Robin accompanied me to my presentation. Many in the audience were members of the Vintage Motorcycle Club. I am a great fan of the VMCC. Members make a mature audience (mature being how I might perceive myself were I to wear rose-tinted spectacles) and are sufficiently good-mannered to hide their boredom/show appreciation.
I will be the guest of another branch of the VMCC in Northampton on Monday, May 18.

Monday, May 04, 2009


I have been accused of Blimpish misuse of language. You know - all those traps for the unwary (though I remain puzzled as to why it is impolite to refer to a lady as Chairman rather than Chair)?
My present transgression of political correctness involves Hamish. True, Hamish is a dog. However calling him a Porn Dog rather than a Porn Star is belittling of the canine species. In recompense for my error, Bernadette has presented him with a new collar and lead.


A cold wind and rain baptises the Bank Holiday. Saturday's Guardian Travel section carried Katrina Larkin's and my tour of Herefordshire together with a short video. Sun bathed the cricket fields yesterday. Devon lost to Herefordshire on the upper field. Colwall was eliminated from the Village Knockout Competition on the lower. And Colwall Cricket Club suffered a great loss. Peter Pedlingham died while watching the Village Knockout. Colwall Cricket Club was a precious part of Peter's life. He was one of those rare and admirable men on whose great generosity of time and effort and dedication the continuing existence of village clubs depend. His parting will be of particular and daily loss to those of us who live on the boundaries of the Club's fields. He was so essential a part of nature's yearly cycle. He appeared at the ground with the first Spring buds, tirelessly mowing, raking, pruning – only to cease with the last of the Autumn leaves.
My own sense of loss is very selfish: I shall miss never again carrying his mug of tea out to the field of an evening (strong, two sugars). I shall miss persuading him to cease work for a moment, to sit with Derek Brimmel, Graham Careless and I on a bench by the ceder tree to admire the sunset. With his parting, there will be an emptiness there as we sip our tea and look across the cricket field – as if one of the oak trees had been felled.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I have spent two glorious Spring days showing Katrina Larkin, founder of The Big Chill, my beloved Herefordshire. No company could be better...
Places we visited:
Hampton Court, Leominster
Coddington Vineyard
Padling down the Wye from Mordiford to Hoarwithy
How Caple Court
James Marsden's cider and perry orchard at Gregg's Pit farm
Check this coming Saturday's Guardian travel section (May 2nd) for a full account.

Monday, April 27, 2009


Katrina Larkin, founder of THE BIG CHILL festival, was with us for two days. I was showing Katrina my beautiful Herefordshire for a Guardian Travel article. Being with Katrina was a great blessing at a time of emotional pain. We enjoyed perfect weather and Herefordshire glowed in glorious Spring colours.


I have been in terror the past days. My daughter-in-law, Julia, gave birth to my first granddaughter (the first Gandolfi girl in three generations). Rather than celebration, it has been a time of terror with Anna in intensive care. Poor tiny mite...
Thank God, she is now out of immediate danger.

Friday, April 17, 2009


I have never owned a bike in the UK. Bikes are for warm weather - preferably dry. England's summer makes a good winter. As a summer, it fails.
Not having a bike, I have never bothered with a UK bike license. Times have changed. Our youngest son, Jed, returns soon from his winter job in the French Alps. He will want to use my car. Time to buy a bike so I need to get legal. The Driving Standards Authority (DSA) is introducing a new, more difficult module to the test on April 27. Most training companies are against the module as too costly and dangerous. The biggest UK driver training company, BSM, is pulling out of the biker market. The DSA have arranged for me to ride the module today. If an old man of 76 can pass, where's the problem?
Steve from ACER Motorcycle Training brings a Honda 125 CG to the test area in Gloucester for me to ride. The Press Officer from the DSA is there. Motorcycle News (MCN) has sent a photographer. The tester is the DSA's instructor of testers.
I practice the module a few times. I'm ready. The tester is ready.
Steve asks if I'm confident of the two speed sections. Yes...
Steve's assistant, Paul, asks if I'm OK for the two speed sections. Yes...
I wish they would stop asking. Asking makes me nervous.
And I wish the track wasn't wet.
I ride the module twice for the tester: first a slalom, double figure of 8, 20 meters at walking speed and U turn. Last come the two speed sections, swerve and emergency stop. I hit the two speed gates at 54 kph for the emergency stop and 52 for the swerve. 50 is the pass speed.
The photographer asks me to ride the test a few more times.
I thank Steve and Paul from ACER and the tester from the DSA and the press officer from the DSA and the photographer from MCN - and I give cards to a few bikers watching the test. Then I drive home. Bernadette has taken Josh and Jen to the Malvern Spa. I make myself a mug of tea and collapse on the sofa. Reading demands too much energy and there is nothing of interest on TV. Hamish settles across my lap...


Our eldest son, Josh, and his girlfriend, Jen, have been visiting. Jen is brave to visit. It must be scary. All those How-do-you-dos with strangers. How awful will they be? You know? The boyfriend's folks? Are they really weird? And what do they expect? Commitment to a relationship? Planning for a fifty year future? Or, worse - conversation?
We are weird. Maybe not weird weird - but definitely unusual.
As for our cottage, romantic from the outside, great as a picture postcard. Bernadette and I love to live here. Through other eyes? Primitive, crumbling, a 300-year-old wreck...
And Hamish doesn't help. He is over enthusiastic as a greeter, jumps up at people, scrabbles at them with wet muddy paws.


I am mystified by the intimate workings of the internet and what gets listed on Google and why. The Blog entry, USELESS BORDER TERRIER, rang a Google bell. I trolled searches to the Blog and discovered Hamish as third-from-top entry in a sex search! Our eldest son, Josh, has been staying a couple of days. He has bathed and brushed Hamish as befits a porn star. Next step? Hollywood...

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Hi to my readers and a very joyous Easter/Passover to you all.


Yesterday we drove our Dutch friends to Hampton Court. On the banks of the Lugg river near Leominster, Hampton Court is a lovely Tudor castellated manor house parts of which date back to the early 15th century. We continued to Ross on Wye where the Dutch canoed on the river for a couple of hours while Bernadette and I read the Sunday papers in the gardens of the White Lion pub. We drove home on country lanes that wind through the Herefordshire hills - glorious sunny weather and the Dutch playing with buying a holiday home.


Thursday, April 09, 2009


Katrina Larkin is a co-founder of the Big Chill music festival. I will be covering the festival for the Guardian. Katrina will write a piece prior to the festival on my Herefordshire, the Herefordshire that I dream of when away traveling. I spent today visiting favorite sites for Katrina's article. Great having our Dutch friends here and celebrating both Easter and Passover week. I refer to the Dutch as our friends - not true. They are our family. Waking this morning, I lay in bed and listened joyfully to their voices rising from the kitchen.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


I have a great life: a wife, four sons and a daughter, all of whom I adore and all of whom talk to me. My two elder sons and my daughter have wonderful lovable partners. I have four glorious grandsons. A first granddaughter is due imminently and a second next month. We live in a three-hundred year old cottage (slum or cute, depending on your expectations) with beautiful views across the Herefordshire countryside. We have kind and enjoyable friends on every continent. I am in good health, get to travel and write.
Don't give me that crap, old man.
Get it together or Bernadette will kick you up the backside...


Our Border terrier, Hamish, is young and feisty. He escaped yesterday (the postman had left the gate open). Frenzied barking led me to a house down the lane. Hamish had discovered a large flop-eared black and white rabbit in a cage on the front lawn. A tough Chav-type rabbit, safe in its cage, would have stuck its tongue out at Hamish. This rabbit was in shock. I dragged Hamish home and stuck his nose in one of the many moles hills desecrating our lawns. Hamish's answer: he doesn't do moles. He does sex with almost anything (including furniture), he does sleep, he does food and he does friendship with all and sundry (including burglars if any came our way). All in all, a totaly useless animal...
Though very handsome.


The image I project is of a fat, moderately jolly old buffer. In fact I suffer from manic depression. Traveling produces the manic mode. The past few weeks I have been in depression. One of the side affects is an inability to write letters. This must strike readers as the most inadequate excuse for bad manners. However, from those with whom I should have communicated, I beg forgiveness...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


I have been practicing for the new DSA bike test over the past two weeks. The test includes riding through a speed gate at 50 kph and immediately swerving before pulling up in a box. I ride a Honda 125 loaned by BRANSONS MOTORCYCLES, the Gloucester Honda Agent. The test area is short and a Honda 125 isn't the speediest accelerator. It takes a while to get the line and acceleration right. Steve of Acer Motorcycle Training spent ten years track racing. He has practiced on the new course over the past two months and reached 58 kph through the gate on the Honda CG. He is a good teacher and I finally made 51 kph after ten practice runs.


I wrote that I must get off politics and back to cooking. Our eldest son, Josh, visits next Tuesday for two nights with his girlfriend, Jen. Josh called to say Hi and ask what I was preparing for Tuesday evening. We haven't met Jen. Josh says she isn't a vegetarian but wouldn't order a steak at a restaurant. Sea food?
Great - I will prepare my favorite dish, Tom Yam. I use mussels as well as prawns and prepare a hot sauce to serve on the side.
chilies, garlic & shallots
fish sauce and shrimp paste
soft brown sugar

Monday, April 06, 2009


I have been enraged for the past few days by morally corrupt British politicians. I need to get back into the kitchen. We have a Dutch family, dear friends, arriving Wednesday for Easter/Passover - a fine time to plan a fine meal. I will drop by the butcher in Malvern Wells tomorrow. He gets his beef from the Scottish Highlands. Skirt is the perfect cut for the barbecue. Essential that I remember not to overdo the chili.


Geoff Hoon was Minister of Defense when Britain joined the United States' invasion of Afghanistan. Geoff Hoon was Minister of Defense for three and a half years. He occupied a luxury apartment free of rent in Admiralty House. He rented out his own London house and charged the British tax payer for the upkeep of his home in his Nottinghamshire Constituency. Meanwhile the families of British soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan were condemned to substandard accommodation. Their accommodation was Geoff Hoon's responsibility. An honorable man would resign in shame. Honor is foreign to Mister Hoon.
Hoon's father was a railwayman. By profession, Hoon is a barrister. I recall a saying from my youth: Go screw the working class, I've got the foreman's job at last.
Bravo, Mister Hoon...


I spent much of my childhood in the Scottish Borders. I remember reading Buchan and Kipling and imagining myself a British officer disguised as a Pathan tribesman, the Cheviot Hills as the Hindu Kush. My elder brother and I rode most day - my brother, a turbaned Chieftain. Tsarist Russia was the enemy. So much for fantasy...
Forty years later I followed moujahidin into Afghanistan. I wore a khaki turban and khaki pyjamas and carried a World War One rifle (all Afghans carry weapons). Soviet Russia was the enemy.
A narrow footpath climbed barren mountains parallel to the Khyber Pass. The path petered out and we scrambled up slides of granite scree and clawed our way across rock. We reached the head of the pass at nearly 3,000 meters, descended into a valley and walked until evening when we dined on chapatis that were 80% sand. Full moon and we stumbled all night up a dry river bed. Dawn and we slept an hour in a ruined farm house - no chapatis. Then we walked all day and were finally through the Russians' exclusion zone. For those two days the leader of our troop encouraged me with threats of Russian helicopter gunships. I prayed for a Russian gunship. One bomb. Peace...
A different peace came three days later.
We had shivered through the night on an open mountain side. The sun rose. The clarity of vision in the mountain air verged on the hallucinatory. We followed a stream up a narrow valley. Grass grew emerald on the banks and I recall wild flowers and a pair of blue kingfishers and an abundance of pale yellow butterflies. An old man had presented me with a horse the previous day and I rode to the rear of our troop. One by one, the moujahidin passed me their weapons until I resembled a mobile game of pick-up-sticks. I had no idea of our destination nor of our troop's intention. For the first time in years I was freed from any possibility of taking a decision and rode in an almost trance-like state of peace. Yet this was war. Two thirds of the population had fled their country, every village lay in ruins, livestock had been stolen or killed by bullet or landmine, food was famine short. So, though happy, I was also shamed by my happiness.
Two mulberry trees in fruit shaded the stream at the head of the valley. We rolled rocks to form a dam and one of the younger moujahidin climbed the trees and shook berries down into the chill water. We sat with our feet in the water below the pool, cooling them from the march and eating the mulberries and I recall the faces of the moujahidin - fierceness melted by the moment's content. I recall jokes and laughter and an intense companionship and trust one in the other and of trust in these harsh mountains that rose purple from the valley and barred Russians in their tanks and APCs. Now the tanks and APCs and gunships are American and British – and the heroes I traveled with are terrorists.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I have been watching the Defense Debate in the House of Commons. Present are a mere half-dozen Labour MPs. This is the Party of Government that has sent our soldiers into battle after battle, too often with insufficient, ineffectual or unserviceable equipment. What must a soldier think as he sees those empty benches? A soldier back from Afghanistan? A soldier crippled by bomb attack on a snatch Landrover? A soldier with recent memories of lost companions? Companions who might have been saved were there sufficient helicopters?
There writes the Old Blimp again, the ex-cavalry officer off his bike...Who cares?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Bernadette has been in agony for the past four days with an infected tooth. My brother and sister-in-law came to dinner last night - anniversary of my mother's death. Bernadette was brave in sitting through the meal before heading for bed on a cloud of painkillers.


A new journey begins with a drive to the Drivings Standards Association Test Pad at Gloucester. The Test Pad is a large tarred rectangle some 150 meters by 80. The Pad is patterned with different coloured cones and two speed gates. Steve of Acer Motorcycle Training will (maybe) coach me through the new SDA biker test that comes into effect on April 27. The SDA will test me in advance on April 2 so that I can describe what is entailed in an article for Motorcycle News.
The test is about control. It begins with the rider keeping pace with a pedestrian. Next comes a slalom and double 8. Then for the difficult bit - difficult for me. Ride the length of the pad and back, pass through a speed gate at 50 KPH and immediately swerve and come to a halt. I finally managed 40 KPH after six attempts. Speed never was my strong suit...

Monday, March 16, 2009


I love D J Kirkby. She wrote a more than generous review of OLD MAN ON A BIKE. Now she offers to exchange soup recipes: her Lotus Land for my Jerusalem artichoke.
Proper stock is the first essential - none of those vile powders or stock cubes made from God knows what. Mostly I use chicken stock - though I keep vegetable stock in the freezer for vegetarian guests. Chop and melt two shallots and two cloves of garlic in unsalted butter. Meanwhile peel and slice the Jerusalem artichokes and simmer the Jerusalem artichoke peelings in the stock for twenty minutes to concentrate the flavour, strain. Add the artichokes to the onion and garlic and cook gently for a few minutes before adding the stock. Simmer until the artichokes are soft. Blitz with a blender till smooth. Check the seasoning. Reheat before serving and stir in the creme fraiche.
Guests tend to eat a second serving so prepare plenty or whip their bowls away quickly.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


The USA has a Secretary of State. We Brits have a Foreign Secretary - same job, different title. The Foreign Secretary projects the public image of the nation. Like her or hate her, Hilary Clinton is impressive. I have been watching our Foreign Secretary on TV - David Milleband. He possesses the gravitas of a student at a Provincial University. No wonder the Russian Foreign Minister treated him with contempt.
Perhaps age has caught up with me....


Jerusalem artichoke soup is delicious. I used creme fraiche rather than cream, lighter and adds a gentle tang. Also proper chicken stock. Stock cubes are a negative.


Harper Collins bought OLD MAN ON A BIKE after the bankruptcy of The Friday Project. Harper Collins have lost their copy of our contract. They have asked me to sign a new contract. My agent, Paul Marsh, has asked for a return of the foreign rights with which Harper Collins have done nothing. Harper Collins won't cooperate. The original contract with Harper Collins included an advance against royalties. They have never paid this advance. They admitted that I was leagally due the advance - however if I insisted on being paid, they would publish OLD MAN ON A BIKE as a cheap paper back. Harper Collins is part of the Murdoch Empire....
Meanwhile I have been cooking Jerusalem artichoke soup and a smoked haddock risotto for Father Dominic of Blackmore and Upton Parishes.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


I have never taken a UK biker driving test. I have never ridden a bike in the UK. The weather has put me off. Our youngest son, Jed(19), claims that my car is his car. He has been working this winter at the Hotel Belles Piste in Araches la Frasse (Haute Savoye). Most days he snowboards from 10 am to 4 pm. He returns home at the end of April and will want my car to drive to mountain-board meets. Rather than argue ownership, I shall get a bike. A Honda 125, naturally. I am booked with the DSA to take the new test the first week in April. Monday I begin practicing. I am extremely nervous. Jed will mock the hell out of me if I fail.
So will Bernadette....
The photograph is of Jed out of his head. He calls it having fun. Mad...!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


I've been reading posts on Fodors Travel Forum warning of the dangers in traveling to Mexico - mostly US citizens scared by reports of kidnappings and narco wars.
Here is my post:

Aged 75, I rode my Honda 125 north through Mexico last year on my way back from Tierra del Fuego to New York. The route took me up the Pacific coast, east via Merida and Queretaro to the Sierra Gorda and north into Texas at Brownsville. I never felt in any danger.
Recently we have been watching the WIRE here in England on TV. Based on the evidence of this much acclaimed series,tourists should be warned against visiting the US, especially Philadelphia. Oh, and certain areas of Washington DC, Miami, Los Angeles etc etc etc. Random killings are common in all these cities, cops are corrupt, narco gangs rule the streets...
Or be sensible, travel, meet new people, encounter different cultures and enjoy yourselves. I am planning a ride round the Indian subcontinent for next winter and intend celebrating my 77th birthday in Nepal.


Saturday, February 28, 2009


A biker on Horizonsunlimited suggests that bikers have the advantage of always looking scruffy - thus less of a temptation to bandits. I think of myself as moderately elegant, good, well-polished Church shoes, gloves, clean shirt. You know - an English Gentleman of a certain age
Though I lose confidence in this image when sprawled in the dirt beside the bike...

Friday, February 20, 2009



B and I drove down to Warmley (near Bristol) yesterday evening for a VOYAGER CLUB biker evening at the Midland Spinner pub. Great group, very patient as I droned on for more than an hour. B says that I am improving as a speaker but need to cut the presentation by thirty minutes. Next outing is 8 pm on April 1 for the LEOMINSTER CLASSIC MC CLUB at the Bush Inn, Bush Bank, Canon Pyon. Hopefully B will agree to drive home so that I can indulge in a couple of pints!

Sunday, February 15, 2009


I celebrated my 76th birthday last week by cooking dinner for Bernadette and for my brother and sister-in-law and an old and dear friend, Sarah Duke/Richardet. Mussels in a coconut soup:
fresh chicken stock
lemon grass
kaffir lime leaves
red chilies
fresh coriander
Thai fish sauce
shitake mushrooms
coconut milk

Add a shrimp paste that I prepare in bulk and keep bottled in the fridge.
red chilies
shrimp paste
tamarind paste
Madeira sugar

Wonderful were my Argentine cousins visiting. Thinking of them, I chose a red Malbec from Mendoza, 2003.

No fat in the meal makes for easy washing up - no, we don't have a dish washer.



Our bankers have misbehaved. Our political leaders have been indolent, ignorant or complicit. We ordinary citizens must economize. I have plucked a brace of duck shot by a neighbor and roasted the carcases for soup. I will cook for Bernadette this evening a tagine: wild duck breast seasoned with coriander, cinnamon, cummin and black pepper and served with honeyed apricots on a bed of seasoned couscous and grilled aubergines.
Next week I will lie hidden in the shrubbery at my brother's and shoot rabbit off his lawns. Wild rabbit pie is good. A blanquette of wild rabbit and forest mushrooms seasoned with rosemary is delicious. Come Spring I must get the rod out and sort through the fly box. Building a smoke house would be a sound economy, smoked trout...and we need to buy a truck of old mushroom compost for the vegetable garden.
Meanwhile I am studying maps for a ride next winter.

Monday, February 09, 2009


I drove down with Bernadette to London yesterday,to the Ace Cafe, to give a presentation at a biker meet organized by Horizon Unlimited and sign copies of OLD MAN ON A BIKE. Snow threatened and I spoke to a dwindling crowd. I also spoke directly after a brilliant and humorous speaker - not good for my confidence! However it was great to catch up with friends and meet people whom I had only met previously on the Web and great for Bernadette to meet people who have been only names to her. Especial thanks go to Glynn Roberts for the hours he put in organizing the meet and to Andrew at www.Londonbikers for dropping by.
We hit heavy snow on the way back to Herefordshire. We were on four wheels. Glynn was heading further north on his bike. Good to hear to day from him this morning that he got home safe.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

My thanks to Joe Berk:
Readers seeking a US review of OLD MAN ON A BIKE can hit the button

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Brit publishing contracts do not include the USA in the English speaking world. OLD MAN ON A BIKE is available on every Amazon other than - Dutch, French, German, Spanish, various Scandinavian varieties and all those countries that were or are part of the British Commonwealth
Readers in the US can buy the book on - Canadian Amazon. sells the book for Ca$17.46. It also lists a bookstore in New Jersey that offers the book at US$11

Monday, January 19, 2009


Hitting this link takes readers to an Indian biker site. Members have been commenting with kindness on my Hispanic American journey. I drove a VW jeep in the early sixties from London to India and down to Rameswaram. I haven't been back for 45 years. Yet I remain fascinated by the country: the people, music, architecture...And the delicious food! Those kind messages from India's bikers prod me into considering a ride this winter, exchange the greyness of winter England for Indian sunshine - and a multitude of spiced prawns. Go for it, Old Man, go for it....

Friday, January 16, 2009


For those interested, here is the piece published by The Guardian newspaper. The Title and subtitle are theirs:


Flash wheels and support vehicles are for wimps, as 73-year-old Simon Gandolfi proves when he picks up a 'pizza delivery bike' in Mexico and heads down south

Why would a reasonably sane man in his mid seventies ride the length of Hispanic America on a small motorcycle - a man who is overweight, suffered two minor heart attacks, has a bad back and survives on a small pension? Age has much to do with it. My wife is younger by almost thirty years. I suspect that our late-teenage sons find me an embarrassment. I am mistaken for their granddad - or an old tramp. And my tales of past travel bore them.
So an attempt to prove to myself and to my family that I can hack it? And to others of my age that solo travel remains possible and an enlivening experience.
I chose a Honda 125 for the journey, the original pizza delivery bike. I could buy it new in Mexico for aproximately £1200. Built in Brazil, spares are available throughout Hispanic America; it cruises 120 miles to the gallon; my legs have sufficient strength to hold it upright and I can lift it after a fall. Nor did I desire a big bike. Big bikes create a wealth barrier and colour people's perception of who you are. I was traveling for the people...
Finance and time governed my preparations. I bought a thick jumper and a pair of strong Church's walking shoes in a Hereford charity shop, packed thermals and a six month supply of heart medication. Insurance? For a biker in his seventies? I don't think so!
A cheap ticket with AerLingus took me to Boston followed by Amtrak south. I have treated the United States on past visits as wide-spread islands: New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas. What land lay between? Mostly flat was the answer, innumerable small towns of identical clapboard houses, rust-spotted gas guzzlers and monster pickups in the yard. I remarked to a fellow passenger on the United States flag flying outside almost every house.
“The poor live close by the railway track. Their kids are in the Military.”
Arkansas was the surprise. I had imagined dirt farms from Grapes of Wrath.
Reality was green hills and magnificent trees.
Finally Dallas and the home of an old friend, a true Texan. He and three fellow Good Ol' Boys planned a weekend on monster bikes. I followed in a Hummer as baggage man.
Galileo claimed the World was round; he had never cruised the Texas Panhandle. The road runs flat and straight, not a house, no animals, not even a tree. The boys on the bikes rode in a bunch. Back home we would fill the road. In the Panhandle we were minute pieces in a board game. The sun sparkling on helmets was an electronic ray. Reach the end of the board and we fall off...
I intended traveling by express coach south from Dallas to Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico, 1200 kilometers, 36 hours, US$115. The Good Ol' Boys thought me mad. A bus driven by a Mexican – tantamount to suicide. And riding a tiny bike through countries plagued by banditry! Plus crooked cops and corrupt border officials...
A new bike awaited me at the Honda agency in Veracruz. I was confronted by the first official when registering the bike. Proof of residence was obligatory. A utilities bill was sufficient. The registrar produced his own electricity bill and called me Grandfather. Keep to the main roads. Elsewhere there are bandits...
I took the bike for a preliminary outing to Old Veracruz and the ruins of Hernando Cortes' first house. From here Cortes set out to conquer Mexico. Aztec armies were a doddle when compared with traffic on the urban freeway. This was my first ride in forty years. Five kilometers and my thumb and thigh muscles cramped. The project was ridiculous. Time to admit defeat. Return home, tail between my legs. Face the mockery of friends and neighbours...
I was saved by meditation. Om never did it for me – not even in the mystic 60s. At a riverside restaurant in Old Veracruz, I meditated on a dish of perfectly prepared prawns with chili - camerones el diablo. I breathed the familiar thick, over-ripe tropical scent of garlic and onion, fried fish, fruit, rotting leaves and rich damp earth. A boat chugged up-river, birds sung, children chased each other, a fun trio played Mexican weep music. Bliss...
I was fortunate in Veracruz to meet a kindly Federal police officer with extensive knowledge of the roads. He suggested a suitable route for an elderly novice: the first day south along the coast to San Andres Tuxlas, straight road, gentle gradients; a second day of low hills followed by a stretch of highway to Tuxtepec; third day over the Sierra on Route 175 and my first mountain pass, 60 meters above sea level to 3200. Call me, he said, call me when you reach Oaxaca.
I stopped three times on the climb to add clothing. Hairpin followed hairpin, rain forest gave way to pine. Could the bike cope? Could I cope? Was the knife pain in my chest cardialgic, muscular or imagination?
My legs trembled as I dismounted at a mud brick cafe at the head of the pass. The woman owner set a chair in the sun, poured me a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and shouted to her daughter to check the hen house for eggs. An old bus disgorged companionable faces. Where was I going? All the way south, I said - and, for the first time believed that I might succeed.
Oaxaca is 16th and 17th century Hispanic Colonial glory in green quarry stone, luminescent after rainfalls. The Jesuit temple is austere beauty. I discovered companionship in a side chapel: the familiar names of our English Jesuits engraved amongst the role of martyrs: Owen, Oldcorne, Ashley, Campion, Arrowsmith...
And I reported to the Veracruz Federale that I had arrived safely.
I thought you would. Call me from Ushuaia.
I recall a perfect dawn on Mexico's Pacific coast. From Tehuantepec an excellent highway unwound west through hills speckled with white blossom of frangipani and splashed with creepers of deep rose and brilliant blue. Rain left a sharp clean taste to the air. I glimpsed, between the hills, sea and white surf curling on golden sand; vultures and buzzards floated overhead. I rode at ease amongst memories of my Bultaco trail bike in the Ibiza of the 60s.
Indulging in memories is dangerous. My Guatemalan friend, Eugenio, owns a Maya hill tower overlooking the Rio Dulce. “The track's bad,” he warned. “I'll run you up later in the pickup.” As if I was an old man in need of help!
Proud in my Ibiza memories, I kicked the Honda alive. Minutes later I lay beneath the bike, my right leg frying on the exhaust pipe. The burns became a battle ground between modern pharma and ancient brujaria, antibiotics versus jungle poultices,
Falls are unavoidable. My second came on Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula, a steep gravel road. Diners gathered round as a doctor scrubbed and sewed my right hand at a table in a village restaurant. The doctor's wife sat beside me. En route to a party, the wife wore a minimal mini-skirt. Look down, I was confronted by her thighs - dangerous. Nor did I enjoy watching the doctor at his work. So I sat with my eyes shut and concentrated on the kitchen scents of garlic and grilled snapper.
Two days rest in a cabin behind the general store in San Francisco Coyote and I was off again, up over the mountain spine, Pacific Coast to the Caribbean - and a third tumble, this time on a United Fruit Company railway bridge a few miles into Panama. The bridge is a hundred meters long. Planks either side of the rails form the roadway. The planks were slippery and uneven. Some were missing. Much of the safety rail had been torn away. I panicked and deliberately tipped the bike inward between the rails. Truckers rescued me and delivered me and the Honda to the next town, Almirante. Only three mini-catastrophes in 26000 kilometers, not too incompetent...
The Chief of Customs at the Honduran border was the only official to hold me up. He insisted I watch a France/Mexico football International on TV in his office – and drink his beer. I demurred at the third bottle. Copan was my destination. Ten kilometers, Old Man. You can slide that far.
Nor can I complain of the law. Lost in Bogota, two biker cops led me 10 kilometers to the highway with blue lights and sirens. Traffic police nurse-maided me through the coastal desert of Peru in a sandstorm and treated me to lunch. A police band in Bolivia played me out of town. A female police officer in Salta, Argentina, kissed me on both cheeks.
Dangers? Colon, Panama, was dangerous. Police armed for a war zone patrol in pairs and wirelessed backup to escort me a single block to a bank. And I met a Chinese American biker who had been robbed at knife point. He and I were seeking passage round the Darien Gap. We shipped on a small banana boat only to discover that the crew were smugglers. We had paid to be delivered to Cartagena. They dumped us on a beach in the middle of the night. We were in Colombia illegaly. The nearest town, San Bernardo, was an hour's ride down a mud track. A further six hours brought us to Cartagena to be chided by the Head of Immigration: “Safer for them to have cut your throat. Have you learned nothing in your seventy years?”
Colombia has an image problem created by Hollywood. Scenery is jungle. Men sweat and wear grease in their hair. Intrepid US heroes (Harrison Ford) fight cocaine cartels. Heading inland I rode through a vast parkland of great trees, lush paddocks, clean streams, fat cattle, glossy horses – followed by days of mountains and upland pastures reminiscent of our English Lake District.
And such urban architecture – from the simplicity of small, cobble-and-whitewash towns to the 17th century glories of Cartagena and Popayan. Founded in the 16th century, I find Popayan the most perfect of Hispanic Colonial towns. Streets of baroque houses and mansions remain unblemished by developers. Cathedral and churches possess a serene beauty.
Ecuador boasts the glories of Quito and, at the Museo Nacional, Hispanic America's greatest collection of pre-Colombian ceramics - and I went white-water rafting at the foot of an exploding volcano. Peru and Bolivia are the tarns and fells of the Alto Plano, snowy peaks and the fifth day of a miners' picket that had closed the highway. The miners welcomed the grandfather. We sat on a grass bank, sipped mate and photographed each other.
Argentina is Salta and the culture shock of finding myself in a seemingly European city, the desert to Mendoza, delicious wine, huge steaks, the massive barrier of the Andes, the extraordinary clarity of light in Patagonia and, in driving sleet, surprise at startling a flock of green parrots from trees along a river bank.
Now returned to the safety of my beloved Herefordshire, I recall fragments of conversation:
The speaker at a millionaires' Dallas breakfast club warning of a billion and a half Muslims in the world - everyone of them taught from birth to hate and kill Americans.
A Mexican businessman in Veracruz commenting on race: The only pure bloods are horses.
A mid-fifties Californian surfer with chemically recalibrated brain insisting that seven-foot green aliens had been discovered in sarcophagi beneath Maya pyramids.
A bench in the Cathedral Square, Panama, and an elderly schoolteacher weeps as she recounts the US invasion: None of the captains were killed. Only poor people. My neigbours were all killed. The youngest girl was six. The grandmother was seventy three. And my sister...
My Chinese-American companion on the smugglers' boat from Colon to Colombia remarks at every setback or danger Simon, we wanted an adventure...And, with splendid Chinese elitism, discounts pre-Colombian art as Two thousand years of bad ceramics.
A small town restaurant on the Bolivian Alto Plano, two Bolivian men at the next table. One asks my nationality: Your Blair is a great liar.
Porto San Julian, Patagonia, an elderly matron at the monument to the heroes of the Argentine airforce in the Falklands/Malvinas War: It was a politicians' war. There were no heroes, only victims.
Also in Patagonia, sheltering with two cops from a freezing gale in the lee of their truck: The whore of a Government forgot to pay the gas bill.
Finally the manager of the Honda Agency in Ushuaia: We've been expecting you, Senor Gandolfi.
My journey was complete, six months on the road, 26000 kilometers, a maximum ascent (in Bolivia) of 4700 meters. Sleet, ice, gales and tropical storms were momentary hardships amongst perfect day after perfect day. I was treated universally, even in Colon, and by officialdom and commonality, always with true kindness and consideration. I slept in small family hotels recommended by locals, invariably a room with bath. Room rates varied country to country: US$18 in Veracruz, half that in Bolivia.
I come of a recusant family and was educated at Catholic schools. In the sublime churches of Hispanic America I discovered how deeply imbued I am with the culture of Catholicism...And, riding alone across those vast spaces, uncovered within myself an unfashionable admiration for those scant bands of Spaniards, the Conquistadors. They were small men of minimal education and many superstitions. Judge them how you wish but never doubt their extraordinary courage and imagination. And they differed in one essential from the British Founding Fathers of the United States. The Conquistadors intermarried with the indigenous population...Yes, including Hernando Cortes.


OLD MAN ON A BIKE reached No 1 in Movers & Shakers on Amazon UK at the weekend and No. 2 in travel writing sales. The Guardian did the trick. I have also been invited to be a guest speaker at a Literary Festival in May. A dozen of my books have been published over the years. The Literary Festival is a first. Yelling Yipeee would be unseemly in a man of my advanced years...!


Christmas and New Year are gone. The travel editor at the The Guardian telephoned the week prior to the festivities: would I write a piece covering the southern leg of my American excursion? For when? January 2nd. How many words? 2000. So much for the holidays! I E-mailed the piece on New Year's Day. Sorting photographs took a further few days. The Guardian did me proud. They published the piece last Saturday, January 10, as a three page spread in the travel section.