I had the luck to grow up in Cornwall, and my first epic journeys at age 7 were in a ramshackle clinker pram dinghy, in which I explored the very tidal and always fascinating Tamar river. Later, in my teens, I hitch-hiked across Europe and then combined work and pleasure studying Arabic and French at the Polytechnic of Central London (which included a six-month stint in Cairo, paid for in those more generous days by a grant from the Local Education Authority).
On graduation I took to the road again, travelling around the USA, doing odd jobs and, following a chance meeting in a bar, as an assistant surveyor for an oil prospecting team (because I knew how to read a compass) in the bayou of Louisiana. In retrospect it was more my Limey accent (for soothing possibly irate landowners) than my navigating skills which got me the job.
Back in London, I was taken on by the Polytechnic of Central London to teach English to the influx of students from the Arab world arriving in the days of the oil boom. Over the next few years I travelled to many countries of the Middle East and West Africa, teaching short contracts at universities and then travelling on local transport for as long as I could – from a trip along the Iranian border in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan to a journey to Mopti on the River Niger. One summer in Côte d’Ivoire a friend suggested the best way to start a career in journalism would be in a country where there were no journalists. So I took the then luxurious train from Abidjan north for 24 hours into the little-known Sahelian country of Burkina Faso. Within weeks I was filing stories on an antiquated telex to Associated Press under the by-line ‘Our Man in Ouagadougou’.
In my year in the Sahel I covered a gold rush on the Malian border, where an entire township had sprung up overnight when camel-traders found a reef of gold nuggets; spent an anxious 24 hours in a Ghanaian jail accused of being a spy; and questioned President Mitterrand, who was on a flag-flying tour of former French colonies, his Concorde looking strangely out of place in Ouagadougou airport.
Then came stints at the Foreign Desk of the FT and African section of the BBC World Service in London, and then more time as a freelance journalist and news stringer in Calcutta, Sydney, Santa Domingo, and finally Budapest, where I made short documentary films for a European TV news network covering the changes following the collapse of communism.
I am now based in Cornwall – still rowing on the Tamar – and write for British newspapers and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and the World Service. Recent journeys are to São Tomé and Príncipe, one of the most beautiful island nations – and nearly the smallest – in the world. And to Ecuador travelling along the Avenida de los Volcanes in the High Andes and then to the headwaters of the Amazon and finally the Pacific Coast. Closer to home latest journeys are to Umbria in central Italy, then Cantabria, La Rioja and the Basque Country in northern Spain doing food and wine stories and most recently to the Belgian Ardennes.
I speak fluent French, good Spanish and have sadly rusty Arabic.