Friday, 29 April 2011

Easter Break a year on


At home my mother is very amused to see me looking like Leo Sayer, not that she would know who he was, she’s probably thinking Shirley Temple. She doesn’t of course say it looks nice, but seems fascinated by it and takes lots of photos to show her friends. I am going to tell people I’ve got cancer of the hair.

This time last year we also had radiant weather but I was creeping and crawling around the back ways of the village, almost out of my mind with shock and disbelief.

That was the start of it – a vague diagnosis of cancer, it was “undifferentiated,” which was bad news in its self, they didn’t know what it was but there were “lesions,” and one doctor said that I would have to have chemotherapy whatever it was.

I was also scratching around for work and not getting any. Since then I’ve had pieces in the Telegraph and the Times. My theme seems to be cancer, and the pity of it.

I have also been writing travel pieces for the glossy Private Banking Magazine, all because of the cancer. What a dull, shabby life I’d be having without it.

The anguish of last Spring is almost like a distant story now as I stand in the sunshine in Codsall village, at an open air Easter service, boiling with irritation.

Someone has decided to change the words of, “There Is A Green Hill Far Away.” The word “without,” as in city wall, which puzzled school children for generations, along with “Harold be thy name,” as been replaced by the sternly clear, “outside.”

The translation of the Gospel has been quite a strain for whoever set about hacking at it. They have come up with the idea that when he was mocked Jesus wore “a purple cape,” he was taken to a place called, “the hill of the skull,” and when he was crucified someone put up a “poster,” with the with words “King of the Jews.”

“The place of the skull,” used to be so evocative and sinister. Who are these people who keep changing our liturgy? Perhaps English is their second language. They seem to qualify for the job by having thick cloth ears.

I feel no respect for the vicar, who sounds like a dimmer version of William Hague, or his good lady curate, that they can stand happily listening to such butchery.

On Sunday morning at the 8am service, we are supposed to have the prayer book. It’s actually a pile of leaflets, but I found an old book at the back by the font, with the nice old type face.

“Mike,” a different vicar, very whiskery, introduces the service, just so that we all know where we are, and gives a little homily, based on the Easter gospel; stone rolled away, knots undone, empty tomb, angels present, women unable to find the body.

“Perhaps we should reflect on how we would react in similar circumstances,” he advises. I hope we’d all keep calm and carry on.

He then goes through the service changing every “man,” to “person,” and “indifferently,” becomes “impartially.”

I don’t think he really likes the old service at all, obviously doesn’t see any aesthetic point in it. I suspect the thinks that people go to it because it’s very quiet, a kind of clapping avoidance syndrome. He probably doesn’t realise that people like me turn up to hear phrases like, “indifferently administer justice to the punishment of wickedness and vice,” for the thrill of hearing words that sound like the ruffling of old pages. Well you won’t get any of that poetry stuff in the Midlands it seems.

I was pleased that we used Psalm 118, which has the verse: I shall not die, but live

The Lord has punished me sorely,

But he did not hand me over to death.

The whole psalm is about rejection and gives one a boost of hope.

Later I discovered that this psalm is being used at the royal wedding. It’s about death, abandonment and reprieve. I wonder if they have really read it? Perhaps that is how William the bereaved felt when Katy junked him then changed her mind.

I like my home village but my tastes are different, don’t fit in, and this makes me grumpy. Hearing a new tea shop has opened in Bilbrook the next village, walk over there eagerly. I like to know every cake and sweet shop within a hundred miles.

It’s a gloomy little place with old flap-jacks and submarine rolls with pink icing in the window. They are also offering a children’s party menu: Chicken nuggets, sausages and Dairylea slices. I wonder how that would go down in Chiswick? It certainly wouldn’t go down the throats of infant Chiswickians.

I do all my old walks in glorious sunshine, clinging the remaining pretty parts of the village, wallowing in patches of beauty. It’s a joy that you can still look up and see the ancient tower of St. Nicholas’ church from where ever you stand, except where its obscured by trees in full green leaf. I don’t like what goes on inside but the outside is still breathtakingly reassuring.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011


A long wait amid the high backed lilac coloured chairs to see the doctor and hear my fate. Interested to note that the whole chemo clinic has now moved. There is a new place for it upstairs – hope I never see it.

Professor Gabra is very charming and almost casually drops the news that I am fine, better than that almost. What do you say? I thought I would skip out of there with joy if I got good news, but when it comes it’s difficult to fully realise.

I also know that I am trapped in some strange kind of relativity; the longer I go on without a recurrence the better are my chances, but the longer I go on the more a recurrence is likely, at least within the next five years.

He asks if there are any “issues” he needs to know. I mentioned the strange inner rumblings and whinings I get. At Christmas I thought these noises and aches and pains in my diaphragm meant the cancer was back. It’s not, so I wonder what they are?

He actually has a name for them, a great long one that I can’t remember. They are caused by the drugs given to stop rejection of the chemo drugs which cause scarring over the peritoneum, if that is the right word - the inner lining of your inside. He says they take years to heal.

I don’t mind, I quite like the sounds which are rather like the noise of overhead cables, wiring and metal springs, or mysterious activity in a haunted house.

I said thank you to Prof. Gabra and his team, for their skill at saving my life. He seemed genuinely pleased to hear that. I said thank you to Mr Gabra and his team, for their skill at saving my life. He seemed genuinely pleased to hear that. Obviously I hadn’t made my gratitude clear enough before, but what happened to me after the operation, the terrible nursing on the Victor Bonney ward and the lack of care when I got home had rather overshadowed the good work of the surgeons.

“We try to provide a first class service,” he said, “but the way things are going we won’t be able to do that much longer. The NHS is heading for a bottom of the line service. The government wants all the money to go to the “community,” and GPs, we are expected to get by on very little.” He sounded genuinely despairing.

I was due to go up to a private view of an exhibition in Highgate. I have two paintings in the show, but after all that all I wanted to do was go home and sit quietly over a Pimm’s and borage in the garden.

Second check-up looms

18th April 2011.

Spent a week writing my Peru piece, crammed it all into 2,000 words and young Alec the editor of Private Banking Magazine seems pleased with it. I actually sent over 2,001 words and wonder which precious gem he will remove.

The paradise of Peru is fading as the next three monthly check-up looms.

Visit my GP for a blood pressure test. It’s up and so is my weight. I have put on eight pounds since chemo, and before that I was already ten pounds overweight. Help!

It seems very hard to lose weight now. I never thought that would happen to me.

This time last year I was over a stone lighter, had wavy brown hair and thought I would probably never get the chance to travel again. Where is that person now? Gone missing.

I visited a councillor at Maggie’s to help me face up to possibly getting bad results tomorrow, and if not tomorrow some time soon.

I said I felt embarrassed at not having anyone to go with me for the test, or more importantly to meet me afterwards if the news is bad. I have not even tried to arrange anything for this eventuality. We explored that a bit and he told me I was projecting into the future, worrying about being isolated now and at a later date.

He recommended that I try to lessen my feelings of isolation and talked about joining “The University of the Third Age,” which he says is excellent in Oxford. It sounded attractive.

“Make an effort,” he said.

Went to a Holy Week mass at 8pm and felt better. Asked someone in the congregation to help me tomorrow if necessary and she was happily quite willing.

Acton U3A sounded a bit sleepy on line, but Richmond U3A seemed to have a lot of exciting courses, including “Computer Art,” and history courses on Hitler and Stalin.

Rang the computer number. A quavering voice answered and sounded quite shocked that I wanted to come along.

“I am 90,” he said. “I only have two students and they are older than me.”

He said all their “machines” were very old, “almost finished.” “We use the Commodore Programme,” he said. Not sure what that is. He mentioned Alan Sugar and I remembered my hated old Amstrad. I wondered if they used Windows at all?

“We are moving in that direction,” said the quavering voice. I could have been talking to Babbage.

Phoned the lady about Hitler. If she was anything like the last person she probably went out with him or his brother.

I asked her about the age of people in the U3A. “Haven’t you looked it up?” she snapped. I had but it didn’t say anywhere on line just how old you have to be.

“Retired,” she said. I think she meant the old days, when people retired at 65.

She has dropped Hitler and Stalin.

“I am doing interesting people next term,” she said, “so I can get out of bed in the morning and feel cheerful.”

I will ring a few other numbers, make an effort. But I can’t see it somehow.

Paid a visit to my friend Elaine, who looks after Maisie when I am away. She has a menagerie in her flat, rabbits, birds, rodents, guinea-pigs. I saw a post-card in Cusco showing a deep fried guinea-pig and thought of sending it to her, but then decided on someone else with a rather blacker sense of humour.

She spent all winter looking after a stray cat, Sox, trying to give him shelter and food in the garden, encouraging him to come in but he was terrible nervous. After months he moved in with her, but then he started misbehaving towards the other animals. She sent me anxious texts: He has noticed the hamster/ He is too interested in the budgies.

Then worse: He’s got to go/ I will have to find him a new home.

I urged her to give him another chance. He was on the brink of being out in the snow again.

When I went round last night the first thing I saw was this great looking tabby cat sitting bolt upright looking very pleased as he was groomed all down one side by a small black and white rabbit. Apparently the rabbit is mad about him. Elaine has photos of them in bed together. So Sox won’t be going anywhere soon, I am glad to say.

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Search for Hiram Bingham. A few travel notes to peruse.

Sat 2nd April, 2010. London- Madrid to Lima. 06:20 am until 17:35 their time.

15 hours, 30 mins. British Airways then Iberia.

On the long trip to Lima, sat next to a tiny woman called Manuela Florez. She spoke only Quechua the old Inca language, Spanish and a bit of Italian. I only had a smattering of Italian but managed to understand that she had lived in Sicily for years with an Italian husband who died of, "krebs," she used the German word for cancer. I didn’t mention my situation or why my hair looks so weird. She made a sign with her hands to show deep sleep and looked very sad as she said this.

I got the feeling she was rather lonely, a very motherly type who would love to look after a man.

She told me that a perfect diet consists of “cheecha” or corn beer, chicharrones or pork scratchings, cuy or guinea pig and coca tea. Sounds OK to me, except I won’t eat cavie. I must let my friend Conner who runs the anti-cancer cookery school in Toulouse know about it.

Manuela was terrible patient as I huffed and puffed, writhed about, couldn’t sleep then fell asleep unexpectedly. Being so uncomfortable, with aching joints reminded me of chemotherapy all over again and I also started getting hot flushes.

We put up the arms on our seats to get about two inches more space, and walked about together down the dark plane towards the increasingly wet loos. Despite my restlessness she must have liked me a bit as she invited me to stay at her house in Arequpa near Lima, but I had to say that I was working, going to Cusco and Machu Picchu the Inca citadel, writing about the discovery of Machu Picchu in July 1911 by Hiram Bingham.

I met a lot of young girls on the journey, quite a range of them. One had a distinct under-bite and rather a silly, eager face. She seemed really good hearted but didn’t talk to her parents and looked as if she was out on her own. She wore a long dress, flip-flops, a stud in her nose and tattoos. She was reading The Celestine Prophecy and urged me to do so. She also had another fat book about someone who had been an armed robber in Latin America and fetched up in India. That seemed to be about all her hand luggage.

All the girls said they had only decided to travel to Latin American a few days ago and only packed the night before. Even in my wildest youth I was never that spontaneous or confident.

There were a few real toff girls who seem to be heading for Cusco the way they once flocked to Kathmandu. None of them seemed to be affected by the flight and emerged in Lima looking as fresh faced and jolly as when we got on.

Lima. Sunday 3rd April.

Great sleep. It’s almost worth travelling 8,000 miles in an airless container just for that.

I breakfasted on roast pork ribs, roast sweet potatoes, papaya, real corn flakes and quinoa, followed by rolls and coca leaf marmalade, which was a bit too sweet for me.

S America is a good place for meat eaters, not in the sense of big US steaks but fat bits of pig, medium sized rodents and alpaca, which I hear, "melts in the mouth."

Not eating cuy will be my one successful Lenten vow this year I think! I told the Maitre’d, "In England cuy are our friends." He looked sympathetic.

Hoped to have a swim. My hotel, Casa Andina Miraflores, boasted an “impressive third floor swimming pool with a waterfall,” and panoramic views. This turned out to be a patch of water the size of a garden pond surrounded by high frosted glass. Who really wants to look at the streets of Lima anyway? I know it is now rated for its cuisine and nightlife but I don’t like the look of it at all. It seems to consist of a small modern area with high buildings and a lot of glass and beyond that rings of squalid shanty towns.

“It has beautiful parks,” my guide told me as we drove in from the airport. True, but no one can walk in them without armed escort, or so it feels. My instincts are on over-drive perhaps.

Look at myself in the large hotel bathroom mirror. What do I look like? Nothing much. My new curly hair is so quaint! It makes me look like one of those girls who joined the Christian Union and the hockey club at university. I feel it gives strangers the wrong impression, that I am about to play the role of a gentile lady traveller.

Sitting in the lobby an English couple came over and chatting to me, at first I had no idea who they were because I had sat next to them hours ago, flying from London to Spain and had only seen their faces in profile.

13:50 Lan flight Lima up to Cusco

A friendly, chatty young woman checked my bag in, a change after the stony faces at Madrid airport where they didn’t seem to speak any English. She reappeared as I sat waiting for the flight and I felt a bit alarmed when she wanted to see my boarding card. She told me to be sure to stand on the right and get on the plane at the first call. There were only about 20 of us waiting so I didn’t understand the reason for this. As people drifted past heading for Mexico, Quito and exotic places, she called out to them asking if they wanted to go to Cusco. She reminded me of some FE teachers I’d met in London, desperately trying to get their number up to keep their classes going.

Flying into Cusco over the Andean mountain lakes must be one of the most spectacular sights in the world. As the small plane turned and tipped towards the side of a hill it was heart stopping. The “international” airport is small and where as you normally get out in a foreign country and taste the different air or temperature, here the first thing that hits is the pressure on your chest, as if you’ve put on a pair of tight corsets to leave the plane.

As we drove into town there was a football match on the radio, an Inca team, I was told, against some Indians from the Central Ashaninka jungle. They were cannibals, fond of raw flesh at the time of the Conquistador. The match might have been quite a spectacle, but the screaming commentator sounded just like the usual ones. It could have been Arsenal playing.

My itinerary for the next week is very complicated, it worries me, all those flight, bus and train connections. One new sheet of instructions given to me in Lima says; "You will be alone" in bold, well I know that chum. It also says at the bottom, "Travelling alone is not advisable."

Young Alec, the editor of Private Banking, which sent me here, has been out of touch for over two weeks. I asked him about expenses and he fell silent. That is usual for editors, but I thought he might have contacted me before I took off. I decided not to call him so that he has no idea whether I have gone away or not. I could still be in Acton for all he knows. Of course he might not still be an editor for all I know, might be signing on down at the Job Seekers place in Shepherds Bush.

As everything is planned and paid for I might as well plough on.

Seeing my room in my hotel, Inkaterra La Casona, on plaza Nazarenas in Cusco, I felt very happy. I spent a long time last year saying to myself, "Why me, why did I have to get cancer?" Now I was saying, "Why me? How did I get this lucky?"

The hotel was built on the sight of an Inca palace but was they claimed by a Conquistador. It remains in the old Spanish style, dark and cool around a small court yard. My room was simple but elegant, leading into a marble bathroom.

I celebrated with a Pisco sour, Peru’s grape brandy, and a large glass of red wine with dinner. Woke in the night with pounding headache breathing like a landed fish. My face was bright red and I had a pain across my forehead. The 24 hour butler service brought a large green canister of oxygen into the bedroom and applied the mask. I had two face-fulls before things settled down. I lay there feeling helpless and vulnerable, wondering if I could do the trip after all. When I was in Cusco ten years ago I didn’t have any problem. A lot has happened since then and of course alcohol and altitudes of 12,000 ft just don't mix.


Hiram Bingham train (Orient Express) up to Machu Picchu.

The usual Orient Express finery; crisp cream napery, flowers on the tables, brass and copper fittings, and Tiffany lamps. That’s appropriate as Hiram Bingham, the American who discovered Machu P exactly 100 years ago, was married to the Tiffany heiress before he dumped her for a younger model.

The train is full of Americans. I am placed at a table opposite two large families of them. One boy is crouching, with his trainers on the finely upholstered seats. Feel annoyed. In my role as quaint, eccentric travelling spinster, ask him gently not to put his feet on the seats. His mother looks astonished. Not long after she suddenly flings herself under the table, head down.

Her husband explains in a burbling, whiney voice, "We've had terrible bouts of altitude sickness." A bit odd as we are now in the Sacred Valley, down at 8,000 ft. Decide she was a silly woman and I feel glad to see her bourn off to spend the whole journey lying down and closeted away. He starts complaining that the trip from Cusco to the railway station by mini-bus was “tough, really tough, we nearly didn’t survive.” Then he starts asking one of the stewards to provide different food for his kids. Move my seat away from them.

Have a look at the bar, next to an end carriage which is open and used as a viewing platform. A group of Peruvians serenade loudly as we take pictures. As I go and look at the tracks realise that I have seen them before in a dream, years ago. This makes me feel very unsettled. Chat to a couple of American lady travellers from San Francisco in the lounge, very nice people, hope to see them again on the trip, then return to my table.

There is a glamorous woman now seated opposite with her old mother. They are originally from Belize. She is dressed in tight grey cotton ensemble with paste jewels on the shoulders; she also has large ornate shades and elegant Fendi bag.

She tells me her husband runs a successful business in Miami but she travels with her mother all the time.

"It is so wonderful to travel," she goes on, place dropping all the time. Later I think she was saying, "What is really the purpose of it all?" and her compulsive travel was a diversion from some kind of sorrow.

5/4/11 Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel.

I didn’t like this hotel much when I first arrived, after the grand comfort of La Casona it seemed a bit more Spartan. No chocs on the pillow or nice slippers. Then I realised it is a completely different kind of hotel. It consists of pueblos on an estate set in 2,000 acres of cloud forest. There is an “eco center,” offering walks into the jungle to look at orchids, Peru has ten percent of the world’s orchids and also abundant fushia. There is also a tour to see some bears, rescued from local people who took them in as cubs.


I enjoyed meeting three spectacle bears; Yogi, Pepe, Coco. I gave Yogi a banana. He looked amazed, took it in his mouth, going cross eyed to see what it was, didn't touch it with his paws, bit into it, then dropped it. They peel all their fruit so he probably didn't like the bitter skin.

He'd never had banana and I don't think the ranger with me was expecting me to do it, I had saved it from breakfast. She said they would go back later and find out if the bear had eaten it or not, it was of interest. Up there they live on avocado, mango and bromeliads. They make a high sweet cry too, no growling.

Today I saw a bear’s genitals for the first time. Pepe, aged 20, sniffed the air, smelled females in the surrounding jungle and showed me what he’d got. The best offer I’ve had for some time.

They looked like a bright red pencil box, very rectangular and sharp at the corners, then the end turned into a funnel shape. The whole thing flopped back into his dense fur and hung there listlessly, a dark sack with a tiny red tip.

His keepers say he is too old to have a partner which seems a bit unfair. The truth is they haven’t rescued any females. The one they had made off and now lives happily in the forest nearby, appearing occasionally.

Like many middle aged mammals Pepe suffers from overweight. He was on eight avocados a day, but is now down to three, perhaps this unusual version of joining AA was the reason he seemed so depressed and listless.

In another cage I met Coco, only two and a half years old. He lived with a local family for eighteen months, until they had a baby and decided he had to go. In London he’d probably have got a job as a nanny.

I think I have just had a perfect day: 8.30am visited the bear sanctuary, then breakfast overlooking the roaring Urubamba River.

12 noon a two hour massage using hot stones and lemon scented oil, followed by 20 minutes inside a "sweat lodge," then a cold plunge in a pond, followed by two warm baths in hot pools.

I felt very contented, resting my head on the side of one pool watching humming birds drinking from sugar feeders put up for them in the gardens.

Lunch on Andean salad and cheese. Potter into Agua Callientes, the local town over the railway tracks, where the blue Peruvian trains come in, look around the market, then return to sit on my patio. Sip coca tea looking up at Machu Picchu mountain and below it, all round me, a bank of hydrangea, wild strelitzia, ferns and orchids.

Later get a text from young Alec, at last! It says simply, "Good work, Jane." I could be in Morrison’s doing my weekly shop for all he knows, He takes it on trust that I will do the job, perhaps it’s down to the famous Daily Mail training which was something like an army training.


Hiram Bingham train back to Cusco at 5pm and tomorrow the long slog back to the UK. So many notes for my magazine article, and a piece for the Telegraph about the Spa at the Pueblo hotel. Do hope I can do them justice.

Coming back from the rail station by mini-bus back up to Cusco last night, bumping along the pot holed road in the dark, I realised that while I’ve been away I’ve had no sleep problems and no short term memory problems either. I was plagued by both before I left London. I think they were the symptoms of isolation and stress. My mind now seems as good as when I plodded the Inca trail fifteen years ago.

Also realise one can live happily without TV, radio or internet.

8/4/11 Lima to Madrid. Iberia Airlines.

The food on the return flight is much worse than coming out for some reason and the stewardesses are not nice. They remind me of the nurses I met when I was in hospital at this time last year; coldly hostile, unsmiling, if you are rash enough to ask them for anything you get a kind of death stare.

In the night I went to look for a glass of water and ventured behind the curtain into the galley. One of them was sitting there her legs stretched out, feet up on the work surface. She was very grumpy and when I said “excuse me,” and tried to get past her legs she said, “Oh don’t bother,” in a mock English accent. The only English I heard spoken on board. At the far distant end of the economy section, near the loo, two others were sitting inside and wouldn’t let me past so I had to push past the front row of the economy section over people’s legs and bags. Hospital patients, passengers; a damn nuisance.

There is also the concomitant neglect; our empty food boxes not collected for over an hour so no one can get out. In the end I gathered them up for myself and the silent unfriendly man sitting next to me and took them to the gallery myself. I could have done the whole plane before we saw the stewardesses again.

The curtain dividing us from business class remains firmly shut, but the curtain dividing us from the galley is always open, so we are flooded with light all night and out little TV screen fades into nothing.

When I arrived in Madrid I realised I had a bottle of water which had come with me all the way from Cusco. The Spanish security men tut tutted at me, made me have a few swigs of it to prove it wasn’t some noxious substance, then confiscated it.

I said, “why not tell them off about it in Lima?” they shook their heads as is that would never do.

There is certainly a huge difference between economy and business class, perhaps it was always so, but I feel that differences between the rich and the not so well-off are getting more obvious and annoying.

In Lima they gave me no boarding card for Madrid to London, so I had to join a long queue at an Iberia desk to get one. While we were standing there an English business class passenger, “prioritee” just walked to the head of the line. He had the good grace to look embarrassed.

The new terminal in Madrid, “S4” is a horrible place to wait. It has not been designed for travellers, only itinerant consumers. There are no seats unless you sit in a cafĂ©. You have to pay to sit, unless of course you can use the business class lounge and its private spa. I remember with longing some showers at the air-port in Singapore.

There is nothing to look at, the shops are crummy and an air of anger and confusion as very few people can follow the strange signs. Again there is no English, the idea that it’s become a lingua Franca doesn’t apply here.

As I sat in Starbucks, wondering if I could survive on the wooden chair for the next three hours I saw a Latin American woman with a strange bottom like two very large balloons. She’d obviously had implants. It was a parody of the human form. I wonder if that will catch on, a baboon bottom to go with a trout pout? It was a good job old Pepe couldn’t see her. Elderly couples seated nearby averted their eyes.

For a time I sat with an elderly man who gave me his card. It said: “E Anton Loubser, Honorary Consul General of the Republic of San Marino. Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa (retired)

He was grimly facing a ten hour wait with no where comfortable to sit. He talked a bit about his life in the South African diplomatic service. He gave me a picture of how a civil servant behaves under an increasingly despotic regime.

“For a civil servant loyalty is the watchword,” he said.

He had met Nelson Mandela several times since his release, and was full of sentimental admiration for him. “He loves children,” he told me.

He had wanted a kind of federal system in the country so that all ethnic groups could “develop” separately. Now he was sad to find himself part of a state mainly ruled by one tribe, the Hausa, and had feelings of terrible loss.

“We gave them a marvellous country with a fine economy,” he said. “Despite sanctions we once had a great infrastructure and the finest medical service in the world.”

He also talked about his time in France during the Algerian crisis. He greatly admired de Gaulle. “But the French can be very hard,” he said. A lot of wealthy Algerians had wanted to emigrate to South Africa but he said, “we had no place there for them.”

He also remembered Emperor Bokasa of the Central African Republic very well.

“It used to amuse me to see him coming in with his fly whisk,” he said. “He liked us very much, was always very friendly to me, but perhaps he did lack judgement.”

Diplomatic speak for the man was a homicidal maniac and possibly a cannibal.

Finally got to go to my boarding gate feeling exhausted as if I’d read a whole Graham Green novel in one go.

On board it felt suddenly safe, like being in England, not just because it was British Airways but because I found myself seated among a party of boys from Harrow and Eton returning from a school trip to Salamanca. They hadn’t been learning any history sadly, the battle was not mentioned, it was all about “Spanish life and culture.”

They were of course terribly charming and polite. They chatted about where they’d been but didn’t ask me where I’d come from. As I left the plane and headed for the customs gate I was ahead of the rest with one of the boys aged about fifteen beside me. We chatted as we slowly filed along. He said he was very tired after the trip from Spain. I said I had just flown from Lima thinking it might impress him a bit.

“Oh Lima,” he said. “I’ve been there a couple of times, great place.”

I expect he’d sampled the famous night life. As we parted at the baggage carousel he insisted on shaking my hand.

“Well, it has been really lovely to meet you,” he said. “Good luck getting home!” I won’t see manners as polished as that again in awhile.

When I got home I noticed a walking stick in my hallway that I’d been given when I walked the Inka trail ten years ago.

I’d set off well across the thousands of miles of granite pavements, but then one of my knees had “gone,” and I’d had to stagger along with a knee brace, pain-killers and that stick.

It’s very stout, topped with a grotesquely carved Indian face, with a gaping mouth full of large, horrible looking donkey’s teeth. It’s topped by a sharp pointed animal horn.

I remember bringing it back with me on the aeroplane. What would be the chance of that now?

Just before we got to the Sun Gate, the triumphant end of the trail, we stopped for a drink at a hostel, the last one on the trail. Our leader had gone ahead and must have been chatting to people, because when I arrived, lagging behind, I was suddenly pushed violently and jostled as I tried to get to the bar.
I went outside and sat by myself in the sun but a daft looking young man with a new age hair cut came towards me and said, “You are from the Daily Mail. The people in there hate you and they are going to come out here and beat you up.”

I stood up, feeling very still and calm, stick in my hands, pointed horn at the ready and said, “Ok, come on then.” I was going to use the horn to crack his head open like an egg, I really was.

“I think you are a nincompoop,” I said, and he backed off grinning rather sheepishly.

I am still surprised at what altitude can do to you, in my case bring on a bout of psychosis, and just how much the Daily Mail is hated, even in the remotest corners of the globe.