Monday, September 29, 2008

The short Great Train Journey

From Bangkok to Penang (Butterworth)

My Great Train Journey started in Bangkok last Saturday and finished on Monday afternoon as I came into land in Jakarta, with a child vomiting over my back. Journeys are extreme experiences.

At 2.00 pm last Saturday 27 September, 2008, Stefan and I arrived at the Bangkok Railway Station. Built in 1910, this magnificent example of architecture from the Kingdom of Siam is captivating.

Looking a little lost as we tried to find our platform, a pretty female attendant came and said in impeccable English. “ Can I help you?” We showed her our tickets. “The 2nd class train to Malaysia leaves on Platform 5 at 2.46 pm. ”
This was the start of one of the best short train journeys in my life. And having traveled much of Europe, New Zealand and Asia, " I know that Never the Twains shall meet."
For someone who has looked with envy at the Eastern & Oriental Express which made history as the first ever train to transport passengers directly from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, this was our $ 40 alternative to their $3000 plus price tag.

Stefan, who works for the International Federation of Red Cross in Bangkok on Tsunami rehabilitation, assured me the week before, "I am convinced you can get a second class train from Bangkok to Butterworth (Penang) in Malaysia." As I had an important meeting in Bangkok, I knew I could afford a long weekend to get back to Jakarta.

We were half an hour early for the train and we poured over Stefan's map of Thailand. The trip would take us east for two hours skirting round Bangkok and then it plunges south for about 1000 km to the Malaysian border.

We soon identified the staff on the three sleeping carriages, Mr. Pillow Slip, Mrs. Cook and Master McClean. Pillow Slip gave us just that the moment we walked in the train. We covered our dark blue pillows with a crisp white slip as Mr.McClean swept the floor yet again and Mrs. Cook asked if we wanted to order dinner. Flaggy, the guard, took us until departure, to identify.

Flaggy, the guard

The only work Flaggy appeared to do during the whole 22 hour trip, was to wave a green flag ceremoniously as he signalled the train to leave at 2.46 pm and the rest of his time he was chatting up the pretty women on the train endearing them with a practiced toothy smile.

The 2nd class train to Malaysia left on Platform 15 at 2.46 pm on Saturday 27 September

The first hour clearing Bangkok was fascinating as we passed thousands of shacks clustered into ribbon-like shanty towns along the tracks.

The Bangkok River

I didn’t realise how wide the Bangkok river was as we chugged across the bridge. Bang Sup, Bong Bamru, Sala Ya and a number of stations flashed by as we travelled West before turning south and following the coastline of the Gulf of Thailand. We saw a small floating market on a river and many Budhist temples. Mrs. Cook served dinner on the stroke of six o’clock comprising spicy Thai soup, rice, vegetables and sweet and sour chicken. Twilight accentuated the contours of the land.

Stefan produced a bottle of Chilean Red and life took on a rosier taint.

Rice paddies stretched as far as the eye could see and as twilight descended at 6.3o pm, I took a photo of the lady in the opposite seat, gazing out the window, silhouetted by the setting sun. As soon as the sun set, Mr. Pillow Slip, turned into a conjurer, as he produced a magic key from his chain, unlocked, a concealed compartment on the roof, and hey presto, an upper bunk was formed. Then he flipped the two lower seats together to form the lower bunk. Then out of the upper bunk, got two mattresses, and quickly had sheets tucked over them. Then out of a bottomless bag, he plucked out spotlessly dry cleaned blankets in a hermetically sealed plastic bag. The best he kept for last.

Like a card dealer laying a pack cards out in a fan-like formation,he clipped a pleated light green curtain with 15 hooks with a staccato sound, in one sweep of his hand. As we looked over the rim of our wine tumblers, we were waiting for him to pull a rabbit from his braided hat. There were no more tricks for tonight. Then like a matador, Pillow Slip stepped back to admire his work, before moving on. We had to wait until daylight for the finale.

McClean scrubbed the floor again, rid our table of circular red wine stains, and then he attacked the squat toilet, probably cleaning imaginary stains.

Occasionally flaggy appeared, leering at the beautiful lady sitting opposite us.

Unfortunately it was early in the night when we passed the Marugathaiyawan Palace where the King and Queen of Thailand are resident. I met the King when he came to my home town in New Zealand Dunedin, in 1960, when he attended a rugby match. Years have passed and this man is still held as dear and respected as a God in Thailand.

At 9 pm we decided to go to bed. Only 7 hours into the journey and we had a feast of people and scenery.

I was rocked to sleep by a carriage’s version of I Walk the Line. This cacophony has three instruments, the clickety clack of the gap in the line, the whine of a worn and poorly lubricated axle, and the grinding of an ill fitting coupling. Every so often I would peer out the window to see the lights of small farming hamlets, or the glare of cities.
At 3 am had to get up for a pee and the bowl on the European toilet was the art of McClean, polished to a gleaming white. Cleanliness and orderliness are Thai traits.

Paddy fields as far as the eye can see

When we awoke, paddy fields stretched as far as the eye could see. Budhist Monks were out with their bowls receiveing food from theor devotees. (photo below)

The increasing number of Mosques indicated we were now in the Southern provinces of Thailand and not far from the Thai/Malaysia border.

At Hat Yai, a major train junction, all the other carriages were shunted to a siding, and our two sleeping compartments carried on to the border. With them went all the staff on the train except Pillow Slip. Here at Hat Yai was an office with a sign CHIEF PERMANENT WAY INSPECTOR My curiousity was aroused. It seemed the occupation of a lifetime. Inspecting the way, perhaps a fellow wayfarer ?But the office was locked.

The sign on the side of our carriage

We crossed the border at Pedang Besar at 07.45 am.. There were six of us crossing the border, two Thais, Stefan and I, and two other foreigners. Both Thai and Malaysian immigration and customs were most efficient and courteous.

I looked back at our carriage. The locomotive had been detached and a replaced by one from Malaysian Railways. The new locomotive above at Pedang Besar.

Here we saw crowds of Malays returning to their villages to celebrate the end of Ramadan for the Eid-ur-Fitri holidays. After a longish wait, we left Pedang Besar at 10 am, and passed Arau and Alor Setar a station with a commanding steeple. Palm oil plantations, and to a lesser extent, Rubber, were the dominent crops with jungle as a backdrop. Around 1 pm, we crossed a bridge which afforded a view of the strait separating the mainland from the Island of Penang. At 1.10 pm we slid into the station of Butterworth.

Stefan on arrival at the Butterworth Station. The small blue sign to the front left of him says the Eastern and Oriental Express Butterworth-Singapore was arriving at 7pm in the evening.

Butterworth is the site of the Malayan Railway station for Penang, and is linked to the island by the Penang Ferry Service and by the 13.5 km Penang Bridge. is also the site of a Royal Malaysian Air Force station, RMAF Butterworth, formerly operated by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force, and is now the Headquarters of the Integrated Area Defence System (HQIADS) of the Five Power Defence Arrangements.

Butterworth will be the site of an integrated transport hub called Penang Sentral, which will integrate rail, ferry and bus transport.

As we disembarked, Stefan pointed out a small, neat sign notifying that the Eastern and Oriental Express from Butterworth-Singapore was arriving at 7pm in the evening. Ours was not the same regal or posh experience, but a memorable journey from Bangkok to Butterworth down the Gulf of Thailand.

Strangely, during the trip I kept thinking of an acquaintence, Tiziano Terzani, travel writer who died last year in India. He said, "If I have time for reflection at the end, I would like to be able to say, 'I have traveled.' And if I have a grave, I would like a stone with a hollow from which birds can drink, inscribed with my name, the two obligatory dates, and the word, 'Traveler.'"

It was mid afternoon. I had to be back in Jakarta the following day. I took a bus from the station above and travelled down the E1 to Kuala Lumpur enjoying the rugged scenery as we crossed the mountainous spine of western, central Malaysia. It is amazing what you can do in a three day weekend, if you want to.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Take a moment.

Jape - Floating

Not heard this in ages.


Friday, September 26, 2008

The Delgados

As the seasons change. On the cusp of one another. It can be the point you notice it most.

I adore the autumn. The days that have an empty, cold breeze in the air telling you that it is going to bring something much colder after it, so get prepared. The sunsets of wicked orange, purple and teal blue. The tepid nights that make you wish you'd worn a hat and scarf. The deep, familiar smell of someone burning something far away.

At this time of year I can't help but be reminded of the past. Things that happen at this time of year and the way it made me feel.

Waking this morning I thought of this song. Of what it symbolised to me. How the song made me feel back then and how it makes me taste that feeling now.

I cried.

But I reckon The Delgados just do that to you.

The Delgados - American Trilogy [via YouSendIt for 7 days]

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Kaiser Chiefs

My favourite lyric this year.

Kaiser Chiefs - Never Miss A Beat

"Want do you want for tea?
I want crisps."

This song alone is possibly the best sociological snap-shot of adolescent life in 2008.

I love it!

Makes me giggle every time.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable are somewhat new on the scene. Or they at least feel it. I have plunged into some of their work and it definately sounds like the they'll be a band I keep an eye on to see if their sound blossoms with the potential that I think it harbours already.

Tweaking here and there on a couple of songs. They've got a load of live dates, so have a look. I reckon they translate differently live. And that is always exciting and interesting.

Creating vast sounds that appear to be careering towards you at great speed, volume and energy. The Joy Formidable bring songs and lyrics right into the centre of your focus, leaving nothing for the peripheral and with this song especially who needs anything in their peripheral!

The Joy Formidable - The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade [via zShare]

13 Months in Antarctica - a few photos, a few thoughts

The excitement of being selected to go to Antarctica when I was 21 years of age seems as vivid and stimulating as if it were yesterday.
The first Antarctica sea ice I saw was from the window of the Super Constellation plane that flew us from Christchurch to Antarctica in October 1969. Photo: Bob McKerrow

It was May 1969 and I had to undergo three months training in Seismology, Geomagnetics, Earth Currents and micro-meteorology at the DSIR in Wellington and Christchurch, plus a one week training course on Mt. Ruapehu. Originally I was picked to be a science techician for one year at New Zealand's Scott Base, but a few months after arrived, I was offered a chance to go to the smallest wintering over station in Anartica, Vanda Station in the Wright Valley. There were four of us, two science technicians, Gary Lewis and myself, Tony Bromley,a meteorologist and a leader, Harold Lowe. Why we needed a leader, I'll never know.

I had read about the great leader Ernest Shackleton before I went to Antarctica, and the joy when spending a day in his hut at Cape Royds, the base from his 1909 attempt on the South Pole, was overwhelming. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I was in charge of Seismology, earth currents and magetism which measured the changes of the earth's magnetic fields. When I moved to Vanda Station I carried on these projects but also took over measuring ice thickness on Lake Vanda and assisted with 3 hourly meteorological readings.

While at Scott Base I frequently accompanied field parties to their drop-off points and acted as a safety coordintor to ensure the field parties were carefully tracked and picked up at the correct destinations. This is a drop off on the head of the Robert Scott Glacier, about 130 km from the South Pole. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Frequently I accompanied biologists and geologists on short field trips around Scott Base. Checking seals. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Penguins at Cape Royds. Photo: Bob McKerrow

US Coast Guard Ice Breaker cutting a passage for cargo ships into McMurdo Sound. Photo: Bob McKerrow

While at Scott Base, I used to assist our dog handlers Chris Knott to care for the dogs and we would often drive one team each after work for 3 or 4 hours. Sometimes in the weekend we would do long trips and overnight on the sea ice. Here are two of the lead dogs, that came from Greenland in 1966. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Chris Knott leaving on a trip with the dogs. Photo: Bob McKerrow

In mid-January 1970, I arrived at Lake Vanda where I spent 10 months as a science technician. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Our laboratory at Vanda station. For electricity we used a wind generator to charge our 12 volt Nicad batteries. When there was no wind, we would use a small Petter diesel generator.

For hygiene purposes, our toilet at Vanda Station was outside. Here is Tony on the thunder-box. When it got below - 40 degrees Celcius. it was dangerous as ones backside would stick to the painted seat and rip skin off. To solve this problem we made polystyrene seat covers to protect our bums. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The Wright Valley, View north through Bull Pass into Victoria Valley. The small stream flowing west (into Lake Vanda) is the Onyx.
Photo: Antarctic Images Library, Josh Landis. Halfway up to the lower contact of the "Basement Sill" is a ledge of "Pecten Conglomerate" marking an old sea-level.

The view of the Wright Valley taken from the survey station on the summit of Mt Newall (which now has a micro-wave tower on it).

We did long trips on foot in the late Autumn, throughout the winter and early Spring.
Bob McKerrow left and Gary Lewis right. with frozen beards and faces. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Bath time at Vanda Station. Gary Lewis having a bath after six months Photo; Bob McKerrow

The old hand painted sign outside Vanda Station

Bob McKerrow on his return to Vanda Station after a trip in early Autumn to the Dias meteorological station. A five hour return trip.

On reflection, the 13 months I spent in Antarctica were among the best of my life.
I remember vividly the last helicopter leaving us in early February and we knew it woulld be at least nine months before we saw anyone else.

At the end of the long winter's night where it was totally dark for four months, I looked in the mirror and saw myself for the first time in five months. I wrote in my diary " A man without a woman about him is a man without vanity."
A few weeks later while reflecting on the winter, I wrote " I turned 22 in March, it is now September. During the past five months I have got to know and understand my worst enemy, myself."

There was also the poem I wrote just before the long winter's night ended.

I journeyed south to an icy cage
The sun never shone, there was no day
When I looked into the jaws of night
Far off I saw the threads of life
Twisting themselves into an eternal web
That stretched unbroken from dawn to death
It was the Aurora that gladdened the eye
A frenetic serpent that snaked the sky
Pouring mellowed colours that sparkled rime
On icy pendants soon to sublime.
Yes high above towers all form
Soon will come the first blush of dawn
My life has changed my dash is done
O welcome the King, O welcome the sun

The Aurora Australialis

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

James Yuill

I've seen James Yuill be described as 'folktronica', which while I can appreciate may give some sort of relevant likening to his music, I just don't think is suitable. Especially for his current single No Pins Allowed. This track has much more of a hard edge than 'folktronica' would have you believe. And the 'folk' part I can accept. I really can. That term and I get along. I believe its accurate to show what the lovely Mr Yuill is doing. But alluding to 'electronica'. I don't agree with. I'd probably push so far to say that 'electro' would be more appropriate.

With influences that are nearly as diverse as this humble blog, expect magical musical musings from this young man. And check out his MySpace top friends! Its like every electro t-shirt I've been unable get my hands on.

So may I introduce to you the folktro single by James Yuill.

James Yuill - No Pins Allowed

Monday, September 22, 2008


Opening with some side-tracked thoughts. Now I couldn't really write what I wanted to write about Sebastian Grainger. It could get me into quite a lot of trouble. But basically it was about giving him some 'new material' to sing about. Seeing as he tends to sing lots of very sexually fraught lyrics all the time.

I've definately not penned any of the said potential lyrics in my head.

"I can't stop those camera flashes,
Tied to this chair, she's got me right where she wants me..."

You know. I've not thought about it really.

Moving swiftly on. As we all know tytoc collie is trying to frantically catch up with all the bits and pieces missed out on over the past few months. Basically if it hasn't made it to the Radio 1 playlist then it is unlikely that I will have come into contact with it.

But working for a certain high-street fashion store means my ears get filled with sounds to make people buy. This can, in fact, be highly annoying. Although something magical happened recently when I found myself being sung to in my ear with the highly exciting lyrics 'I want you with your back up against the wall, I want you in the hallways of the shopping mall'. Its enough to put you off fitting shoes on mens rancid feet!

Data has teamed up with the aforementioned casanova of sexual tension to produce a rather splendid track. To hear the original and PT II of the original pop over to MySpace. Our concern is a couple of the remixes.

This is the remix I can be found shaking my bits to in a high street fashion store. Its incredibly pleasing on the ear. Definately my favourite of the ones I heard. Check out Pacific!.

Data - Rapture (Pacific! remix) [via YouSendIt for 7 days]

This I also like a lot. Its fun and quite camp. Surprisingly The Boyfriend didn't like it.

Data - Rapture (The Skywriters remix) [via YouSendIt for 7 days]

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Twisted Wheel

I used to be known for my almost blinkered adoration of indie music. Around 2003-05 I could be found at nearly every indie club night I could get to and often a lot of mediocre gigs that coincided with that. But as of late that indie scene has done very little for me. Even the indie nights that used to play strictly scenester jangly guitar music have let it all slip and now mix it up with pop, dance, electro and even a little bit of folk thrown in for good measure.

But this song has really captured me. Taken me back to when I was 18 and could happily spend hours on the dancefloor, flinging myself around and sweating out every liquid ingested that week. I think Twisted Wheel have an urgency to their sound that keeps them relentless, exciting and massively exhilerating.

Twisted Wheel have managed to wrestle back that certain divine spark that disappeared when the Artic Mokeys came along and ruined indie music.

Raw, aggresive, youthful, all the things you could wish for.

Get yourself to one of their many gigs. It'd be messy, I reckon. And messy is good.

Look! Ha.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Duke Dumont

The general consensus was always that, yes, Duke Dumont is pretty awesome, very talented and quite sexy, and so you think that you have everything sussed. The world is as you know it. You are comfortable, or as comfortable as you can, with that fact. Okay, so you'd like Greggs and Tesco to disappear, to make mash the cornerstone of your diet, and to have a lot more sex dreams and less nightmares in which you're inevitably running down a dark corridor with damp walls in your bare feet. But these are the things that are outside of your control and you expect to be annoyances on your day-to-day existence (especially Tesco).

So faith is put in things like gravity, Alexa Chung being in every copy of Look, and Duke Dumont to remix songs as you'd expect. You know, bloody wonderful to the point of a blinding headache.

But not like this. This has come to reshape my summer. And I am very grateful of it.

Mystery Jets - Two Doors Down (Duke Dumont remix) [via YouSendIt for 7 days]

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Glaciers are spiritual places

The Franz Josef Glacier, like all the other Glaciers in New Zealand, is rapidly shrinking. Photo: Bob McKerrow

To stand on a glaciers and feel its power as it grinds, flows, shakes and rests, is to feel power like no other. To see glacial mills, worn mountain sides and sweeping morraines is to observe the work of glaciers over millions of years. They are spiritual places and for me, places of pilgrimage.

I have been visiting the Tasman, the Fox, the Franz Josef, Brewster and Bonar Glaciers since 1966 and in just over 40 years they appear to have almost halved.

Most of New Zealand's glaciers are now the smallest they have been since records began - and they continue to shrink at a rapid rate.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, which made the discovery, said global warming was the main culprit.

WARMING SIGN: Marion Glacier in Arawata Valley has recently withdrawn from its proglacial state. Most of New Zealand's glaciers are the smallest they've been since records began.Photo:Trevor Chinn

Between April last year and March this year, glaciers in the Southern Alps lost about 2.2 billion tonnes of permanent ice - the equivalent in weight to the top section of Mt Taranaki. It is the fourth highest annual loss since monitoring began 32 years ago.

Graham Saddle which connects the Franz Josef Glacier, via the Rudolf Glacier, to the mighty Tasman Glacier. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The total ice for the glaciers now comprises an estimated 44.9 cubic kilometres - the lowest on record. The volume of ice dropped by 50 per cent during the last century.

Niwa principal scientist Jim Salinger said glaciers were fed by snow, but because of the La Nina weather system over New Zealand, more easterly winds and warmer than normal temperatures during the period, there was less snow in the Southern Alps and more snowmelt.


Peaks at the Head of the Tasman Glacier. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Dr Salinger said while the glaciers were sensitive to changes in wind and precipitation as well as temperature, global warming was a big factor in their shrinking.

"It's one of the clearest signs that our climate is warming and that [the shrinkage] is a definite physical response. To have that amount of melting you would have to reduce the precipitation at least by a half or more or warm a degree," he said.

The retreating Tasman Glacier. Photo: Bob McKerrow

"They are definitely a sign of warming. There is no doubt about it. You get a very rapid loss of snow and ice and that's what's been happening."

"We know that precipitation has not gone down in the Southern Alps. In the last quarter of a century it's gone up. So to make them retreat you've got to have more melting, which is higher temperatures.

"This is certainly a definite sign of warming in the New Zealand area."

Niwa has surveyed 50 glaciers in the Southern Alps for the past 32 years, recording the height of the snowline at the end of each summer. On average the snowline this year was 130 metres above where it would need to be for the glaciers not to shrink, Dr Salinger said.

It was unlikely the glaciers would disappear entirely, as that would require a temperature rise of 7 degrees Celsius and no snow even at the top of our highest mountain, Mt Cook.

But they would continue to retreat. Another sign of warming were 12 glacial lakes, including ones at Marion Glacier and Tasman Glacier.

Looking from Castle Rocks Hut across the Franz Josef Glacier to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Photo: Bob McKerrow

What moves me most is mountain landscapes and my dream of being a snow flake wafting from the sky. To fall on a mountain pass or a col, or even top of a mountain peak. To later to be part of a bergschrund, a snowy arete, a snow field, a neve, a glacier, a crevasse and in my anger and power, an avalanche. And then when I melt, that long trip down the river to the sea. The processes of snow, ice, glaciers, and mountain geology fascinate me and have drawn me back in awe time and time and time again. While reveling in the beauty of the mountains it reminds me our life on this earth is as ephemeral as a snowflake.

The Franz Josef Glacial neve taken from Almer Hut. The Southern Alps of New Zealand in the background. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I once could ski like the wind down mountainsides in New Zealand, France, Austria, Italy and Switzerland. I often repeat the runs in my mind. What keeps me traveling and working these days is the anticipation of seeing something new and the sense of awe evoked by architecture, landscapes, people and their cultures. To close my eyes and to look back at the history behind these special places, provides a sense of place and purpose in my life. Frequently the kaleidoscope of contrasts, from awe to awfulness, between pomp, power and poverty, and death; which I see almost daily in my work, wearies me greatly. Every year I return to New Zealand and visit the mountains to restore by soul, and rest my burnt body.

The Waiho River Valley which was covered by ice 15,000 years ago.

Special thanks to Tom Cardy of The Dominion Post to quote from his recent article.

70 Amazing Futuristic & Crazy Computer Cases

So weird yet so cool computer cases!

Kings Of Leon

Actually enjoyable? Or have I lost it completely?

There is something I really like about this.

Kings Of Leon - Sex On Fire

For You. You know who, You. You know? You.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


It is that feeling. Feeling that you are in a safe pair of hands. Feeling that come what may that there is actually something constant.

Knowing that you are instantly going to like something. After not really liking anything at all for a really long time. Or starting to like weird things. It is all okay. You'll come full circle. Realise what you've been missing out on and decide that all that is needed is a locked door, darkened room, overdose of bedranol, and semi-naked-hair-shaking-flinging-things-with-eye-closed dancing.

Thank the unknown, possibly -- no, probably -- non-existent supreme deity/deities above.


MSTRKRFT - Vuvuvu [via YouSendIt for 7 days]

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reminiscing my Old Facebook Profile

Get your old facebook back easily

The days of the old Facebook ends today, but it doesn't have to be that way. Application developers are now scrambling to "recreate" the look of the old, but one team has already found success. 2,000,000 users aren't lying when they said they wanted the old Facebook back.



Or something resembling a certain form of it, maybe? Who knows.

Anyway, I have been reunited with the internet. We have some catching up to do.

So in the meantime I leave you with two nuggets to consider.

I have a goldfish, very beautiful fantailed goldfish, firey orange. Suggestions for a name or aquatic related songs and artists. I need a giggle. Oh. And another fish (hopefully pearly white) to be aquired soon. So keep that in mind.

The other, is it wrong to enjoy commerical dance-esque synths? The Boyfriend would happily expose me for a slight liking to it.

So, get this!

Kanye West - Flashing Lights (feat. Dwele)

Monday, September 15, 2008

"I want to eat your liver."

Jason Elliot is emerging as one of the world’s great travel writers with a style somewhere between Robert Byron and Peter Fleming. His works include An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan (1999) and Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran (2006).

Jason stayed with me twice during his journey in Afghanistan late in 1995 and again in early 1996 when he was writing An Unexpected Light. I was flattered when the book came out, as the first words in his book are, ‘ Dear Ropate’ which is the name he calls me. It is Maori for Robert.

In 1998 he flew from London to Almaty to be at Naila’s and my wedding, but was deported on the return flight as he didn’t have a visa. He came back a month later with a visa and we travelled in Kazakhstan for ten days together. It was winter, and as we drove and walked in the mountains, it frequently was snowing. I remember walking with Jason to a mountain pass in the Tienshan mountains at 4000 plus metres, and eating salami with Russian bread and washing it down with a bottle of red wine, as huge snowflakes swirled around our heads.

I phoned Jason last night. He was in London. We phone about once a year and share our comings and goings.
I joked with Jason about a beautiful Kazakh lady who had fallen in love with him when he visited us in Kazakhstan. I said “you left her broken hearted and she is still in love with you.” I told Jason that her name in Kazakh means love. Jason, fresh out of Persia (Iran) replied, “In Persia when you love someone deeply, you say, I want to eat your liver.”
We spoke about his first An unexpected light which his publishers are about to republish as a classic.

Jason went to Afghanistan in the 1980s at the age of 19 to live with the Afghan resistance, or mujahideen.

Here he looks back on the chaos of combat and reflects on how a patriotic cause became embroiled in foreign ideology.

I had arrived at a mujahideen headquarters at a tiny little ravine on our route towards Kabul from the Pakistani border.

One of the men had been injured after stepping on a landmine. The commander gave me a shawl the injured man had been wearing and told me I could wash it. It was soaked in his blood but I just saw a dirty shawl. I put it in the river, pushed the fabric down and saw the water turn red.

It was a defining moment - I realised this was the blood of a real man and he was dying at that moment on the donkey at the end of the path.

From those simple beginnings as a young adventurer at 19, Jason Elliot has blossomed into a seasoned travel writer, possibly the best in the world. I value his friendship.