After The Tsunami: Onagawa, Japan, 2011

I FELT the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, in the same way that you might get a spot of drizzle from the tip of the tail of a hurricane. At 2.46pm on Friday, March 11, I was walking home from the library in a small, quiet town called Daishoji, some 400 miles west of the epicentre. The pavement shifted side to side, ever so slightly. I had been drinking the night before, and my first thought was for my lost youth, when I could handle a few beers and a couple of shots without wobbling off a footpath the following afternoon. It took a full five seconds to register that this movement was occurring outside my skull, and a little longer to recognise the sensation.

Touching The Void: An Interview With Joe Simpson

TWO people climb a mountain, connected by a rope. They go up together in concerted motion, taking turns to carve out a path. If one falls, so does the other. This method is known as “alpine-style” – the purest kind of mountaineering. It has the simplicity of a proverb and it loads the rope with meaning. When Simon Yates cut the cord between himself and his friend Joe Simpson during their fraught descent from the summit of Peru’s Siula Grande in 1985, he was taking the only possible, practical action. The act itself was resounding. There were only two people on the mountain, but everybody heard about it.

Master, Commander, and Liar: Patrick O’Brian

ON October 11, 1996, a banquet was held in the Painted Hall of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich – a huge room designed by the astronomer-architect Sir Christopher Wren, its ceilings detailed with images of British maritime power. This was where Admiral Nelson’s body lay in state after it was shipped back from the… Read more »

Shadow Of The Gunmen: An Interview With Brian Keenan

AFTER his kidnap in Beirut on April 11, 1986, Brian Keenan did not see the sun for 1596 days. Held hostage by members of the fundamentalist Shi’ite group Islamic Jihad at various locations around Lebanon, he was eventually released on August 24, 1990. Blind Flight, the new feature film based on Keenan’s ordeal and that of fellow hostage John McCarthy – who was not released until one year later – condenses their experience into a screen time of 96 minutes.

Hearts In Antarctica: Writing My Romantic Novel

CASTLE of Park is bright pink. It rises out of the Scottish countryside like a sudden blush on the green cheek of rural Aberdeenshire. Driving up through the grounds, I imagine that this place was custom built as a refuge for budding romantic novelists like myself, the colour acting as a kind of beacon to guide us over the hills in our heightened state of distraction.

Fear & Loathing At The Chelsea Flower Show

‘AND God said, “Let the Earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed and the fruit tree yielding fruit” and it was so.’ Even in those first seven days of over-achievement it was a particularly nice piece of work. You could landfill a quarry with all the great paintings and written words that Man – one of God’s later and less perfect creations – has dedicated to the planet’s vegetation. “In all things of nature there is something of the marvellous,” declared Aristotle. “The Earth laughs in flower,” smiled Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ever since civilisation gradually dragged us away from the pastoral idyll where we all held hands, wore garlands and jumped, laughing, over sheep, people have been trying to recreate it for themselves.

Scottish Mountain Rescue

ON March 25 this year, the Scottish Executive drew a rough shape on to the map of the Highlands and claimed everything within that space as part of the new Cairngorm National Park. Same old place, slightly different name. Almost everybody concerned is confident that this invisible upgrade will enhance the life of the area.

A Stranger In Dog City: Crufts 2005

TO COME to Crufts uninitiated is to feel like a stranger in Dog City. Humans still outnumber canines at the greatest dog show on earth – more than 120,000 people now visit the event in the course of its annual four-day run at the Birmingham NEC arena. But the object of their journey is to honour and to serve and to marvel at this pantheon of dogs in all their beastly magnificence. I arrive at Crufts 2005 on the night of the gun dogs, reaching the main hall just in time to see which of the day’s ten winners in that category, each judged the best of their breed, will go through to the final Best In Show competition tomorrow – where the finest dog on the planet will be decided.

Ninjas I Have Known

THERE is no place on Earth where a person can say with absolute certainty that they are not being stalked by ninjas. Common sense suggests this is unlikely, but pure logic dictates that you cannot prove a negative, and the art of the ninja is to go unperceived. I have been around the world to look for them, to shadow them in reverse, and whenever I find a possible candidate, he or she tends to deny it. “No no no,” said Mats Hjelm, a web-designer from Stockholm, during a short break from his ninjutsu class in Tokyo. “I don’t like to call it by that name, although I know that some other people do. And I definitely don’t call myself a ninja.” This was, of course, exactly what a ninja would say.

Epecuen: Atlantis Of The Pampas

It’s a bright cold day in the austral midwinter. The low sun is dropping into the lake, drawing long shadows from the dead trees, broken streetlights, and bent telephone poles that stick out of the water as if planted there. Three flamingos are floating down the Avenida De Mayo, past the half-sunken ruins of the Azul Hotel. Their pinkness almost glows against the dry white crust that covers every exposed surface. It looks like ash, or frost, but is actually salt. There is 10 times more salt in this water, per cubic centimetre, than in any of the world’s oceans. The lake was named “Epecuen” by the Mapuche tribes who once populated the surrounding lowlands of central Argentina – it was their word for the itch caused by the salt drying on their skin, though they also found that it had health-giving properties.