Lat week the Telegraph asked me to write a round-up on Jordan 100 years after Lawrence of Arabia, giving me a 24-hour turnaround to produce copy. I was happy to oblige. Meanwhile I’m still waiting for my long story on the new Jordan Trail to appear, months after I filed it. Watch this space …
There’s a lot more to Jordan than Petra. Photo: Jordan Tourist Board
Earlier this year I was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Reading, and graduated on a hot, sunny day in July. My old friend and talented portrait photographer took some pictures of me in my raspberry doctoral gown and Tudor-style hat. Thank you Snapdragon Photography!
The Queen Of Jordan, that is! I’m just back from a press trip to write about the new Jordan Trail for the Telegraph, and on the last day we were unexpected (for security reasons) summoned to meet HM Queen Rania, who is a fantastic ambassador for for her country. She was glamorous and charming, spoke perfect English, and was genuinely interested in the Jordan Trail project, which has been almost thirty years in the making. Flying home from Jordan yesterday I picked up a copy of the Jordan Times to read on the flight, and found a report of Queen Rania’s visit, including a group photo (I’m in the bottom left-hand corner of the picture, in the lilac scarf). All in all, I walked 60 kms through spectacular mountain scenery to Petra, before the royal visit. An amazing finale to an amazing trip!
Her Majesty Queen Rania poses for a group photo with Thru Hike participants at Dana Village on Monday (Photo courtesy of the Royal Court)
In January I expressed the hope of returning to the Middle East to resume my travel journalism after a few years where this took a back seat due to the uncertain political situation, and the (quite understandable) reluctance for editors to commission travel features about the region. Well, it looks like my hopes have been realised, and I will be returning very soon: to write about a new hiking trail that runs the length of Jordan for the Telegraph. It will be fantastic to hike once more in that amazing country, some 10 years after I first led walking trips there, and good to meet again some of the kindest people I’ve ever come across in my travels (including, I hope, some old friends…).
Hiking group in Wadi Rum, Jordan. Photo: Gail Simmons
For the past few years I’ve been the Telegraph’s ‘Destination Expert’ for my home city of Oxford. When I first wrote the guide in late 2011 I explored the city I’d been living in for the previous 25 years with new eyes, trying to see it as a tourist might. I fell in love with it all over again. Now, every year, I am asked to update that guide, and although the work isn’t the most interesting I do, I’m still proud to represent the great city of Oxford on behalf of the Telegraph. Here’s my latest version.
For the past few years, my travel journalism has taken a bit of a back seat. Events in the Middle East (my specialist region) have hugely curtailed tourism there and newspapers, quite understandably, don’t want to publish travel stories about the region. So, in 2012, I decided to take the opportunity presented by this hiatus to study for a PhD in Creative Writing, which I successfully completed in December 2016. If nothing else, this means I get to wear a fetching red robe and a floppy, Tudor-style hat at my graduation in July.
My plans for 2017 include turning my PhD thesis into a travel book, whilst continuing with my creative writing teaching (at Cambridge and Bath Spa Universities). And, geopolitical events allowing, resuming my travel journalism once again.
1976, the hottest summer in living memory. Every afternoon in my parents’ Home Counties garden, my best friend and I slathered Hawaiian Tropic over every inch of our exposed flesh, hoping to sizzle like chipolatas. This dark, coconut-scented oil offered virtually no protection from the sun, only the means to fry even faster.
We’re supposed to be swotting for exams, but the books lie open on the ground and Radio One crackles from the transistor. We turn it down when my mother comes out from the kitchen bearing a jug of lemon squash, ice cubes clinking against the glass… [click here to read more]