On the radio

I’m very excited – and incredibly lucky – to be doing more radio at the moment. As well as my penguin programmes for BBC Radio 4 recently, I’ve just finished making South America in the South Atlantic with Sparklab Productions, which is going out BBC World Service in August, Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent…

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Cracks in the ice

Cracks in the ice

So the big Antarctic news today (7 Dec 16) is all based on this press release put out yesterday by British Antarctic Survey, the government body coordinating the UK’s polar research, about their intention to move the Halley Research Station away from an expanding chasm in the ice shelf on which Halley sits. First, hats off to…

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Talking to people

I’m very happy to have given two talks in the last few days, both in my home town, Banbury. The first was an “Antarctic Evening”. Soon after I got home from my trip to Antarctica earlier this year with the BBC weather presenter Peter Gibbs, a local friend – community organiser Steve Gold – suggested…

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The rise and rise of Jordanian cinema

A wonderful recent assignment in Jordan, writing about the growth of independent cinema. Here’s what I wrote on Facebook: Copy/pasting the FB status here: I had such fun writing this article on Jordan’s emerging film industry, and the work of the amazing Nadine Toukan as creator, mentor, guide and inspiration. It’s an article I’ve been wanting…

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Naked diplomacy – digital in Beirut

Naked diplomacy – digital in Beirut

I was lucky to visit Beirut recently to make a documentary for BBC World Service radio about the remarkable outgoing British Ambassador, Tom Fletcher. You can listen to it here, or alternatively, download it as an MP3 podcast here (or via iTunes here). I wrote an accompanying piece for the BBC News website – click here to read it. Full…

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BBC Front Row on Theeb

BBC Front Row on Theeb

After a few tweets and a bit of pestering, I was lucky enough to be invited by presenter Samira Ahmed onto Front Row, the main daily arts programme on BBC Radio 4 in the UK, to talk about Theeb, a new and – in my entirely humble opinion – brilliant film by Jordanian director Naji…

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The churches of Dubai

The churches of Dubai

When I knew I would be stopping over in Dubai on a recent trip, I began casting around for story ideas. I wouldn’t be there long. Food? No, kind of done it. Old Dubai? Well, maybe, but what, on a short trip? I’d never yet made it to the Hindu temple which I knew stood…

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Tales from the British Library

Tales from the British Library

Back in August, I got a call from a PR at the British Library. They said they’d read my piece on Qatar in High Life magazine, and wondered if I’d be interested in something else to do with Qatar. What followed was a heads-up about something which I’d already been vaguely aware of, but hadn’t properly…

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BBC stories: hot (Doha) and cold (Antarctica)

BBC stories: hot (Doha) and cold (Antarctica)

A couple of my stories went out on the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent programme this summer. First – a hot place. My story from Doha looked at how sudden extreme wealth hasn’t necessarily been a wholly positive experience for Qatar and Qataris. Radio 4 audio here starts 17’27” (a slightly edited version went out on World Service…

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Stories from Qatar

Stories from Qatar

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be in Qatar, on assignment for the British Airways inflight magazine High Life. It was for an idea I’d pitched to them, trying to give a bit of insider perspective to the way Doha is usually covered in the Western media – which tends to be either PR-driven…

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Sandhurst and the Sheikhs

Sandhurst and the Sheikhs

THE CHASE: My half-hour documentary for BBC Radio 4 on Britain’s contradictory military relationship with allies in the Gulf was broadcast August 27th, 2014. Full audio here or here, related article here.   BACKSTORY: On March 5th last year, 2013, while discussing possible ideas for the BBC Radio 4 commissioning round, I sent an independent production company,…

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A historic flight along the Nile

Late last year, I was tweeting with Tom Fletcher, Britain’s ambassador to Lebanon – that’s the great thing about Twitter, it’s such a leveller: anyone can tweet with anyone. He mentioned in passing that his great-grandfather took part in the first-ever aeroplane flight along the River Nile, exactly one hundred years ago. That sounded like…

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Beacon: a new approach to journalism

Beacon: a new approach to journalism

Friends and followers: I’m trying something new. This is a pitch for money. I first heard about Beacon when Iona Craig, a freelance journalist for the Times in Yemen, tweeted that she had joined it. Then I saw that Gaar Adams, a UAE-based freelancer, was on it too. Gaar put me in touch with Dan…

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The Round Trip

The Round Trip

I’m not sure when I first read Yuval Ben-Ami‘s travel writing. It was almost certainly on a recommendation from my friend Lisa Goldman, who I met one motor-mouthed evening at a pavement café in a mildly hipster part of Tel Aviv during the pre-hipster autumn of 2009. I was there to research this story for the…

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CNN, Anthony Bourdain and me

CNN, Anthony Bourdain and me

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain launched the new series of his ‘Parts Unknown’ travel cookery show on CNN this week with an episode titled ‘Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza’. You can watch it here: It’s had pretty positive reviews. The Washington Post thought it was “so good“. The Open Zion blog called it “groundbreaking reporting“. Amer Zahr,…

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“God Is Shy” – a story from Syria

“God Is Shy” – a story from Syria

Last night (29 July) the news came through from Syria that Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, a highly respected Jesuit priest who has lived in Syria for thirty years, had been kidnapped. Rumours began to swirl on social media, first about his kidnapping, then about his supposed late-night release. At this writing (30 July) it’s not clear…

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By The Lemon Tree – a B&B in Amman

By The Lemon Tree – a B&B in Amman

I met Guido Romero for the first time 3 or 4 years ago, on a drive out of Amman with a mutual friend. Guido is from an Italian family inextricably linked with the 20th-century development of Amman. His grandfather, Dr. Fausto Tesio, founded Jordan’s first hospital, in 1921, and Guido’s mother, author, artist and gallery-owner…

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Postcard from Qena

Postcard from Qena

The Independent‘s sister paper, the i, has a daily “Postcard From…” strand. A month ago I wrote a short “Postcard from Qena” (a city in southern Egypt) for them, with a mini-profile of the dynamic but controversial local governor. I heard nothing back – and what with all the, er, changes in Egypt I thought it had…

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Hope Floats – a cruise up the Nile

Hope Floats – a cruise up the Nile

“Hope Floats” is the title Wanderlust have given to my article about the revived ‘long cruise’ along the Nile between Cairo and Luxor, published in the current issue (July/Aug 2013). I’m posting the text below – but they’ve done a beautiful job on layout, with lots of striking images, spread over 12 pages. Here’s a…

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Discontent on the Nile

Discontent on the Nile

On the back of my recent visit to Egypt, BBC radio’s From Our Own Correspondent programme recently ran a piece I wrote from Minya, a town in Middle Egypt newly opening up to foreign tourism. Click here to listen to the audio from BBC Radio 4, or click here to download the podcast (MP3 file: 13MB),…

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BBC World News interview

Last night I was on BBC World News and BBC4 in the UK, interviewed by Philippa Thomas on the aftermath of the Luxor balloon disaster and its immediate impact on the Egyptian tourism industry. Video here and below:

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Stateless in Kuwait

Stateless in Kuwait

My latest for BBC radio’s From Our Own Correspondent aired a couple of days ago – a report about Kuwait’s stateless bidoon (or bidun, or bedoon, not to be confused with bedouin). Before I went to Kuwait I was given a contact to bidoon activist Abdulhakeem Al Fadhli, and during my short visit to the country was able to…

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“Satan stays away”

“Satan stays away”

Had a wonderful return visit to Dhofar in southern Oman a couple of months ago, on assignment for the Times, who wanted a frankincense story for their pre-Christmas travel pages. I happily obliged. Here’s the link – but it’s behind a paywall, so in case you’re not a Times subscriber I’ve pasted the text in…

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“Of course the government is reading my tweets”

“Of course the government is reading my tweets”

My latest for the BBC radio programme From Our Own Correspondent, from Oman, looking at issues of protest, self-censorship and social media. Audio here (my bit begins around 11’25”). Transcript as BBC news feature here. I woke to the roar of total silence. Issa, an Omani bedouin of the Al-Maashani tribe, made tea as the…

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Why a rough guide is better than none

First, the campaigning political journalist Nick Cohen decided to lay into Lonely Planet for their supposedly expedient politics. So I wrote this response, explaining why Cohen is wrong. Next stop: Michael C. Moynihan for this desperately muddled libertarian froth. Jason Clampet already had a go. Wish me luck. Better still, anyone else like to step in? UPDATES (24/08/2012): UPDATE 1:…

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A Wadi Runs Through It

A Wadi Runs Through It

Late in 2010, a US magazine editor gave me a tip about an environmental scheme in the Saudi capital Riyadh that was up for a major international prize, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. They were keen for me to do a story. The scheme – which has transformed Riyadh’s main Wadi Hanifah watercourse from…

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Social media and the Holy City

Social media and the Holy City

In case you still think Twitter is just a bunch of narcissists discussing what they had for breakfast, a couple of months ago, while tweeting about pitching to editors, I got a public reply from Jane Knight, travel editor at the Times, asking why I never pitched to her anymore. Laziness? I um’d and ah’d…

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Tracks of my tears

Tracks of my tears

I couldn’t resist the headline, sorry – even though I’m not crying and it means I’ve had two consecutive posts headlined with ‘tears’. Thrilled and delighted this weekend to have another piece on BBC radio’s From Our Own Correspondent, after ones earlier this year on Saudi Arabia and Cairo. This time I’m talking about Jerusalem’s…

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Syria: the only way is up

Syria: the only way is up

Journalist Tom Gara recently wrote this article (registration required) for FT Tilt – a short piece which takes info from a blog post by Syria analyst Joshua Landis, which in turn digests 2008 figures from the Syrian Central Bureau of Statistics. In summary: • Syria’s entire hotel industry employs just 11,224 people. This represents 0.05% of the Syrian population of 22.5 million. Even…

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From (Not) Our Own Correspondent

From (Not) Our Own Correspondent

Very chuffed today to have a piece from Cairo’s Tahrir Square on the BBC World Service radio programme From Our Own Correspondent – click on this link to hear it. The piece as aired was edited slightly and cut down to fit the running time. Here’s the original, as submitted. My favourite Cairo graffito of the…

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Sixteen times round the world

Sixteen times round the world

I had the privilege last weekend to meet Peter Greenberg, travel editor for CBS News and a legendary figure in travel journalism. I was in Jordan and he’d stopped in for a couple of days – he did outline his week at one point: it ran something like Tokyo, New York, Amman, Mexico City, Los…

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CNN’s error of judgement

CNN’s error of judgement

CNN has fired its Senior Editor of Middle East Affairs of twenty years’ standing, Octavia Nasr, after she tweeted this: Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot. The reference is to Fadlallah, a prominent Lebanese Shia cleric, who died on July 4th. Nasr…

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Journalist as communicator

Journalist as communicator

Acknowledgement for a worthy award-winner. Yesterday Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, was presented with the Charles Wheeler Award 2010 for achievements in broadcast journalism. Amid the screech of grinding axes that characterises much coverage of events in the Middle East, Jeremy Bowen has, to my mind, always maintained a calm, old-school approach to reporting –…

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Telling stories

Telling stories

At the risk of going over familiar ground, I want to put down a few thoughts prompted – yet again! – by a post on Jeremy Head’s excellent Travelblather blog, discussing ‘the skillset of the online travel writer‘. In the comments, Debbie Ferm of Traveldither.com wrote, “Like all web copy, travel writing will need to be…

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Bloggers and journalists

Bloggers and journalists

There’s been a great debate over on Jeremy Head’s Travelblather blog, which started off as a proposal for a new way to fund travel writing, but which – in the comments – has shifted over, at least partly, into the old familiar barney about the differences (if any) between bloggers and journalists. One comment on…

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Blue pencils and red lights

Blue pencils and red lights

A recent flurry of articles continues: after 48 Hours in Tel Aviv, something about the deserts of Abu Dhabi and the Traveller’s Guide to the Red Sea (all published in the Independent in the last month or so), my non-travel feature about gay and lesbian issues in Israel appeared in the Independent’s Saturday magazine over…

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Swiss rolled

Swiss rolled

As regular readers will know, I do a lot of work in Switzerland. I’m the author of the Rough Guide and have written dozens of articles over the years about travelling in Switzerland. I’ve got a soft spot for the place – but the Swiss need help. They’re afraid. The largest party in the Swiss…

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What the papers say

What the papers say

A little while ago, I noticed a timely opportunity to write about a city I know well (let’s call it Destination X). I pitched a few ideas to a National Newspaper Travel Editor contact (let’s call him NNTE 1). He accepted one. He also put me onto a colleague of his in the Features section…

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Congrats Aleem!

Congrats Aleem!

Just wanted to acknowledge the fact – a few weeks late, sorry – that BBC journalist Aleem Maqbool won the Gaby Rado Memorial Award at the 2009 Amnesty International Media Awards last month, for his reporting from Gaza after taking over the BBC’s bureau there following Alan Johnston’s kidnap. I was going to link to…

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