More thrills than skills – A half-life in journalism, part 19

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, edited extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More thrills than skills: A half-life in journalism’, is being scheduled for publication next year.

I CALLED around the usual people I usually wrote for, but Montserrat was not on the news agendas.

They were not encouraging. However, I left some contact numbers and packed an overnight bag, the cameras and the satellite telephone. I reckoned it might a bit of a break and I could maybe do a couple of background features…

I flew across the Atlantic quite oblivious to totally-unexpected developments on the floor of the British House of Commons.

As I flew into Antigua and scoured the harbour for a small boat to ferry me across to Montserrat, the British Commonwealth Minister was addressing the House on a matter of great urgency.

According to information received by his department, the island of Montserrat faced the imminent likelihood of “a catastrophic explosion”.

I awoke the next morning to sun and blue seas clearly visible through my bedroom window and, yes, there was the reassuring grey bulk of a British warship offshore.

Although I did not know it at the time, this was HMS Liverpool, dispatched by the British Government to organise the evacuation of the island.

Behind me, there was a satisfying plume of grey smoke emitting from Mount Soufriere.

I set up the satellite telephone next to the pool and tucked into a satisfying breakfast of fresh fruit. Then the satphone started to ring. “Hello, Paul. Are you there in Montserrat? Are you okay?”