More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism, Part 67

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, 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.

There are some things you never forget in this twilight world of nascent Harry Limes. Like the face wrinkled in disgust of the small boy changing money in Sarajevo. He’d just been offered a fistful of English pounds.

There are some basic requirements for happy travelling. Negotiable instruments for a start – whether they be an American Express card or – more likely – hard cash in either local currency or the dollar or deutschmark. Some of the most lawless and dangerous parts of the world do, however, accept the magic plastic which is of course rather safer to carry around than vast wads of cash. You might think a money belt worn next to the skin is the answer. I always wore one but it could not be relied upon in all circumstances.

Nairobi is known in the trade these days as Nairoberry. It is a wonderful city gone bad under decades of corrupt government. An acquaintance (he borrowed money from me) in Nairobi, Keith, a pensioned-off BBC producer delayed his departure from his local bar until after dark. Although his office was only a hundred yards away, en route he was set upon by street kids who took everything off him. Yes, even his underpants. I never got my money back from him, of course.

If I’d tried to rely on the money actually earned in the war zones on a weekly basis then I would soon have sunk from sight. However, I always regarded it as bit of an experiential investment, not just a way of making an everyday living. That has proved very much to be the case. I still lecture extensively on my experiences in the world of derring-do and my photographs are now part of dozens of professional Powerpoint presentations, which I give more than a hundred times a year.

The other source of income which developed was from books. Now, writing books is not to be recommended at all as a way of making any sort of a real living. However, as a contributory agent, it can work nicely. I wrote my first book around the age of seventeen. Bizarrely, When Pirates Ruled the Waves would be one of my most successful and is still available worldwide from Amazon. My bestselling book has to be a modest and rather slim volume entitled, The Little Scottish Cookbook.

When I was last able to enquire about it (the publisher has gone out of business, not on account of my book, I would add), it had sold 228,000 copies. I agreed to write it one year at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The publisher from Belfast, John Murphy, asked me to write it in ten days.

I did. Indeed, I polished it off over a wet weekend at my home in Scotland. He paid me