The Irish journalist, author and one time hostage shares his travelling talesInterview: Mark Anstead
“NOTHING can equal the holidays you take when you’re a kid. I remember going down to a place called Bangor West when I was seven years old. It was only an old bungalow by the sea 13 miles from Belfast, but to me that was magic because we were out of the city and went to bed late at night. I remember going off with my Dad in the morning collecting mushrooms, visiting the local farm to get fresh eggs and learning to fish.
“I’m not a ‘fun’ person. I need something to look at, something that tells me humans have been here before and left a mark. I like places that show the passage of time and development, places that confirm to me that human life goes on.
“I’d like to go back to Italy. It’s very childfriendly and there’s a grace about Italians. I was talking to an Italian once about the troubles in Ireland, and he said to me, ‘Why do you people worry about things? Why can’t you just be happy?’ You can be happy in Italy — nothing’s rushed, nothing’s hurtful, everybody’s accommodating.
“I don’t like sitting on the beach because I just get bored. I have to be moving and looking. I was once walking on a beach in Malaysia spending my whole time wading through the sea — I can’t swim, so I just like to paddle. I’d covered myself with sun block but, of course, it washed off my feet. They got so badly burned I was incapacitated for three days.
“On my way to Australia a few years ago I stopped off at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, but it was very disappointing. The servants fawned too much and everything was so prim and proper it reeked of a kind of colonial amnesia. And as for the drink that was invented there, Singapore Slings, you can sling that as well.
“Because I like to go to some far flung places, packing can be very important. I like to travel light buying what I need when I get there. Also be prepared to jettison the cultural baggage, the presuppositions that you bring with you, as travel is all about entering into a place not passing through one.
“My wife Audrey always brings back six more bags than she took, which only makes the luggage heavier and my pocket lighter. I can never bring back the things I really want to bring back, like large souvenirs that don’t fit. But I did manage to bring back a moose skull from Alaska, complete with antlers (I got lucky).”
Brian Keenan’s book about his trip to Alaska, Four Quarters of Light, is available now.