Trip­ping with...

He’s eaten in­sects, im­bibed jun­gle juice and been lost in the desert – all part of this science broad­caster and best­selling writer’s cat­a­logue of cu­ri­ous ex­pe­ri­ences.

Qantas - - Contents -

Michael Mosley on gath­er­ing kan­ga­roo skulls in the out­back

Where are you right now?

I’m in Kim­meridge, Dorset, where my wife’s fam­ily has a cot­tage. Un­for­tu­nately, it’s a clas­sic Bri­tish sum­mer’s day – grey and dull, with a bit of wind. I might go wind­surf­ing.

What was your typ­i­cal child­hood hol­i­day?

I spent the first two or three years of my life in Cal­cutta [now Kolkata] then we went to the Philip­pines and Hong Kong. I at­tended board­ing school in Eng­land so a typ­i­cal hol­i­day was go­ing to Hong Kong once a year to see my par­ents and to sail and play golf.

Was ar­riv­ing in Eng­land a cul­ture shock?

Ab­so­lutely. Be­ing eight and go­ing to board­ing school in cold, wet Swan­age, Dorset – it was very Dick­en­sian. Ev­ery morn­ing, you had to plunge into a con­crete pool full of cold wa­ter be­fore you went off to church.

What was the think­ing be­hind that?

The cold plunge was to strengthen your body and church was to re­in­force your soul.

Have you ex­pe­ri­enced any other cul­ture shocks?

Go­ing to Ox­ford Univer­sity was a big cul­ture shock. I en­coun­tered lots of peo­ple in­ter­ested in the world of ideas and cul­ture – things my school was not re­motely in­ter­ested in.

What about on the road?

When we were at med­i­cal school, my wife [Dr Clare Bai­ley] of­ten worked with Save the Chil­dren and I’d join her in the jun­gle in Peru, trav­el­ling from vil­lage to vil­lage in a small boat to pro­vide med­i­cal ser­vices. [Mil­i­tant group] Sen­dero Lu­mi­noso was ac­tive and there was the threat of be­ing snatched or mur­dered.

I re­cently went back to the jun­gle to have a spe­cial drink. The ladies of the vil­lage gather around and chew cas­sava then spit it into a large pot and let it fer­ment. The spit breaks down the starch and turns it into su­gar then the bac­te­ria and fungi in the at­mos­phere turn it into al­co­hol. It demon­strates just how in­ge­nious hu­mans are at mak­ing al­co­hol.

Have you had any other mem­o­rable dishes while trav­el­ling?

I’ve eaten a lot of in­sects. They’re very pop­u­lar in the Far East. The Dutch are try­ing to re­brand lo­custs as “fly­ing prawns”. A chef as­sured me that in­sects have a very high pro­tein con­tent, are eth­i­cal in terms of how they’re bred and take up lit­tle in the way of nu­tri­ents and wa­ter. Un­for­tu­nately, I’m not sure how soon they are go­ing to take off – they’re quite dry and crunchy.

Is there a des­ti­na­tion you keep re­turn­ing to?

Perth. It’s where I made my first science doc­u­men­tary

[Ul­cer Wars], about an Aus­tralian, Barry Mar­shall, who fa­mously swal­lowed the bac­te­ria Heli­cobac­ter

py­lori to demon­strate that it causes ul­cers. Barry [who won a No­bel Prize in 2005] proved you can cure what was re­garded as an in­cur­able dis­ease within five days us­ing an­tibi­otics. He trans­formed hun­dreds of thou­sands of lives, in­clud­ing mine, be­cause I got the idea of do­ing self-ex­per­i­ments. I’ve done an aw­ful lot of them through­out my tele­vi­sion ca­reer.

I also have friends from med­i­cal school who live in Perth. In my first year, the dean said that, sta­tis­ti­cally, four stu­dents in our class would marry [each other]. I met my wife that day and there’s an­other cou­ple who lives in south-western Aus­tralia.


What’s your im­pres­sion of Perth?

I find it in­cred­i­bly dra­matic. The long­est road jour­ney I’ve ever done was from Perth to Dar­win when I was 11. My un­cle, who headed a mu­seum in Perth, was ab­so­lutely fa­nat­i­cal about an­i­mal anatomy. As we drove north, he would leap out of the car, find a dead kan­ga­roo, cut off its head and stick it in the boot. By the time we got to Dar­win, we had a fine col­lec­tion of kan­ga­roo skulls in the back of the car. We ripped up spinifex clumps, turned them up­side down and slept on them. We went to Shark Bay [in Western Aus­tralia] and I re­mem­ber days and days of driv­ing down dusty roads and see­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary lit­tle towns. You could have steak and beer for break­fast; I didn’t get the beer but I got the steak.

What’s the worst place you’ve been lost?

When I was mak­ing the doc­u­men­tary about Barry, we were film­ing 200 miles [320 kilo­me­tres] north of Perth. For some rea­son, the crew flew back to Perth in a he­li­copter and I was left driv­ing the car – this was at 9 o’clock at night and I was sup­posed to catch a plane in the morn­ing. I got com­pletely lost in the desert and ran out of petrol. I was think­ing, “What am I go­ing to do? I have no idea where I am,” when a mil­i­tary pa­trol came across me, filled up the car and led me in the di­rec­tion of Perth. I have fond mem­o­ries of that mil­i­tary pa­trol com­ing out of ab­so­lutely nowhere.

Which des­ti­na­tion was a sur­prise to you?

Hong Kong. I re­cently went back for the first time in about 35 years. Parts of it look like some­thing out of Blade Run­ner: you can travel for miles un­der­ground or way above the ground. But on the streets, the buy­ing and sell­ing is in­cred­i­bly fa­mil­iar.

Is there a place you could have given a miss?

There’s a small town in Tu­nisia that I can hon­estly say was the dusti­est, most bor­ing place I’ve ever seen. I thought I’d be able to see the Sa­hara but that par­tic­u­lar bit of the Sa­hara is like a vast, empty car park.

When you walk into a ho­tel room, what’s the first thing you do?

I lis­ten for trucks be­cause I hate noise. But I’m not that both­ered by ho­tel rooms one way or an­other. Once, in New York, there was a grand pi­ano in my room. I can’t play so it was wasted on me but I was im­pressed. I also stayed at a ho­tel in Brazil where a tree grew through the room.

You have four adult chil­dren. Is there some­where you want to travel with them?

I’d like to take them on sa­fari be­cause I’ve never been. Ev­ery year, if we can, we go ski­ing – in the French Alps, usu­ally. There’s some­thing ter­ri­bly good about driv­ing there; you stay some­where nearby and then the next morn­ing, as the sun rises, you drive into the Alps. My chil­dren like com­ing with me – par­tic­u­larly if I pay.

If you could be any­where else in the world right now, where would it be?

I’d like to be in Perth – it’s got to be sun­nier there. My friends would drag me off at 5am to run on the beach and have cof­fee af­ter­wards. They’ve been mem­bers of a run­ning group for 20 years and I feel like I know those peo­ple, too. The Perth life­style is that you get up early and, you know, do stuff. It’s the per­fect cli­mate for it. Also, be­ing able to run on the beach with the sun ris­ing is kind of fab­u­lous.

Shark Bay, where a young Michael Mosley got a taste of the out­back

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