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I came across an article in The Telegraph the other day listing some of the best excuses for late trains. Among my favourites are “The train now arriving on platform one is on fire. Passengers are advised not to board this train.” And a Cardiff to London train being suspended because of “a giant clown on the line”.

 

On my travels I’ve been delayed by a bus driver’s mother’s birthday party, a bison on a landing strip, and even a fleet of combine harvesters parked at the end of a runway by angry farmers. But never before have pictures of naked women been to blame.

I am travelling from “London” Luton, to fly to Bucharest for a meeting about a film I am writing. The train to get there arrives bang on time. It steams in to the station. I see the blurred faces of confused passengers who had planned to get off. Then I hear the squealing of brakes. A strong burning smell fills the air and the train finally comes to a halt with half of the last carriage at the platform. The commuters and I look at each other. As one, we start running towards the train. I am expecting it to reverse to meet us half way. But no, when we are thirty or forty yards away, the train pulls off.

I see the station announcer raise the microphone to his mouth. “Sorry,” he says, shrugging, “I think he forgot.”

The next train does stop, but unfortunately it also stops at 100 other stations en route and when I reach the airport I have to run to the gate, barely breaking step to clear security. But I needn’t have bothered, there’s another delay. I ready myself for the excuse.

Just in case you can’t imagine what a pile of porn looks like!

A young man with a bashful but defiant expression is locked in a heated discussion with the airline staff. They say his carry-on luggage weighs too much. He says it doesn’t, the airline people insists it does. This goes on for a while.

Eventually, another airline official, a woman with the air of a senior librarian, arrives at the gate. She looks over her half-moon glasses at the young man and makes it absolutely clear that the flight will go without him unless he makes his case lighter.

He sighs, then swallows and unzips his bag. He rummages around for a minute and then drops a magazine on the floor, then another, then another, then another. By the time he has finished, there’s a pile of about twenty magazines of absolute filth scattered on the floor. The other passengers (mainly male, it has to be said) take turns to tut and shake their heads while taking a good look.

The young man looks broken-hearted.

I wait for the apologetic tannoy announcement “We’re very sorry for the delay of the flight to Bucharest. This was caused by heavy pornography.”

 

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According to Amazon.com, the paperback and e-book of The Mango Orchard is now on sale in the USA. Finally.

Until recently, a search for the book on Amazon led to a book called Power Plant Engineering, with a picture of a power station on the front. I’m sure it was a riveting read, but a life-defining road trip through the Americas in search of a hundred year old family secret it most surely was not.

Not The-Mango-Orchard

A number of people have written to me to ask what the difference is between the e-book and paperback. Apart from one being made out of trees, and the other out of digital matter, they are the same. Both have photos and family trees, and both are just about the best pieces of literature ever written!

Nothing to do with Power Plant Engineering

To find out more about the book, read the critical reviews, or order your copy, please click HERE.

In case you prefer Barnes & Noble, it’s on sale there, too.PS: If it’s not in your bookshop please let me know and I’ll get on to the distribution people.

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Poole Central Library, where I have been invited to give a talk about The Mango Orchard, is sandwiched between a KFC and a Primark store, and housed in a concrete shopping centre. Inside, I am pleased to see, it is light and airy. In addition to the regular librarians – including the charming Jenny Oliver who has organised the event – there is an army of green sash-wearing volunteers welcoming people and directing them towards the drinks and refreshments.

With Judy Butt before the talk

Two volunteers heave the books I have brought with me on to a table. I feel a bit like a travelling salesman arriving at an event with a boxful of books. It’s always difficult to know how many to bring. I once travelled six hours to an event in Halifax and sold not one. I have a good feeling about Poole, though.
I am given a very generous introduction by the former mayor, Judy Butt. She is now an executive counsellor with one of the best titles I have ever come across. She is (deep breath) Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Leisure, Sport & Recreation, Culture, Libraries & Community, Learning Public, Engagement and Participation for the Borough of Poole.

The talk goes well and the questions are intelligent and thoughtful. Among the people who put their hands up are a former priest who worked in Mexico, and asks his questions in Spanish, a couple whose daughter is planning her own Latin American adventure, and a woman whose Indonesian grandmother had killed her grandfather with black magic.


“We sold all the books,” the volunteers tell me sadly as they hand me a brown envelope stuffed with cash. “Shame you didn’t bring more.”

From Poole I head to Plymouth, approximately 100 miles away. It takes over five hours. I calculate (I have run out of reading material) that Robert Stephenson’s Rocket would have gone to Plymouth and be half way back by the time we get there. I am joined, between Yetminster and Dorchester, by a group of students. They look a thoughtful, intellectual bunch. They sit down in the seats next to mine. “You know?” says one, “I had a dream last night that I could only get drunk by licking Clarissa’s knees.” The others nod and plug in their iPods.

It’s another good night in Plymouth. This time I don’t have to bring any books and a nice lady from Waterstone’s does brisk business on my behalf. And it’s back to London.

Next stop, Chicago.

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Fireworks-to-celebrate-the-launch-of-the-French-language-version-of-The-Mango-OrchardThe headlines in the French newspapers are united today, describing with one voice the sense of elation and even relief. The regional daily L’Independent talks about a “Turning point” and La Nouvelle Republique talks of “new hope”. Even Liberation does not hide its excitement. In an editorial by Nicolas Demorand, the paper says that there is “huge joy” in France.

Robin-Bayley-trying-to-eat-Les-Manguiers-de-Bellavista

The reason for this celebration? Why, obviously it’s the launch of Les Manguiers de Bellavistathe French language version of the modern classic of emotive travel writing, The Mango Orchard

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President-Hollande-on-hearing-about-the-launch-of-Les-Manguiers-de-Bellavista

The fact that the new president was sworn-in yesterday is complete coincidence.

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I’m at Broadcasting House, the new home of the BBC World Service, for an appearance on Outlook. I am, I will admit, a little nervous. This is not just a national broadcast, it’s the Whole World. And it’s live.

With ten minutes before we’re on-air, I am taken through to the studio by a producer called Jane, to meet Jo Fidgen, the presenter. She is charming, has a remarkably soothing voice, and eyes almost as blue as her hair. We talk briefly about how she plans to tackle the complex story of The Mango Orchard in the seven and a half minutes allotted.

I am escorted to the sound booth, where there are four producers, each at their station, like naval officers at the bridge of a ship. There is an air of ordered panic. There are three minutes until we go live “We’ve lost twenty seconds” calls one, “Twenty seconds of dead air. I think it’s in Nigeria.” Phone calls are made.

There are two women in the corner with electronic stop watches and clip boards. “We’ve shaved seven seconds of the first piece,” says one. One of the producers turns to me and says, “That’s good, seven more seconds for us.”

We’re in to the news and then the programme begins. The first item on the programme is a pre-recorded interview with three Irish women. Jane turns to me and says, “This is a bit depressing”. It is an understatement. The women discuss, in the most explicit detail imaginable, how, behind the façade of a respectable Dublin existence, their father groomed, abused and raped them. For years. There is absolute silence in the control booth, broken by one of the producers: “I feel physically sick”. She then turns to me and says, “We’re looking to you for some light relief!”

“I know some great jokes about the Pope?” I offer. As one, the four producers and the two women with stop watches turn round with panic on their faces.

Perhaps not.

The main producer turns round to me when it has two more minutes to run and says with a cheery smile, “You’re on!”

I feel like a Vaudeville act, asked to follow a performer who had got up on stage and read an autopsy report.

I had deliberately not looked up World Service audience figures. It’s obviously a lot, but when you are talking on live radio about a book you have taken five years to write, and don’t want to screw up, you really don’t want to know numbers. As we go to the studio, Jane says casually, “There’ll be about 40 million people listening.”

Yikes.

I am trying to imagine what forty million people looks like. If they all linked arms, could they reach the moon? How impressive would the tsunami be if they all jumped up and down at the same time? If they all called the same pizza take away restaurant, how long would it be until everyone had their meal?

Jo is looking at me. It’s time to answer the question. That I didn’t hear. I guess what it was and talk for a while. She asks me some more questions and I try to answer them as concisely as I can and before I know it, our seven minutes thirty-seven seconds of talking to 40 million people comes to an end.

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I arrive at Broadcasting House to appear on Robert Elms’ BBC London programme twenty minutes early; I didn’t want to turn up late and breathless and pant into the microphone.
I sign in at the security desk, sit and flick through the BBC staff magazine, Ariel. BBC reception areas seem to have been designed to give the impression that no licence fee money what so ever has been wasted on such frippery as comfortable chairs.
A young man with spiky hair and a heavy leather jacket appears at the security gates to take me up to the studio. He is about to speak when a man in a pork pie hat charges through the sliding doors. He is panting, red in the face, and cursing the inefficiencies of the Victoria Line. “I’ve just run all the way from Oxford f*cking Circus,” he says, and kneels in front of the water cooler and drinks several cups. I notice his hand is trembling. I decide against pointing out that the tube station is only about 100 yards away, or the fact that I had managed my own tube journey without a hitch.
Still breathing heavily, the man in the pork pie hat accompanies us to the studio floor. As soon as the lift doors open, he barges out and runs straight into the studio. I sit in the waiting area, and listen on the wall-mounted speakers to his continuing complaints about the short comings of the underground system, this time without the cuss words.
I had been told that I would be on-air just after 11, for about half an hour, but it’s 11.20 before I am called into the studio. I am introduced to Robert Elms and he tells me about his travels in Mexico as I am placed in front of a microphone on the other side of a padded desk from him.
The theme for the programme today is genealogy, and I am here to talk about The Mango Orchard as an example of a genealogical search which culminates in a remarkable discovery. I’ve been interviewed enough now to be able to tell the story about how I travelled in the footsteps of my great grandfather and discovered the Mexican village in which he had left over three hundred descendants, in several different ways. Today, Robert is getting the family history-themed, half hour version.
I am mystified  when, only two minutes into my interview, Robert starts signalling for to me to make my answers shorter and snappier. What is he thinking? We’ve got thirty minutes to fill! The interview is almost over before I realise that, perhaps because of the late arrival of the man in the pork pie hat, I only have ten minutes. Or I had ten minutes. Suddenly it’s over and I am out in the street again.

            I walk to Oxford Circus station and get stuck on the Victoria Line

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I am deeply indebted to the Mexican Tourist Board and the Mexican embassy who organised, and paid for, a press reception for the launch of The Mango Orchard paperback last week. Press, travel industry leaders, diplomats and VIPs gathered in the cool basement bar of the new Wahaca Soho restaurant on Wardour Street for delicious canapés and truly lethal (but very moreish) tequila cocktails.
It was a humbling reminder that Mexicans are the world’s most generous hosts. Gracias compañeros! 

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I live opposite a pub. It’s a posh gastro pub – the kind of place that offers braised llama loin with a lemon and tarragon reduction, and charges the price of my book (£7.99) for a cup of frothy coffee. There’s generally a combination of yummy mummies, dog walkers and confused tourists sitting outside. I like this, as it allows me to imagine, just for the moment it takes me to walk past it on my way to the tube, that I live in a chic café society.
The only downside to where I live is that the ingredients to said pretentious menu seem to arrive at odd hours throughout the night. It is for that reason that I have been awake since the small hours; that and the sudden launch day panic and fretting about all I have to do in the next few days.
Today I have to be in Oxford by 2pm to be interviewed by Jo Thoenes of BBC Radio Oxford to talk about the book and my appearance at the Oxford Literary Festival on Sunday. I also have two other press interviews and have an article to write.
The last two articles I wrote are on sale today: Family History Monthly and Family Tree magazine. It was tricky to write two completely different articles to similar audiences about the same subject, but I’m pleased with the result. Both issued look really good.
I had better get on. There’s a press reception to attend to as well…

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For the second time in two days, I find myself on the train heading from Liverpool Street station towards Essex. Today, I’m going to Prettygate Library in Colchester, to speak at the Essex Book Festival.
I had allowed enough time to walk from the station, but when I arrive in Colchester, and I see the spitting grey sky, I jump into a cab. I arrive at the venue half an hour early so I while away the time in the nearby pub. The Jefferson Starship song We Built This City on Rock and Roll is playing on a loop on the jukebox, to about four regulars.
Sylvia, the library supervisor, welcomes me. She introduces me to Karen, the Audience Development Officer (what a wonderful title!) and the rest of the staff.
“Thanks for your Tweet,” Sylvia says as she takes my coat. “And we heard you on Radio Essex as well. We had a few people phone up after they heard you.”
She takes me up to the staff room which looks out on to the car park. It is empty. I look up at the sky. It’s still grey and spitting. Will anyone come?
Karen comes up to collect me, and she has a smile on her face. I take comfort from this. As Audience Development Officer, I figure she wouldn’t be smiling if she hadn’t managed to develop a decent audience. Indeed, when we come down the stairs, I see that the library is full.
Karen’s job of developing the audience, I see, is not limited to getting them to come, she also acts as compere. “I think we have some of the local book group here,” she says, and the whole of the front row cheers.
The highlight of many talks is often the Q&A session; today is no exception. All the questions are intelligent and thought-provoking. One man tells me how much the book had meant to him because of his own family story which, in different circumstance, had also taken him to Mexico. There is real emotion in his tale, and I’m not the only one to be brushing away a tear.
Pedro
Back to London and I go straight to the premiere of the Colombian film, Los Viajes del Viento, or Wind Journeys, screened as a fund-raiser for Friends of Colombia for Social Aid. The film is stunning. I particularly appreciate it because the Colombian landscape is extraordinary and reminds me of the journey I did through Colombia with my friend Pedro (chapter 3 in The Mango Orchard) to La Guajira at the northern tip of South America.
I arrive home and check my e-mails. For the first time in nearly a year, I have a mail from… Pedro.

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The final weeks before birth is I gather, the most tiring and tiresome period of pregnancy. You don’t sleep well and can never get comfortable. It reminds me of the old Joan Rivers joke: “I was screaming ‘get this damn thing out of me!’. Nine months earlier I was screaming the exact same thing.”
Women, especially mothers, tend to give me short shrift when I compare the publication of a book to having a baby. But after weeks of anxious waiting, and at least one false alarm, this morning the little bundle carrying the paperback (yes, with photos) finally arrives.
I rip open the box and there it is at last. I don’t have time to spend much quality time with my new arrival though, as I realise I am running late for my appearance on the Steve Scruton show on BBC Radio Essex. I run to the tube, hoping someone will notice the book I am brandishing.
Radio BBC Essex is in a white-walled building in a leafy part of Chelmsford. From the outside, if it weren’t for the BBC livery, it could be a posh dentist’s surgery. I walk into the studio as Steve is in the middle of a link. I sit down and squint at the wall-mounted TV screen showing BBC 24. The images are of men riding in the back of pick-ups carrying rocket-launchers. I read the caption at the bottom of the screen: “Lady Gaga.” That doesn’t make much sense, but I have poor eyesight, and I’m dyslexic, so I’m used to reading things that no one else sees. I look again, and see it says “Libya”.
Steve finishes his link and leans across a desk of microphones to shake my hand. I like him immediately – open and friendly. “Thanks for the Tweet from the train,” he says. I’m always amazed that anyone reads them.
The interview begins and before I know it, I find myself telling the story about how I nearly became a drug-dealing pimp in Colombia. This was probably not the kind of story Steve had in mind when he booked me, but we have a good chat and he very generously gives my appearance at the Essex Book Festival a good plug, and makes admiring noises – live on air – about my new pride and joy.

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