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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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In The Lanes shopping centre in the centre of Carlisle, there’s a camera pointing at a booth specially erected for people to tell jokes for Comic Relief. A little boy with spiky hair is being urged by his friends to tell a joke. It looks like he has several in mind. He smirks to the camera: “What did the elephant say when he stubbed his toe?” He pauses for effect, and shouts, “Shit!”
His friends shriek with laughter. The camera operator smiles as rolls his eyes. Another bit of footage that they won’t be able to play out. 
I’m here to be interviewed by the BBC Radio Cumbria legend, Gordon Swindlehurst, to promote my appearance at the Words by the Water Festival. Being a native of Lancashire and having lived in Mexico for a time, Gordon is the ideal person to talk to about The Mango Orchard.
 
I had expected a massive bank of record decks and mixing desks, but thinking about it, that’s probably because the last outside broadcast I attended was a Simon Bates Radio 1 Roadshow, in about 1985. Things have obviously moved on.
Gordon wears a pair of headphones and wanders around with a microphone with the casualness of someone chatting on a mobile. A woman from the local café delivers him a pasty and he gives a wink of thanks and continues to talk away.
As he takes a break for the news, a couple of women laden with bags of heavy shopping, approach him. “You must know some jokes,” he says.
“Oh no,” replies one. “Only my husband.”
Someone in the studio plays Day Tripper by the Beatles. I sit down next to Gordon and prepare for the interview. I notice that he has two sheets of paper on his clip board. On one I can see my name and a summary of The Mango Orchard. On the other sheet, the word “Duck” is written on the top.
“What’s that all about?” I ask him just before the red light comes on. “You’ll see,” he says, enigmatically and then, in the space of 15 seconds, manages to link together some news about lager prices with some concept about a virtual pub, while some vaguely duck-like sound effects play in the background.
Just as he deftly segues from this surreal monologue to introduce me and my book, a pneumatic drill starts up and a hailstorm begins to hammer down on the roof above us. Gordon, a true pro, carries on regardless and we have a great chat. Like all good broadcasters, he has the ability to make an interview seem like a chat in a pub.
Interview over, I am encouraged to tell a Mexican-themed joke in the Comic Relief booth. I can’t think of one, so I opt for: “What’s green and sits in the corner? A naughty frog.”
Another joke that I’ll be surprised if they want to play out …
PS: Thanks to Adam for the photos

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I arrive in Manchester to film a short documentary for the BBC about the story told in The Mango Orchard. I hadn’t prepared for the night time dagger-like icy wind that rushes in to the carriage when I open the train door at Piccadilly station.
In the morning I am collected from my hotel by the person due to interview me, Judy, who happens to be an old friend of mine. She remembers my complaint about the lack of a hospitality suite when I have previously been on the BBC and very sweetly picks me up from my hotel with a bag full of fresh fruit, which of course, I don’t touch.
She drives me to Helmshore Mill, a working mill and museum, where we join the rest of the crew and I’m introduced to Christine Taylor, a local historian, invited to add some expertise on the area where my great grandfather grew up. I have lots of questions for her but every time I ask anything, Ged the producer stifles the conversation; he wants to capture my reactions to what she’s saying on film. It takes time to set up the shot, organise the lighting and microphones. I’m standing with Christine in front of a trestle table, on which are arranged photographs of Tottington in days of yore. I begin to leaf through them but am again told to wait until the cameras are running.
We talk about the weather.
                The team is ready and just as the record light lights up on the camera, Ged says, “By the way, Christine has a surprise for you.”
I have no idea what this surprise may be, but as I spent years  investigating my great grandfather’s story, I can’t believe that anyone has managed to uncover any document I haven’t yet seen, so I brace myself, ready to feign amazement. The camera is zooming in on me and I’m beginning to feel self-conscious. I realise that my face has frozen into a most unconvincing smile and as I suddenly don’t know what to do with my hands I wedge one into my back pocket. This must look very camp but I hold the pose.
                Christine hands me two sheets of paper. “I found a letter your great grandfather wrote on his way to Mexico.”
“What?!” I no longer have to pretend to be amazed. I am overwhelmed. I spent months looking for this.
I read the letter, and forget that cameras are aimed at me. I read about the storms he endured – just as I had imagined – but then I see where he wrote the letter: Jamaica. What the hell was he doing in Jamaica?? And it’s not just Jamaica. He describes going for a drive along the side of the abandoned Panama Canal project “hundreds of railway waggons and scores of engines rotting away…” He talks about passing though the Virgin Isles and Haiti, where “the natives worship a god called Omar, and it is a common thing for mothers to eat their babies as a sacrifice to this god.”
                Not for the first time, my great grandfather has dumbfounded me. His journey to Mexico didn’t take five weeks, as I had understood; it took over seven months! What was he doing? Did he leave scores of other secret families scattered around the Caribbean?
Maybe I should pop over and have a look.
The filming continues at a handful of other north Manchester locations. Judy and I are filmed walking around the mill in Tottington where my great grandfather worked. The mill is now a carpet factory and there’s little evidence of the mill that there once was. Forklift trucks with enormous, spikes on the front like jousting sticks, speed around carrying roles of carpet from one end of the factory to another. I have rarely been in a factory before. It is deafening.
How do I feel? Judy wants to know. It’s always a tricky one to answer. I’m not sure. I mutter something about my great grandfather and Judy is nodding.
“That sounded like a close,” says Ged.
“That sounded like a close to me,” confirms the cameraman. I am not sure what I’ve just said. To find out, I guess I’ll have to tune in in the New Year when it is screened.

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My friend Claire sends me a text message. ‘I’ve just heard the new Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow single on the radio,’ she says, ‘And they’ve nicked the opening line from your book.’
I go on-line to listen to the song and read the lyrics. I’ve never tried to do this before, and I’m amazed how easy it is. Within 30 seconds of having received the text I am watching the video; an Americana Brokeback bromance gone sour and patched up within the four minutes and twenty three seconds it takes them to sing the song.
The song is okay, but the opening line is stunning:
Well there’s three versions of this story mine, yours and then the truth”
I turn to page three, line eight and nine of The Mango Orchard:
“There are three versions of every story: my version, your version and the truth.”
They are virtually identical, apart from the fact that the line in The Mango Orchard is grammatically correct. My version was also released into the public domain over six months before the Robbie and Gary single came in to being. I post the observation on Facebook and Twitter. The responses come in thick and fast, most along the lines of “sue the bastards”. I even get some offers to help me to do just that.
I don’t profess to be any legal expert – Igglepiggle from In the Night Garden could probably be more reasonably expected to form a coherent legal opinion than me – but I’m pretty sure that taking two multimillionaire pop stars to court over a line which I copied from a conversation with my grandmother 35 years ago is probably not the right way to go.
I opt for trying to exact some PR advantage from the “coincidence”. I phone Robbie’s management company. A very well-spoken lady answers. I explain the situation and I can sense her hackles rising until I say that I’m not looking to take any legal action, I’m just interested to know if either Gary or Robbie have read my book, and if they haven’t, maybe they’d like to (and be photographed reading it).
‘Well they are together at the moment, as they are promoting the single,’ she says. ‘Send me an e-mail with the details and I’ll forward it to them. I’ll get back to you in a couple of days.’
I send the mail and wait. And wait.
A week goes by and I haven’t heard anything, so I phone up. Again, a very well-spoken voice answers my call. I ask for to speak to Sarah and am told that she is in a meeting so I explain to the well-spoken voice about the similarity of the line in the song to my book, and say I am interested to know if either of the two singers has read The Mango Orchard. She asks me for my details and says Sarah will call me back the moment she returns from her meeting.
‘Thank you very much,’ I say, ‘and can you give me your name?’
There is a pause and hear panic. Then very meekly she says, ‘Sarah…’
There are three versions of every story; mine, yours and ‘they’re in a meeting’.

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 The day does not begin well.
When I stumble out of bed I get a sharp, stabbing pain in my lower back. It’s a familiar pain which afflicts me every six months or so, and over the years has kept several osteopaths, chiropractors and acupuncturists in gravy.
The most painful part is always getting dressed. I hop around my bedroom, swearing loudly for about ten minutes, trying to get my trousers on. What I really want to do is swallow handfuls of strong pain-killers and go back to bed but I have to get up. I have things to do.
I rub in some deep heat cream and hobble to the bank to order my travellers’ cheques for my trip to Mexico next week, and then hobble back in time to be interviewed over the phone by the Manchester Evening News.
Interview over, I set about tidying the flat in preparation for the arrival of a film crew from Televisa, Mexican’s biggest TV network. And just in case they want some tea, I pop out to the shops to buy some milk. I have never known any Mexican to drink tea, but you never know.
The rushing to the shop and bending over to pick things off the floor does my back no favours. I swallow some pills and rub in more deep heat cream. I realise the flat is beginning to smell like a rugby changing room.
It’s five minutes until Televisa are due to arrive and I remember I need to send a text to someone I am due to meet this evening. But where is my phone? I looking on my desk and in the kitchen, I pat my pockets, look in the jacket that I wore to the bank. It’s not there. I call my number from the landline so I can track it down. It goes straight to voice mail. That’s what happens when someone steals your phone: they take out the SIM card so they can sell the handset.
I swear again. And again.
It’s now 3pm. The Mexicans are due to be here, but I need my phone so I can concentrate on my interview. If I have left it at the shop, the sooner I get there, the more likely I am to find it.
My mobile is not at the shop. That must meant that unless I dropped it on my way to or back, my neighbours, the ones I have only seen once, when I asked them not to make so much noise in the mornings, must have broken in to my flat and stolen it. The bastards.
When I get back, there is a Mexican film crew standing at my front door, looking at their watches. I lead them upstairs and try to forget about the phone. It’s my first interview in Spanish, and I am a little apprehensive; in any interview one needs to be pithy and concise. That’s tricky enough in English, much more so in a second language.
We are standing on the roof terrace and I am talking into a Televisa microphone that the journalist is holding towards me. I try to imagine my Mexican aunts and uncles eating their breakfast sometime next week, and what their reactions will be when I suddenly appear on the screen.
“Ay, mira, es Robiiiin!”
After the interview they film me sitting at my desk pretending to be fascinated by what’s on my computer screen, looking through the photos of Mexico, and finally, of me walking out of the door with my rucksack, pretending to go to the airport. The pain my rucksack gives me when I sling it over my shoulder for the camera does not bode well for my trip to Mexico.
I now have to sort out my stolen phone. I spend over an hour cancelling and replacing the SIM card and convincing the insurance company to give me a new handset. They eventually agree, but say they can’t deliver it straight away. I won’t receive it until July.
It’s 5.30pm now and I remember I am meant to be meeting someone at 6pm. Her number is of course on my phone which has been stolen and the SIM cancelled. I send her a mail, hoping to reach her before she leaves the office. My laptop has gone into hibernation mode and as I wait for it to warm up, I move some papers. And my mobile phone falls on the desk.

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