It was my friend JJ who alerted me to this book: More Thrills Than Skills: Adventures in Journalism, War & Terrorism, by Paul Harris, and also to the fact that both JJ and myself went to the same school, Elgin Academy, as the author, Paul Harris.
JJ has quite a bit of memorabilia from the sixties relating to Elgin, Morayshire, and he also showed me a copy of something that Paul Harris mentions on page 22 of his book – an interview with Ian Smith, at the time the Prime Minister of Rhodesia, which was published in the Elgin Academy school magazine. Getting that interview was a minor stroke of genius, but it was the sort of thing that Paul Harris managed on more than one occasion.
I can’t actually remember Paul Harris very well from my school days. He was in the sixth year in 1966, and I think that that was the year I arrived in Elgin, half-way through the school year, and all I can say is that I was sort of aware of him and his friends.
Paul Harris went on to have a very interesting life indeed, mostly as a freelance journalist covering various wars, but he also got involved in various other ventures, including pirate radio and publishing, and this book covers much of this, the achievements, the scrapes he ended up in, and his experiences during hostilities in Bosnia, Croatia, Eritrea, Algeria, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Freelance journalists had to live by their wits, and it appears that they often received little remuneration for putting themselves at risk. A surprising number of them didn’t survive. More Thrills Than Skills covers all sorts of fascinating episodes.
The Sheltering Desert, by Henno Martin, is about how two men, Henno and his friend Hermann Korn, decided that they wanted nothing at all to do with World War II, and in 1940 went to live in a remote desert part of Namibia until, they hoped, hostilities ended.
They had gone to what was then South West Africa in 1935 to do geological research on the Naukluft, and by 1940 were threatened with Internment. They were completely against the madness of the War, and decided to live and survive like Bushmen in the Kuiseb River canyon. This is a very harsh part of the world, where there is little water and the temperature rises in summer.
The story was made into a movie in 1991, and you may be able to find it on Youtube. The movie diverges considerably from the book, in that it spends quite a bit of time setting the scene in 1940s South West Africa, and also seems to overemphasize the search, by the authorities, for the two men, but it’s a watchable film and the scenery is wonderful.
Because the terrain was so harsh in the Kuiseb River gorge area, and at times the wild game and water ran out, they found it difficult to survive. They lived off what they could shoot with their pistol and fish that they found in some pools. After a year, they found themselves getting philosophical, and had discussions between themselves about whether evolution was purely mechanically determined by the interplay of hereditary and environment. Their conclusion was that animals with specialisations were less likely to evolve, and that man had evolved particularly because of a lack of specialisation.
The Namib sounds like an interesting part of the world. It was inhabited by scattered Khoikhoi for thousands of years, and Martin and Korn found numerous stone tools near their various camps.