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Trapped in Khartoum


The best laid plans
John Julius Norwich Writer
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Within a month or two of getting my liberty, I read in the newspaper that they were going to build an airport in the Seychelles, and I thought, here's an opportunity. If one managed to acquire a little property in the Seychelles now, before they build the airport, when it's still... you have to go by boat from Mombasa. And, you know, it'll shoot up in value once the airport's there. So I got my millionaire brother-in-law, Michael Astor, to finance me; I got him interested in this. I said, 'I'll go and you'll pay my fare, but I'll go and I will buy a nice, big property on the sea for you, and a little one for me, and we'll just wait... and then when the airport is there, either we'll have wonderful holiday homes, or else we sell and you'll be even richer than you are now.' And so he thought that was really a quite good idea. So off I set, and because in those days there were no sort of cheap flights, you just did it the way you wanted to, I thought, well, I'm in no particular hurry. I will leave a week early and I will stop in Beirut to see old friends, and I will stop in Addis Ababa because I've always wanted to go there and it's on the way, and then I'll get to Nairobi, and then I'll take the train to Mombasa and then I'll get the British India Line to the Seychelles. This started fine, I got into the airplane, terribly excited and all, and we were halfway to Beirut, first stop, when the pilot came over and said, 'I'm sorry, war has broken out in the Middle East' – this was 1967 – 'war has broken out in the Middle East. We can't go to Beirut. We're dropping you off in Rome.' So we got off in Rome, and I went around to the airline thing and said... I thought, well, you know, OK, I can't do Beirut, but I can probably do Addis Ababa, no reason not to do that. And so I said to the girl behind the desk, 'Have you got... are there any flights going to Addis Ababa this afternoon?' And she said, 'Yes, there's one at two. It's going via Khartoum.' And I said, 'Well, that's all right; Khartoum's an Arab country, but, I mean, it's such a long way away and...'

John Julius Norwich (1929-2018) was an English popular historian, travel writer and television personality. He was educated at Upper Canada College, Toronto, at Eton, at the University of Strasbourg and on the lower deck of the Royal Navy before taking a degree in French and Russian at New College, Oxford. He then spent twelve years in H.M. Foreign Service, with posts at the Embassies in Belgrade and Beirut and at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva. In 1964 he resigned to become a writer. He is the author of histories of Norman Sicily, the Republic of Venice, the Byzantine Empire and, most recently, 'The Popes: A History'. He also wrote on architecture, music and the history plays of Shakespeare, and presented some thirty historical documentaries on BBC Television.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Seychelles, Middle East

Duration: 2 minutes, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018