The World According to Pamela O'Cuneen

In her travels as a diplomat's wife in Africa, Pamela O'Cuneen has experienced the continent's tumultuous recent history first hand.

5 mins

Mountain/ocean/jungle/desert – which are you and why?

Mountain: I love to open the curtains in the morning and gaze.

What was your first great travel experience?

Going to Singapore in 1967 when people still wore conical hats and carried chickens in baskets slung across their shoulders; when Change Alley was a teeming morass of little stalls, dried fish was piled up at intersections and barbers cut hair in the street.

What was your favourite journey?

The first time I travelled extensively by plane in 1968, dropping down at Phnom Penh, Colombo, Athens and Rome like a magic carpet.

What are your top five places worldwide?

Perth, Western Australia; Assisi; Victoria Falls; Bali; York.

Name a special place to stay. Why is it special to you?

The Bar Convent in York, because it still feels like a convent; it's warm, welcoming and has a great history attached.

What three items do you always pack? Why?

Ear plugs, against noisy plane passengers; spare undies in case luggage goes astray; and masses of Vitamin C.

Which passport stamp are you proudest of?

The Indian visa that took me three weeks of queuing and four trips to London to get.

Which passport stamp would you most like to have?


What is your guilty travel pleasure?

Knowing no-one knows where I am.

Which do you prefer: window or aisle?


Who is your ideal travelling companion?


Best meal on the road? And your worst?

Best – char kway teow in Singapore.

Worst – stewed poe on Suriname Airways.

Most surprising place?

Great Zimbabwe fort.

Most disappointing?

Paris in the spring – freezing.

Where do you NOT want to go?

Hot and humid war-zones.

Who/what inspired you to travel?

Reading an old pile of National Geographic magazines in the toilet when I was a child.

What do you listen to on the road?

Mozart and Baroque music.

Does any song take you back to a particular place?

Mai mai mai ti lascia – or My my my Delilah – Perugia, 1968.

What do you read when you travel?


Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity?

The Indian gentleman in Tamil Nadu who bought a packet of biscuits at a Chai stall and gave them to a stray dog.

What's the most impressive/useful phrase you know in a foreign language?

Anything that says a friendly ‘hello’.

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

Mislaying my passport at the last minute.

Snowbound in a tent in Antarctica, how would you entertain your companions?

Tell stories about hot countries.

When are where in your travels have you been happiest?

Swaziland in the early 90s.

What smell most says 'travel' to you?

Aircraft fuel and a hot tarmac.

Given a choice, what era would you travel in?

I’d be a very wealthy young man doing the Grand Tour in 18th century Europe.

If you could combine three cities to make your perfect metropolis, which would they be?

Perth for friendliness, York for history, and Hong Kong for electric buzz.

Culture Shock and CanapesPamela O'Cuneen is married to a diplomat and spent much of her marriage on posts in Africa, including Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Angola. Culture Shock and Canapés chronicles her adventures, and includes unusual recipes she picked up along the way. You can order your copy on Amazon now.


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