Duncan Falconer (Charlie Hopkinson)
Interview Words : The World According To ... | 17 July

The World According to Duncan Falconer

Duncan Falconer, former Special Services pirate chaser, gives us his take on the world

Mountain/desert/jungle/ocean which are you.

All I’m afraid. You missed out the Arctic which is possibly my favourite.

First travel experience?

Hadrian’s Wall when I was 12 or 13. I did that in a VW Beetle with a teacher and three other boys. It must’ve been good because I still remember so much of it whereas I remember little form those days. Or a school day trip to Boulogne if you mean going abroad. Very forgettable. I think I was there for a couple of hours then back on the ferry.

Favourite journey?

I have two lives really. One as an adventurer through hostile regions, the other as a normal person who likes to travel. I have many memorable journeys in both lives.

Re: the hostile journeys, I suppose the one from the Turkish border in Kurdistan, south through Mosal and into Baghdad just as the last Gulf War was winding up was quite interesting – before the insurgents took over.

As a normal person, my favourite journey was when my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) and I were smuggled by three old ladies from the Greek island of Kastellorizo into Kas in Turkey by fishing boat early one morning. One of the old ladies was going to see her boyfriend in Kas although her husband was the captain of the small fishing boat we used – I know – we were very confused at the time as we never found that out until she didn’t turn up to return with us. We were stopped by the Turkish police on leaving who were very charming and accepted only a token bribe since we were not particularly threatening.

Top five places worldwide?

The Glittertin in winter

The Khyber Pass in winter

Ballito, Durban, SA

Prats de Mollo, Pyrenees

Burnham Market, Norfolk

Special place to stay?

The Al Hamra Hotel, Baghdad. I can think of more comfortable places but for sentimental reasons, it saved my life after my room was blown to bits one morning with me in it by a 3000lb bomb and I survived.

For comfort I would have to choose the Izulu Hotel, Ballito, and the Hoste Arms in Burnham Market, Norfolk.

Three items you always pack?

Compass; GPS; Medical pack.

Passport stamp you're proudest of?

That would have to be the ones I managed to avoid by sneaking into the country.

Passport stamp most like to have?

The Moon. There is nowhere in this world I’ve not been that I want to go to.

Guilty travel pleasure?

Not having to write while travelling. I always seem to be behind schedule. I take on too much at times. When I go on holiday I usually have to write and it’s fabulous when I don’t have to.

Window or aisle?

Aisle. I’m a Risk Management specialist. You have a better chance of getting off the aircraft in the aisle!

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

My wife. She’s a great navigator, and her favourite thing in life is to plan a trip, the hotels, restaurants and scenery.

Best meal on the road? Worst?

Best is picnic. Always. The best restaurant in the world could not compete with some local fare, a bottle of wine and a fabulous view.

Worst. Probably in a restaurant in a small town in Nigeria on the Lagos, New Bussa road. The concrete building was like the inside of a beach toilet. I was given a meatless knuckle starter that I played with for several minutes before it sprang from my hands onto the filthy floor. The waitress picked it up and asked me if I wanted it. I said no. Because I had not eaten the cartilage and tendons she returned it to a shelf for the next customer. The ocra and rice dish that followed was like mucus. The kitchen was indescribable.

Most surprising place? Most disappointing?

Surprising was Halabja. A town in Kurdistan, its population of 20,000 people practically wiped out by Saddam Hussein using poison gas. I visited it a few years later expecting to find a ghost town and to my surprise found it bustling, had a great meal and an ice-cream in the main street packed with vibrant life and colour.

Most disappointing was Bali. I was expecting it to be an idyllic, exotic place. I arrived there from East Timor during its troubles and found Bali to be too commercial and grey.

Where do you NOT want to go?

There are endless places I would not want to go back to. But I can’t think of a place I’ve not been to that I don’t want to see.

Who/what inspired you to travel? Any travel heroes?

My first inspiration was the beat of the war drum. The first 32 times I took off in an aircraft I never landed in one. That included a couple of foreign countries.

What do you listen to on the road? Any song take you back to a particular time or place?

The Gypsy Kings usually reminds me of a family trip from Los Angeles to the very unique La Fonda Hotel in Baha, Mexico.

What do you read?

I like to read about places, usually their history. Whenever I go to a new country I like to know its past. Probably why I prefer travelling in Europe most because of the richness of its history – and it’s my history too.

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity? Anyone who made you lose it?

Faith reaffirmed: in Falluja, Iraq, a small group of us were invited to observe a funeral. But the crowd suddenly went berserk and attacked us because we were westerners. All but one of us escaped to a vehicle. A colleague was grabbed by the mob. But a couple of old shop keepers risked their lives to grab him and pull him into their shop and bring down the shutters on the mob thus saving his life.

Lose my faith? Too many stories. Fortunately, as I have learned, there are far more good people on this planet than there are bad. However, a recent memory. I spent a day with MEND in the Niger Delta. They put on a demonstration of their fighting ability and promptly shot one of their people by accident. He was left on a bed to die of his painful stomach wounds without medication while the ‘Emancipators’ drank Moet Chandon in their bar next door.

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

Being able to say hello.

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

Quite often failing to be suitably impressed by things I’m expected to be impressed by.

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

Tell stories. I have soooo many.

When and where in your travels have you been happiest?

Usually after surviving something I never thought I would.

What smell most says 'travel' to you?

I have a bag where I keep most of my travel stuff – clothes, boots, knives, map holders, etc.

Also the insides of aircraft often smell the same – the filtered air I think.

Given a choice, which era would you travel in?

I think I would’ve liked the 1920’s and 30’s, between the World Wars. There was a level of technology to speed up travel in order to see more, and so much more raw adventure to be had, places that had not been modernised by the West.

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

I would take Orlando, Dubai and Las Vegas, roll them together, bulldoze them into rolling hills, cover them in earth, plant trees and wild flowers, have a river run through it, build a stone cottage with a porch that overlooked it all. Perfect.

Pirate Duncan Falconer grew up in Battersea in London, spending the first ten years of his life in a children’s home.  He is a former member of Britain’s Special Boat Service and 14th Intelligence Company, the undercover Special Forces detachment that operated in Northern Ireland. Falconer is the Maritime Security Director for a Hereford based security company. His eighth thriller, Pirate, is available now on Amazon.

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