March 1982. Suspected Argentine communists were being taken away, tortured and thrown out of military aircraft over the south Atlantic. Tens of thousands of people were ‘disappeared’ by anonymous men in the night. It was a bit different to life in the slow yet decaying English industrial town of Telford, where we lived.

Argentina was, like most of South America during the 80s, under right-wing military rule. But it wasn’t going well. The leader of the Argentine military junta, General Galtieri, was grappling with 130% inflation, paranoia about communist takeovers, riots on the streets and waves of crippling strikes. …


I first met Aliyah at a posh art exhibition in Singapore. Singapore has lots of boozy events masquerading as cultural happenings; this was just one of many that month.

Aliyah stood next to me at one painting, and asked me what I thought of it. I said I thought it was OK.

She smiled and asked me what I did; I told her I was an editor.

“That’s interesting,” she said — are you looking for stories? I said yes, always. She said she knew a gay bar in Chinatown — would I like to go? …


Whalesharks are big in Donsol. Also in Donsol, Jesus is black.

We had gone to see the whalesharks, but got mixed up with Jesus. It’s that kind of place.

The largest recorded whaleshark (that’s butanding in Tagalog) came in at a squeak under 19m long, and was estimated to weigh about 40 tonnes. We decided to go and find some and have a swim with them.

The nearest spot we could access these monsters was in a special bay outside Donsol in the province of Luzon, the Philippines. …


One hundred and ninety years ago, in a lonely, remote, wind-blasted Tasmanian settlement called Circular Head, a 42-year old man met his maker. His name was Henry Hellyer and he died by having his head “shot to atoms.”

The men who discovered him, co-workers at the Van Diemen’s Land Company, came knocking on his door because they were worried he would miss his ship. He was due to sail for Hobart, to take up a new, prestigious job with the State’s Surveyor-General.

Hellyer was a true pioneer and polymath. He was the first white man to locate and climb Cradle…


The Milkmaid by Thomas Duncan

It’s part of English folklore that milkmaids have plump, smooth, creamy bosoms. Curiously, the ongoing myth owes as much to a bunch of unfortunate Spanish orphans as to the emollient effect of cow’s milk.

This is why.

Since Egyptian times, tens of millions of people have been killed by smallpox. Spread by droplet infection, the highly contagious virus first gives its victims a fever, crippling muscular pain and headaches. Then it covers their bodies with suppurating boils before killing them stone dead within a couple of days.

The lucky few who survive are usually covered for life by hideously unattractive…


I wasn’t a good pupil at secondary school. One teacher commented that I seemed to prefer being class comedian rather than studying useful things like maths or science. He was right — but he wore a wig and touched the girls a bit more than he touched the boys, so what would he know about anything? But I am ahead of myself here; let’s go back a few years.

In primary school, I was a proper goodie-goodie. I could spell, write, was polite and knew when not to pick my nose. …


When I visited Burma, millions of people still lived in wood and grass huts, ploughed the paddies with buffalo, and used trains left by the British when they were kicked out in 1948.

As well as being wracked by a variety of ethnic insurgencies, many parts of the country live in feudal, medieval poverty, with many dying of easily preventable diseases like malaria.

Being there was a smack in the face for a naive visitor from aseptic and organised Singapore.

In Yangon, I peered across the lake to the house where Aung San Suu Kyi was imprisoned. I wandered through…


To travel with your eyes and ears open leads to safety. However, sometimes, barefaced stupidity and ignorance does the trick. Here is my story:

I was on my way to Cipanas in central Java, some 100km south of Jakarta. My flying pals and me had done our homework — the best way was by plane to Jakarta, then train to Bogor, then a taxi the last few kms in the shadow of the extinct Gunung Gede volcano. We hoped it was extinct; we were due to fly off it as part of the Indonesian Paragliding Championships later that week.

However…


Volubulis, northern Morocco, faded in my mirrors as I climbed the escarpment, winding through a wonderfully verdant, rolling landscape like something out of the Russian steppes. It was where, a couple of thousand years ago, the Romans used to grow food for the footsoldiers of their vast empire. Volubilis back then was teeming with 20,000 citizens and slaves — a city of wealth, power and influence that provided a steady stream of wheat-laden galleys to the granaries of Rome.

Today Volubilis has a resident population of about 20 storks, nesting raffishly on the tops of crumbling temple columns, a warm…


The man in the little sentry box probably wasn’t a Fascist. Admittedly, he was short, like Mussolini, and had a fancy uniform. Admittedly, he was Italian. And he was obviously one for rules, and possibly harboured a secret revulsion for foreigners too. But whatever his political affiliation, he wasn’t on my side.

He looked at me, struggling to make my position understood, and was adamant. No, I couldn’t go in, no I couldn’t leave a message, and no there was nobody there to talk to even if they had wanted to see me, which he intimated was highly unlikely.

I…

Jeremy Torr

Stuff. Living it . . .

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