I was born in Swanage in Dorset on May 16th 1953 in a maternity ward named Everest. Two weeks later Hillary and Tenzing first climbed the mountain of the same name. Spooky.
Summers were spent on the beach, winters on the beach in a coat. I was a poor student, failed most exams. But I do remember history lessons when we studied the voyages of discovery, and English, reading George Orwell and WB Yeats for the first time.
These were the ingredients that made me want to be a writer. But I had no idea how to go about it. I enrolled on a business course which I never finished and then began to travel.
I spent a year in Italy, a year in America. I drove a van in London. In 1975 I met Dick Fiddy and we started writing comedy scripts. He worked in a pub in the East End; I worked as a gardener in north London. We wrote for Not the Nine oíclock News, Dave Allen, something featuring Lenny Henry that I canít remember, and eventually we had a half hour sitcom pilot produced. But it never made it to series, and I got so frustrated I decided to go and walk the 500 mile South West Coastal Path with an ugly mongrel dog who lived in my flat. Boogie.
End of the path at Shell Bay.
Me with champagne, dog with bone
I wrote a travel piece on the walk for the Evening Standard and a career as a travel writer opened up before my eyes. I couldnít believe it. It felt like a lottery win. Here was the perfect job. I still got to write jokes, but now I travelled round the world to do it. Eventually I wrote up the coastal path journey as a book, 500 Mile Walkies. It was a hit. I was in the best sellers. I bought a Triumph 6. Life was good.
Second Boogie trip, to the source of the Thames
One day in 1987 Mark Ottaway, the Sunday Times travel editor. called and told me he had to pull out of a sailing trip round southern Turkey and could I go in his place. I went, and met an American family on the boat who asked me to dinner on our return. There I met their daughter, Catherine, and weíve been together ever since. I never told Mark Ottaway how he missed his chance to marry my wife.
We moved to the High Peak in Derbyshire where we brought up our two boys, Francis and Daniel. I stopped travel writing and wrote novels. The Missing Postman and Happy Birthday Shakespeare were both turned into TV films, and without really planning it I became a screen writer. The family film Station Jim was a favourite, and I enjoyed writing The Man who Lost his Head which involved spending time in Maori communities in New Zealand.
Music has been very important over the years. Iím proud to be a founder member of The Elderly Brothers, a band of middle-aged men with a love of rhythm and blues and no idea how to play it.
The Elderly Brothers, five guys with three chords
Although Iím not much of a musician myself, Iíve enjoyed being roadie to my children and watching them grow up to be good players. When they left home they gave me a ukulele. At last, here was an instrument even I could play. Before I could help myself I had planned a nationwide tour. The result is my first travel book for 18 years. 2012 sees me resurfacing asÖÖ. The Uke of Wallington.
Live at the Wanted Inn, Sparrowpit