Me and my kit

Matthew Kneale waxes lyrical about his prized photographic possessions
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The Independent Travel

I take a lot of photos when I travel, and carry about 26lb of camera equipment in a custom-made, armoured bag. I bought an old canvas Army surplus bag with "1940" printed on it for some reason. Obviously, it was floppy so I reinforced it with chicken-wire and padded it with foam. Then I attached chains to the straps, which I padded. The wire had a tendency to cut one's shirt, so I sewed a leather strip along the bag.

I take a lot of photos when I travel, and carry about 26lb of camera equipment in a custom-made, armoured bag. I bought an old canvas Army surplus bag with "1940" printed on it for some reason. Obviously, it was floppy so I reinforced it with chicken-wire and padded it with foam. Then I attached chains to the straps, which I padded. The wire had a tendency to cut one's shirt, so I sewed a leather strip along the bag.

I hate to sound disappointed, but nobody has tried to cut it yet - perhaps because it looks very battered, as though nothing of value is in it. I make a point of carrying it on to planes as a small, but very heavy, piece of hand luggage.

Since I do a lot of mountain walking, I usually have quite a bit of wet-weather gear with me, like my North Face tent. I used to use an old Army kitbag when I was travelling, which again looked innocuous and was very secure. It was great for stowing souvenirs in: I did one trip from the north of Norway, across Russia, down to Turkey and back across Eastern Europe, but bought an enormous metal samovar in St Petersburg, which I had to take with me most of the way. In New Guinea I bought a rather nice stone axe.

I have also made some special pouches for carrying my passport, money and tickets. They can be strapped to my leg and I keep one strapped to my belt should I get mugged and need to hand something over. In 20 years I have not had any problems - the best tip is to look straight ahead. I have had to turn around once or twice when I could see trouble ahead.

Over the past 20 years, I have been to 82 countries, in seven continents. Although I write only fiction, I find it helps give me a different perspective.

A recent example was when I travelled in the highlands of New Guinea before writing English Passengers. The people I met were largely isolated until the 1930s and had only just arrived from the Stone Age. What struck me was their familiarity; their similarity to me. It was a revelation. English Passengers is about a journey to Tasmania in search of the Garden of Eden, and the trip to New Guinea helped me write about the Aboriginals of Tasmania.

When I travel I try to catch up with my reading list - I never write. Recently, I have been researching my next book, which is about an invented Soviet satellite regime, so I have read Edwin Hoyt's Battle of Stalingrad and Francis Wheen's biography of Karl Marx, which is excellent.

* Matthew Kneale's 'English Passengers' (Penguin, £15.99) won the Whitbread Novel of the Year Award 2000. His first novel, 'Whore Banquets', won a Somerset Maugham Award in 1988.

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