My life in travel: Bill Oddie
'New York City is a great place for birdwatching'
Saturday 20 November 2010
Bill Oddie is a birdwatcher and broadcaster
First holiday memory?
As a kid, I don't remember going away at all. However, I can remember a glorified day trip down to the Solent, to see the Spithead Fleet Review of ships. It was something to do with my dad and his friend from work and I went along with another boy, but I had no interest in battleships at all.
I tend to return to the same places and one of them is, rather bizarrely, Walt Disney World. One of the best times was when our daughter Rosie was about 14 and she brought a couple of friends with her. We gave them walkie-talkies and let them go and do their own thing – we had call signs: we were Gibbering Gerries and they were Funky Monkeys.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
The Isles of Scilly, where I first went back in the 1960s. In those days, it was regarded as a real birdwatching destination, for rare birds in particular. My entire family have since developed a love for going there and they continue to put terrible pressure on me to go back with them – but I can't really afford it now!
What have you learnt from your travels?
Increasingly, it's the similarities and not the differences that are apparent. You could be plonked down with a blindfold at just about any airport and not only will the airport look familiar – but once you're outside, you could be on any airport approach road. It's all too easy to go to the other side of the world and come back feeling like you've just popped down the road!
Ideal travelling companion?
You never quite recapture those first holidays with somebody that you've fallen in love with, that being Laura, my wife. Otherwise, I've had some great bird-watching holidays with other birdwatching blokes.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
This year I've been to Sri Lanka and Guatemala and was quite upset when I missed out on certain cultural spots, but we just didn't have the time. However, I do get sick to death of going to churches. Spending a week in Italy made me think: not another church!
Greatest travel luxury?
I pray that someone at the ticket desk might recognise me and give me an upgrade. It doesn't have to be first class, though – I can never understand why you'd pay extra for that.
I'm more of an avid reader of magazines than books, particularly Mojo, Uncut and The Word.
Where has seduced you?
Out Skerries in Shetland. I started going there in the 1970s and became fairly addicted to visiting. It's got a very low population and it is a great place for finding rare birds.
Better to travel or arrive?
There used to be a frisson of excitement about travel, but now you're just riddled with guilt about what you're doing to the environment. However, I find the longer the flight, the easier it is. My most difficult experiences lately have been travelling in Britain.
Worst travel experience?
In the early 1960s, I drove down to the Algarve with my first wife, and boy did I regret that. Our Vauxhall Viva got so many punctures – it drove me absolutely crazy, because I just wanted to get there. Coming back was even worse.
Laura and I honeymooned in Papua New Guinea, but most of the time I was working for the BBC. Some aspects were absolutely hideous, like tramping up a forest-covered mountain in the rain. Our camp made I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here look like a Hilton. There were aspects of that which were absolutely dreadful – but what a way to test a marriage.
In New Zealand in 1963 when I was touring in the Cambridge Revue with John Cleese, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graham Chapman. In Christchurch the hotel was on a par with Fawlty Towers – it didn't have a Basil, but it did have a lugubrious landlady, who when you'd ask her what was for breakfast, would reply, "Porridge or Creamota," and when you asked what Creamota was, would respond: "Porridge"!
After Papua New Guinea, I've had many substitute honeymoons; Frégate Island in the Seychelles stands out. There's nothing but the hotel, fruit and flowers on the island – idyllic.
The train from Paddington to Penzance. It runs alongside a number of big estuaries, such as the Exe, which you get great views of. If the tide is down, you could have a bird list right off the train.
Best meal abroad?
At a stall at an open-air market in Chiang Mai. The cook didn't speak much English and I didn't speak any Thai – so she just gave me what she was cooking. It was delicious.
The Antarctic. I've seen so many slideshows, heard so many stories and dreamt about it that I've almost convinced myself that I have been.
New York. I have great memories of working there with Cleese and the gang. I lived there for about six months in the Sixties, which was a very trendy time to be there. It's also a great place for unexpected birdwatching, particularly Central Park.
Hopefully Uganda to see gorillas. I'm also hoping to go to Ethiopia – it sounds like Africa, but very different.
The My Life in Travel column is produced in association with Andalucia Tourism. See www.andalucia.org
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