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Basil's introduction
Hot, dirty and drowsy with a low-grade fatigue. Going for miles to nowhere from yesterday’s no- man’s-land. The car hits a nasty patch on the piste and lands hard. My eyes snap open as everything inside the car goes flying. I pull off my headphones. Springsteen’s Born to Run plays on unconcerned, quickly melting away into the squeal of shifting gears as I look for my Mini Disc player on the floor. Mike is staring out the window, mesmerised by the miles of yellow sand peppered with tiny sharp rocks stretching endlessly across the horizon. ‘Pity…Pitiless…’ He rolls the word around, almost tasting it. Then he holds the Dictaphone up to his mouth and whispers into it, ‘The pitiless desert…’ ‘What’s the matter?’ I ask. ‘Running out of adjectives?’ Mike returns from some far away place; his tired face opens up into a big grin. We laugh.

The scene is at once so familiar and yet feels so totally alien. This sort of banter has by now taken place across six continents and over great stretches of the world’s waters. It is our way to try to stay jolly and alert, no matter how bad things get. To fill the gaps in those empty hours when the terrain is too rough to read or write, or waste film taking nothing pictures out the window as we bounce along into the unknown. But this is different; we are in the heart of the Sahara now. Out in the middle of the Ténéré Desert, searching for a Touareg camel train somewhere in the Aïr mountains, just three days after hearing about September 11th on the radio in the little town of Agadez. I can’t remember another moment when our obstacles seemed as insurmountable, our future less certain, or a time when life itself seemed more fragile.

Two small children, mere silhouettes in the harsh light, emerge from a small hut of twigs and rags in the distance. They start running towards the car as we pass. I will miss my daughter’s birthday again. Sonia, who was born almost the very hour when Michael boarded the Orient Express at the start of Around the World in 80 Days, will be thirteen in a few days. Her birthday has always been a milestone for how long I’ve been tagging along as the ‘Stills Guy‘ on Michael Palin’s Excellent Adventures. And as we watch her grow into a teenager, she is a constant reminder of the blinding speed of the passage of time, and how much more there is still left to see in the world.

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Michael's introduction
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