Monday, 28 November 2011


I am feeling distinctly sad about the Thomas Cook saga. You will know that the famous old company - Britain's second biggest tour operator - is virtually broke. It has net debts of £1billion, is said to be spending £30million a month and its share price has collapsed. It has gained a day or two of breathing space by negotiating a £200 million loan from its banks, so the word is that it will get through the crucial January holiday booking period. But its mid and long term future looks shaky.

I am sorry not because I depend upon the company for getting me about the planet, but because it played a not insignificant part in Britain's imperial history about which, some of you may have noticed, I rather like to write.

When, in 1896 Kitchener was planning his invasion of the Sudan to attack the Dervishes in Khartoum, way up river in the south, it was to Thomas Cook that he turned to take his supplies down the Nile to feed his advancing army. Without Cook's famous river steamers he would not have been able to fight the Mahdi's army at Omdurman two years later.

Sad that such a once important company is struggling in these hard times. Lord Kitchener of Khartoum must be turning in his watery grave.

Friday, 18 November 2011


These are the keyprints of a happy chap. Happy because my old mate Simon Fonthill is riding again. I have just left him at the end of Chapter One of the ninth Fonthill adventure, he having escaped the clutches of the famous Boer commando leader Christian de Wet, with Alice, Jenkins and their black tracker, Mzingeli, and boarded a British armoured train in the Orange Free State in late September 1900.

Yes. It's the Boer war - the second, because loyal readers will remember that Fonthill & Co fought in the first Anglo-Boer War, then called the Transvaal War, which ended in 'Last Stand on Majuba Hill.'

In fact, it should be admitted that the trio have been back for some time, having gone through the perils of the Boxer Rebellion in China in the eight novel, 'The War of the Dragon Lady,' which will hit the bookstalls in hard back in January and then in paperback the following September.

But for me I only know that the intrepid army scout - poor horseman, indifferent shot but inventive opponent of all enemies of Queen Victoria in so many of her 'little wars' of the last quarter of the nineteenth century - is alive again when I write about him. And it is good to have his company once more.

This novel (working title, which won't survive, is 'Commando!') is due out early in 2013. I am already saddle sore.