EXCERPT and INTERVIEW
A Wayward Spirit:
The extraordinary life-changing
experiences of a globetrotter
The extraordinary life-changing
experiences of a globetrotter
by Peter J. Harris
Author Peter J. Harris stops by today for a short interview and to share an excerpt from his memoir, A Wayward Spirit.
This is an unusual and entertaining travel book – with a message or two.
The author has travelled extensively on business in Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East and he relates his extraordinary experiences with page-turning descriptions. He worked for the British Tourist Authority, he established his own international education consultancy and his insightful narratives come from his continuing worldwide travel on behalf of a range of UK boarding schools, colleges and charities. His advice on education has been sought by Russian billionaires, Saudi sheikhs and members of the Thai royal family.
He has been faced with life-threatening experiences in two continents and endured wrongful imprisonment in Greece. Along the way, he ventured into religious retreats, spiritual experiences in India and pilgrim walks in Spain – finding a new meaning to his life which led him to raise over £50,000 for charitable causes including a school for "children from the dumps" in Cambodia.
The descriptions of his "enlightenment" are equally colourful and he is often critical of those who are "religious but not spiritual".
Conflict in Iran
I was staying in Dubai when I received a telex from Bob Watts, the owner of King's School, asking me to go onto Teheran as an agent there was proving difficult to contact and owed £250k which was a huge amount of dosh in the late 70's. The only flight into Tehran was from Kuwait and it was the last flight in due to the fighting at the airport and the conflict with the Shah. The flight was full of fleeing mullahs, women in niqabs and two drunken Germans.
When we landed at the airport the local militias loyal to Khomeini were fighting for control of the airport with troops loyal to the Shah. As we taxied into the airport we could see the shattered glass from the airport buildings and it brought back images from earlier in the day on CNN when I had seen shattered images of the front of the Intercontinental Hotel where I was supposed to be staying. I was met at the bottom of the aircraft stairs by a BA hostess who told me that due to the demise of the hotel I would travel into town in the crew minibus and would be staying with Chris Cross, the BA manager. The minibus would drop me at his office.
As we drive into town along Liberation Avenue (formerly Shah Reza Avenue) young men were hiring automatic rifles for passers-by to take pot shots at pictures of the Shah hanging on trees...it would have been so easy to turn and fire on the minibus.
I was dropped at the BA office which had already been vandalised by the local militia and everything in it had been broken, destroyed or ripped. Amidst all this mayhem sat Chris Cross in a pinstripe suit and bow tie, holding a meeting with a local business contact...a sight to behold, the epitome of an Englishman, the stiff upper lip. When he'd finished he said that the hotel was too dangerous to stay in and that I was welcome to stay in his apartment as his family had returned to the UK. I was to be very wary as the local militias could raid the flat at any time and it was a case of mum's the word...I was nearly wetting myself. On arrival at the apartment he told me to settle in and come to the lounge at 7.45 as the fun started at 8pm. I did as I was told and we re-arranged all the furniture, angling the sofas and chairs, but I was baffled by his comments. At 7.55pm an American from Bell helicopters appeared who had been hidden in the attic...it was certainly a dangerous time for any American.
We had a couple of stiff drinks and then the show started in the Northern suburbs. There was machine gun fire, bazooka's, rockets, etc. Apparently it started at 8pm every night as I guess the forces of the Shah and the militias had to get home from work and eat before attacking one another.
I tried to trace the agent who owed the money but he had disappeared into the Evrin jail...I was on a futile exercise, scared witless. The airport was closed to outgoing flights as the control tower had been destroyed and Chris was bringing in some flights by radio/walkie-talkie. I was holed up in his flat for 5 days and rapidly became quite gung-ho about the adventure.
Then Chris said that there was an Olympic Airways flight leaving for Athens and he could possibly get me onto it so we headed to the airport. I remember carrying carpets through the security as he escorted me to the plane. It was full so I ended up with the carpets in the loo, but with a plentiful supply of drinks and managed to get rather the worse for wear ...quelle relief.
I sent Bob a telex from Athens telling him that trying to get money in Tehran was like a punk rocker trying to get into Buckingham Palace and that I was taking a holiday in Greece...he was not a happy chappie.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]
Praise for the Book
"I fully endorse the praise which has been lavished upon this work already; it is far more than merely a 'travel' book or log and it even transcends the scope of most of the 'spiritual' journeys I have read about. A Wayward Spirit by Peter J Harris is, at once, informative, interesting and even hilarious. Indeed, a number of the episodes - each recounted vividly and pictorially by Harris - are decidedly 'Fieldingesque' in their calamitous hilarity. 'And just when we thought that it couldn't get any worse!' It is a pleasure to recommend this remarkable work to you. If you have even the slightest interest in travel, multiculturalism, international relations and, yes, in the individual's yearning for answers and, ultimately, for fulfilment, this is a 'must read' - and that is a phrase I would rarely use. I hope that you enjoy this compendium of people, places and events as much as I did, and that you glean the inner benefits, too." ~ M. C. Jacques, author, The Cambridge Mysteries
Interview With the Author
Peter Harris joins me today to discuss his new book, A Wayward Spirit.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
The book should appeal to inveterate travellers who have a sense of humour and have curiosity in the spiritual dimensions of life.
What sparked the idea for this book?
The idea was sparked by the fact that many people suffer from donor exhaustion, and I needed to raise funds for a teacher for the children who live on the rubbish dumps in Phnom Penh ... the Dumpsters. The idea for the novel was my voyage through life.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
The hardest part was to fuse the physical and spiritual paths.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
It has already made a number of people smile, laugh, and think.
How long did it take you to write this book? How did you get your book published?
It was written in note form over an extended period and self-published.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Most people have a book in them. Persevere. Don't be deterred by negative attitudes to your work.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
When I am not writing, I enjoy walking, opera, music, sport and theatre.
What does your family think of your writing?
My family has been mostly supportive of my literary efforts..
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I was brought up in rural Dorset and travelled to New Zealand in my early twenties. Both had a profound effect on me, as did my sister and father, who was also curious and had broad interests.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
My father was an avid reader, but I only began to really read in my teens.
When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
I realised I wanted to be a writer relatively recently.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
The writers that really influenced were Herman Hesse, Siddihatha, The Celestine Prophecy, and Coelho The Pilgrimage.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I will write a sequel next year covering my travel exploits over the last 15 years.
Thank you for taking the time to stop by today, Peter. Best of luck with your future projects.
About the Author
Peter Harris has been involved in international education and tourism during four decades, travelling extensively in Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East – and keeping notes of some of his extraordinary experiences. Now he has paused (briefly) to assemble his notes into a fascinating and entertaining narrative from events which have changed the lives of thousands of young people, and his own life too. His initial experience working with language schools in the UK encouraged him to found the first international schools in New Zealand and Australia. For services to education he was one of only 150 people awarded the New Zealand Commemoration Medal by HM Queen Elizabeth in 1990.
As the new millennium dawned he returned to the UK to establish the first international study centre at The King’s School Ely, one of Britain’s oldest independent schools. Within two years King’s International Study Centre was full to capacity, providing 60 students from 17 nationalities with the language and study skills necessary to access a British boarding education. The integration of the study centre gave Peter the opportunity to work with other UK schools and colleges keen to use his expertise to establish themselves internationally. His contacts worldwide are unrivalled and his passion for education is undimmed. He also spent four years as the British Tourist Authority Representative for the Middle East and Africa and then went on to establish his own international education consultancy and continues to travel extensively worldwide on behalf of a range of UK boarding schools colleges and charities.
On one visit to the Middle East, he was asked by Prince Charles for his opinion on matters sartorial; and his advice on education has been sought by Russian billionaires, Saudi sheikhs and members of the Thai royal family. He has been faced with life-threatening experiences in two continents and endured wrongful imprisonment in Greece.
Peter has also done multiple arduous treks which have raised over £50,000 for charitable causes. He initiated and continues to be involved in a number of projects including a Cambodian school and orphanage for "children from the dumps" in Phnom Penh, and a project in Thailand, supported by Thailand’s Princess Royal, which provides teenage girls with the high school education they need to avoid employment in prostitution. His efforts, including a choral concert in Bangkok supported by the British Ambassador, provided life-changing opportunities for over 200 girls. His personal efforts for a variety of other UK charities have been many and varied. He climbed in the Himalayas for the Deaf Blind charity; trekked in Bhutan for the Sunflower Trust which provides holistic healing for children with learning difficulties; and over five years he walked the St James’ Way "Camino" in northern Spain for a week each autumn and raised thousands of pounds for a variety of good causes.