Our series continues with the holiday experiences of famous people.

70-year-old novelist Alexander McCall Smith remembers his life as an adventure.

He remembers singing shanties as he sails across the Caribbean and runs through Snakeland in Zimbabwe.

Happy: Alexander with a python in Botswana in 2003

Happy: Alexander with a python in Botswana in 2003

Happy: Alexander with a python in Botswana in 2003

The first vacation I can remember

When I was a boy, we lived in what is today Zimbabwe. At the age of four, we made a family vacation in a village near Durban in South Africa. We stayed in a hotel with a long veranda whose floor was made of cement and covered with red lacquer. We kids made a lot of noise because we liked to run up and down and do the wrath of a permanent retiree in the hotel, an older woman.

My first trip abroad

I was a student when I went to Rome and saw my first opera – Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni. I sat next to an elderly man in the gods, who was humming the music as he watched the score open on his lap. I refused a heavily stuffed shirt that I had at that age. I should have joined

Then I drove on to Greece, where I stayed in a cheap hotel in Athens. It cost about one dollar a night. In the early morning someone tried to break into my room. I got out of bed and held my shoulder to the door until the intruder finally disappeared. It was a character formation.

First school trip

As far as I remember, my school never drove anywhere. It was very boring. I suppose the sports teams competed against other teams, but I was never good enough to be selected. However, I went on vacation with school friends, including a memorable camping trip when I was 12 years old and was in a remote location in the hills near Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. As darkness fell, we were so petrified that we made a desperate run through the night, probably in dangerous circumstances, because there were snakes. We finally reached a farmhouse and phoned home.

Best vacation

Alexander with a nurse in Zimbabwe when he was a boy

Alexander with a nurse in Zimbabwe when he was a boy

Alexander with a nurse in Zimbabwe when he was a boy

I had a nice holiday with my wife Elizabeth and our two daughters, but in the last five years I have spent a special boy's vacation with eight old friends, with the permission of our wives. We charter a boat and sail through the Caribbean, the Thai waters or Greece. We will be 18 years old again. It's like a scout camp, and we love it. We are a singing boat and sometimes sing in bars in the ports where we call. We perform The Pirates Of Penzance and Shantys.

And my worst

An uncomfortable camping holiday in the wilds of eastern Canada – I can not remember exactly where. I did not have an inflatable mattress, it was raining and I got sick after eating an E. coli infected hot dog.

Essential holiday object

Reading material and my notebooks. If you have something to read, airports are bearable. I read books that I do not usually have time for, such as a long novel by Anthony Trollope.

dream destination

Mount Athos in Greece, the center of Greek Orthodox monasticism. You need a special permit to go, but if you receive it, you can stay as a guest in the monasteries. They serve simple fare and give you time to think.

  • The Colors of All Cattle: The Ladies' Detective Agency No. 1 (Little, Brown, £ 18.99) by Alexander McCall Smith is now available.


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