We have been in lockdown now for nearly 500 days, and there is no sign of things getting better. I had thought that, after the long extended accounts of life at Oxford, through my letters that I have published, and also the accounts of travels in Sri Lanka in pursuit of Reconciliation, we would all be released to move active pursuits.

But that has not happened so I thought after also having produced a shorter series about travels during lockdown, to continue with accounts of travel experiences on this blog. My more recent travels appear now on my personal Facebook page, two a week, alternating at present between Africa south of the Sahara and the Eastern archipelagos of Asia. Those will I hope, together with earlier accounts of my travels in Latin America, make up a book entitled To the End of the Earth.

For this blog I will go back in time to travels that do not at present seem to me worth collecting together in a less ephemeral form. But I have been fascinated by what happened long ago, when I began trying to piece things together.

I thought of beginning with France, which I have been to often since I first went there in 1971 on my way to Oxford. To be precise I had in fact been there before, for the ship in which I sailed to England as a little boy in 1958 had docked in Marseilles. And I can vaguely recollect going on shore, with two Australian youngster who had befriended us. But all that is lost in the mists of time, whereas my experiences from 1971 now seem fresh in my mind.

The pictures are of a visit to Marseilles much later, in September 2008, and I include a reversion to childhood, when I could not resist getting on a merry-go-round in the town.

Paris in 1971

When I was travelling to England in 1971 to enter Oxford, I stopped in several countries on the way, for the sort of grand tour that youngsters from England had done in Europe a couple of centuries earlier. Unlike them I went to France last of all, tired after eight weeks in other countries. But having rested much of the time in Denmark, I was energetic enough to explore actively again for a few days.

It had been arranged that I stay with our ambassador there, Tissa Wijeyeratne, and when I arrived in Paris on the 26th I was met by a clerk in the Embassy, Mr Samarasinghe, who took me to the Residence in Neuilly. The place is graphically described in Sarachchandra’s novel With the Begging Bowl about his experience as an ambassador. He noted there that ‘The residence of the Ambassador is in the fashionable Neuilly-Sur-Seine area, but it is one of the most disreputable looking buildings in that area. Its roof is on the point of crumbling down, its outer walls are dirty and haven’t been cleaned in the past 10 years since we began to rent out the house, its floors need carpeting and its inner walls and wood work need painting and redoing. I have felt ashamed to invite Ambassadors to my house because of its state of neglect.’