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Ponderings on all aspects of travel - both at home and abroad.

Kevin Pilley: Things I've learnt

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Kevin Pilley puts his modesty on hold for a good travel yarn.
After two days - and medication - Kevin Pilley is proficient in holiday phrasebook Klingon.
After two days - and medication - Kevin Pilley is proficient in holiday phrasebook Klingon.

"Train as a Genghis Khan warrior at the warrior training school in Mongolia."

An advertisement in a travel magazine got me thinking about all the courses and unusual activity breaks I have been on. And all the things I have learned over the years in the cause of professional travel journalism.

And all the abject personal humiliation I've been through.

I was once taught how to be a Scot. The bagpipes did not come naturally to me. I sounded like a bidet with a blockage. Rather than summon the Jacobite hordes down from the glens, all I was likely to attract were 24-hour plumbers.

At one point some half-digested vegetable broth squirted out of one of the tenor drones. My eyes popped and my face went as red as a perfectly poached Teviot salmon. But at least I was reminded of the definition of a true gent: "Someone who knows how to play the pipes. But doesn't."

The course, held in a hotel in the Border country south of Edinburgh, also entailed me being taught how to always walk with the wind behind while wearing a kilt.

"So as not to panic the grouse," my instructor told me. He also informed me that briefs were obligatory in the dining area and underwear recommended in the billiards room.

I have tried to learn to Riverdance at Inishmore on Ireland's Isle of Aran. And I have tried to learn how to waltz in Vienna. The Austrians claim they can teach anyone to dance. After all, they have taught the Lipizzaner horse the paso doble. I went with my wife and we dressed up as Mr and Mrs Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. We practised our "slip, side and together" as well as our supercilious sneers, and worked on our Hapsburgian hauteur under the guidance of one of the city's best instructors, Herr Ellmayer.

But my extra-tight knickerbockers and my wife's equally constrictive 18th-century stays, plus all the faschingkrapfen (apricot jam-filled doughnuts) we had had beforehand seriously hampered our grace and elegance. We danced like a couple of Daleks in their death throes.

In the course of my travels I have learned many things. I have been taught rudimentary origami in Tokyo. This was not a success. My teacher, a grandmaster in paper folding, mistook my peacock for a praying mantis. I sulked until the sake appeared.

I have been taught how to box at the now-defunct and memorably named Academy of Biff on Tenerife, and how to play cards at Las Vegas' aptly named University of Craps. I have also studied therapeutic sand sculpture in the Hague and I attended a fondue-aversion therapy course in Switzerland.

I am petrified by fondues. On my first school skiing trip I was frightened by a particularly vile one. The course didn't help; I still suffer from fondue panic attacks. And associate them with warmed-up wallpaper paste.

In the US (where else?), I underwent a crash course in everyday Klingon in Connecticut.

It took me two days - with medication - to become proficient in holiday phrasebook Klingon and able to get by in coffee table tlhIngan.

Klingon is a cross between Yiddish and ancient Babylonian. Sentences seem to be constructed purely by attempting to hum and gargle simultaneously. Spit hurling comes into it, too.

I haven't been bison tracking in Poland. Yet. Or lionfish spearing in Belize. Although I have been on my fair share of courses and unusual activity breaks, I might still enrol to become a Mongolian warrior. I have always wanted someone to ask me if I'm off anywhere nice this weekend and be able to reply: "To the unbroken horizons and windswept grasslands of Ulaanbaatar. To serve a murderous despot. In the creation of a great empire.

"Painting with watercolours just doesn't do it for me. Pillaging and raping is better than daubing."

Then again I might just stay put. And read and listen to all the people around the world who do such things. Just to be different.

- NZ Herald

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