It’s funny the things you miss. Often it’s the things we take for granted, or those that don’t seem that important. This week I found myself on a rare business trip out of the Capital and up north, and with it a long, sleepy commute through the heart of the London Underground and out of Euston to Manchester. Thanks to the Lockdown, at least half the journey was almost in solitary. A few hours of lofi beats, podcasts, and even a good read without distraction, stress or strain. I never thought I’d ever miss the Northern Line but here we are. Those few hours to ourselves where we can phase in and out of the here and now are more precious than we sometimes realise.
Michael Palin’s North Korean Journal is the first book I’ve read in almost a year. For various reasons, I just haven’t been in the right frame of mind to pick anything up, but put me alone on a train carriage for half the day and it comes naturally to me.
Palin’s journal is quite simply that. It’s a short travel diary through and through, covering a 2 week period of his time in the DPRK. You wont find any exposes or deep political opinions here, nor a steep history lesson in its formation, but the observations noted and everyday experiences he recalls are just as rich and interesting, as are the interactions he and his team have with their guides as they are shown around the country. Whilst he suspects many of the places and activities they encounter are likely orchestrated to a degree, the people they meet are often gracious and hard working. What’s particularly warming are his attempts to peel back a few layers (and barriers) with his hosts, amicably gaining their trust and cooperation. The result is a more humble, human-scale glimpse into the Democratic People’s Republic.