Dundas London: Hi Simon, thanks for taking the time to chat. With lots of spare time and the summer weather arriving, how have you been spending lockdown so far?
Simon Parker: I love reading and movies - for two months now, movies, books and music have become my fantasy city breaks. But now that the weather’s turned, I’ve turned my attention to my allotment, half a mile from home. New shoots appear almost by the hour, like exciting destinations popping up on an airport’s pixelated departure board.
DL: Glad to hear you’re still all about travel - in a roundabout way - where has your veg taken you so far?
SP: Well first are the French beans. Originally from Mexico, Christopher Columbus introduced them to Europe at the end of the 1400s. I’ve seen them grow as big as boomerangs in the foothills of the Himalayas under multi-coloured prayer flags.
My tomatoes are already up to my knees and hopefully they’ll be producing gob-sized grenades of Mediterranean sunshine by the end of June. They also originated on the West coast of Latin America, and came to Europe at a similar time to green beans. Believe it or not the French began by growing them for their ornamental flowers, and in Spain and Italy they started out as tabletop decorations. Unsurprisingly, their earliest mention in an Italian cookbook was published in tomato-loving Naples in 1692.
DL: Brilliant! And what are your plans for the coming months? It looks like we’re in for a lovely hot British summer, perfect for some more allotment travel?
SP: Indeed, the weather makes staying at home that little bit easier allowing vegetable growers like me to travel to exotic climes via our vegetables.
My plan is to stagger planting new vegetables over the next four months and then enjoy their sweet but tangy fruits with olive oil, rock salt and fresh basil. When temperatures drop in October’s and their aromatic leaves begin to crinkle, I’ll whizz up what’s left and freeze. Even if lockdown continues into midwinter, this smooth passata will transport me to the Golfo di Napoli, bathed in hot summer sunshine. Maybe I’ll go the whole hog and search for a soundtrack of “beeping Vespas” on Youtube.
Aubergines like it hot – they hail from India where they thrive in temperatures in excess of 30oC, but often struggle in the UK. If we get ourselves an “eggplant summer,” I’ll be ordering a bottle of limoncello to celebrate, and while I’m at it I’ll need to restock the factor 50.
DL: Now if we can bear it, let’s think back to when travelling was slightly easier than it is in this current time. Where have your favourite destinations and experiences been?
SP: I've always been fascinated by isolated places. Those destinations at the edge of the page. I'm not too sure what this says about my personality - I'm always eager to escape - but small communities living on the edge are fascinating. Last year I wrote about Ittoqqortoormiit in remote northeast Greenland for The Telegraph - the world's loneliest town - the most remote in the western hemisphere. Winter temperatures drop to minus 40 and you'd never leave home without a rifle, for fear of polar bears. I get a huge thrill out of seeing these places with my own eyes. I love my job.
I've reported from over 100 countries in the past decade - it's been exhilarating, but tiring. So maybe these few months are good for my energy levels. But I'm now itching to hit the road. In 2016 I sailed and cycled halfway around the world for a BBC World Service documentary, including sailing across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and a solo cycle across the USA. That ranks as the greatest trip of my life. I love epic overland adventures. I'm keen to complete the circumnavigation in the next decade.
Right now I was meant to be travelling the length of the Zambezi, but that assignment got cancelled, like everything else. It's on ice for a year now, so I'm using this time in lockdown to plan for the next year or two. Namely, trying to work out how we can fund and film a second series of my TV show, Earth Cycle.
In the first series I cycled 3,500km from Arctic Norway to the southern point of Sweden and now we are hoping to take the format all over the globe.
DL: And finally, any advice for us as we enter into a summer at home?
SP: Like most people at the moment, my bad days usually follow the good ones. Sometimes I feel upbeat and optimistic, and then at others I plunge into depression and lethargy. But throughout it all, my homegrown vegetables serve as a reassuring constant. On a sunny afternoon my polythene greenhouse throbs with the thick heat of the amazon.
There’s a big and exciting world out there waiting for me – over the horizon, just beyond the broad beans.
DL: We’ll let you get back to your beans - best of luck for all your travel by veg this summer.