Oxford High School talk

March 29, 2011 04:48 by Ben

A big thank you to the girls in their final year at Oxford High School for having me come and talk to them last week. And to Rachael Pallas-Brown their teacher.

A fun, perceptive and intelligent audience - I had a great time. At least until we were compared to the label of a peanut butter jar - at least I think that is what someone said?

It was actually very funny and she does have a point:


Better than being compared to the Wiggles perhaps?

Slides are here.

Kelmscott School talk

March 11, 2011 14:13 by Ben

Thanks a lot to all the year 10 and 11 students at Kelmscott school who sat patiently through my Hannibal talk the other day! A very generous and forgiving audience.

One of the best questions of the day was "what was the most peculiar thing that you came across on your trip?"

I had to think quite hard as there were lots and perhaps tellingly the first thing that came to mind was the middle aged prostitute with no undies on who flashed Sam in an unnamed campsite in Spain. That was quite peculiar but perhaps not the best thing to talk about in a class room! So I told them about the huge posters of Ben Ali all over the place in Tunisia and how every cafe, building and taxi also had a portrait of him in pride of place. And how everyone you asked would talk in a strangely tepid way about how wonderful he was! It was very peculiar and not at all surprising that he no longer runs the country. The kids would've enjoyed the prostitute story much better I think.

Thanks also to Dan Gilman their teacher...and sorry I accidently stole my visitor's badge  - I'll send it back.

The presentation is here: https://docs.google.com/leaf?id=0B9Q43r-RM7aCZDkyOWUwZTgtZjBiMC00N2U3LWIyYTctYzlmYmRjYzljMGM2&hl=en


Episode 4 - Over the Alps

August 10, 2010 03:05 by Ben

Probably the most famous part of Hannibal’s invasion march to Italy was his crossing of the Alps. Getting a huge army and herd of war elephants across the mountains in autumn was a phenomenal feat – even though he did lose a substantial portion of his men. In episode 4 of the series tonight (8:30pm, BBC4, UK only, http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00td4n6/On_Hannibals_Trail_Over_the_Alps/) we attempt to find out which way he went over these huge mountains.

One of the crossings we were interested in is called the Col de Clapier. I reached it by riding over the Col de Galibier (a climb often included in the Tour de France) and heading up the Marienne Valley. If Hannibal had used Clapier to get to Italy he probably wouldn’t have come this way but rather from Grenoble. Somewhere near modern day Bramans he would’ve headed south east towards the pass. This valley is initially fairly steep and wooded. A one lane road winds up it now which passes a chalet built in the 1920’s by an English Archaeologist and Hannibal fanatic Mark Antony Lavis-Trafford. He spent much of his life here trying to prove Hannibal used this pass to cross the Alps. His chalet is now a lodge which was closed when we passed – between the summer hiking and winter ski seasons. After some scrambling you get up and out of the forest and into rocky highlands. According to our guide the valley has been fought over for centuries and only since World War II has it been safe for farmers to move in so the area still has a very isolated feel. Five more hours of steady hiking and you get to the top of the pass. It's difficult but not impossibly hard and very easy to imagine Hannibal and his men doing the same thing all those years ago.

The view up the valley to the Col de Clapier

BBC Breakfast News from Monday 19th July:


Dweeb surfer types

July 21, 2010 16:45 by Ben

A very funny review from the Independent:

The programme is on the BBC website here too:

Blog of a blog

July 20, 2010 07:55 by Ben

This is a blog about a blog I wrote for the BBC TV blog blog:





Just in case we hadn't told you already the first episode of the documentary airs in the UK tonight at 8:30pm on BBC4.


BBC Programme page is live

July 16, 2010 12:39 by Ben

The BBC have just published a page on their website about the documentary:

The first episode is called Hitting the Road and you can view a clip (UK only) from it here:


First clip from the series is on YouTube - race up Mont Ventoux

June 10, 2010 11:44 by Ben

The BBC guys have just put a clip from the series on the internet. It shows our race up Mont Ventoux and is on YouTube here:




El Presidente, sheep and the universal necessity of causation

November 30, 2009 20:55 by Ben

And so to the last stage of our trip. Tunisia – a land dominated by President Ben Ali who was fresh from winning a recent election with 90% of the vote. His picture features in every cafe and car and on every street corner. We arrived at the ferry terminal in Tunis under his gaze and got a little worried when Sam was taken away by a dozen Police to get a visa (Sam is the only one of us travelling on his Australian passport I’m embarrassed to admit!). There seemed to be thousands of different sorts of Police and border guards wandering about and we all became a little concerned as to what sort of freedoms the people of Tunisia enjoyed. But then the representative from the Ministry of Culture who met us at customs quoted Kant at us – “free will is inherently unknowable - even a free person could not possibly have knowledge of their own freedom. So we cannot use our failure to find a proof for freedom as evidence for a lack of it.” So I asked if he thought Ben Ali considered the universal necessity of causation, the synthetic nature of mathematics and the Newtonian absoluteness of space and time in his rulings? Luckily Sam arrived intact with his visa at this moment so he couldn’t answer. And seeing as it was getting late, he had filled in my visitor’s card for me and got me through customs without the border guards even looking at me we continued on into Tunisia without an argument.

Typical Tunis skyline

Top Gun

Our first day here was a rest day which we always seem to spend searching for bike shops to restock. We’d got some dodgy inner tubes in southern Italy – the valves would fall out shortly after pumping them up! Unfortunately our new Tunisians ones weren’t much better and a couple of days later we were cursing them as we spent a tense 50kms in the middle of nowhere with no spares praying we didn’t get a puncture. Tunis has a great atmosphere though and the people are very open and friendly. We visited Hannibal’s home town of Carthage most of which is covered in Roman rather than Carthaginian ruins. It also seems to be one of the wealthier suburbs of Tunis. Nice big modern houses ring the ancient Punic twin ports and President Ben Ali’s palace is just to the north. We weren’t allowed to film in that direction and if we strayed too close a bloke with a machine gun would come and tell us off.

Antonine Baths at Carthage

Turkeys in Carthage and some strange birds in the foreground too

We had lunch in a cafe called Uranium – we assumed they named it that as it took the half life of uranium (4.5 billion years) for your order to arrive. So after quite a long wait camera man John endeared himself to the waitress by demanding tomato sauce. She was also about the 4.5 billionth waiter/waitress he had aggravated on our trip so far. After some more filming and riding we had dinner in an amazing restaurant (we are eating a lot) that used to be a sultan’s palace – the resident sitar player asked where we were from and then started playing the Australian national anthem! Impressive, but it is one of the worst national anthems in the world don’t you think??

View from the Byrsa Hill over Carthage

Anyway after a few days of travel, a rest day and some filming days in Carthage and Tunis we were wondering if we would be capable of riding 120kms inland towards Zama – the site of the last battle of the Second Punic War. We had no idea really what the roads where like or whether Tunisian drivers would run us over without a second thought. But after some navigational issues getting out of Tunis and a quick stop at a bike shop where Mehdi, a former cyclo-cross champion of Tunisia sold us some new water bottles – the old ones had gone irretrievably mouldy, we found that Tunisian drivers were actually really good. Not as respectful as Spanish drivers perhaps but certainly better than Italians.

Mehdi Thameur outside his shop kindly greasing our chains

It turned out to be a very long day but completely different riding to anything we had done previously. Riding through dirt poor towns on a bike that would probably feed the entire village for a year if they sold it wasn’t the best feeling. But the kids would scream at you – usually in a friendly way we thought until a rock bounced between me and Danny and then we started to wonder! No really everyone seemed very friendly and lunch was at a roadside restaurant. A kilogram of barbeque sheep and a very spicy mixture of tomato and chilli was on the menu. The next sheep in line was tethered to the bbq – waiting for his turn while his brother cooked!

We passed an amazing ruined Roman aqueduct that seemed to go for miles in either direction and the last 10km of the day were really very hard work...but only a few days of riding left...

BBC History Magazine - Zama

November 28, 2009 09:02 by Ben

Our final instalment for the BBC History Magazine is here:


Sunset over the modern village of Jama believed to be near where the battle of Zama took place (thanks Andrea Illescas for the photo)

The Bodyguard

November 25, 2009 07:37 by Ben

On a long trip like this interpersonal relationships become very important and are often the cause of the most interesting bits of the journey. I imagine it might make a pretty good documentary following a crew making a documentary? A bit like the new show we are thinking of pitching to the BBC: "Entertainment Tonight Entertainment Tonight" - as the presenters of Entertainment Tonight have become celebrities in their own right they surely need another show just to follow them? It will be an endless supply of new shows - after a few years there will presumably be "Entertainment Tonight Entertainment Tonight Entertainment Tonight"??

Anyway us three have had some good arguments - the best one when riding through the northern suburbs of Naples on slippery black basalt cobble stones, hungry, in pouring rain and mad Neapolitan traffic. Luckily most of the things we screamed at each other were inaudible! The crew also have their moments but there are also times when everyone works together, sacrificing themselves for the team...harmony, symphony, mellifluousness, rappaport etc. One such heart warming moment was in Trani. We were filming in the port and a grumpy looking bloke was sitting at a stall ironically selling friendship bands. He yelled something at us when we arrived - his wild eyes betraying something we couldn't quite pin down. My first guess was evangelical christian so we ignored him and kept riding. A minute later there was a commotion behind us and we turned to see him attacking John! He was grabbing for the camera and lashing out and did actually manage to kick John in the bum!! I must admit we laughed and secretly thought he deserved it (he does) but Francesco had other ideas. He threw himself into the line of fire - separating our cameraman from the rabid friendship band stall holder. He was very calm and professional and pleaded with the attacker to calm down. After multiple "cazzos" and "va fancullos" the (as it turns out) recently released convict and drug addict also kicked Francesco. By this time a crowd had gathered but Francesco the bodyguard had the situation under control.

We overheard this exchange between Francesco and John soon afterwards:

Rachel(John): And you're ready to die for me?

Frank: It's the job.

Rachel(John): And you'd do it? Why?

Frank: I can't sing.

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About the authors

Danny, Ben and Sam Wood are three brothers who followed in the footsteps of three ancient Carthaginian brothers Hannibal, Hasdrubal and Mago. They cycled from Cartagena, Spain to Zama, Tunisia - the route that Hannibal and his army took over 2200 years ago. Along the way they filmed a documentary which was aired on BBC4 in July and August 2010.


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