Famous Five Questions
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
Well, my Facebook profile says that I’m an “Editor, pilot, squash player, photographer and podcast aficionado”. At various points in the past, it had also listed things like long-distance motorcycle travel, keeping tropical fish, playing the piano (a blatant lie!) and competitive dinghy sailing.
But over time, I whittled it all down to the things which really matter; and they are now listed in the order of priority. I’m actually quite pleased that I’ve managed to learn to describe myself in just over 100 characters. My life can be packed into a Tweet!
In all seriousness, though, I’m a career journalist with about 20 years of experience in the BBC, and then various Russian and Ukrainian broadcasters before that. I’ve covered various wars, natural disasters, and top-level political meetings (remind me to tell you about how I accidentally nearly sabotaged David Cameron’s trip around the Middle East), but as my BBC career evolved, I accidentally stepped into management. I must have been looking the wrong way at the time.
For six years, I ran the BBC’s Europe Region, its Russian, Ukrainian, Azeri and Serbian services. That’s a team of 300 people across seven countries. My wife says I was generally quite miserable throughout these years, and I think I agree.
In 2018, I finally chose freedom, as Soviet dissidents used to say when they crossed the border, and left the Corporation. I now work for an international media development organisation – we support new media outlets across the world, and my job is to focus on some of the countries in Eastern Europe.
I also do a fair bit of freelance editorial work. Most of it is about non-fiction books, but I’ve also worked with the author of the world’s sweetest, and most useless, crime thriller set in Victorian England. That was great fun.
When I’m not doing any of these things, I can generally be found either at an aerodrome or on a squash court.
My son is now 18, and he’s just about to go off to University, so until the grandchildren arrive, I think I have a window of opportunity to do my own thing, without any major prangs of guilt for not being a responsible father!
2. Unlike most of our guests, you didn’t arrive by road, - instead, you flew in. Tell us about your experience in aviation.
I started flying in 2000, in gliders. Six years later, I got my first licence to fly powered aircraft. I learned in the Algarve, in Portugal, and my first instructor was the legendary Gerry Breen. He has more world records than I have teeth; and he invented the word “microlight” – that’s a class of aircraft which are generally simple, lightweight and cheap to operate.
I’m currently a member of the Tiger Club, the oldest flying club in the UK. I have discovered the joys of vintage machines, such as our club’s old Piper Super Cubs or Tiger Moths. And I also own a share in a 1946 Auster, a two-seat trainer which was sold to the public as “the perfect aeroplane for a farmer”, complete with a picture of a cow somehow stuffed into the cockpit next to an elderly gent in muddy boots.
Today, I arrived in one of the Tiger Club’s machines, G-LCUB, the yellow Piper Cub which Sergey describes as “The Tintin plane”. LCUB is a respectable old lady, so I’m sure she didn’t take offense.
LCUB is actually a warbird: this aeroplane served in the French military during the war in Algiers – the army used it for reconnaissance. It’s extremely docile and easy to fly; and it’s a great privilege, to be allowed to fly what is, essentially, a museum exhibit.
Please be aware, when visiting by air, the runway 08 slopes down. Sergey did warn me, but who reads the manual!
I also make a biweekly podcast about recreational flying. It’s called The Two Thousand Feet Podcast, and it’s among the top five aviation podcasts in the UK. Really, it should be me interviewing you guys, not the other way round!
3. Where are you staying on the farm and what are your general impressions of Wilderley?
I’m staying on the boat, which is an adventure in its own right! Only you guys could have come up with this idea, to dig a pond on your property and place an ocean-going yacht into it. This is so brilliantly charming, - typical Wilderley.
The boat is a Seadog, and she’s a member of a family of yachts capable of crossing the Atlantic. It’s quite cosy inside, but it’s got everything you need for a short stay: sleeping quarters, a mini-kitchen (or galley – I should really be using proper terminology), a sitting area, and even a radio which picks up Bluetooth.
The biggest surprise about the yacht was to find that all its instruments work, including the compass, the depth sensor, and even the GPS. You can sit down at the control wheel, mug of tea in hand, stare at the compass (or the GPS if you’re feeling modern) and imagine yourself traversing the ocean. It works especially well at night when the stars are all out, and the yacht’s navigation lights come on, red on the left-hand side, green on the right.
But the best bit about Wilderley, I think, are all your animals. You can just see how happy they all are, and how happy you guys are to have them. Especially the unruly pugs.
We live in a flat, so I’m not allowed to have a dog, and playing with Georgie and Bobbik has given me enough of a “dog fix” to last me a few weeks, at least. After which, I’ll be back.
4. As a journalist, you must be a “people person”. But Wilderley is off-the-beaten-track a bit. How much of a problem is it?
I think that during the pandemic we have all learned to reconsider our reliance on other people. Google Photos recently reminded me of a picture I took in 2016. It was a packed commuter train which I used to take from our home in Kent into London Charing Cross.
Just looking at something like this now actually feels scary. I’ve no idea why we all thought it was a good idea do this to ourselves. And we even paid for the privilege – I clearly remember that a monthly ticket from Tunbridge Wells to London was something like £400!
If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that for many people, myself included, there’s no need to be in the office every day. In that sense, Wilderley was just as reliable as a workplace as my own desk at home.
And when you’re not working, it’s full of people to talk to: from you guys, to the volunteers who look after your animals, to other guests, to fellow pilots. If you do start to miss Café Nero and other trappings of the commercialised world, well, Beccles and Bungay, two beautiful little market towns, are only a five-minute drive. There's a fabulous farm shop next door with a cafe and the beaches at Pakefield and Southwold are only another 20 minutes away.
So, no, it doesn’t feel isolated. It feels remote, sure, but “good” remote. A place where you don’t have to worry about the noise (and only a little traffic from the nearby B road), unless the noise is made by aeroplanes, and the traffic is one of your geese protecting his turf. I never thought geese were quite so big!
5. If you were interviewing the team behind Wilderley, what would you ask us?
So many things.
- What does it feel like, to run an AirBnB? Do you get tired of having people around all the time?
- What is life at Wilderley like when the sun is not shining, the winds are howling, and snow covers the ground?
- Is living in a house built in the late 16th century a privilege or a hassle?
- How does a lawyer, like Sergey, learn to cut sheet metal with an angle grinder?
- What animals will you get next?
- What other unique accommodation are you planning to build?
- Is Wilderley “it” for you, or is there another project in the offing?
- Most importantly, why does the boat not have a name? She’s an ocean-going yacht, she needs to be christened!
Answers on a postcard, please.
Artyom's Fscebook: artyom.liss