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Shereen meets Alistair Urquhart

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Shereen Nanjiani Shereen Nanjiani | 12:35 UK time, Monday, 29 November 2010

Snow in Glasgow

Snow in Glasgow

On Sunday I was SO glad to see my studio guests. It was hard enough for me to get into the BBC Scotland studios at Pacific Quay in Glasgow and I only live a couple of miles away. It was a blizzard when I left the house and there was no way my rear wheel drive sports car was going anywhere ( every winter I say I'm going to change it but it's great for that one day of summer!). I called a cab but apparently black hacks are rear wheel too so I had to trek up to the main road to meet it. We Westenders don't do walking. After quite a bit of skidding about, we made it, only slightly late.

Della, my producer arrived a short time after that having taken two hours to plough her way through some pretty treacherous conditions from Edinburgh. I was sure that Kirsty Scott and Brian Monteith would be no-shows coming from Dunblane and Peebles respectively and was bracing myself to do all the talking on today's show. But thankfully they arrived in plenty of time along with Big Issue editor Paul McNamee and all were completely on top of their subjects as ever. As the show went on we could see the snow getting heavier through the window and began to wonder if we'd be spending the rest of the weekend there. But all our worries about a bit of snow were put into perspective when we played the interview with this week's special guest.

Alistair Urquhart is ninety one and one of the last survivors of the Japanese prisoner of war camps. His is an extraordinary story of survival against the odds. He worked on the infamous Death Railways and the building of the Bridge on the River Kwai. He underwent constant torture, suffered dysentery, malaria, cholera, and came close to death many times. He survived a torpedoed ship and the atomic bomb in Nagasaki. Yet, when he and his comrades returned home, there was no welcome or acknowledgement from the government of what they had been through. Alistair had to go AWOL in order to get out of the army and so lost his pension. Hence the title of his book, "The Forgotten Highlander".

He never talked to anyone about his experiences. Not even his wife knew. After she died Alistair felt it was time to write it all down. He's an extraordinary man. He still suffers nightmares but says "sheer bloody mindedness" has given him the strength to go on. That and ballroom dancing. Alistair and his friend Helen go dancing at least three times a week. He tells me he does a mean foxtrot. He certainly looks a lot younger than his ninety one years. He reminded me that we'd actually met a few years earlier, when I'd presented him with an adult learners award for teaching computing skills to pensioners. None of life's knocks can keep this man down.

What he learned from the camps, he says, is there's no such thing as can't.
I can't help wonder what Alistair would have made of me complaining because I had to trudge through some snow to get to work in the morning. I think I can guess.

Listen to the extended interview with Alistair below:

Shereen, Sunday 0900 on BBC Radio Scotland and available to listen again on iPlayer.


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