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Capraia Diary: Mike Leahy



Saturday 10th July

I hadn't slept too well because I was excited about the prospect of taking part in the '‘Rough Science’ project. My girlfriend, Kate, took me into the Dunn School of Pathology at Oxford University, where I was reminded of how dire my daytime job really was, before I made the short walk to the bus station and set off to Gatwick. Entering the airport the excitement really set in, but I was the first to arrive (a pattern that was going to prove very familiar), and had to kill time for a while before I met anyone else from the team. Vanessa was the next to turn up, and we chatted for a while before meandering over to the location where we had arranged to meet up with the rest of the party. Before long we were reacquainting ourselves with the others, and were just about to check in when Paul Manners, our producer, realised that Anna, the newly recruited ethno-botanist hadn't turned up. This was another pattern that we would see repeated many times. Eventually Anna bustled up, red faced and brim full of apologies. We made our way to a cafe for something to eat. Boarding the plane, I realised that I was placed next to Paul and I hoped that I wouldn't piss him off too much before we arrived at the deserted island. I was aware that I am unbearable when I'm happy or excited. It is something that Kate can't cope with even after four years. I needn't have worried because Paul turned out to be the most tolerant person I have ever met. Cutting a long story short. We landed to be greeted by a perfect climate, took a bus to Livorno (a polluted sh*t hole) and I spent the evening quietly getting pissed while waging war on the largest steak I have ever seen.

Sunday 11th July

on the boatWe set off on the two and a half hour ferry trip after I had enjoyed a brilliant night's sleep. Anna, as usual, rolled up late. She hadn't slept a wink "because the motor scooters were so noisy," and she had been bitten to death by mosquitoes. I suggested that she should have drunk more wine, but she didn't think that this would help. Some bloody ethno-botanist, I thought. Even I know that half the western world uses alcohol as a cure for insomnia. The weather wasn't as good as the previous day, and at first it began to drizzle before miserable rain set in. Bugger!

first sight of the islandArriving at the tiny port, we met David Shulman who had arrived several days earlier to prepare, before being loaded into a convoy of Land Rovers and carried off to the filming location. The island was small, with only one small port, and within minutes we could see a good portion of it, as if it were an aerial photograph. Our drivers were called Fabio and Giovani, and over the following days we would form lasting friendships with them. We passed through an old stone archway, and as the Land Rovers lumbered over potholes looking more like open cast mines, and boulders big enough to break a lesser vehicle, we passed many disused buildings.

The island had been used as a prison until 1986, and we were to be based in an old prison building near the northern tip of the island, high up in the hills. At this point we didn't know this, and our Land Rover left us some distance from the top of the hill, so that we had to walk the last stretch.

arrival at the prison

By the time we reached the prison building, the film crews were already set up to record our reactions. I thought that the place looked a bit grim, but the others were impressed (or acting). Entering the ramshackle building we were immediately slapped in the face by the stench of rotten goat sh*t. There were no doors, no glass in the windows, but the bars were still there.

I scoured the floor of the yard for useful bits and pieces. Long rifle cartridges lay everywhere, interspersed by shorter cartridge cases looking more like those used in 9mm pistols. I looked at the broken plaster on the walls and wondered. After wandering around the complex we were grouped together and told on camera what our challenges would be. This was followed by a 'brainstorming' session. I was thinking more about haemoragic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) which is contracted from rat p*ss, and wondered what welcoming pathogens we would come across during our stay.