‘Ahead, as the great aircraft droned on, the first scything cut of the sun on the horizon skimmed rays of pale light across the desert. Below us Uweinat’s gaunt rocks cast mile-long shadows over the sand; a small line of dunes down to our right showed slip faces to the sun. The Sahara in all its vast majesty – serene, awesome, beautiful ... . It was like witnessing the birth of the world.’

‘There were eight of us. We had vehicles. We had supplies. We had water. But over the dune the little Mauritanian boy, no more than six years old, walked carefully towards our camp, concentrating hard on not spilling his precious gift – a bowl of camel’s milk. Even as I write, all these years later, I am moved to tears ... ’

‘ ... my unease abruptly spiked. In the failing light as I sought a flatter area to camp, the Mercedes suddenly lurched left. The sand was giving way. I pulled left again to let gravity help but it went deeper ... ’

‘He was surprised to see me. I’d been singing at the time. Like me, he’d also been curious. In a few minutes I saw his head pop up from behind the rocks and caught a glimpse of the blue, then he climbed onto the huge stone. ‘Can you fix the moon for me? For the photo; y’know, the dust haze?’ I said. But he didn’t do moons; even on birthdays. Like most lizards.’

‘Tom Sheppard, doyen of the desert.’ ... Michael Palin