This is an excerpt from an interview with Fern by Mike Pattenden published in The Sunday Times on the 11th February 2018. To see the original click here.
By far the most intrepid things I’ve ever done are the annual charity cycle rides with the reproductive-health charity Genesis Research Trust, which I did from 2003 until last year. They were like backpacking adventures — roughing it with a big gang of women. I hated the one in China — the weather was awful, the accommodation was full of cockroaches and everyone came back with chest infections. Most of the trips, however, have been a riot. South America was incredible: we had to stop to let huge crabs walk across the road, ran over snakes by mistake, cycled past crocodiles and watched vultures waiting by the roadside.
In Cuba, we had an official guide who took us to the Bay of Pigs and gave us the Cuban version of history, which was radically different from the one we’d heard. In Havana, we were invited to the embassy for a reception with Fidel Castro’s niece, Mariela. She’s a figurehead for LGBT rights and it transpired she thought we were lesbians, because, at the time, the organisation was called Women for Women. When we corrected her, she was very apologetic and changed her welcome speech — we became feminist icons instead.
On one trip, cycling through tea plantations in Kerala, India, we came across women striking. There were about 60 of them, protesting in the road in their colourful saris, so we stopped and joined them for a while. That was a privilege.
Those trips were life-changing. You let go of the entire artifice of the person you’ve become, and it’s like you’re 18 again. I’d recommend it to anyone.