Glenn Hoddle's mullet

At the <em>Ashes to Ashes</em> story conference we talk about 1982, the Falklands and the IRA bomb i

Off to South Africa for a week's holiday, escaping the chill of Somerset for some beating heat. A four-hour journey from Cape Town, across vast agricultural plains and through isolated, weather-beaten Afrikaans communities, up into the bleak, beautiful wilderness of the Cederberg Mountains. A guide takes us on foot through the bush until we get to a small cave where the walls are crowded with Bushman paintings of animals and people in trances, the ochre images now divorced from their long-forgotten meanings.

These paintings never cease to move me, a profound belief system that flourished in the game-infested plains and valleys of Southern Africa thousands of years before Christ or Muhammad. I remember my first time. In Harare a few years after Zimbabwe's independence, I gave a lift to a friend who lived in one of that city's teeming townships. A boy came up to me, tugged at my sleeve and said, "Bushman painting. Ten dollars." I gave him the money (given that Zimbabwe's present inflation is due to hit 1.5 million per cent by the end of the year, that's probably worth about a quarter of a grain of sand in today's money) and he picked a path through the rotting cars and goat turds to a tiny rock. On its underside, protected from the harsh sun, was a single Khoisan painting of a hunter. As simple and beautiful as anything I had ever seen.

The bush is silent

Back in the Cederberg Mountains and our guide is telling us something of the Khoisan's history and beliefs. The bush is silent in the noon heat as my friends listen to his words, listen to how the Khoisan were hunted like vermin by both the European settlers and the African tribes that migrated south, how they were wiped out in a few generations.

I look down at my three-year-old daughter, Miranda, see her brow puzzled, trying to understand. Is some tiny ember smoking in her imagination, to be fanned into life in future years? She looks up at me: "This is soooo boring. Can we go and watch LazyTown?"

The Audi Quattro's guest spot

Fly home and straight down to Brighton for a story conference on what we hope will be a second series of Ashes to Ashes. No papal smoke has yet been seen coming from Television Centre but the ratings have been good and the critics, if far from united in praise, have been united in making a lot of noise, which is almost as good.

We talk about 1982 and the Falklands conflict; the IRA bomb in Hyde Park; Mary Whitehouse and the National Theatre; ra-ra skirts; and Glenn Hoddle's mullet. How will Gene Hunt survive in a post-Scarman London? Not quite sure yet but can't wait to find out.

Tonight there is a dinner for more than 600 foreign television buyers at the Brighton Centre, all of whom we hope will buy the first series of Ashes to Ashes. The Audi Quattro is up on the stage, guest of honour. Philip Glenister is here, mobbed by all and sundry. And there's Keeley Hawes, looking stunning in a red dress. I was actually in this hall in 1981, receiving my degree from David Attenborough, at the same time as Ian Botham was demolishing the Australians at Headingley. Odd how life pans out.

In the communal dustbin

Now I'm on the dance floor, jiggering about like the sad man from Accounts at the Christmas party, bellowing out the words to "I'm in Love With a German Film Star". Oh dear.

Finally get home to Combe Hay, a village outside Bath. I should watch edits of my new show, Bonekickers (about a group of archaeologists working out of Bath University, think Time Team meets Indiana Jones via CSI). But I think I'll take a stroll through the village to the communal dustbin where the newspapers are delivered and rescue last week's Guardians from the forest of Telegraphs.

The sun has slipped down now, the lights of the Wheatsheaf yellow in the gloaming, the organic cows bellowing in a distant field. I pop my head into the living room, see if I can tempt Miranda into a stroll before bedtime: "I can't, Dad. I'm watching LazyTown."

Ashley Pharoah's "Ashes to Ashes" is on BBC1 (Thursdays, 9pm). "Bonekickers" follows in the spring, also on BBC1

This article first appeared in the 10 March 2008 issue of the New Statesman, How Hillary did it

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