I am a keen (and self-taught) cook, when not living in the Mess. As Fabienne says, watching someone who knows what they are doing is useful - I've watched Chinese, Indian and Italian chefs and it's certainly helped me to produce better dishes. However, no matter how many people you watch, in person or on TV and in books, I would say the most important thing is to experiment. I never follow recipes slavishly, but rather see them as a suggestion on which to base a dish, or create a variation. I would recommend learning a few basic dishes first, and then building from there. In terms of equipment, good knives are essential, but a beginner doesn't need many. For pans, I have used Le Creuset for years - they are the very heavy French cast-iron pans, and are superb. It's available worldwide. Don't forget that good ingredients are also important, and for me the shopping is part of the overall pleasure.