All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience. – Mao Zedong.
On September 3rd, 1988, my girlfriend Linda and I set off overseas. We intended to be away for two years. As it turned out, by the time we returned home for the final time, six years had passed by. In that time we had visited 35 countries on five continents, taken thousands of photographs and written home dozens of times. We had also found time to become engaged in Vienna and get married in New Zealand.
These are my diaries from those years. They chronicle our journey from a couple of naive country kids from the South Island of New Zealand to hardened world travellers and adventurers. They also chart my emergence as a writer, beginning with farmer-style notes in a 1988 New Zealand Farmer’s Diary, to long, descriptive entries as our adventures unfolded out in the world.
There will be occasional gaps in the narrative: times when we were settled somewhere and I didn’t keep up with my entries. There will also be letters we wrote home, letters we received on the road, photographs, maps and other bits and pieces.
Where it is necessary, I will add relevant explanations in the form of annotations at the bottom of each entry. And although I will reproduce these diaries as they were written, occasionally, I may omit details that are too personal or sensitive. But rest assured, all swearing and offensive material will be left intact and included for your delectation!
I slept in till 11 am!! Spent the rest of the morning getting a Hornby train set going for Matthew and in the afternoon I shifted the electric fence. Later on, John and I went for a swim at the local baths. Back at the house I packed my gear up then put my feet up for the rest of the day.
I spent the day on various jobs around Grove House: mowing lawns, clearing some fallen branches and charging up the electric fence battery.
About 5 pm I set off in the Mercedes to take Bacardi, John’s borrowed horse (the one he’d fallen off) back to its owner in Broughton near Mere about 30 miles south of Warminster. It was a nice drive with the stereo blasting and the Mercedes was a great car to drive even with the horse float on.
After a bit of a search I found the place and dropped the horse off then headed back to Swindon stopping for a snack at the Granada [motorway service station] just outside Warminster.
We caught a bus into Swindon and spent a few hours there. We went to the Job Centre and Linda got some of her photos from Greece and Turkey developed. To fill in time we went to the final instalment of the Back to the Future Trilogy which was very good.
We collected all our gear from the Red Lion and went over to Paddington Station where we caught a train out to Swindon. There was no one home at Grove House when we got there so we walked down to the pub for lunch.
GOODBYE TO HELEN AND BRIAN. We met H&B for the last time at NZ House and after we had bought some sandwiches at a shop we walked over to Saint James Park where we sat in the shade for a couple of hours.
Then we went over to Earls Court and collected their luggage then caught the Piccadilly Line out to Heathrow. After they had checked in we went down to the bar for drinks and at 5:30 we went up to the departure area. They said goodbye quite abruptly and disappeared through the gates. Linda cried a little but it will only be just over a year until we see them again.
We caught the train back into London and had tea with Alex and Lucy in the nurses cafeteria then went over to the Red Lion for a few drinks.
Ann dropped me off out at the big roundabout just outside Warminster and I got a lift as soon as I got out of her car. That took me 10 miles, to Westbury, then I had to walk for a couple of miles out of town before I got another lift. The bloke was on his way to Wales and dropped me off by the M4 motorway. I made a sign with Swindon written on it and after about 10 minutes on the slip road leading to the motorway, a young guy on his way to take grain samples picked me up. He overshot the Swindon overbridge and dropped me just past the Wootton Bassett overbridge so I had to walk about a mile back along a piece of motorway just being built. A bloke driving a forklift gave me a ride on the running board and when we got back to the Swindon Road overbridge I got off and climbed up the bank and onto the bridge.
It took about 3/4 of an hour to walk around to John and Sally’s place and when I got there no one was home so I sat in the garage and snoozed until they turned up.
I spent the rest of the day doing odd jobs around Grove House and after lunch I took the wee car (a Peugeot) into town and banked £500! I also bought 2 new tapes: Jethro Tull’s new album Rock Island and Natural History: the best of Talk Talk ¹ along with the latest copy of Viz [a smutty and hilarious cartoon comic] and some nasal spray for the bastard of a head cold I had picked up along the way. Back at John and Sally’s I shifted into relaxation mode!
We started at 5:30 am again and Richard and I went up to the furthest away paddock out beside Long Ridge Wood. We loaded up and went back down and after we had unloaded went for breakfast.
The next two loads were small ones which we took to Robin and Richard’s sister Dorothy’s place for her calves to eat during the winter. When we dropped off the last load, I picked out a corn dolly¹, which Dorothy makes, for Helen.
We only bought in one load after lunch then finished up. The boys paid me a handy £450 (£4.30 per hour) for my efforts. Back at Ann’s cottage² I packed up and pottered around until 6 pm when Robin and Richard picked me up and we went to the pub at Upton Lovell for a few beers. After that, they dropped me off at Betty’s³ place in Warminster where I spent the night.
¹Corn dollies are traditional decorations woven from wheat or barley stalks and used in harvest celebrations. Helen still has the corn dolly I bought for her that day.
²Ann’s little cottage, Saracen’s Cottage, at 42A Corton, would become part of our home away from home when we returned to work in Warminster at the end of that summer.
It was another early start and another hot day but the temperature was kept down by a cool southerly breeze. Ann left me the manuscript of a book she has written called 1700+. It is a book of old recipes and remedies along with poems and old adages. It was very impressive and I’m sure that now would be a good time to publish it with the number of people leaving the cities to live in the country. Here is one of her poems:
SHEEP’S BELLS OVER THE HILLS OF ENGLAND FLOATS A CHEERFUL JUMBLE OF CHANGING NOTES AS FOR YEARS BEYOND NUMBER THEY’VE CLANKED IN TUNE FROM HALLOWEEN TO HARVEST MOON. TELLING THEIR NEWS OF THE FLOCKS THAT GRAZE TO MEN WHO WERE MODERN IN ANCIENT DAYS. FOR WHERE THERE ARE SHEPHERDS THERE’LL EVER BE BELLS, LONG MAY THEY LIVE ON OUR HILLS AND FELLS. MORE DEEP IN OUR HEARTS THAN WESTMINSTER CHIMES, MARKING OUR PASSAGE FROM DISTANT TIMES.
Footnote: Ann’s book was published in 1995. Before we left England in October 199, she gave me an antique sheep’s bell, with the initials HxR and the date 1877 carved into it’s smooth timber neck. It came from a farm in Wiltshire where Ann had worked as a shepherdess during WW2 and had been worn by generations of sheep on the Wiltshire Downs.