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!
Well, here I am again at the end of another diary, another year and, this time, another decade. It is 5:45 PM and Linda and I are watching the video “Cocoon – The Return” upstairs at The Red Lion pub in Lambeth, London. We have been working here for 3 weeks now as a live-in bar couple. The pub is owned by Brian Bradley, a Kiwi from Moeraki¹ and most of the staff are Kiwis so it is a good atmosphere to work in.
We spent four days at White Stubbs Farm² after we returned from Africa. Joyce filled us in on what had been going on around the area while we had been away and it was still the same back-biting, narrow-mindedness that we had left behind 4 months before. The Woodman was once again in the hands of the Pikies³ and Terry & Lorraine (the publicans) are gone. It sounded as though Terry had gone on a binge of barring people from the pub including old Nobbie (a local drunk) which would have been a bad move as the locals would have complained to the brewery who would have told Terry and Lorraine to shape up or ship out. I guess they shipped out!
We had a good sleep-in on our first morning at White Stubbs Farm and went down to the Woodman for lunch. It was dead…the only people there were AK Top Roy and his scarecrow wife.
About 2:00 that day we caught the train into London and mucked around for the rest of the day until 7:00 when we met Mike and Scotty on the Tottenham Court Road. We had a few drinks at a pub then headed to Break for the Border, a Mexican restaurant where we’d arranged to meet the others from the overland. We had a good night there and slept on the floor of Robyn’s sister’s flat.
Next day we went job-hunting and got an interview at The Red Lion. It is a busy inner city pub and we were very busy over Christmas and New Year. In the week leading up to Christmas, Linda and I spent all our wages [we were earning 100 pounds each per week with full board and lodging] on new clothes and Christmas pressies for each other. It was a really good feeling to have money to spend and not have to worry about saving.
We also rang home. Linda rang Helen one night after trying a few times to get through without success. Everything is fine at Dry Creek† and it was really good to talk to her again. Brian was away that day so we didn’t talk to him. I rang Joe [my brother] early one morning and we had a good yarn. He was going to spend some time with our cousin Tig over the Christmas break.
Christmas Eve was a Saturday night and was very quiet but the Friday night was horrendously busy. Linda and I had a quiet Xmas by ourselves at the pub. We cooked up a huge christmas dinner and had all the trimmings with it – chocolate, nuts, crackers, christmas pudding. We both gave each other Swatch watches and I gave Linda a new address book, a scarf, 3 photograph albums and some other bits & pieces. Brian and his wife gave her a top and a toilet bag and Harry (another of the bar staff) gave her a scarf. Along with the watch Linda gave me some Kouros aftershave which she dad bought duty-free on the boat over from Spanish North Africa, a shirt and a few other bits. Brian and Sue gave me a diary and a rugby jersey and Harry gave me a shirt. Quite a haul!
On Boxing Day we had a sleep in then went for a walk over Westminster Bridge, up through St James Park to Buckingham Palace where we joined a throng of tourists watching the changing of the guard.
In the evening we went and saw the stage production of Allo Allo‡. It was really good with the original members of the TV show in the cast.
Last night, for New Years Eve, we had a beach party with a disco. The party went on till 7:00 AM this morning and we had a pretty good time. Later on tonight, Linda, Louie, Jennie and I are all going over to SoHo for a Chinese meal. It is a cold and rainy night but our new home is warm and comfortable.
¹A small fishing village on New Zealand’s South Island.
²A small farm owned by our friends Joyce and Ernie Stubbs whom we had met while working at The Woodman before we went to Africa.
‡The stage version of a popular TV sit-com set in WW2.
†Linda’s mother Helen lived at Dry Creek Station, the high country farm where I had worked as a shepherd and where Linda and I had met.
And that was that. From the plains of Kenya, over the Mountains of the Moon, through the jungles of the Congo and down the Zaire River, across the Desert of Thirst, the atlas, the Med, Spain and back to Olde England. The four months seem to have rushed past and now we were back down to Earth with a thump. We were faced with the grim reality of being in London in winter with no money and no jobs.
We checked out of the hotel but left our gear there and I rang Joyce¹ to tell her we would be out to stay later on that day. We went to a local Bengy’s² for breakfast which was included in the price of the hotel, and just as we were finishing, Mike and Scotty walked in so we sat back down and drank tea while they had their breakfast.
After we left them, we went to New Zealand House³ and started job-hunting, without much success.
Later in the day, we collected our gear from The Hunter’s Lodge and caught a train from Liverpool Street out to Broxbourne. as we passed through the grey, dreary jumble of London, and the boring sameness of the commuter suburbs, I thought of the peaceful silence of the jungle…
TO BE CONTINUED
¹Our acquaintance in Hertfordshire at whose place we had left most of our stuff when we set off for Africa.
²A restaurant chain specializing in breakfasts
³The New Zealand Embassy in London where there was an office where New Zealanders could look through job advertisments.
DAY ONE HUNDRED AND TWO. The sea was quite rough when I woke in the morning. Everyone else in our cabin was still asleep so I lay there looking out the porthole at the green waves rolling around the ship with the wind whipping spray off the whitecaps.
After showers we went up to the cafe for a huge breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausages and chips. There were quite a few green faces around, not all of them due to the rough sea. Pullar & Skip were well under the weather after a night of drinking whiskey with some of the ship’s crew and Skip decided that he didn’t want his breakfast after he’d ordered it so he gave it to me. While I was eating this second brekkie a kid spewed right behind us so that did it for Skip and he headed for the dunnys!!
After breakfast we went and packed our gear then spent the remaining two hours of the voyage wandering round the ship or sitting in the lounge watching the swells.
At around 10:00 we sailed past a lighthouse and half an hour later we were sailing into Plymouth Harbour. The sea calmed as we came in past the headlands and sailed up the harbour past more lighthouses and the many old, stone maritime buildings built on the cliffs above the water.
We docked on schedule at 12:30 and drove the truck off the ship, once again back in England. Immigration and Customs were pretty straightforward. They put a drug dog through the druck which gave druggie Skip another fright, especially when it started barking at Chris and Bron’s stuff. The customs man went through it and found nothing so we were free to go.
The weather as we had sailed up Plymouth Harbour had been beautifully clear and cold, with a calm blue sea under a bright blue sky. But as we drove out of Plymouth, the fog came down and turned the day into a bleak and miserable one. We spent the day wrapped in our sleeping bags as the cold and wet, but never-the-less beautiful landscape of Devon rolled past.
We stopped for lunch at a Happy Eater¹ then later on for a coffee at a roadside cafe. Darkness was on us by 4:00 and it was bitterly cold.
We drove into London at about 10:00 and dropped Sale off then headed for Earl’s Court². We parked the truck on a corner and unloaded our gear onto the footpath.
One by one everyone drifted away in taxis or on foot to their friend’s flats nearby or in other areas of town. I walked up the street to a hotel called The Hunter’s Lodge where the police were busy rescuing a drunken Aussie who had passed out on the fourth floor parapet.
Linda and I lugged our heavy packs, our day bags, the camera tripod, the Tuareg sword, our treasures from Africa, down to the hotel and booked in, went upstairs, showered and went to bed.
¹The Happy Eater was a motorway restaurant chain in England. It’s logo, a happy round face with a comma for a tongue brought to mind a Pacman. The food was dreadful – tepid, greasy and expensive – and so Linda and I always referred to these places as The Spewing Pacman.
² The inner London suburb popular with backpackers and antipodeans.
DAY ONE HUNDRED AND ONE. Linda and I got up at 6:00 and got the fire going. There had been a good sort of frost during the night and everything had a white film of ice on it. We cooked up scrambled eggs with onion and tomato for brekkie then packed up the camp for the last time.
We drove down to the ferry terminal and hung around there all morning. The ferry “Bretagne” berthed at about 11:00 and we drove on at 12:15.
The Bretagne is nearly brand new and is very well appointed. We shared a cabin with Rob and Pete and although it was small it was comfortable and warm, with a shower and toilet cubicle and 4 bunk beds.
Once we were settle in and had had a lovely hot shower we went up to the cafe and had a huge feed of chicken and chips, orange juice and lots of other greasy English delicacies! After lunch, we went for a wander around the ship then went and had a rest until 5:30.
The Bay of Biscay was calm as we sailed north-east away from the setting sun. Linda and I went and had a few drinks at the bar while we waited for 9:00 to roll around. That was movie time and we paid two quid each to see Batman in one of the three cinemas on board. It was a good film, with Jack Nicholson putting in a totally over-the-top performance as The Joker.
After the pictures, Linda and I went out onto the stern deck and watched the wake froth and shimmer as it disappeared into the darkness but it was very cold so we didn’t spend long there.
When we got back to the cabin, Rob and Pete were both asleep so we hopped into our bunks & were rocked to sleep by the gentle motion of the ship.
The sun shining into the truck woke me up at about 8:00 before anyone else was awake. I got up and took my camera and went for a walk out to the headland near our camp. The sea was calm with a light swell rolling in onto the beach and the head of a small cove. The sun shimmered on the water and a gentle breeze blew in off the sea. I clambered over the sharp white rocks to a point and sat watching the sea and the passing ships for a while then wandered back over to the camp where most of the gear was already packed up ready to go.
We drove into town, stopping for a coffee on the way, and spent 2 hours driving round looking for an open camping ground. We eventually found one on the peninsula on the opposite side of the bay, about 20 minutes drive from the ferry terminal.
We had some lunch then Scotty, Mike, Bron, Pullar & I went back into town to try and change money to pay for the campsite. After a fruitless search we discovered that we could scrape up enough money between us so we returned to the camp.
The rest of the afternoon was spent cleaning out the truck and packing all of our gear and souvenirs into our packs. Once Linda and I had finished, I sat down with Mike, Scotty and Sale and had a few beers while Rob and Pete cooked tea and bitched at each other! I went to be (a seat in the truck) at about 11 but Mike, Scotty & Sale carried on drinking and arguing round the fire which they kept going by pouring diesel on it.
DAY NINETY NINE. We got up with the sun, which was rising bright and golden through the mist and packed up the sodden camp. We drove north out of Madrid without the hassle of rush-hour traffic which was all going into the city in the opposite direction.
About 9:30 we stopped at a Servicio for our customary breakfast but found that i was too expensive so we had to settle for a bag of taco chips and a Coke. We were heading for the hills behind Madrid where the monument and shrine to the people killed in the Civil War, known as Los Valle de los Caidos” is situated. We stopped to photograph the huge cross showing through the mist high up on the pine-clad hill upon which the shine sits and as we were pulling back out onto the roadway, a a car hit us at full-speed from behind. The only damage the truck suffered was a bent wood-rack but the car, a Ford Granada, was fucked! The driver and his wife were alright, however, so after Scotty had taken some photographs and given them Kumuka’s address in London we carried on.
The Basilica of the Valley of Heroes is a massive cavern carved into the face of the hill beneath the huge cross. We spent 3/4 of an hour there looking around but it was bitterly cold and once we’d seen the interior there wasn’t much else to detain us. So, we spent the rest of the day driving towards Santander and at about 4:30 we pulled into a field beside a ruined farmhouse on the side of the road, intending to camp. However, the weight of the truck was too much for the sodden ground and we got stuck! It took about 10 minutes to dig and sand-mat it out (just as we had done in the Congo jungle all those weeks ago!), keeping a nervous eye out for the farmer and by the time we were free there was a dreadful muddy mess on the edge of his wheatfield. We beat a hasty retreat!
After that little faux pas, we decided to drive right to Santander so we settled into our sleeping bags and caught a couple of hour’s kip.
We got to Santander at about 9:30 and after 1/2 an hour of driving around, found that most of the camping grounds were closed for the winter. So, we drove down to the beach and set up camp in a carpark! We cooked up a feed of de-hy and soup for tea then spent the night in the truck.
NB The entry for this day is missing from my diary. However, writing about it from thirty years in the future I can still clearly remember what happened that day. We still occasionally tell this story.
After breakfast, most of us took a commuter train into the centre of Madrid. Linda and I went to the Prada museum where we saw, among other famous works of art, what remains one of my favourite paintings: Los Meninas by Deigo Rodriguez Velázquz. Painted in 1656, the picture shows the Spanish Royal family as they appeared in a mirror, with light flooding in from the side and the artist himself at the left of the composition: a neat self-portrait disguised as a portrait of the royals.
Upon leaving the museum we were greeted with a sudden and somewhat scary realization…we did not know the way back to the camping ground. Not only that, we didn’t even know its name, what part of town it was located in, nor even which train we had taken to reach the centre of the city earlier in the day. We were lost! After several hours of making fruitless enquiries at various train stations, we just happened to spot two of our fellow overlanders in the queue at a bus-stop. We were saved!
That evening, we all got severely hammered on sangria.