THE CURSE OF THE TRAVELLER

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. IMG_6625

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!

So, if you want to travel with us…read on!

12/6/89

We caught the train into London and went via the Circle Line to Kensington High St.  We drew £1900-00 out of the bank and paid our final instalment of £1868-00 to Kumuka¹.  From there we went to Harley St², where all the doctors hang out – Rolls-Royces, BMWs and Mercedes very thick on the ground, polished gold plaques proclaiming the presence of flash specialists behind painted, locked doors. We found the International Vaccination Centre & made an appointment for next Monday.

We cruised on a bus for an hour or so and ended up at Hyde Park on a beautiful evening so we wandered around amongst people in horrid deckchairs, sat beside the Serpentine³ while the sun went down behind the trees and watched the squirrels play on the well-kept lawns. We caught the Underground from Marble Arch to Liverpool Street then the trains home.

¹ Our 16-week Overland Expedition, travelling north from Nairobi in Kenya via Uganda, Zaire, Cameroon, CAR, Nigeria, Niger, Algeria, Morocco and Spain begins in August.

² The prestigious street in Marylebone has been noted for its medical specialists since the 19th century. Coincidentally, it was named after Thomas Harley who was Lord Mayor of London in 1767, seven years after my ancestor Matthew Blakiston occupied the same position (see the earlier post https://curseofthetraveller.com/?s=the+house+of+blakiston about my family backstory).

³ The Serpentine is a small man-made lake created in 1730 at the behest of Queen Caroline, the wife of King George II.

4/6/89

Bernie and Sue left for work early and we got up at about 9, packed and left the wee flat on Farnham Road.  We caught the bus up to the bus station and went in to the shopping centre to say goodbye to Sue. After a snack we caught the train back into Paddington and from there the underground to Oxford Street.

We went to Jessops photographic store on new Oxford Street and negotiated the sale of 30 rolls of film as follows:

10 ROLLS KODACHROME 64
10 ROLLS KODACOLOR 100
3 ROLLS KODACHROME 200
2 ROLLS AGFA CT200
4 ROLLS KODAK TRI-X PAN 400
1 ROLL KODACOLOR 200

We also bought a lead film shield pouch and a small hand slide-viewer. The total cost of the film was only £118-00 which is pretty good value.


From there we went shopping for swimming togs and ended up buying a pair each. It was rush hour by now. So we made our way back to Liverpool Street and had a few drinks outside the station in a pub called Dirty Dicks. Then we caught the train back to Broxbourne. We went up to White Stubbs farm for tea.

3/6/89

Sandy gave us a ride down to the station and we caught the train to Liverpool Street.  We spent the day just pottering around, and around lunch time we got on a bus to see where we would end up. We ended up at Surrey Docks, one of the old wharves which have been converted into a boring up- market shopping ghetto. We looked around there for an hour or so and did a bit of shopping (and shoplifting) at Tesco’s and had a horrible plastic snack in one of the horrible plastic snack bars.  We caught another bus which took us on a track through the labyrinth of some of the inner suburbs and deposited us God-knows-where. We caught another bus back to Victoria Station then made our way out to Slough. The buses were as unpredictable as ever, but the main street looked much nicer in the warm evening sun compared to the cold, bleak, windy street we left behind in April. Bernie and Sue made us welcome as usual, and we had a yummy tea and watched TV while they told us about Africa.  We all went to bed at about 10:00.

28/5/89

VISITORS

We were having a very busy day what with it being Bank Holiday weekend and the weather being so fine and when Bernie and Sue walked in at two we felt a lot better. Bernie had rung up at 10 that morning and said they were coming out and gave us something to look forward to.

It took till about 3:30 to get cleaned up and then we sat and ate the huge roast that Sandy had cooked for us. After lunch we put on our shoes and went for a walk up the footpath to Manor Farm.  Then we walked along the road to Thunderfield Woods where we climbed over the fence and sat in the shade of the woods and talked, mostly about Africa. They told us about things to do and not to do, things to take and places to go.  We sat there for three quarters of an hour or so and found that the afternoon had flown by the time we got back to the Woodman. They left at about 6 after we made arrangements to go and stay with them on Tuesday night.

The evening session was chaos…

19/5/89

CAMBRIDGE

We had told Eddie and Pauline that we would be taking today off and had planned a trip to Cambridge.  

Our adventures started early.  We got up at 6 a.m. and showered, packed up some stuff and got out the bikes. The distant rumble of thunder told the story of what we were in for and as we cycled along the lanes towards Wormley, the air was full of the sweet, damp smell of approaching rain and bolts of lightning flashed across the sky.  Thunder crashed overhead and we were getting a bit nervous of being out with such a storm going on. We were halfway between Wormley and Broxbourne when the downpour hit us and soaked us to the skin. But, despite the rain we carried on and caught the 7 a.m. train.

The trip to Cambridge took one hour, the train stopping at every station as it travelled past canals and tree-lined fields then through the rolling grain growing area of Hertfordshire.

By the time we got to Cambridge the sun was out and we biked into the centre of town and had breakfast at a little café. We banked our wages and wandered around the market which has been held on the same spot for 1000 years. We decided that the best way to see as much of Cambridge as possible was to get a ticket on a sightseeing bus that would enable us to get on and off when we wanted to. So, we caught the first bus of the morning and sat up on the top in the open air and listened to the commentary telling the long and fascinating story of Cambridge.  The town was founded in 44AD by the Romans (the High Street still follows the exact path of the Roman road). They were there for 360 years until the fall of the Roman Empire and then in the 5th century the Saxons came and ousted the Danes (Vikings) who has established a fine inland port. The Cam River is navigable from the sea right up to Cambridge.

The university was founded in 1209 by scholars who had fled from rioting in Oxford. The first College was Peterhouse and was founded in 1284. The newest College is Robinson which was founded in 1977 and there is now a total of 31 colleges:  24 undergraduate, 6 postgraduate and one teacher training. The names of the colleges include Kings, Sidney Sussex, St Johns, Christ’s, Jesus and Trinity. The latter is the largest and richest of the colleges and is the largest landowner in Britain after the queen and the Church of England. Most of its land was bestowed on it by Henry the 8th after it’d been taken from the monasteries and it is said that it is possible to walk from Cambridge to Oxford without leaving Trinity Land.

Some of the other sites we were to visit were the American War Memorial and Cemetery where more than 3300 white crosses bear witness to some of the American servicemen killed in Europe in World War 2. Included on the wall of remembrance are Glenn Miller and Joseph Kennedy.  We visited the round Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built in 1138 and one of only 5 round churches in existence, and drove past the College Library which contains over 4 million books on 86 miles of shelves.

Around midday, we got off the bus and hired a punt and spent an hour on the calm and peaceful waters of the Cam, along behind the colleges – this area is known as The Backs. After a lazy hour of punting we had a shandy in a nearby pub then caught the bus for another 2 hours of getting on and off looking at the hundreds of lovely old buildings.

We got off for the last time outside St Mary’s Church and climbed to the top of the tower where we had an impressive view out over the old university town. Then we wandered down a back alley to get to St John’s Chapel.  What a wonderful building. We were both or struck by the beauty of it – a huge rectangular gallery with the only partition being a wooden bridge halfway along where the huge organ was mounted. The sunlight streamed through the huge stained glass window on the western end of the chapel and the huge columns rose up to fan-shaped vaults 80 feet above.  The acoustics were perfect.

From there we wandered the streets and bought a pizza for tea which we ate after having to move from one park to another after being accosted of by drunken, foul-mouthed beggars.

After our feast of pizza, garlic bread and Coke we cycled round nearly empty streets back to the river, where we bought a drink each at the pub and sat outside on the banks of the river and watched the punts and ducks drift slowly by as the sun set lower and lower behind the skyline.

Our day in Cambridge was at an end and we biked back to the station and caught the train back to Broxbourne.  It was cold and dark when we arrived so we left our bikes at the station and got a taxi home.

Here are a few interesting bits from the history of East Anglia.

  • BURY ST-EDMONDS AND MAGNA CARTA.  Bury St Edmunds is named after King Edmund of Anglia who was martyred in 870 by the Danes for his Christian beliefs.  The 15th of June 1215 is rightly regarded as one of the most notable dates in the history of the world. Those who gathered at the high altar in the great Abbey church in November of the previous year could hardly of known the consequences that were to flow from their proceedings. The granting of Magna Carta at Runnymede marked the road to individual freedom,  parliamentary democracy and the supremacy of the law.

          The principles of Magna Carta which had their foundation at Bury St Edmunds and           have been developed over the centuries by the common law,  are the Heritage not               only of those who live in these Islands, but of countless millions of races and Creeds           throughout the world.

  • CROMWELL (LORD PROTECTOR OF ENGLAND) Oliver Cromwell was born of middle-class parents on April 25th 1599 in the last year’s of the reign of Elizabeth the First.  Born in Huntingdon, where he went to the free Grammar School ( along with Samuel Pepys) Oliver afterwards spent a year at Cambridge University (1616 Sydney Sussex College)  before completing his education at the Inns of Court, London.

         General Ireton,  although born in Nottinghamshire,  when the Civil War broke out,            raised a troop of horse and in 1643 served with Cromwell in East Anglia.  One of the          most famous quotes from Cromwell was “it is an odd thing Mr Ireton, that every               man who wages war believes God is on his side. I’ll warrant God must often wonder         who is on his!”