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!

25/3/91-26/4/91

25/3/91-26/4/91 I spent these four weeks working as a lambing shepherd at Tuck’s Farm, near Charlcutt in Wiltshire. My diary entries for this period are sporadic, consisting mainly of song lyrics and wistful little poems that I composed while sitting amongst the hay bales in my lambing pens.

Footnote: One of my abiding memories from this time is lying in a sunny meadow on a fine, warm spring afternoon reading The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates.

19/2/91

MY BIRTHDAY  After work I put the stereo which head we had cannibalised from Joycie into our car. It didn’t sound too good but a new pair of speakers should make a big difference. In the evening Linda had organised a dinner party for my birthday. Ann and Bet came for tea along with Diana, and I had a good haul of presents. Ann gave me a beautiful and unique sheep’s bell, handmade in 1894 by a Wiltshire shepherd. Bet gave me a book on West Country shepherd’s lore and Diana gave me a pair of riding gloves.

18/2/91

Nothing much happened at work but on TV in the evening was an excellent New Zealand film called Starlight Hotel.  The photography in it was brilliant, making use of the wonderful light of Central Otago to give atmospheric air to the film.

Filmed in the Otago region, the 1987 Depression-era movie Starlight Hotel starred Australian actor Peter Phelps and New Zealand actress Greer Robson. The movie was critically acclaimed and won several awards.

17/2/91

¹Thirty years later I still have that cassette!

No-one stirred until about 8:30 in the “girls dorm” and when we were all awake Jen, Lyd and Juliet gave me a card and a present: a cassette copy of George Michael’s latest album Listen Without Prejudice¹.

At some stage last night we all made a pact to go to Church² the next day so after showers and breakfast Linda Jen, Lyd and I drove into the West End. We parked just off Tottenham Court Road and walked up to the dingy alleyway where there is already a queue of about 200 people waiting to get in. Admission cost us £3 each and once inside we found the drinks were an extortionate price as well. But what an atmosphere! Almost completely dark inside except for flashing lights and strobes, the interior of the building was packed with Aussies, Kiwis and South Africans. The music was brilliantly loud and all Aus/NZ rock: Cold Chisel, Aussie Crawl, Split Enz, Icehouse etc.

It was too crowded to dance and after a while the music was increased to an almost unbearable level. We stayed for about 3 hours listening to the music, watching a very unfunny stand-up comedian, and a stripper with small breasts and hands that trembled with fear (humiliation?) as she stripped to a g-string and stockings.

When we left, Lyd went home, Jennie and Karen and went off to see a movie and Linda and I drove over to Peckham to visit Alex, Lucy, Sue and Hazel³.  We spent about an hour with them in their comfy little flat then drove back to Fulham. After tea we set off back home with Lydia as a passenger to spend a few days with us. We took turns at driving on the way home arriving there about 10 p.m.

² The Church was a Sunday-only club where expat New Zealanders, Australians and South Africans would gather to get horrendously drunk. It closed down in 2014 after 35 years. This story by travel writer Winston Aldworth sums up the history and experience of “going to Church.”

³Our nurse friends from our time at The Red Lion.

16/2/91

LYDIA’S BIRTHDAY The flat came awake slowly and it wasn’t until 9:30 that we were all up and ready to go. Lyd and Linda went off to do some shopping in Kensington and Jenny and I went down to try and get Joycie (Jennie’s car) started. We tried turning it over for a few minutes then pushed it but without success so we left her and took Eric (our car: Eric Escort) for a hoon instead. We stooged around the Chelsea Docks for a while and finally ended up down at the Chelsea Bridge. We climbed down a set of stairs to the edge of the Thames and took some photos standing on a small shingle beach which the low tide had uncovered. It was a lovely warm morning and the clouds made a beautiful effect in the blue sky above the city. We spent about 15 minutes there beside the old river then drove down through Westminster and across Westminster Bridge to Lambeth then back across Blackfriars Bridge for a general tour of the West End before we headed back out to the flat. 

Lydia and Linda weren’t back from their shopping trip yet so we had another go at getting Joicey going and lo, she went, albeit a bit roughly. So we drove down the road and put some gas in her then went back to the flat.

Jen and Lyd went off to the theatre in the afternoon and Linda and I went into Piccadilly to kill some time. We window-shopped in the Trocadero and spent an hour or so having some lunch in the Rock Island Diner, then wandered through Leicester Square to the Polar Bear pub. We waited for about an hour before Jen and Lyd turned up with a friend of theirs called Peter and after a couple more drinks we set off to walk around to the Black Lion and French Horn pub where we had arranged the surprise party for Lyd. On the way down Regent Street we took a few photos of each other: a bunch of kiwi farm kids quite at home in the big city.

The party was a great crack¹ with about 30 people there, raging up and doing some serious drinking. A bloke called Murray Crawford turned up: the brother of Graeme Crawford who was in my class at Lincoln². Alex and Lucy (our nurse friends from our time at the Red Lion) were there, and Louie turned up with 3 of her friends. The party finished at about 1:30 a.m. and a bunch of us amused ourselves out on the street throwing a rugby ball around while we waited for taxis. Linda and I got a taxi with Paul and Anthony, two of Jennie and Lydia’s flatmates and when we got back to the flat we both crashed out on the floor in the girl’s room.

¹Crack (or craik) is an Irish term for something that is fun.
²Lincoln Agricultural College, where I obtained my Diploma in Agriculture in 1983.

15/2/91

Linda picked me up after work and we went home. I had a quick bath then we packed up some stuff and headed for London. It was a fine evening with a few cars on the London-bound side of the road although the westbound carriageway was jammed.

We reached the girl’s flat at 9 pm and made ourselves at home with Juliet, drinking wine and chatting. Jen turned up not long after us, and her and Linda busied themselves with making a cake and when Lydia arrived home at 1pm we ate cake and drank a bottle of cheap sparkling wine as a starter for her birthday. Everyone was pretty tired after a long week so we were all in bed shortly after midnight.

9/2/91-10/2/91

Spent all weekend up at the farm and finally managed to get the yard finished.

On Sunday night I went to a quiz night at the cricket club as part of a team made up of four guys from Wylie Valley Meats: Adi Hargraves, John Hargraves, Rocky Parker and me. We narrowly missed winning with only half a point separating us from the winning team.

The sheep yards that I built at Tuck’s Farm are still there. This is a screenshot from Google maps that I took today.

4/2/91-8/2/91

During the week a cold air system covered the whole of Europe bringing to the UK freezing temperatures and heavy snow. As usual when it freezes and snows, the whole country ground to a halt¹. The West Country missed most of the snow but it was very very cold.

¹London virtually came to a standstill. Our friend Jennie, in typical can-do Kiwi fashion, made her way to her bank job in the City through a blizzard. When she finally fell in the office door amid a gust of frigid wind and blown snow, her boss told her that she was the only one who’d turned up for work and that she could have the day off!

3/2/91

There was a heavy frost during the night and we had to tow-start Eric. We spent all morning putting up the remaining poles for the yard then after lunch Linda and I took the Noddy bike (four-wheeler motorbike) and rounded up a mob of 370 mule ewes and took them up to the yards to be vaccinated. The vaccine was for Pasteurella and it took us until 6 pm to get them done. 

I picked up £137 for two weekends’ work and after a cup of tea we drove home. After baths we went over to the Happy Eater for tea.

The Happy Eater was a chain of motorway restaurants serving nasty fast food. We referred to them as The Spewing Pacman!