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!

21/2/90

WEDNESDAY Because I had worked an extra ½ day last week, the roster had me down for a full day off today. I spent most of the morning asleep but finally got motivated into getting up and after a shower and some brekkie I went downstairs to find that a check had turned up in the mail from the British Tax Department for a refund of £414-10!! Not a bad result.

I caught the bus over to Oxford Circus and as I was walking up Oxford Street I saw Roy¹, so I followed him round to the building site where he and Colin work. We stood and yarned in the street for a while then Colin took me up to the top of the crane to have a drive. What a great view there was from the cab out across the hazy jumble of London. There was quite a strong wind blowing which made conditions for lifting marginal but he unloaded a truck-load of asphalt then he let me have a go. It is very easy to drive a crane and there are only two controls, one on each arm of the chair. It is the same as driving a digger [something that I had driven back in New Zealand] only on a bigger scale. I spent ¾ of an hour up their with Colin then went back down to the street.

I walked up to Jessops Camera Supplies and bought a cable-release, a blue graduated filter and a little pouch that holds 6 filters.

When I got back to the pub, another cheque had turned up from the Tax Department in the second mail, this one for £404-50! I spent the afternoon mucking around in our room then Linda and I went and saw Family Business starring Sean Connery, Dustin Hoffman and Matthew Broderick. It was a disappointing film. 

¹A regular drinker at the Red Lion, Roy and his mate Colin operated a tower crane on a big construction site in the centre of London. Colin drove the crane and Roy guided him by radio from the street below.

19/2/90

MY BIRTHDAY The day started as it was to go on – with lots of surprises! I was up at 7:15 to let Old Tom [the cleaner] in and he had a present for me, a pair of kid leather gloves. Then Brian gave me a card from him, Sue, Roo and Lou Lou [his wife and daughters] with £30 in it. Jim was next into the pub and gave me a pair of sox and a tie from him and Mo [his girlfriend]. But the best surprise of the morning came at 10:30. I was cleaning out the glass washer when the phone rang and it was Joe [my brother]. It was Sunday night in Fairlie¹ and he had rung up to say Happy Birthday! With Linda on the extension up in the kitchen we yarned for 20 minutes and that would have cost PGG a fortune! 

Linda gave me a couple of blank tapes and Billy Joel’s new album Storm Front². As well as a jersey that she has ordered from home.

The lunch session was pretty quiet and when the second mail arrived there was a card from Helen, Brian, Shayne, Linda, Kev and Leah [Linda’s family] as well as letters from Luc [a Canadian we had met in Australia] and Janice [my cousin]. 

When I went upstairs at 4 PM there was another surprise in store for me. Linda, Louie, Ang, and Mary-Anne [the other bar staff] with a huge cake, wine and more pressies. From Linda, a hip flask² with my initials engraved on it, and from Louie a card and a wooden pen. We ate the cake (which even had 27 candles on it) and drank the wine then Londas and I went upstairs to have a snooze.

27 years old, The Red Lion, Lambeth, London, England.

At 7:00 we went downstairs after showers for a drink in the bar then caught the tube over to Piccadilly Circus. We walked up to Leicester Square and asked around until we found Monmouth Street where Linda had booked a table for two at Mon Plaisir, a little French restaurant.

Mon Plaisir is still in operation, at the same place on Monmouth Street. It is now the oldest French restaurant in London. (Photo supplied)

We had a wonderful neal there – I had escargot and entrecote steak and Linda had king prawns and pigeon. We shared a bottle of 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon and finished with cheese, biscuits and cappuccino. It was a great evening and a wonderful atmosphere in the restaurant.

We made our way back to the pub and went upstairs… 

¹The country town on the South Island where he lived and worked as a stock buyer for the firm PGG.

² I still have that cassette and hip flask!

³ In those days, in England, the mail came twice daily during the week

14/2/90

VALENTINE’S DAY Because of the way the roster for the week worked out, I had the whole day off today. My plans for a lie-in went out the window at 8:00 Am though when the dray arrived and Brian and Jim didn’t¹. So, I saw to the delivery then went back to be for ½ and hour.

When Linda got up she gave me her Valentine card then went down to work. I got up and walked down to the bank and drew out £5 to buy some flowers. I ended up buying a red rose for her at a street market on Lower Marsh Road and I gave it to her along with my card.

I had planned to spend a few hours down at the Imperial War Museum but when I got down there (it is only a 10 minute walk from the pub) I found that it cost £2-50 to get in and I hadn’t taken any money with me. The walk wasn’t totally wasted though as on the way I found a house with a small plaque on the wall saying that William Bligh, Captain of the Bounty had lived in the house in the 1700s.

Back at the pub, I collected my camera gear and set off to explore some more of the Thames. I walked along The Embankment which has been renovated and re-built into sterile and atmosphere-less home for big businesses. All of the old wharves and docks have been torn down and modern “old style” buildings have been put up in their place. It is a ghetto of glass, polished stone, expensive cars and yuppies!

One small section is still old and grimy and that is the area adjacent to the old “Clink” prison². There is a tiny, narrow cobbled street running between the old warehouses on the river bank and the back wall of the now dis-used prison. At its narrowest, the alley is only a few feet wide and is cold, dark and dank: just the sort of atmosphere you’d expect beside a medieval prison!

I walked on down past Tower Bridge but couldn’t get much further without leaving the river so I crossed the bridge and walked back up the North Bank past the Tower of London. I detoured away from the river to have another look at St. Paul’s Cathedral then walked back up to Westminster Bridge and back to the pub.  

¹Let me explain this strange sentence! The dray refers to the truck that delivered the beer to the pub in aluminium and timber casks. The name is a hangover from bygone days when beer was delivered by horse and dray. Brian, the pub’s owner, and Jim, one of the barmen, didn’t turn up to help unload the delivery which is dropped down a wooden chute into the pub’s cellar.

²The Clink prison was the oldest prison in England, dating back to the 12th century. The slang phrase for being in prison, to be “put in clink”, derives from the prison’s name.

10/2/90

SATURDAY Today we went to the famous Crufts Dog Show at Earls Court Exhibition Centre. It was terrior day which meant lots of yapping toy dogs instead of the bigger working breeds which were to be shown the next day, but it was a good day out all the same. There were about 20 different rings and the main competition ring where we watched the Canine Obedience competition. It was good to be around dogs again for a while.

Cwufts…”nice bitch!”

We got back to the pub quite early as Linda had told Brian she would work the evening session for some extra money. Mike Dyke¹ called in at around 9:00 PM and we had a good yarn. He is going back to Africa as the courier (assistant driver) on a southbound Kumuka trip in March…lucky bastard!  

¹One of the drivers from our African Overland in 1989.

7/2/90

WEDNESDAY Linda and I had the night off so we decided to go and try our luck at getting tickets to The Phantom of the Opera. We went over to Her Majesty’s Theatre, Piccadilly Circus, and joined the queue which was about 25 people long even at that early time – 5:30. We waited in the cold until about 7:45 when a guy came out and began allotting tickets. Sure enough, we were close enough to the front of the queue to get tickets and we went in. We had drinks at the bar then went into the auditorium to our seats. They weren’t exactly the best seats in the house, back row in the dress circle, but we could see most of the action. It was a spectacular show with great music and singing and clever special effects. We even had half-time drinks in the bar!

After the show we walked up to the London Palladium shopping centre at Piccadilly Circus and had a snack at the Rock Island Diner.

31/1/90

WEDNESDAY Today I had arranged with Brian to have the whole day off so that I could go to the Home Office Immigration department on West Croydon to find out some details about my visa.

I got up at 7:00 AM and dressed warmly as it was a cold, wet morning and it was still a long time until dawn. Along with some sandwiches for lunch, I took my camera, tripod and the two new gradient filters I had bought during the week. I caught the tube over to Embankment then the Circle Line to Victoria station where I caught the train out to West Croydon. The Home Office building was a 20 minute walk from the station and there was already 5 people queued up in the cold outside the door. By the time the doors opened at 8:30 there were about 80-100 people in the queue.

In the end, it turned out to be a waste of time going out there as the woman who interviewed my said that it was pointless getting my four months added on to my visa at this stage as once they have done it it cannot be done again¹. She recommended that I should wait until my visa was about to expire and apply for the time to be added on then, even though I would be over 27 by then.

Back at the station, I caught another train, heading back into London and got off at Battersea. I walked along past Chelsea Bridge with the huge Battersea Power Station² towering over the Thames on my right, its four huge chimneys disappearing into the cold, low cloud which hung over the city. I wandered along the riverbank taking photos and looking at landmarks and buildings along the way.

Battersea Power Station

At Millbank I found a huge concrete bollard with a bronze plaque on it saying : LONDON CITY COUNCIL. NEAR THIS SITE STOOD MILLBANK PRISON, WHICH WAS OPENED IN 1816 AND CLOSED IN 1890. THIS BUTTRESS STOOD AT THE HEAD OF THE RIVER STEPS FROM WHICH, UNTIL 1867, PRISONERS SENTENCED TO TRANSPORTATION EMBARKED ON THEIR JOURNEY TO AUSTRALIA.

Further along the embankment, I came across some steps leading down to the river. The tide was out so I went down to the water’s edge took a few photos then sat there and watched the ancient river roll by…so much history. I climbed back up to the footpath and walked along to the Parliament Gardens then around past the statue of Richard III – Coeur de Lion in front of the magnificent Houses of Parliament.

Battersea Bridge and the River Thames.

After a quick look around Westminster Abbey, I sat in Parliament Square beside the bronze statue of Winston Churchill and had lunch with the pigeons then did a few jobs around town before catching the tube back to the pub. 

¹ In those days, New Zealanders were eligible for a work visa which allowed them to live and work in the UK for a total of two years. Whenever you left the country, the visa was put on hold until you returned when it would re-start. You were able to get the time you were out of the country added back onto the visa allowing you to spend a total of two years in the UK. These work visas could be obtained by any New Zealander under the age of 27 and the UK working holiday was a popular part of many New Zealanders overseas adventures.  

²The disused power station was made famous as the main feature on the cover of the pink Floyd album Animals.