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 knocked off at 3 pm and went home to get ready to head off down to Plymouth for the weekend. We got on the road at 4:15 and drove over the hill to the A303.
It took us just over three hours to drive down to Plymouth and on arrival we picked out a B&B called the Caledonia Guest House and booked in. Once we had taken our gear inside and settled in we went down to the centre of town and found the picture theatre. We saw Mel Gibson in the disappointing movie Air America. After the movie we found a pub and had a couple of quiet drinks then went back to the hotel.
The Caledonia Guest House is still there today. These quaint Georgian houses were the sort of places that age-of-sail naval officers would stay in when they were ashore during the Napoleonic Wars.
After five months of political manoeuvring, veiled threats, and military muscle-flexing, the combined Allied armies massed in Saudi Arabia attacked Iraq: the first move in the dislodgement of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.¹
¹The First Gulf War was fought between August 1990 and February 1991. This phase of the operation was called Operation Desert Storm.
Footnote: It is one of the great incongruities of travel (and, indeed, life itself) that major world events, when seen from the distance of the future, simply become history. During our travels we witnessed first-hand the Lockerbie bombing of a Pan AM aircraft, the Hillsborough stadium disaster, fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War, the fall of Margaret Thatcher, the release of Nelson Mandela and the Rwanda massacres. All of these were major news events at the time; now they are simply events from history.
I spent both days up at Tucks Farm¹ building a new lambing enclosure. I picked up £70 for my trouble including petrol costs. As I travelled up and down on both days I listened to Johnny Clegg and Savuka’s² brilliant album called Third World Child.
¹Tucks Farm, at Calne, near Swindon, was where I was to work as a lambing shepherd later in the year. The farm owners had employed me to build a sheep yard for use during the lambing.
²Having travelled in Africa, and intending to return later in 1991, we loved music about that continent. Johnny Clegg and Savuka were a Belgium-based band from South Africa whose songs were redolent of life in Africa. This is Scatterlings of Africa from the album Third World Child.
I went into Warminster and bought some bits and pieces for the car including an oil filter oil and a new thermostat. I went round to the Witts farm to borrow a strap wrench and Richard Witt ended up changing the oil and filter for me. Back at the Manor I pulled the old thermostat out and put in the new one then as it was a nasty stormy day I parked up in front of the TV.
I had to work in the morning but only the shoulder boners were in and we finished at 10 o’clock. I set off to walk home but only got down to the main road when Tina came along and gave me a lift out to Sutton Veny. I carried on walking down through to the main road and then Linda came along and picked me up. We got along to the bottom of the tree-lined lane when the car just stopped! We left it parked beside the road and got a lift with Tina down to the Manor. After lunch I got a ride into Warminster with Diana [our landlady] and Roxy [her granddaughter] and drew some money out then went back out and Diana towed me up to the garage at Sutton Veny. It turned out to be only a burnt out condenser and they fixed it straight away.
We got up at 7:15 and quietly said goodbye then left.
There was no traffic on the road and we made good time stopping at the Welcome Break [a motorway service station] place for a cooked breakfast on the way. Linda had to work all day then we went out in the evening through torrential rain for a curry at the Agra Tandoori in Warminster.
MONDAY 31/12 NEW YEAR’S EVE Work finished at WVM at around 12 and I got stuck in to getting the cleaning up done as quickly as possible. I rang Linda at 5 to see what she was up to and Stuart [the publican at the Dove] had given her the night off so right there on the spur of the moment we decided to shoot up to London for New Year’s Eve.
Linda rang Jenny and arranged to meet them at around 9PM and then I set to work with a vengeance and got finished at 6:20. I drove home, quickly bathed, and changed then we chucked a few tinnies, the tape player and some cassettes in Eric and headed off up the A303.
By the time we reached London we had knocked back a few cans and were in a party mood. After an hour or so of first finding a cash point where we withdrew some money, and then wandering around Olympia lost, we found the Frigate and Firkin pub where Jenny, Lydia and Juliet were well underway! By sculling a couple of pints of snakebite [a toxically alcoholic mixture of cider and lager] we caught up with them alcohol-wise then got down to some serious dancing to the ragey band. When New Year arrived there were hugs and kisses all around then some more dancing as the band, one acoustic guitar and a singer blowing an electric harp, kicked into high gear.
At 1:30 am the bar closed and we all waddled back to the flat. En route we stopped off at Karen‘s house for tea and toasties and carried on back to Leighton Mansions.
Both Jenny and I were hungry so we set off in Eric to find a Burger King. As we drove around the streets of Kensington we had Nigel Kennedy playing Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons at full blast at 3am!!
We couldn’t find any open junk food joints so we returned to the flat empty-handed and crashed.
Linda went off to work at 9:30 and after watching TV for a while, I donned my Walkman and went out for a walk. It was a fine but very cold morning and I walked around to Upton Lovell then across the fields back to the Dove.
There was another Sunday breakfast session going on there so I had a big feed while yarning to Nigel [I have no idea who Nigel is/was!] then walked home. Spent all afternoon at home.