MONDAY 26/11 – FRIDAY 30/11 A quiet, boring week whose only drama was Margaret Thatcher’s sudden demise from power after a revolt amongst her most trusted colleagues, led by a smug, conniving, reptilian MP called Michael Heseltine, and her replacement with John Major1. [Mrs Thatcher would later describe this revolt as: “treachery with a smile on its face.]
1It is one of the incongruities of travel, and, indeed, life in general, that events which seem world-shattering at the time simply become a part of history in later years. During our time in England several pivotal events, not only in the History of Britain but in world history, occurred. These included the bombing of a Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie in Scotland, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the London Poll Tax riots, the First Gulf War to liberate Kuwait, the demise of prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the release of Nelson Mandela.
SUNDAY 25/11 THE SHOW GOES ON. Lydia, Jenny and Shaker we’re going out to Henley-on-Thames for the day, so after a cup of tea I said goodbye and headed home.
I found my way out of London easily in light traffic and as I drove I thought about a great many things. Bruce Hornsby and the range filled my head amongst my thoughts.
“The show goes on; and the sad-eyed sisters go walking on…”
The morning sunlight cast a warm glow upon the fields as the night’s frost slowly melted and a wreath of haze left over from the early morning still clung to the hollows and dips. The views up on the Salisbury Plain were beautiful and the words of music I was listening to seem to echo my mood. I got home at 1:30 pm and spent the afternoon watching TV. In the evening Linda and I went to a quiz night at the Dove
SATURDAY 24/11 THAMES PAR-TAY. I had arranged with Jenny and Lydia to come up for Avril’s birthday party on a boat on the Thames so about 11 o’clock I left Corton and headed up the A303. It was a fine cold day and the early winter views were clear and pastel.
It took me about three hours to reach London and find my way round to Greyhound Road. Jenny and Lydia were out but Ross and Brendan [their flatmates] let me in as they were going out and I sat down to watch TV and wait for the girls to get back. They arrived after about half an hour and we sat down talking over cups of tea. Juliet arrived home from work and Jenny, her and I set off in Joycie [Jennie’s car was named Joyce; our car was called Eric Escort] to go to the supermarket. When we got there we bought some booze and nibbles then I hooned Joycie back round to the flat.
We spent the rest of the afternoon getting slowly sloshed, talking and laughing while we watched a trashy 70s American TV movie. About 5 pm we all showered and changed. I put on the black suit that I borrowed from Alan, complete with bow tie, and Lydia and Jenny look pretty in their Laura Ashley dresses.
Two other girls turned up, Juliet Schikker ( “Shaker”) and Australian girl called Karen, and the five of us set off to Barons Court tube station. While we were waiting for the train we got our photos with a couple of platform guards. On the train, slightly pissed, Jenny and I recited poem poem that Tom Gilroy taught us:
TWO ARMS, TWO LEGS, TWO EYES TO SEE; THE SOUTHERN CROSS IN MY HAND, THE SILVER FERN; SYMBOL OF MY NATIVE LAND. IN THE DISTANCE, A FAR OFF VOICE CALLS: KIWI…YOU FUCKIN’ BEAUTY!
We attracted a lot of stares but we didn’t care. We got off at Embankment Station and walked up to The Griffin and inside I met up with Thomas and… Lo and behold, Andrew Watts [a school friend I hadn’t seen since 1980], dressed up like a proper yuppie in a tailored coat and a yellow scarf! We had a few beers and talked about old times then Jenny grabbed me and we all trooped down to Westminster Pier. On the way we met Boxer (Ola’s man), Jonno Trolove and, when we reached the pier, Ali Reid [Linda’s cousin] and Sam Mattingly [a shepherd that I’d worked with back home]. Ali and I yarned as we queued to go aboard and then, at 8 pm sharp we left the pier and headed downstream.
Remembering last year’s Marchioness disaster, when 43 yuppies drowned when a party boat exactly like this one hit a bridge pier and sank, I stayed upstairs where there was a lot of action anyway. I met blokes who knew blokes who I knew then Jen grabbed me again to dance. The rest of the evening was taken up by a frenzy of dancing and conversation. The boat cruised downstream as far as Canary Wharf and as far upstream as Chelsea Harbour.
What an atmosphere! Standing on the afterdeck talking to Lydia, Jenny and Karen as we cruised slowly past Tower Bridge, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament and all the other wonders of Thames-side London. The evening was cool but not unpleasantly so and the fresh cold air of the open deck made a nice change from the sweating, heaving crowd inside.
And precisely 1AM the boat eased back into Westminster Pier and the hopelessly under-powered speakers wheezed out the last song: Frank Sinatra’s classic NEW YORK, NEW YORK. We disembarked and stood round on the pier talking for a while then the five of us along with Tom set off to walk up to Trafalgar Square to catch the night bus over to Johno Corbett‘s [another friend from home] to a party.
Arm in arm, Jenny, Lydia and I sang “I want to be a part of it New York New York” all the way up Whitehall while Shaker stumbled along pissed and, ahead of us, Thomas tried to chat up Karen. At Trafalgar Square, Lydia and Karen left us to go home and Jenny and I took photos of each other at the foot of Nelson’s Column.
After half an hour of trying to find the Night Bus we left Tom and Shaker and walked up Haymarket to Hungry Jacks on Piccadilly and got burgers. While we were waiting to be served, two guys put on a show outside on the pavement, attracting a small crowd as they beat the shit out of each other.
We walked over to Piccadilly Circus and raced to catch the Night Bus which took us out to Fulham and we had a 10 minute walk back to the flat. I slept the night on the floor in the living room.
MONDAY. Linda and I caught the tube into Oxford Circus and went shopping. I bought a new pair of runners and a pair of Levi’s and we spent hours just browsing in the shops as we made our way towards Covent Garden. We bought some maps of China, Southeast Asia and India from the map shop and looked at tents in the YHA shop, and had a greasy lunch at a KFC on the Strand.
After lunch we caught the tube over to Kensington High Street and went to the student travel office to find out about cheap flights. We met Lydia in the Trocadero at 4 o’clock and went down to New Zealand House where we bought a sticker for the car and looked at the books in the Kiwifruit shop. After a cup of hot chocolate at a cafe we caught a bus out to Fulham and walked back to the flat.
We set round at the flat for an hour or so then caught the tube back round to Embankment Station and went to a pub called The Griffin where we met Lydia’s sister Avril and a bunch of her friends for drinks then tubed it back to the flat, said goodbye to Jenny, Juliet and Lydia and set off to drive back home to Corton.
I drove out of London and must’ve taken a wrong turn as we found ourselves lost amongst the tangled mess of motorways leading south and west. We ended up on the M25 and followed it’s brightly lit and empty path back to the M3 and finally were able to head home
Linda took over the driving after Basingstoke and I went straight to sleep. Just before we changed drivers we passed an accident, my tired eyes mixing up the flares, police lights and fire engine lights into a blue red and orange blue.
Later on, out in the wild blackness of the Salisbury Plain the rain pissed down out of the sky as we passed the ancient shape of Stonehenge, silhouetted against the burnt orange glow above Devises. We arrived home at about 1AM and crashed out exhausted.
A fine but cold morning greeted us when we woke up and not wanting to waste any of it we all headed into town. We drove into Kensington and found a park on a narrow little avenue then walked around to Kensington Gardens. On the way we bought some food at a deli and as we entered the park Jenny and I stopped to feed our ice creams to a bold squirrel which was accosting passers-by for food. We found a seat and sat down to eat our lunch and watched the assortment of people and other animals at play. But the cold wind wind soon moved us on and after a few photos we wandered off to explore the park and its adjacent area of woodland.
Once back at the car we decided to go over to Covent Garden and go to the pictures there. We drove through the crowded, labyrinthine streets of the West End and eventually found a park near the market. We wandered along browsing in shops, had a drink and one of the pubs and eventually ended up at the Trocadero. We watched some amateur videos playing on a screen for a while then Linda and Lydia left us to go back over to Kensington to see The Little Mermaid. Jen and I went over to Leicester Square and saw Die Hard 2. I had seen it before but it was just as good the second time around and Jen was amusing as she screeched and gasped at the gory parts!
After the movie we went to Burger King for something to eat then browsed in HMV for a while. With time to kill before Linda and Lydia came to pick us up we sat in Piccadilly Circus and watched the lights, and walked up and down Haymarket until they finally turned up.
We cruised over Waterloo Bridge with the wonderful panorama of the Thames spread out on either side and went round to the Red Lion but it wasn’t open so we headed back out to Fulham.
Linda and the girls all went to bed and I sat up with the lads to watch Nigel Benn get the fuck punched out of him by Chris Eubank in the WBA middleweight fight.
TO LONDON We got up quite early to a cold grey morning and sat watching cartoons over toast and hot chocolate. I dropped Linda off at the Dove for the lunchtime session and drove into Warminster to buy some groceries then went back home to do the housework.
Linda finished at 3PM and after we had packed up what we needed for the weekend we set off up the valley to the A303. Up on the Salisbury Plain it was cold and windy but the deep black of the sky perfectly framed the autumn greens of fields and trees picked out by the occasional burst of sunlight.
Tourists flocked around the rocks of Stonehenge like druids at the Solstice and fat sheep grazed on lush pastures amongst fields of newly emerged wheat and barley.
It took us two hours to reach London and after a frustrating search amongst the labyrinth of backstreets in Fulham we found Lydia and Jenny’s flat in Leighton Mansions on Greyhound Road. The publican of the pub across the road gave us the key to the flat and we let ourselves in and made ourselves at home. Lid and Jen were away working so we set off in the car over to the Red Lion. We had a good few beers with Brian and Harry then went into town to Breaks For the Border where we had tea. Later on, back at the flat, we crashed out on the floor of the lounge.
After work Linda and Bridget picked me up and dropped me off at home for a snooze while they went for a drive down to Stockton.
At eight we went down to the Dove for drinks, then into Warminster to the Agra curry house. We spent three hours there over a sumptuous meal (although my Madras curry was a bit too hot) talking about our plans and ideas and reliving past experiences. When we got home we kidded around taking photos then went to bed.
I left John and Sally’s at 10 to 8 and drove back down to the farm. My first job was to feed several small mobs of sheep again with concentrates – sugar beet, nuts and ground soya meal – then I brought in a mob of ewes to make way for another mob of ewe hoggets [young sheep] which I brought in on foot without a dog. It took me 4 1/2 hours to do their feet and trough them then after they were back out I got in five ancient rams and trimmed their feet as well. Once again I fed the smaller mobs of sheep and by then it was dark. I had put in 15 hours for the two days which netted me £65.40: not a bad effort.
When I got home, I had a quick bath then Linda and I drove over to Frome to meet Bridget Wells (a friend of ours from New Zealand) off the bus. She has been travelling around Europe and she looked really good. We set up talking for a good part of the night.
I left home at 7 am and drove up to Calne to Tucks Farm where I had arranged to spend the weekend working. Mrs Hastings showed me 50-odd 2 tooth rams¹ that needed their feet trimmed so I got them in with the help (or hindrance!) of one of their sheep dogs and set to work doing their feet and troughing them in a zinc sulphate bath².
It was amazing how all the old techniques came instantly back³ and I spent an enjoyable day doing not only the 2-tooth rams but also 23 older rams. The Hastings’ were suitably impressed by the speed at which I got the job done! When the rams were finished and turned back out onto the paddocks, I gave Mrs Hastings a hand to feed several small mobs of sheep with nuts and ground soya meal, then after a cup of tea, I headed up to John and Sally‘s for the night.
¹The age of sheep is measured by the number of front teeth they have. A 2-tooth is 18 months old, a 4-tooth is one and a half years old, and a 6-tooth is two and a half years old. Sheep that are older than 2½ years are said to be “full-mouthed.”
² Footrot in sheep is treated by standing them in a concrete tough containing a solution of either zinc sulphate or formalin. The chemicals kill the footrot bacteria and harden the hooves against future infection.
³As a high country shepherd back in New Zealand I had spent thousands of hours trimming sheep’s feet and troughing them to treat footrot.