22/9/90

Spent the day doing more or less nothing. After Linda finished work we took our bikes up to the top of Burial Hill on the Wheatley-Hubbard Estate. We stood at the top of the hill and watched as a storm rolled across the valley, cloaking the land with grey and setting the trees around us swaying and roaring with its knife-edge wind.

21/9/90

I borrowed Ann’s car and drove up to Lydiard Millicent to pick up our stash of winter gear. John was away in Rome but Sally was there and she gave me lunch. We chatted for an hour or so and I did a small job for her tidying up some fallen branches in the garden under the weeping oak.

Back at Corton we packed away all our winter woollies and after Linda went back to work I spent the evening watching the black-and-white TV that Ann has lent us.

20/9/90

Linda and I both slept in and it was only a phone call from Ann at 10:30 that woke us up. After Linda went to work I borrowed Ann’s car and went into Warminster. I went to the Job Centre but there wasn’t much on offer there, then had a look around the shops and bought some groceries. Linda and I spent the latter part of the afternoon setting up house in our new flat in Cortington Manor.

19/9/90

The day dawned cold and grey, and the strong wind which had really rocked and buffeted the caravan all night was still blowing hard. Tim, Shane and I set off with the counter and measured the fence and we have ended up building a total of 3,491 metres.

Once we had done that, we fixed up a strainer post that it pulled out of the ground after the rain, then packed up the ute and left. I sat on the back under the tarpaulin and although it was cold, it was quite pleasant. I spent the first half an hour reading the smutty and tongue-in-cheek Sunday Sport newspaper then settled back to watch the scenery and the passing traffic.

It took about three hours to reach Corton and after I dumped my pack at Ann’s cottage I showed the boys the way out to the road to Salisbury then walked back across the fields to the village. I had a long bath and soaked off a week of grime then dozed in front of the fire until Linda got home from work. We went down to Cortington Manor¹, where our new flat is, and crashed.

¹Cortington Manor was the home of Diana, Duchess Newcastle, the widow of the Duke of Newcastle and a former champion steeplechase jockey. The manor itself had been built in the late 17th century and its attached servant’s quarters would become our home for the next year or so. We loved living at Cortingtom Manor so much that a few years later, we named our house in Geraldine Cortington.

Cortington Manor, Corton, Wiltshire. (screenshot from Google Streetview)

18/9/90

THE LAST DAY FENCING. The day dawned clear but with clouds building up over Dartmoor and a fresh cold wind blowing from the west. We spent most of the day finishing off the last fenceline and cleaning up junk. Duncan arrived about 5:30PM and after a meal of chicken and veggies we all went down to the pub at Morley for the evening.

12/9/90-17/9/90

WEDNESDAY 12/9 – MONDAY 17/9 We have spent the whole week hard at work fencing, living rough, and getting steadily more dirty. We haven’t had a shower since Wednesday.

The only thing of interest which has happened to us was being pulled up by the cops on Friday night. They would have done Tim for being drunk in charge of a vehicle, and with the numerous faults with the truck but because we were happy-go-lucky Kiwis and the truck was loaded up with fencing gear, they let us go!

Yesterday we borrowed Rob‘s (the farm owner) VW and went for a Tiki tour over to Plymouth. The weather has been fine and hot, but has autumn drifts nearer the nights are drawing in and getting colder. Today was the first really cold day with a chill wind and a few showers blowing through.

After we finished work we drove down to Totnes intending to have a shower but the officious old cunt at the campground wouldn’t let us in and the swimming pool was closed so we ended up going dirty for the sixth day.

11/9/90

“… whatever objections I could devise against the trains, they were nothing compare to the horrors of air travel in China. I had a small dose of it when I left Urumqi for Lanzhou – there was no point in retracing my steps on the Iron Rooster. I was told to be at the airport three hours early – that is, at 7 o’clock in the morning; and the plane left five hours late, at three in the afternoon. It was an old Russian jet and it’s metal covering was wrinkled and cracked like the tinfoil in a used cigarette pack. The seats were jammed so closely together my knees hurt and the circulation was cut off to my feet. Every seat was taken and every person was heavily laden with carry-on baggage – big, skull cracking bags that fell out of the overhead rack. Even before the plane took off people were softly and soupily vomiting, with their heads down and their hands folded in the solemn and prayerful way that the Chinese habitually puke. After two hours we were each given an envelope that contained three caramel candies, some gum and three sticky boiled sweets; a piece of cellophane almost concealed a black strand of dried beef that looked like oakum and tasted like decayed rope; and  (because the Chinese can be optimistic) a toothpick. Two hours later a girl wearing an old mailman’s uniform went around with a tray. Thinking it might be better food, I snatched one of the little parcels – it was a keyring. The plane was very hot then so cold I could see my breath. It creaked like a schooner under sail. An announcement was made, in a gargling sort of way, that we would shortly be landing. At this point everyone except the pukers stood up and began yanking the bundles out of the racks; they remained standing, pushing, tottering and vaguely complaining – deaf to the demands that they sit down and strap themselves in – as the plane bounced, did wheelies on the runway and limped into the Lanzhou terminal. Never again.”  Theroux’s adventures continue.

10/9/90

DEVON AFTER DARK. Today was another baking hot day. I rang Linda at 7:30 am for a chat before we got to work.

Tonight, I stood out in the field behind our camp and watched the darkening patchwork around me. The rolling green hills had all merged into one: only their vague outlines visible against the backdrop of lights shining out from Torquay. Here and there, wispy patches of mist clung to the floor of the valleys and the lights of farm houses were scattered about. The last quarter moon, an angry, sullen red, stretched up to clear the haze on the horizon in the east, eager to pour it’s silver tears on the land and light the way of the night creatures. The air was good…

I accompanied Paul Theroux aboard train number 104 to Xian by candle light before going to sleep.

9/9/90

We slaved on the fence beneath the blazing sun and still air, which made it even hotter. In the evening we went down to the pub at Harpenden Ford called the Maltster’s Arms for a few beers. By then the heat was long gone but riding down on the back of the truck was pleasantly cool and the air was wonderful fresh and clean but for the smells of earth, damp grass and the woods.

8/9/90

Spent all day fencing in bright sunshine but a cool breeze kept the heat down to a pleasant level. About 5:30, Mark‘s girlfriend Bronwyn arrived with some money from Duncan for us, and a gas-operated fridge.

After we had all knocked off the five of us squashed into Bronwyn’s Honda Accord and drove down to Totnes. We wanted to go to the local baths for a swim but they were closed so instead we brazenly drove into a caravan park and used the showers there.

The rest of the evening was spent in a pub but I didn’t feel like drinking too much and kept a constant eye on the time waiting for 10:30 to roll around when I could ring Linda. I rang her from a phone box in the Market Square and shivered with cold as we talked.