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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
An unremarkable week broken only by two events. It snowed on Thursday but only lightly; and we bought a tent. It is a Vau-de 3-man igloo design with an exterior frame. We bought it from the outdoor shop in Warminster for £195-00.
FOOTNOTE: On January 16th, 2021, almost exactly thirty years after we bought it, this superb tent (which we nicknamed Vern for reasons which will become apparent later in 1991) was used for the last time. Having been pitched in Britain, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, India, China and Indonesia, along with countless times in Australia and New Zealand, Vern was slept in for the final time in the Te Moana Gorge on the South Island of New Zealand. The tent’s fabric, weakened by years of ultraviolet light, was no longer waterproof and was torn in several places. But two of Vern’s original guy-ropes live on: attached to my current tent…which doesn’t have a nickname!
After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and left Plymouth. We drove up onto Dartmoor and as we got higher a dense fog closed in around us. Nothing could be seen of the surrounding land but the ethereal shapes of sheep and a few strange-looking Dartmoor ponies were visible in the damp gloom.
All morning we drove around the moors and once the fog lifted the true and dissolute beauty of the land was revealed. Bleak scrubby hills were cut by steep rocky streams and everywhere were bogs and hollows. The colours were muted and cold: browns, greys and greens beneath the leaden sky.
Eventually we ended up at the village of Chagford where Linda had stayed with Helen and Brian [Linda’s parents who’d visited Britain in 1990] during the summer. We took the road beyond the village which led up to a small lake. We left the car and went for a walk savouring the fresh cold air full of the smell of leaves, earth and water.
Back at Chagford we had lunch in a pub then followed a maze of narrow sunken roads down to Exeter. We filled in the afternoon at the movies seeing the ridiculous horror film Arachnophobia then set off home.
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.
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.