OCTOBER 1991

And so we spent our last evening in England…

It rained the night we stayed at Sandybrook Hall and the night was black. Black as a shroud. Black, black, sloe black, crow black, bible black, like the sky above Dylan Thomas’ fictional Milk Wood. 

We came to Sandybrook Hall near the end of our time in England. Linda finished her job as a nanny in London on the same day that I finished working for John Hayward at Knoll Farm in Hampshire where I had spent the summer driving a tractor for harvest. We stayed with Alan and Stuart at Codford while we said our goodbyes to Ann, Betty, and the Wylye Valley then went over to Wales and spent a couple of nights with Janice and Brian. While we were there we went for a drive up over the hills to the little town of Hay-on Wye where there are twenty or more second-hand bookshops. 

When we left Wales we stayed the weekend with John and Sally then drove north up the M1 to Derby and out to the town of Ashbourne, on the outskirts of which lies Sandybrook Hall. The present owner of the house, Tony Gather, wasn’t home but a chap living in one wing of the house that has been turned into flats offered us his spare room for the night. 

So, we stayed in the house built by my ancestor Sir Matthew Blakiston, 3rd Baronet of the City of London on a wet, dark and windy night. There was no presence to be felt; no traces of the Blakistons of the past; no ghosts; no feeling of a return to my roots. It was just an old, creaky house.  

Sandybrook Hall

Next day, we met Tony Gather and took some photographs of the house from various angles. Mr Gather had a book with a small history of the house which read:

“In 1812, Sir Matthew Blakiston, 3rd Baronet, purchased the estate from the Hayne family. The house, completed in 1815, has a well-proportioned West front of 2 full height (2½ stories), canted bays either side of a Tuscan porch leading into an elegant hall with a Hopton Wood floor [Hopton Wood is not a timber. It is actually a type of limestone quarried nearby at a place called Hopton Wood] and a cantilevered stairway at the end with a delightful wrought iron neo-Grec balustrade of interlaced loops and a Gothic [sic] window above. The South front is less felicitous, being of five bays, the central one pedimented. There is a pretty stable block to the north, c. 1775 which boasts a lantern and a clock tower by Ellerby of Ashbourne. The estate seems to have been too much for Blakiston and was thereupon let to Archibald Douglas of Derby, followed by his heirs, the Coopers, but by 1841 Lucius Mann, Blakiston’s nephew, was installed. The Blakistons re-occupied it until 1883. Peverill Turnbull was the next tenant, followed by his widow. It was finally sold in 1946 to the late Mr G.E. Gather, succeeded by Mr A. Gather [the current owner]. Part of the house has been converted into flats since 1963 but it has lost none of its charm in the process.

In the Ashbourne church there is a marble plaque to Sir Mathew Blakiston, 3rd Bt.,  but of the rest of the family nothing remains. We visited Trent College on the way to Stratford with the idea of seeing the rugby memorabilia and sent them of black is British Lions days, but it was all in storage pending the building of a new sports wing. We did, however, meet the rugby master who showed us the school’s rugby records back to 1911 –  none too impressive either!!

We stayed the night in a camping ground in Stratford on Avon and next day we returned to London for the last time.

ERIC

The nurses put us up for the night and after an early tea I caught a bus into Piccadilly and from here to Hammersmith where I went to see Jethro Tull at the Hammersmith Odeon. They were brilliant as ever: the stage was set up as a small cafe with the antics of Ian Anderson et al backdropped by tables and chairs, with various waiters wandering on and off the stage throughout the performance.

On Thursday we visited Juliet at her work then spent the afternoon trying to sell Eric to dealers down the East End1. No one offered us more than 75 quid so we offered it to Alex smart for 120 pounds. She accepted.

On Westminster Bridge

On Friday we moved over to Angela and Andrew’s place at Leamington Road villas and spent the day buying foreign currency and doing last minute things. Saturday was our final full day in London and after we had delivered Eric over to Alex we caught a bus up to Westminster and I ceremonially threw my old faithful sand shoes2 into the Thames off Westminster Bridge.

We spent the afternoon and evening with Jules, Slob, Emma and some others from Fulham Road at a pub down by the river called The Dove. Juliet ended the evening in tears after her ex-boyfriend, a total fuckwit called Chris, with whom she had high hopes of getting back together with, dumped in no uncertain terms. Cunt!

We were all extremely drunk and on that hot London night we walked along the streets in the darkness singing songs and clowning around. And so we spent our last evening in England:  with  our friends, having fun…

1In London’s East End we had tried to sell Eric Escort to a few car dealers, none of whom were interested. When we suggested to one guy, an East End wide boy in a pork pie hat, that we could maybe park outside a car auction and try to sell it there he said: “Yeah, I wouldn’t do that…they’d come out and belt ya!”

2I’d bought my Aerosport high-top sneakers in Melbourne a few days before we left Australia bound for Britain. They had been through Kenya, Uganda, Zaire, Nigeria, C.A.R, Niger, Algeria, Morocco, Spain, Greece and Turkey, and had been my footwear of choice throughout our time in the United Kingdom. They had travelled well…and I consigned them to the Thames to continue their travels.

14/6/91

Today is the 14th, a Thursday. Another month has passed and the first year of another decade has passed. I am in London at Leighton Mansions where I’ve been for a week and a half looking for work. It isn’t easy. Linda has a nannying job over in Notting Hill, about 15 minutes drive away. 

I was hoping to find work here in London and move into the flat here. But, as a second option, I placed an advert in the Farmer’s Weekly for tractor driving during the upcoming harvest and today I had a reply that sounds promising. So, it looks like I will be spending the summer driving tractors².

After spending a few days more with the nurses in their flat in Camberwell, we went down to Cortington Manor to stay for the weekend. Diana [the Duchess of Newcastle] offered me a job putting a new ceiling in her stables and so we stayed on there all week and I earned £150-00. After that, we went up to Norfolk and stayed with Heather Stevens whom we had met at John and Sally Blakiston’s before we went to Europe. We thought that we might’ve found farm work in Norfolk, or some kind of work in Norwich, but there was nothing going so we returned to London.

Before we left Norfolk, we went for a day trip around the county and called to see Brad White’s¹ parents in Thurne, a tiny village deep in the Norfolk Broads. He was very pleased to see us and gave us Brad’s address in Darwin where he is now living.

So, we returned to London. Linda got her nannying job almost immediately and I am still looking. Something will turn up. It always does.

¹Followers of this story may remember Brad from my days working at The Fitzroy Hotel in Melbourne back at the very beginning of our adventures. 

²As it turned out, I spent the summer driving tractors for the harvest at Knoll Farm, near the town of Fordingbridge in Hampshire.

20/5/91

SAPPHIRES AND DIAMONDS 

SAPPHIRES AND DIAMONDS 

We were up and away at 8AM and went into town in Eric1. We got a copy of TNT (an Aussie/Kiwi magazine which had a large Situations Vacant section) and sussed out jobs but there wasn’t much going and we soon got sick of it so we went and visited Harry and Brian at the Red Lion. We had two cups of tea with them in the cafe next door then went upstairs and yarned to Ange (one of the barmaids). On the way out we had a quick beer with Tom (the cleaner) then took Eric over to the flat where Diana and Roxy2 are staying in Kensington.

Back in town, we took Harry’s advice and went to Hatton Gardens in Holborn and looked at engagement rings. And we bought one! The shop was called Design 22 and we paid £585-00 for a ring with 3 diamonds and 2 sapphires. I gave it to Linda over beers at a nearby pub as we couldn’t wait any longer. 

 That night we had dinner with Diana and Roxy.

1Eric Escort, our car.

2Our former landlady the Duchess of Newcastle and her grand-daughter)

19/5/91

BOULOGNE TO CAMBERWELL

We left the hostel at 6:30 and hiked down to the port. We only had to wait for about half an hour before the call to board came and we set sail at 8AM aboard the ferry Pride of Canterbury.

We cashed in our few remaining French coins and got £2-38 for it which afforded us two cups of tea and a croissant each. About an hour and a half after later we docked and went through customs without a hitch.

Outside the terminal we made a sign that read LONDON and after about 10 minutes of hitching we were picked up by a Spanish truck driver. He spoke no English and we knew no Spanish but after a while we figured out he wanted us to help him find Charlton in East London where his load was bound.

So, by asking directions we got him to his destination then walked over to the BR station and hopped on a train for Waterloo East without buying tickets because we didn’t have any money. There was a ticket collector in the carriage we got into but for some reason he walked straight past us. When the train arrived at Waterloo East we walked straight past the ticket booth but we were bellowed at by an inspector to stop. I launched into a spiel in French about having no money and after about 5 minutes of pretending we couldn’t speak or understand English he let us go in desperation.  if he had been a bit bit more switched on he would have noticed that I could understand his questions. 

We snickered our way down to Caesars¹ and had a huge feed of English grease then caught a bus out to the nurses’ flat² off Camberwell Road. We spent the rest of the afternoon there and had a barbecue in the evening.

The Camberwell Crew. L-R: no idea, Sue, Dave (back), Alex, Hazel (front), Ferg, Linda

¹Ceasars restaurant was a local Waterloo eatery we had frequented during our time at the Red Lion.

² The friends we had made at the Red Lion.

1/5/91

FINISHED WITH TUCK’S FARM We spent the morning packing up and I got paid £1,300-00 for my weeks of work at Tucks Farm. I’d done a lot of extra work for which I had expected a bonus but none was forthcoming. So fuck them!

We had lunch at the Lydiard Millicent pub then went to John and Sally Blakiston’s. Later on, we went into Swindon and banked my cheque and did a few other jobs including booking one-way flights to Vienna for Friday!!

Along with us, John and Sally had a girl called Heather, from Norfolk, staying at Grove House. She gave us her address in Norfolk and told us we could come and stay with her whenever we like.

FOOTNOTE: The owner of Tucks Farm, Louise Hastings, was a mad old lawyer. Her and her husband used to have screaming arguments on a regular basis while I was there. While I was researching the details of this entry, I came across this story from the Express newspaper.

https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/7331/Evicted-by-granny

28/4/91

SUNDAY We met Jen at the Colton Arms at 11:30 and had a beer there with Gunner [I have no idea who that is!] then drove out to East london to see Louie. We spent a couple of hours with her catching up on all the goss, then drove round the North Circular [motorway] and dropped Jen off at Jo King’s flat. With nothing further to occupy us in London we drove back to Charlcutt, stopping for tea at a Granada [motorway service station] on the way.

27/4/91

I was awake at 6.00am as usual and read for a while before rising and having a bath¹. I went in for breakfast [I ate all my meals with the farm owners] but the Hastings’ were having a running battle² over some small point so I left as quickly as possible.

I stopped in Wootton Bassett to register the car then headed for London on the M4. I had told [our friend] Karen that I would pick her up at 12:00 but made good time into the city, arriving at her place at 11:30. She had gone for a swim so I decided to go for a short drive then return. I got back an hour later having gotten lost in Clapham and then being stuck in traffic! 

The traffic was horrendous going out of town towards Gatwick Airport on the M3 so by the time we hit the M25 (known locally as “the largest parking lot in Europe”) it was getting on towards 2:00, which was the time that Linda and Jen were due to land.

Eric Escort came to the fore, however, by cruising at 70 mph all the way to Gatwick and when we got there the plane had been delayed by 20 minutes anyway so we had time to recover our composure over a beer.

Around 3:00PM Linda and that “Damn Yankee”³ Jennie Bell came out of the customs hall and we were reunited.

That night, after searching all over Earl’s Court for a room, Linda and I ended up in a non-luxury hotel on Cromwell Road.  

¹My quarters for the duration of my lambing job were a caravan parked in a hay barn with an attached kitchen and bathroom.

²More about these mad bastards coming up in a day or two!

³ After dining in a restaurant In Doncaster called Damn Yankee, we’d adopted this as a temporary nickname for Jennie.

25/3/91-26/4/91

25/3/91-26/4/91 I spent these four weeks working as a lambing shepherd at Tuck’s Farm, near Charlcutt in Wiltshire. My diary entries for this period are sporadic, consisting mainly of song lyrics and wistful little poems that I composed while sitting amongst the hay bales in my lambing pens.

Footnote: One of my abiding memories from this time is lying in a sunny meadow on a fine, warm spring afternoon reading The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates.