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.

19/2/91

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.

18/2/91

Nothing much happened at work but on TV in the evening was an excellent New Zealand film called Starlight Hotel.  The photography in it was brilliant, making use of the wonderful light of Central Otago to give atmospheric air to the film.

Filmed in the Otago region, the 1987 Depression-era movie Starlight Hotel starred Australian actor Peter Phelps and New Zealand actress Greer Robson. The movie was critically acclaimed and won several awards.

17/2/91

¹Thirty years later I still have that cassette!

No-one stirred until about 8:30 in the “girls dorm” and when we were all awake Jen, Lyd and Juliet gave me a card and a present: a cassette copy of George Michael’s latest album Listen Without Prejudice¹.

At some stage last night we all made a pact to go to Church² the next day so after showers and breakfast Linda Jen, Lyd and I drove into the West End. We parked just off Tottenham Court Road and walked up to the dingy alleyway where there is already a queue of about 200 people waiting to get in. Admission cost us £3 each and once inside we found the drinks were an extortionate price as well. But what an atmosphere! Almost completely dark inside except for flashing lights and strobes, the interior of the building was packed with Aussies, Kiwis and South Africans. The music was brilliantly loud and all Aus/NZ rock: Cold Chisel, Aussie Crawl, Split Enz, Icehouse etc.

It was too crowded to dance and after a while the music was increased to an almost unbearable level. We stayed for about 3 hours listening to the music, watching a very unfunny stand-up comedian, and a stripper with small breasts and hands that trembled with fear (humiliation?) as she stripped to a g-string and stockings.

When we left, Lyd went home, Jennie and Karen and went off to see a movie and Linda and I drove over to Peckham to visit Alex, Lucy, Sue and Hazel³.  We spent about an hour with them in their comfy little flat then drove back to Fulham. After tea we set off back home with Lydia as a passenger to spend a few days with us. We took turns at driving on the way home arriving there about 10 p.m.

² The Church was a Sunday-only club where expat New Zealanders, Australians and South Africans would gather to get horrendously drunk. It closed down in 2014 after 35 years. This story by travel writer Winston Aldworth sums up the history and experience of “going to Church.”

³Our nurse friends from our time at The Red Lion.

4/2/91-8/2/91

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!

28/1 – 1/2/91

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!

20/1/91 DARTMOOR

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.

18/1/91

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.

15/1/91

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.