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.

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.

Saturday 12/1/91-Sunday 13/1/91

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.

20/7/90

It was a brilliantly fine day and we left Linton and drove along the narrow winding roads leading south along the incredibly rugged coast. We had lunch on a promontory overlooking the hazy blue sea then turned inland and headed for Exeter. When we got there we spent a couple of hours looking around and Linda got her hair cut.  Helen and Brian had got themselves into a hotel so Linda and I drove out to the Youth Hostel and checked in there.

Dartmoor.

 In the evening, Brian shouted us tea at a place called Mad Megs weather meals were huge!

18/7/90

Linda and I were up early and cooked a small meal of toast and boiled eggs for breakfast then checked out of the hostel and walked down to the village. It was a beautiful morning, cool and fine, and the haze amongst the hills gave promise a hot day to come.

Our first stop after meeting Helen and Brian was the local slate mining museum. We spent about an hour there looking at the fascinating exhibits of the equipment and techniques used in slate mining, along with the methods and equipment needed to keep the mine going. Along with the working demonstration of slate dressing there was a huge smithy, a foundry, a mould-making factory and a huge water wheel, 50 ft 5 inches in diameter and capable of delivering a massive 80 horsepower when it was operating. Along with the Imperial War Museum in London it was the best museum I’ve seen in England so far.

When we left the village, we drove up to the top of the llanberis Pass where hordes of dickheads were sitting out on the epic climb of the towering 3,240 foot giant Snowdonia. We had a cup of tea halfway down the other side of the pass with a thick haze spoiling the otherwise spectacular views of Snowdon and the surrounding mountains.

A while later we stopped for lunch on a small back road and at about 12:45 we arrived in Blaenau Ffestiniog, a slate-mining town. All around us, the hills had been torn apart by the quest for slate and there were huge piles of waste rock shimmering in the hot afternoon sun.

Me in the slate mine.

Linda, Bryan and I descended 400 ft underground for a tour of the huge cabins left by the slate miners last century. It was deathly cold and damp in the labyrinth of passages and caverns but they were a truly amazing sight: a monument which will stand forever to the tenacity of the humans who toiled their lives away in the cold darkness. When we left Blaenau Ffestiniog we drove and drove and drove, making it as far as Abergavenny by 8 PM. We all stayed in a B&B for the night.

17/7/90

SNOWDONIA  As we drove further into Wales the hills became higher and more rugged and soon we were following a long u-shaped valley up to a low pass. On the other side of the pass we came to the town of Bethesda, Gareth’s¹ home town, nestled on the side of the valley across from the huge scar left by a slate mine which had destroyed a large part of the valley.

Snowdonia.

From Bethesda we went to LLANFAIRPWLLGWYLLGOGERYCHWRYNDROBWLLLLANTSILIOGOGOGOCH, the town which, supposedly, has the longest name in the world.

When we reached Bangor, we went to an information centre then drove up the little alpine village of llanberis [pronounced clan-berris] at the foot of Mount Snowdon. We spent a couple of hours riding on a rather boring little railway which ran up one side of the lake and back again. Above the town, the huge scars of the slate quarries are now used as a storage lake for a hydroelectric scheme.

 Linda and I stayed the night at the youth hostel.

¹Avid followers of this blog will remember Gareth from our time picking cherries in the Australian town of Young back in October 1988.