Saying farewell to the Motherland

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Europe » United Kingdom
October 13th 1974
Published: October 5th 2021
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Following Roy’s Gay Hat Party, I was certainly not feeling too flash when woken next morning around 9am. I was out on the road soon after with a lift from Mary, but I didn’t manage to get a hitch until an hour later. I then got a lucky run of around 200 miles down the A1, with the day also turning out warm and sunny. However, my luck ran out after that, and after reaching Stamford, some 60 miles east of Warwick by 1pm, it took until almost 7pm before I finally made it back to Stratford, comprising some 8 lifts, numerous walks through cities like Coventry and Leicester, and frustrating and cold waits in the countryside. But those are the vagaries of hitchhiking! I was finally picked up by Jenny and Ro at Southam, some 10 miles away, and returned to Charlecote for a good bath, a quiet meal and a few drinks in the tavern before turning in early.

This was a long day out for Jenny (another day off work!) and myself in the Volkswagen. We travelled south to Bath along the A46, taking in Broadway, Cheltenham and Stroud. It was a very pretty but windy road, bordered with trees of yellow, red and green, all the way through to Stroud. We had a pub lunch just outside of Bath before going there for a tour of the Roman Baths, the Abbey and the Pulteney Bridge. I was most fascinated by the rows of absolutely identical houses running down the hills. We set off late afternoon towards Wales, crossing the Severn Bridge and into the beautiful Rye Valley. We took in the ruins of Tintern Abbey before making it up to Monmouth with its mysterious elusive castle. We then made it back into Bath for the ballet by the Northern Dance Company at the New Theatre Royal – a combination of Bach’s ‘Brandenberg Concerto’, Bartok’s ‘The Prisoners’, and Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’. A late and tiring drive back home some 100 miles saw us crash completely on our return home around midnight.

The next morning was another sleep-in and I didn’t get away from Charlecote until around 11am. I picked up my repaired watch and was on the road again 30 minutes later. I had a dismal run of only one lift of 10 miles for the first 90 minutes but then was lucky enough to get a lift in a van all the way to London. We stopped off for lunch at Oxford, with a mix of a great lasagne and the company of a revolting middle-aged bogan Aussie tourist, who just wouldn’t shut up. I was back into London by late afternoon in drizzly weather, and I caught a bus back to the flat. There was no one home so I made it down to Earl’s Court to check out options for my trip home and it appeared travelling home via Los Angeles was not going to be a viable option. I met up with Bob and the four girls from the flat for dinner at ‘The Hungry Years’ before retiring back to the flat for TV viewing and an early night.

We were woken up early next morning by the Landlord pounding on the door, wanting to check out the flat, which was very pointedly rented out in the contract to ‘Three girls, and three girls only’! After a short period with four of us interlopers hidden outside the back door, Bob and I took off to the bank to withdraw funds for the Kombi repairs and general expenses. Then it was back to Earls Court to collect my photos of Europe and check out further options for the trip home. I had lunch with Janie at ‘The Pot’ before looking into further travel options with her. We finally settled on a direct flight home with Air Italia on 12 December for the princely sum of GBP212. I also got a real bonus when we visited the Sundowners office and I found my long-lost Asian diary in their mail section.

The following morning was spent just sitting around the flat chatting with the others. There was no action until after lunch, when I decided to get off my arse and go out touring. There was not much enthusiasm amongst the girls to accompany me, but eventually Catherine decided to join me, probably more out of pity than a desire to go out! It took us an hour to reach Hampton Court Palace, taking a train and two buses. We strolled around the grounds in the drizzle before we checked out the state rooms, which were distinctly unimpressive after having viewed the Hapsberg in Vienna. We finally got a bus all the way home arriving just before dinner. Dinner was a great roast chicken and apple pie followed by a scare and big panic over the loss of my address book. I finally trekked back to Earls Court and found it at ‘The Kings Head’ where I drank yesterday with Janie. There was no joy on the Kombi scene, being advised it won’t be ready until the following week (thus preventing any travel out of the UK for me), so I rang Christine and told her to expect me at their Friday night’s dinner party.

I got away from the flat next morning by 8.30am and was out on the road near Hendon an hour later. I had a half hour’s walk before my first lift with a student to the Birmingham turnoff. From there, it was good lifts all the way to Newcastle, which I reached by late in the afternoon with the aid of 7 lifts. The weather, which started overcast, developed into quite heavy rain by the end of the day and after a 25-minute walk to the flat (buses were on strike, bless them!), I arrived closely resembling a drowned rat. I dried off and then took a bath before the dinner party, which comprised Peter (Spanish Lecturer), his wife Mary, Diane, Lynette, Christine and myself. It was pleasant, if polite conversation, with the late night entertainment consisting mainly of a Count Dracula movie on TV.

The next day offered a big sleep in before rising to an uncharacteristic Newcastle sunny day. However, it was bloody freezing out as I found out when I went out for a run around the neighbourhood on Christine’s bicycle. After a visit to the bike shop and the theatre booking office, I arrived back both freezing and exhausted. Plenty of leftovers from the previous night's dinner party provided a good lunch before a lazy afternoon sitting in front of the fire, listening to records and reading short stories by HE Bates. A great evening’s entertainment at the Newcastle Theatre Royal with a performance of Patrick Cargill’s ‘Two and Two make Sex’, which was really light-hearted and amusing. After the show, we met up again with Hillary who had visited Christine at the flat earlier in the afternoon. We had to walk home due to the continued lack of buses, to be welcomed by the others with a most welcome hot fire and drink, the night finishing around 1am.

Another big sleep in preceded a completely uneventful day. We all sat around the warm lounge, spending the day reading, watching TV, listening to records and chastising the girls (all full-time students at the University of Newcastle) for their lack of study. We chatted at various stages with each of Mary, Diane and Mike as they returned from their respective weekends away. One thing that became very apparent in this household of 5 girls and one gay guy was that the former group sponged heavily off the latter, who seemed to do the vast majority of the cleaning, cooking etc, and he seemed to ‘get his rocks off’ about having that role! We had a late afternoon visit from Chinese Nancy, with whom we went out for a Chinese meal in the evening before picking up a few beers and bringing them back to the flat to be demolished while we were waiting for the Saint to put in his late night TV appearance.

Christine had made it clear that as a full-time student, she was pleased to have my company for weekends but I needed to beat it during the week. So, with that encouragement, I was back on the road to London early next morning. It was not a good start as I froze for around 40 minutes waiting for miscellaneous buses but I finally got out to Gateshead by 10.30am and managed to pick up a couple of quick lifts to Wetherby. It was typical northern day – sunny but really cold. I was finally picked up in a truck by a real Geordie character, who shared with me his whole philosophy on life, which was devoted to “booze, food and fannies”! It was a pretty eventful trip, including two tyre blowouts, with the first one involving a 3-hour wait to get it repaired. The second was even more dramatic, resulting in a hair-raising 400 metre ride causing a deep gauge across two lanes of the motorway as he brought the big rig to a halt after the tyre totally disintegrated. I finally ended up calling Maggie at Long Eaton and after a most disconcerting time in the dark, sorting out directions and enduring a 3-hour walk in the cold, I finally made it to her place by 9pm. The two of us then had a bit of a Nottingham pub crawl before joining the proverbial family group in front of the telly around midnight.

Next morning, I had to walk a couple of miles to the M1 slipway, but I was in my first car by just after 10am. I stayed with a salesman (ex-Mechanical Engineer) on his rounds of Hinckley and Coventry, having a cup of hot chocolate with him at the former. I was finally dropped off at the Coventry slipway and picked up after a freezing half hour by a Merc which took me all the way to London within an hour. I got dropped off at the North Circular Road and was back at the flat via the tube by mid-afternoon. The rest of the afternoon was spent lounging at the flat except for an hour at the laundromat. I rang Sundowners who confirmed my flight home with Air Italia via Geneva and Hong Kong, so that was a relief to have that fixed.

Bob’s and my first trip next morning was up to the garage to pick up the van – cost of GBP26 for the panel beating and GBP156 for repairs resulted in a total cost for me of GBP130. We then brought the van back to Hammersmith and spent most of the day working on it, scrubbing inside, polishing and waxing outside, cleaning windows, painting fibreglass repairs on the roof and blacking the tyres, as well as clearing all of our possessions from inside. A big call was made today with my decision to travel over to Greece once we had managed to sell the Kombi, and an even bigger call was made by Joan, who made a spontaneous decision to come with me, as she was sick of the cold and wet of London. The arrangement was made between us to travel together to Greece, with me acting as her more experienced travel escort, with an understanding that we would only continue together after that if it suited both of us. (Editor’s Note: It must have suited us both as we are still together some 47 years later!). We had an early meal before making it down to the hospital to pick up Catherine from work, before a quiet night, given the planned early getaway required next day to put the van on the market.

We were away next morning at the abominable hour of 7am, first dropping Catherine off at the hospital and then making it up to Australia House after some devious routes. It was well worth it though, as after I had gone to pick up some mail from cousin Peter, I returned to find Bob in the process of negotiating a sale. We finally achieved GBP750, which was only GBP40 less than our asking price and not much less that we paid for it 4 months and 13,000kms earlier. This was unheard of, getting a sale so quickly, as some people advised they had been camped outside Australia House for up to 3 weeks hoping for a sale, especially as we were then heading into winter. We drove the guy back to Finchley to complete the deal before catching the tube into the city. We then cancelled the van insurance, and I got all the tourist info on Greece, picked up traveller’s cheques, paid the balance of the air fare to Sundowners, then adjourned to the pub for a couple of celebratory drinks. We were back to the flat around 4pm to sort out things with Joan for the trip. I called Christine to advise her of my onward travel plans and thus the finish of my weekend hitchhikes from London to Newcastle (and sadly, likely our relationship) as well as a big collect call home to say hello to everyone in Sydney – nothing very coherent but nice to make contact again.

We made the final decision to set off for Greece the following day. Joan and I went into the city to sort out money, insurance, medicals etc before returning to the flat for a late lunch. The afternoon was spent lazing around apart from another trip to the laundromat to make sure the trip starts with fully clean threads. I had my backpack fully packed by the end of the afternoon, and was ready to go. That evening, I set off with Bob and Julie (who had decided to head to Morocco) for a 7pm dinner with friends Gill and Georgie near Finchley. There were a total of nine people there, but it was very pleasant and very pissy. We then had an hour at the local pub where we were treated to some topless dancing and several interesting characters. We caught the last tube back to make it home by midnight, where we chatted for another hour or so before flaking. The following Joan and I were to set off for Greece on a non-stop bus.


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