Waiting Blues

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Not the most satisfactory of sessions.  Hamed was there when I arrived, and a few others dribbled in, one by one.  Alem had texted to say he couldn’t come today – I hope we haven’t lost him already – while Dasha had a doctor’s appointment, so could only make the last twenty minutes or so.  And still no sign of Ali.  And pretty much the whole of the first hour was taken up by a general chat/complaint about the situation they are in.  Most of it was taken up with the intricacies of bureaucracy: what was allowed and what wasn’t; various funds, schemes etc to which they might or might not have access, the future.  Hamed no longer has the right to a hotel room, but for the time being is lodging with a retired couple who have offered accommodation under the Refugees at home scheme, but that is only temporary; Frishta has a part-time job (rather worryingly working at a funfair) as she needs money for art equipment – she is determined to mount an exhibition of her work; but it is clear that she is deteriorating, becoming worn down by the system (or lack of one.) Aisha is poorly.  As I know nothing of these matters (apart from Aisha’s cold) I could offer only sympathy.

Eventually, we roused ourselves to do some work.  A bit tricky, as there were only 4 of them, but I took them through the game/exercise of “Yes”, which was, as intended, challenging at first, but which they soon got the hang of and enjoyed.  Abdulaziz arrived at this point – he has college, so always arrives late – and we moved on to a naturalistic exercise: discovering, and reacting to, receiving a letter, trying to make the reaction real and believable.

We now had just about enough people to block the “missing” scene from No Waiting, with one person (Thomas) trying to decide (and always making the wrong decision) between 2 queues.  And I think it works well, though such ideas are always a little shaky at first.  This scene involves each actor (apart from Thomas) play several characters, so we finished the session with a quick look at creating characters, simply based on their movement.

After which I ran to catch my train.  For the past two weeks my journey home has been a real challenge; one week I missed the train, and last week, though I was on time, the trains were cancelled, and I ended up on a slow bus from Ruislip to Wycombe.  This time it was only a slight delay, with a suicidal trespasser on the line; luckily he was persuaded to abandon his attempt.

April 23rd 1983

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Perhaps something of a shock, especially for those of you who have got into the habit of reading these posts for the past very nearly two years, but I have decided to take a bit of a break from the daily posting (or maybe I am over-rating myself, and this announcement is more of a “Mwah” moment. Or even a “Phew!”)

There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, the rest of this blog has been very much concerned with travel. Even when we stayed in Haruru Falls, and holding down about five jobs between us, we were still living in a two-person tent, so retained something of that traveller vibe. Australia is very different. After a brief stay with Val’s uncle, we headed over to Sydney, where not only did we manage to find some proper accommodation, living with my cousin in a flat in Mosman, but also held down proper jobs… or as proper as we could do, seeing as neither of us had work visas. Val was a waitress (again), this time in a relatively upmarket Sydney restaurant, while I dived into the world of telephone sales, cold-calling customers to try to persuade them to buy advertising space. And so our lives were more or less properly domestic: commuting, working, etc. I have always told people we were travelling for three and a half years, and it is true that this was the period we were away, but actually we didn’t travel at all during this period, so this part of the diary is very much out of sync with everything else.

The diary at this point – for I did continue to write it – contains more detail than you could possibly imagine about the ups and downs – mostly downs – of telephone sales, and as such does have a certain sociological interest, describing the everyday life of a Sydney office-worker. More pertinently, and painfully, it has a strong psychological aspect too, as it charts only too accurately my own mental state at that time. Actually, the whole diary has had a pretty strong impact on my view of myself, or myself as was, and I have found it quite a challenge at times, to encounter the young me, with all his faults. And in many ways this whole episode has been the most difficult at all. Maybe at some time, I will think about sharing it – it has all been transcribed now – but for the time being, I would prefer to keep my inner self at this time to myself.

I confess, I have been struggling for a little while with the prospect of this section, and making a decision to leave it for a time has come as a relief. It has been a real joy for both of us to re-live the events of forty years back, teasing out memories, as well as bringing to light incidents that we had forgotten about entirely. But that has not been the case for me personally while transcribing this period. All a bit relentlessly painful. There is also the not insignificant task of trying to find enough photos; a detail, I know, but one that has proved tricky at times.

It is not as though I am will be disappearing entirely from your inbox. I am still working with my group of asylum-seekers, and those posts (which have sometimes sat rather confusingly alongside my travel blog) will continue. And I will, of course, be back. When we leave Sydney and resume travelling, in late September, the daily blog will return… and believe me there are some exciting adventures to come, which I am very much looking forward to sharing with you.

But, for the time being, au revoir.


April 22nd 1983

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Off to town in the morning 1) to post another box of books etc (I forgot to mention – one of our chores the other day had been to collect the entire set of the Footrot Flats books, + apart from one small pocket-sized edition, we were successful. 2) to change our money  3) to visit the museum.  This latter had been strongly recommended, + was indeed very interesting, especially the Antarctic section.  However, I am not really a museum man (tho’ I am interested in history.)  They seem to me to fall between 2 stools – they are not entertaining enough, nor are they learned enough  – the trapping + artefacts of civilisation, but not civilisation itself.

Home then, for some lunch – frantic ironing of clothes to dry them out, packing… + then, finally, away we went.  The bus to the airport ran just past the bottom of the street, + more by good fortune than good judgment, we arrived at the perfect time.  A bit of a hassle climbing onto a somewhat crowded bus, Val clonking a couple of people with her pack,  but at least it was cheap.  Christchurch airport was smallish, but well-proportioned.  We changed first of all, having travelled in the rain in somewhat ropey clothes, + then checked our bags in.  Only then did we discover that the idiot in the Air New Zealand office had booked us in on the wrong flight, + given us the wrong flight time.  It was easily sorted out, but not only did we have a 2 hour extra delay but Uncle George, whom we’d rung previously, would be waiting for us 2 hours early at Melbourne airport.  I was for ringing them up to let them know, but  Val, playing hawk to my dove (quite rightly – it had been the airline’s fault) went back to see what Air NZ could do about it.  Rather to my surprise, they telexed Melbourne, who telephoned Uncle George for us.  Good old Val… young Val – she is only 21.

We drank coffee, + ate a bun + read, until finally the time came to board.  No problems – all very smoothly arranged.  Nonetheless, the airplane service etc was vaguely seedy – more an atmosphere than anything else.  Still, no complaints – the booze was free, the meal was very good, + the ride was smooth ( only a mild version of my habitual earache on the downward journey.)  To make up another of my lists, from the aeroplane to the exit is 3 stages.  First, one must collect one’s bags, + this  indeed, took a little time (tho’ I think we were ahead of the pack.)  But from there on…!  Secondly was immigration, who took our forms, stamped our passports (6 months – no sweat) + shoved us through.  And as for no. 3, customs, they didn’t even want to see us, merely waved us on.  So here we were – Melbourne, Australia.

What was nicer, for the first time, we were being met.  We emerged thro’ the doors into a crowd of people, + for once someone out there in the crowd was looking for us.  Fortunately, Uncle George + Aunt Lucie recognised us – or at least Val – since we wouldn’t have known them.  They seemed very nice, packed us into the car, + drove us out to his house, quite a drive, about 30 miles out from the airport, taking us thro’ the city, so that we could see some of the sights by night.  Back home, we sat for a while, chatting, drinking tea, + then bed.  They have a caravan in the back garden, well-equipped (even down to a colour TV) + comfortable.

And that is the end of New Zealand – not in any existential sense, but for us. And as I said the other day, we have never been back. Not yet, at any rate.

And actually the country has been very good to us. We arrived with very little money, and were able to top that up considerably. We enjoyed becoming part of the small community at Haruru Falls, even though it was not the most dynamic or exciting of places. And we have particularly enjoyed the walking, tackling at least bits of various trails.

But definitely time to move on, and hopefully to raise more money to fund our journey home. The picture indicates our decision to start the journey north, to the equator and beyond.

April 21st 1983

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Today we had planned to sight-see… but not only did we get up late, but it was chucking it down outside, discouraging our efforts pretty firmly.  We sat around the house for a while – altho’ we did manage to do some very necessary clothes-washing – but eventually we were forced out.  We had promised to cook dinner for the house tonight, so Val had to but meat from the butcher around the corner, while I volunteered to plod to town to obtain other things.  Most important, I wanted to withdraw our PO money, + change into Aussie dollars – we were flying out tomorrow afternoon, + were cutting things a bit fine as it was.  The weather was still foul,  but I must admit I enjoyed my soggy trudge thro’ the park to town, tho’ I must have looked a bit of a comical sight, with my bright blue poncho on, plus flip-flops (I had no dry socks to wear) plodding thro’ the wet, head down.  I found it to be like Christmas, rushing round in the rain, trying to get things done.  I wasn’t able to change the money as it happened, not having our tickets with us, but I was assured I would be able to do so tomorrow morning… not that such assurances count for anything.  I did however buy a bottle of wine + then catch the bus home.

Our meal went off well – all members of the house were present – + we demolished a meat + potato pie, followed by banana + walnut cream.  We sat + chatted with John + Pat for a time afterwards, drinking a liqueur or 2, + then, suddenly realising how late it was, Val + I rushed off to the pictures again.  We had discovered that the local cinema, just 3 or 4 hundred yards away, was showing a double bill of “Arthur”, a film we had long wanted to see, with Goldie Hawn’s “Foul Play”.  We were nearly late tho’, + once again must have cut a comical sight, both mildly drunk from wine + liqueurs, running thro’ the dark + rain in identical royal blue ponchos.  I really don’t know why we bothered at all.  “Foul Play” was dull + boring, “Arthur” was worse, badly –written, sentimental twaddle.

Our last full day in New Zealand, and taken up with rushing round in the rain and ponchos in order to get it all done… including a pretty dire double-bill. Picture is of Christchurch Cathedral (subsequently damaged in the earthquake?)as part of the sight-seeing we never got to do.

April 20th 1983

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A business day today – we compiled a long list, + headed in.  Changed our air ticket time + place.  Advanced it to Friday, + altered the destination to Melbourne (paying $40 each for the privilege, making our tickets about $460 each – makes you want to cry).  Decided to fly to Melbourne, so we wouldn’t have to travel the Sydney/Melbourne stretch twice, but really we weren’t all that keen on going to Melbourne at all – if it hadn’t been for Val’s uncle, we wouldn’t have bothered.  Various other city chores performed, we took the afternoon to see “Tootsie” with Dustin Hoffman.  Not a hilarious rib-acher, but a fine + splendid film, Dustin Hoffman at his best for years.  In other hands, it could have been tacky farce – as it was, it was moving, funny, + pointed.  A pity it competed with Gandhi for awards, I think.  We spent, once again, a lazy evening back at Darvel Road (pictured.)

Just getting ourselves ready for leaving for Australia, our sight-seeing in New Zealand almost done. At one time, Dustin Hoffman was my absolute favourite actor, and I saw just about all his early films, from The Graduate onwards.

I understand, by the way, from various readers of the blog (well, Val and Kev) that they failed to understand the “joke” involved in the post on April 18th, and, looking at the picture again, I can see that the photo is not as clear as I had supposed.  But where it says “Turn on lights” you will see that some one has painted an arrow, which leads to a small domestic light switch that they have helpfully screwed on.  Get it now?  It certainly tickled me at the time.

Kensal Rise library

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A number of parallel forces came into play to suggest Kensal Rise library as a potential venue for another performance of No Waiting.  Matilda (the volunteer with C4C who had first introduced me to the Holiday Inn) already had a strong presence there; Sue (another volunteer with C4C), had seen the Beck performance and recommended us to the library; and Robin, an English teacher with the ESU, who already teaches many of our members, had suggested it as a possible venue both for his own classes and as a potential venue for us.  So it was that a meeting had been arranged with Stephanie Ess, the manager of the library, with Matilda and me, form me to see the place, and to discuss a possible date.

The library is quite a force in the area.  It has a historical background, having first been opened by Mark Twain in 1900, and then having to battle several attempts to close it by Brent council.  Some of the original building had indeed been lost to the developers (creating expensive apartments), but a local action group had forced some backtracking, so that there is a community-run library still operating, and which is now at the heart of a variety of community projects.  It also runs a number of arts events, generally of a small-scale – author readings and the like – but is also a strong supporter of refugee-based projects – Stephanie herself is the daughter of a Kindertransport child.

The space is small, with wheeled trolleys containing a lot of the books able to be wheeled into a side-room, to leave a bare space, though there is some theatre lighting.  It is not a theatre – there is no stage as such, no wings, no fixed auditorium, has room for about 60 chairs to face a relatively small performance area.  Nonetheless, it would suit our production well enough, once we had accustomed the actors to being on display throughout.  Most important, the library serves a lively local community, with strong support, so there should be no problem in attracting an audience.

The date suggested was during Refugee Week, the third week of June, with the performance taking place on a Sunday afternoon – June 25th.  This seems about right.  It is far enough away to enable us to rehearse and sharpen the play, and give the library time to organise some publicity, but not so far that there is a serious danger of the membership of the group disintegrating… not that there are any real hedges against this, whenever we perform, for these are volatile times, with the hotel accommodation likely to be brought to an end, one way or another, before too long.

I then travelled back to Wembley for our class.  Alem, our newest member, was the first to arrive – he travels across from the Barbican, so has a fair journey.  Disappointingly, the attendance otherwise was weak, with various people either unable to come for various reasons, or simply not turning up.  However, we were able to rehearse a couple of specific scenes, chiefly the Job Centre scenes between Hamed and Aisha, which showed immediate signs of improvement.

And also Godot, with me taking the fourth role – in the absence of Ali – alongside Hamed, Aziz, and Alem.  In an attempt to make us more adaptable to change, I see the Godot “company” as being five actors – the four who did it before plus Alem, with one person thus able either to drop out or to remove themselves.  It is all a little uncertain, so it is a little nerve-wracking to commit to a performance two months away… but that has been the nature of the project from the very start.

April 19th 1983

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Slept well on the motel floor.  At least, we did.  Poor Ken was kept awake by Val’s snoring.  It was exceptionally loud, even for her… but then, she does have a cold.  As agreed, Val + I struggled up early, + ventured out into the cold + dark, tiptoeing past the motel office, + off to kill an hour and a half or so.  We walked for a while, sat in the wind + read for a while longer, even managed to find a cup of hideous but hottish coffee, before it seemed we had been out long enough, + could return for breakfast.  As no-one was in the office when we did so, the whole pantomime was a little bit pointless, but at least we showed willing.

After breakfast, we drove a little thro’ Dunedin, which struck us as a most attractive city.  K + A decided to visit Olveston, Dunedin’s stately home.  Not my choice really, but I was happy to join in with the arrangement, tho’ Val decided to sit + wait for us.  Her motives were, I suspect, entirely pecuniary – she certainly errs on the side of frugality; is, in short, a tightwad.  I enjoyed the tour – the house was small enough for one to accept it intellectually as a home, altho’ indeed an opulent one, rather than the cold + barren museums which masquerade as stately homes back home.  Our guide did over-elaborate on the names + origins of the works of art around the place, which was a pity, but as an insight into a home, it was good.  Ken, I’m afraid, was distinctly unimpressed.  He has the scientific mind.

We paid a brief visit to the magnificent railway station, + then departed.  The journey north was rather dull – we stopped for some lunch at Oamaru, where I took the opportunity to buy Ken + Anne a present – the latest Footrot Flats book.  Unfortunately, Ken also took the opportunity to buy the same book for himself, thusly, as he said, bursting my bubble.  Still, it could have worked out worse, since Ken gave us his copy.

Finally arrived at Christchurch early evening, first checking in at K + A’s motel, before they very kindly ferried us over to Darvel St.  They extended us the warmest of invitations to visit them in Alice Springs, but I reckon the chances are pretty remote – it’s so bloody far.


A quiet evening was spent – the doctors in the house were very friendly, welcoming + without care.  Good news – our tickets safely arrived, a letter from Val’s mum, + another from Sue Colman.  Sue painted a pretty gloomy picture of the prospects of employment in Oz – we shall see.  She is leaving Oz soon to fly home, so we may well not see her.

Shame about the snoring; Val was dreadful at one time, but seems to have cured herself in recent years (or more likely a reaction to regular prods from me.) And a timely example of the sort of frugality referred to yesterday, Val not going to the house in order to save just 2 or 3 dollars.

And at last a farewell to Ken and Anne, who had been gracious and very welcome hosts. We didn’t make it to Alice Springs, and in fact never saw them again. We did keep up Christmas card correspondence for a year or two, but then they sent us a card thanking the British for allowing American planes to fly from the UK to bomb Libya (I think that was what it was.) Now, I might write and gently explain that we were not fully in favour of the assistance provided, but then we simply cut off contact.

Photo is Dunedin railway station.

April 18th 1983

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An early start, + off across the South Island, via Invercargill.  The scenery was less spectacular, but was still fine.  More importantly, we were heading back towards Christchurch, + thus moving onwards out of New Zealand.  And thus towards home.  In Dunedin, the motel was a smaller affair, + so it looked as tho’ it would prove difficult for us to stay unnoticed, but Ken had a word with the manager, explaining that we would be visiting as guests for the evening, + we all reckoned we would have no problem in staying, especially if Val + I departed at some unearthly hour, pretending to have spent the night elsewhere.  Anyway – immediately we arrived at the motel, we drove off again, out on to the Otago peninsula, in order to see the penguins coming out of the sea.  A crazy coast drive – Ken drives well + fast – but problems when we arrived, when the Penguin Place turned out to be not the free + easy beach we had been led to expect, but a commercial reserve, costing $2 a head, plus we had to drive back a mile or two along the road to obtain a key.  Ken was certainly upset by the whole thing, + we thought at first to give up on the whole idea + go home, but ultimately good sense returned,  we decided that, seeing as we were there, we might as well go ahead.  I’m glad we did – the administrator lent us some binoculars, + with their help we were able to see the penguins quite clearly.  Gifted with an exceedingly strong comic sense, the bird is, especially if regarded as caricature humans – it’s almost impossible not to do so.  On the adjoining beach was a seal reserve, with again interesting wild-life.  Cold + dark set in tho’, so then home again.  By sheer co-incidence, there was a programme on TV devoted to penguins – a fortunate chance.

Notable that I am still thinking longingly of home, and of small steps in that direction, even from the other side of the world. Ken + Anne continuing to be kind benefactors, and happy to collude in (or even instigate) another free night’s accommodation.

We always had problems when we had to fork out – even a couple of dollars – for stuff we thought should be free. This was a relatively minor example, but throughout our entire trip, we were obsessed with money, or, more specifically, spending as little of it as we could. At times, the effect was beneficial, forcing us to hitch-hike, for example, and thus meeting people, or staying in places that were not insulated from the world around it. But I am pleased we did not allow this to prevent us from enjoying an experience on this occasion. Not that it has stayed with me in any way; if you had asked me whether we had ever seen penguins in the wild, I’d have said no.

“Home” in this case presumably refers to the motel once again, so one more night of free and comfortable-ish accommodation.

The photo, by the way, is of a sign at the entrance to a road tunnel, and contains a joke to which I still sometimes refer. Can you spot it? But, alas, no pictures seem to exist of penguins or seals; presumably we left all the photography to Ken. Or maybe they were too far away.

April 17th 1983

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The road to hell is paved with good intentions, they say, but not, I think, the road to Milford.  Despite our hopes, and our early start, before we were up + about, the roadside was positively swarming with rivals.  True, not all of them were intending to hitch – some were going to catch the bus – but it was a bit of a dampener to the spirit all the same.  A middle-aged expat Pom was very successful in annoying us, first by patronisingly telling us what was good + bad in  politics, + then telling us where to hitch.  I was very pleased to get a ride, as much to cock a snook at Mr Knowitall as for the obvious reasons.  Our benefactors were Anne + Ken, a young couple from Georgia, USA, but now working in Alice Springs, + spending a fortnight holiday motoring around NZ.  They were pleasant, with quite a good sense of humour – too often I feel the culture gap between our American cousins + ourselves to be too great to bridge. 

We all went out on the same cruise, which was a good trip – just a small boat, but only about a dozen of us on board, + with free coffee.  I had  no complaints.  The coffee was needed – it was bloody cold out there.  Pretty tho’.  The pilot was good – not only did he give us an informed + interesting commentary, but was skilled enough to take the boat to within an inch of the cliff face.

The cruise over, we drove back to Te Anau.  This was the route Bruce had described as “the most fantastic scenic experience in the world”.  It was good,  +we stopped several times to admire particular views, + to take pictures – Ken is rather a camera buff.  At Te Anau, we stopped for hamburgers, + K + A offered to let us spend the night on their motel floor.  We demurred at first, not wanting to cause our new friends any trouble, but then submitted, + went with them.  They were moving on to Dunedin tomorrow, offering to take us too.  There was  no problem slipping into the motel – it was a big, impersonal place, not very nice, but we spent all evening in the room.  They were interested in the story of our travels, + it being some time since we’d told it, we were happy to oblige.  They were entertained too, by the stories we had to tell.  We also introduced them to Footrot Flats, the NZ comic strip – we think it’s marvellous, a sort of Snoopy with balls, + fortunately our friends concurred.

Good to encounter Ken and Anne, for the lift, for the company, and for the motel room – on the floor, but then we would be in a tent, but warm and comfortable, with a bathroom, shower, etc. Also good to be able to have some control over our experience of the scenery, stopping for photographs, taking the Milford cruise together.

April 16th 1983

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With all these people in the hut, we were determined to make an early start, more to get out on our own than because we were worried about ensuring a bunk at the next hut – we were planning to walk on to Lake Howden, the last hut of the trail.  Even so, people were up before us, before light even, so there was very little chance of oversleeping.  We grabbed a quick cup of tea + a piece of bread, + then were off.

Our decision to delay going over for a day ws entirely justified by the weather, which, even at this ludicrous hour, was clear + bright.  Wunderbahr, as they say (but don’t spell.)  Our scheme worked, in that we were out in front of the bunch, but we couldn’t believe but that there were other bunches out in front of us, nor that we wouldn’t soon be overtaken by those fitter than  ourselves…. Fitter to be out in front, that is.  We had been told that this was the hardest part of the trail, the climb up to Harris Saddle, but in fact it was a piece of cake, + in what seemed like no time we were up there at the shelter.  And from then on, downhill all the way.  To our surprise, we weren’t overtaken, all the way down to the hut at Lake Mackenzie, + were delighted to discover that we were, in fact, right out in front of the pack.

Lake Mackenzie was very beautiful, very green, very peaceful – we climbed down to it thro’ a steep, heavy rain-forest, + then ate some lunch, washed down with milky coffee.  We had taken about three and a half hours for a walk rated at 5 hrs – a matter for some pride.  Pushed on then to Howden hut, another 3 hours.  Not as dramatic as the first section had been, but still very pleasant.  Passed by quite a few people heading for Mackenzie hut – they were certainly going to be busy there tonight.

Arrived at Howden early afternoon, + gradually others filtered in behind us,  but we’d already decided to move on from there, + camp out at the shelter at the end of the trail, just an hour further on.  Our reasons were partly financial, to save the $4 each for the hut, but also to steal a march on what looked like competition.  Several others, like us, had expressed the intention of hitching in to Milford in the morning.  However, before moving on, we took advantage of the facilities there (like the hut at Lake Mackenzie, this was the most luxuriously appointed hut – beds for 40, modern gas-rings, an elaborate + efficient coal-range) to cook our tea – kippers, peas, + mash, a veritable feast.  Val also needed to massage my neck + shoulders – I’d enjoyed the walk, but the pack had been really heavy, + had made me very stiff.

An easy walk out, but we only just arrived before dark – time enough to set up in our sleeping bags, + then read by candlelight for a while.  Not a good night tho’ – I’d have been better off on the floor, the bench being too narrow.

Seems like a pretty good day, all in all – out early to get ahead of the “competition” and staying there, and very much enjoying the walk too, it seemed, despite the chore of carrying (like snails) our entire possessions on our backs.