Panic measures

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Shamym and Hamed

Which is not quite right, as there was no actual panic.  But we do have the performance at the Migrant Connections Festival in two days’ time, and even though I have made it clear to the organisers that this will very much be a work in progress, and will inevitably be a reading, performance brings its own pressures.  I had turned up to the rehearsal with some remaining feelings of hope, if some of the increasingly desperate moves we have made to increase our numbers come off, then maybe…

But actually, those hopes faded.  Sherwan came through the door, and I thought for one moment that he had been able to join us after all!  But then it appeared he had no good news, was there to tell us that his application for asylum had been denied.  Inevitably, he was a little down, but there are still some avenues left for him to explore – appeals and the like – so his situation is not yet desperate.  (And actually, even if those attempts fail, where will he be sent?  He did aske me to see if I could contact the Red Cross to see if they have any news of his parents in Iraq, and I will do my best, but really I suspect there is little hope on that front.

After which, other news rather paled.  Abdulaziz and Ali did not make an appearance, and I did not really expect them to, and their limited English makes it difficult to integrate them into such a wordy piece of theatre.  Another previous member of the group had told us several times (including today) that they wanted to be involved in the production, but no show once again today.

Hamed jad brought along a friend, Fariq from Morrocco, with the possibility that he might be able to step in, and he did stay for the rehearsal, and was actually very good, but when he learned what was involved, travelling to Streatham all the way from where he lives, he was forced to withdraw whatever participation we had hoped for.  And finally Shamym, the lady who stepped in for me the other week, will almost certainly not be able to attend the performance.  Which leaves just four of us.

With Fariq and Shamym joining in, we did run through the material we intend to perform on Saturday, and in the circumstances, it could have gone a lot worse.  But what is clear is that we have a challenging period coming up.  Numbers are very low, so we need to recruit, but also to integrate people into an existing show.  And I am going to be away for four weeks, so we really do not want that to be completely blank.  And there is politics, of course; what will happen to the asylum-seekers if the hotel scheme closes.

But there are also possibilities, with the Food Bank keen on us to provide some material for a gala they are holding later this year.  And next year, there is interest from a Migrants’ Theatre Festival being held at the Cockpit Theatre.  So we need to remain positive and optimistic.

September 22nd 1983

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Val at Surfers’ Paradise

In order to escape paying however much the local council would be demanding from us to stay at their campsite, we arose at an exceptionally early hour, pulled down our tent, + trotted across the road to eat our breakfast at one of the beach picnic tables.  It really wasn’t too much of a bind, since we’d already used the showers last night… + very nice it was too.  Very few scruples too about our small piece of subterfuge since, altho’ I’m not a total believer in the all property is theft notion, in this particular case it is undoubtedly true that we need the money a lot more than they do.  Which isn’t much of a justification either, but there you go.  We did wander down to the beach for a few minutes, + Val even went so far as to get into her bikini + run into the Pacific.  As far as her ankles anyway – it was too bloody cold, so she said.  So that was the end of our experience of Surfers Paradise.  So far as I am concerned, the surfers can have it.

It was a fairly short walk out to the highway, + from there we got a lift immediately, first car that came, with a lady teacher to the outskirts of town, away from the purely local traffic.  And in very little time, we had another ride, a very comfortable one this time, with a used car salesman, driving one of his nice new motors all the way – it really isn’t all that far – to the outskirts of Brisbane.  One of the particular benefits of the ride was that he had a perfectly clean + empty boot, so that we were able to stow both of our bags in there, rather than nurse the bloody things.  It was Val’s turn to sit in the front.  Tho’ generally that is the most comfortable seat, it is also the most tiring, since that is the conversation spot.  However, it wasn’t too arduous this time.

We were dropped off at a big satellite shopping centre in the southern suburbs of the city, + we were beckoned by the big golden arches of a McDonalds store.  We’d been presented with McDonalds gift vouchers by Pam + Gerry when we left Melbourne, + still had a dollar’s worth left, so we splurged these on a coke + an apple pie.  We then tried to telephone our 3 Brisbane contacts but without success.  For one, the most likely, the phone had been disconnected, + neither of the others were in, so we decided to head in to the city.

A guy we got chatting with offered us a short ride to the main bus route, so we accepted it.  It was a bit crazy – we found ourselves driving along, just ahead of the express bus into town, desperately trying to get far enough ahead of it to leap off the back of the truck, + hail it at a bus stop.  We made it eventually, + a very nice bus it was too – spacious + air-conditioned.  It dropped us right in the very centre of town, right next to the Queen St mall, so we were able to lug our bags into the shade there + sit ourselves down.  And it was still well before 12.

We wandered the shops a little, taking it in turn to mind the bags, + I rang our other 2 hopes again.  Both of them blew.  Scott, the guy we’d traversed the Panama Canal with, had moved to Western Australia, + Laurie (Bruce + Sandra’s friend) had visitors, so couldn’t put us up.  Ah well.  With those 2 setbacks, we were just about ready to move straight out of Brisbane, but suddenly I remembered (+ really, I had completely forgot) Tony Gorman, + with anything like luck, money.  I rang him, + he told me to come on over – fortunately he had his office right in the city.  Which, as soon as we picked up our photos from the one hour developing, + Val had bought herself a pair of bright green dungarees, we did.

Both mentioned here – the Queen St mall, and the green dungarees

He was quite his old self, of course, full of news about sales + potential sales.  The good news was that I had $123 coming to me.  The bad was that we couldn’t collect it till tomorrow.  “Where are you staying?” asked Tony.  We didn’t know, of course, since we hadn’t planned to stay at all, but with $123 on its way I was quite prepared to, so I said the People’s Palace, a place a backpacker in the street had told me of.  But when Tony suggested staying at his place, a notion I was, I’ll confess, a little unsure of, until he told us he would be out at a meeting for most of the evening.  That, for me, clinched it.  Which is unkind, of course, since it was a kind + selfless offer.

We travelled back with Tony, quite a tortuous trip by bus, train + car.  It must be especially wearing for Tony, who only has one leg (the other is artificial, not strictly missing.)  His place was pleasant enough, tho’ both bare + untidy, but it did possess a colour TV, + a separate room for us.  We joined Tony for dinner at a small café he frequents – he tells us he never eats dinner at home, which is both sad + understandable.  It was a fine dinner, of its kind, tasty yet overcooked.  And cheap, of course – most important.  And then Tony dropped us off back home, before shooting off.  We lazed in front of the telly, watching mostly old British programmes – Man About The House, Some Mothers, Police.  And then, fatigued, to bed.  The photos, by the way, were magnificent.  Especially Angela’s set from the party – a real ego trip for me, who was in most of them, but the others too.

More fortunate than we deserved to be, in that today’s entry details 2 free nights’ accommodation, despite my somewhat sniffy remarks about Tony. Her had been the most old school of all the salesmen I had worked with, but had then headed off to Brisbane to start an office there, to our good fortune. But also, especially after my comments yesterday, an unexpected addition to our funds – as I recall, largely courtesy of Sir Peter Abeles, to whom I had sold a half-page advert in the programme for a Lords Taverners dinner. We had been given a copy of a letter of support from the Duke of Edinburgh, so I popped that in with the info, and that seemed to have done the trick.

September 21st 1983

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We had a later start than we’d intended, since Pat was up + showered, breakfasted + off to work before we stirred.  Still, it wasn’t too much longer, then we were having a cup of tea in the surgery together, + then off.  Retraced our steps to the service station where we’d been dropped yesterday, + started hitching again from there.  It was another roasting day, so fortunately it wasn’t too long before we got a ride.  We were bloody grateful tho’, since there’d been very little traffic.  He was quite a nice bloke, called Stephen, not chatty but intelligent with what he said.  He was off to an alternative culture festival being held up at a place called Nimbin.  It had attracted quite a bit of publicity, since even Pat had heard of it – we’d been talking about it yesterday.  It sounded really quite interesting, so we decided to go along with him.  I had to think about what I wanted to do, and what I thought I should do, + what was easy to do, + going to NImbin won 2 counts out of 3.  After all, we are here to see things, if at all possible. 

Drove to Lismore, the nearest big town to Nimbin, + stopped there to obtain some shopping, + some information, since none of us knew much about the place, or the event.  The info we received tho’ wasn’t encouraging.  There was a $35 entrance fee to cover the whole 5 days that it was running, + tho’ it might have been possible to negotiate some sort of deal on a one-day stopover, we didn’t really see that they would let us in for less than $10 apiece.  So, reluctantly, tho’ we still weren’t certain about it, we decided to leave Stephen in Lismore –he had driven all the way up from Coffs Harbour, so was going in anyway.  This was a bit of a pain, since we’d driven inland away from the main coast road to get to Lismore, + would now have to hitch back out there.  It was only about 30 miles, but still might prove difficult.  As, in fact, it did.  Stephen was good enough to drive us back to the outskirts of town,  but from there we had quite a hefty wait for a ride… + that was only for a few miles.  Still, it did take us properly out of town, to where the purely local traffic ended.  Still, another goodish wait, but then an old lady, on her way to work at a small children’s home, gave us a ride.  She dropped us at a local store, + we barely had time to buy some orange juice + local honey before a car pulled up for us.  He was an ex-pat Englishman, now involved in boat delivery and building one-man aircraft.  Interesting, but a bit weird, + rather distant + inconsistent.  Still, he did take us down to Ballina, which meant we were back on the coast, + Highway 1.

Time was getting on, + we were half-resigned to finding a place to stay there, when our usual last-minute luck turned up trumps, when a guy in a pick-up pulling a caravan stopped for us.  He was heading all the way north to Surfer’s Paradise so, as has happened to us so many times, just when a day looked like being a bummer, our Fairy Godmother sent down the answer to a prayer.  Fortunately, for such a long ride, the bloke was interesting.  He now towed caravans for a living, his own business, but he’d made his money initially as a sheep-shearer, + had a good deal to tell us about that.  Apparently, a merinho sheep is wrinkled, to get more wool on it, + so is a lot more difficult than a cross-breed to shear.  We didn’t agree with all he had to say mind – he was fascinated by the modern developments, + especially all the money that was being made, + thought that the high-rises were great, + Surfer’s a true paradise.  We thought it was hideous, but he was certainly interesting + happy to take us on a short detour to show us various things.  And almost best of all, he dropped us directly outside the Council Camp-site at Surfers, so we didn’t have to walk even a few yards.  The office to the place was shut, so we just pitched tent alongside another one, + had a cold meat sandwich, + then walked to the main entertainment centre at Surfers, about a mile and a half.  But it was just so dull, about as interesting as its English seaside equivalent yet without the charm.  We bought an ice-cream, then wandered home again.  Why do people spend their money on such places.

This does indicate how easily we could be swayed, our decisions largely lead by what we thought we could afford. This concern with money had been a guiding principle throughout our trip, but actually it was to play an even larger role on our trip back through Asia. We had had till now the reassuring thought of being able to top up our money in New Zealand and Australia, but now, though we were about as flush as we had been ever since we started, it was likely that that money would have to carry us all the way home, with little prospect of paid employment (not quite true, but we weren’t to know that at the time.)

Otherwise, a fairly normal litany of rides and ride offerers, with pretty much the normal range of people.

September 20th 1983

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Pat (an earlier picture, from Sydney)

An early start – we’d promised that when we’d been allowed to camp.  So our tent was down even before 7.  Tea + toast for breakfast, during which we canvassed the truckies to see if they had room + were heading north.  No luck that way, + once the toast was eaten, it was outside + busy with the thumbs.  Or thumb.  The Australian way is to point with the forefinger, + Val has adopted this method, while I, being of a more conservative + traditional nature, stay true to the good old thumb.  We waited about half an hour out on the road, but then were picked up by an old guy.  He’d taken the back seat out of his motor, but I was happy to take that berth, partly because the bloke suggested I should, but equally because I was more than happy to let Val handle the conversation.  In fact he was, I believe, quite interesting, + had all sorts of tales to tell about the depression in Australia.  I can’t say for sure since I’m afraid I slept for a good part of the journey.  Obviously. I still hadn’t recovered from a succession of nights with very little sleep indeed, + being driven is very soporific.  I think the bloke didn’t mind too much tho’ – he was happy to have Val for himself.

Dropped us in a pretty dreadful place, a few miles north of Fredericksville, or Freddo in the Australian argot, more or less in the middle of nowhere.  We weren’t exactly worried, since it was still very early, but it didn’t exactly look promising.  Still, not to worry, especially when a de Ville pulled up ahead of us – that’s the very top of the Holden range, + a very comfortable motor.  It held just one small old man, who stowed our gear in the back, + then asked us where we were heading.  When we said Grafton, he said “Oh, is that all?”, since he was on his way to north of Brisbane.  Quite a nice chatty bloke, + we got on quite well.  Stopped off in Coff’s Harbour for some lunch, but it was after that his worst aspects revealed themselves.  Chiefly they could be summed up as an intolerance for the other person’s point of view.  Not that we tested this proposition personally – when I disagree with someone giving me a ride, I tend simply to shut up, + this was the case today.  He has adopted an aboriginal girl, + seems to think this gives him a greater knowledge of their problems than anyone else.  Similarly, with the highly complex problems of ecology etc – his was an uncompromising laissez faire attitude, ie let big business (+ big agriculture come to that) rape the land.  Still, on a personal + not political level he was a nice kind man.    Tho’ on a personal + not political level, concentration camp guards were probably kind to their families.

He dropped us on the outskirts of South Grafton, so it was no trouble from there to discover the location of Skinner St, where Pat was practising.  It was about a half-hour walk, but when we arrived at the surgery, there was a note on the door saying, “Visiting patient at home – back at 2.15.”  It didn’t sound very plausible, but it wasn’t long before the appointed hour, so I sat down to guard the bags while Val went off to buy a cold drink – the day was a real roaster.  Sure enough, Pat turned up very shortly, climbing out of a mini with 2 young ladies in nurses’ uniforms, all of them laden down with huge plants.  Yes, it had been a cover story, to conceal the whole staff popping out to buy plants for the surgery.  Typical.

We all had a cup of tea, + then Val + I left the others, (the girls’ names were Kim + Karen, both pleasant + pretty enough, but to me, a bit silly) to do their stuff, while Val + I strolled round S. Grafton.  There really wasn’t very much to see, mostly pubs which looked attractive enough, but were, according to Pat, rough as all hell.  We also spent a good deal of time in the Post Office, sending off a parcel of things we hadn’t had time, or had forgotten, to send from Sydney.

At 5, Pat took us first back to his digs, a dingy + depressing room in one of the pubs, noted for the dog turd in the hallway.  But he paid $25 a week, when they could remember to collect it.  Pat was rather hoping he’d been forgotten.  We then walked to Grafton proper, the main metropolis across the river.  It was a beautiful sunset, but Grafton itself was only slightly more exciting than its southerly neighbour.  We went to a pub bistro, + had a fine meal, but I suspect that Pat was rather embarrassed by Val insisting on not eating, making do with my side salad instead.  I’ve got used to her now, but I’m sure she can be disconcerting for others.

From there, back to South Grafton, + on to the RSL club, of which Pat is an honorary member.  They are quite remarkable places, being financed almost entirely, in NSW at least, by the pokies.  While we were there we were able to observe the zombies at work.  Pat frequents the place quite a bit, since it offers TV, a bar, a restaurant, disco etc at very reasonable prices (courtesy pokies.)  And South Grafton, being a small country RSL club, is very much the poor relation.  We had a couple of games of snooker on a not very good table, making us realise how spoiled we were in Sydney, + a couple of pints –  real pints! – of beer.  I for one couldn’t get over how enormous the things were.  And back home that’s a normal measure.  Then back to the Great Northern Hotel, sneaking in to spend the night on Pat’s floor, taking care not to tread in the shit.  One of the perils of the game.

Pat was another of my colleagues from John Bester, but he had quit before I did – he is a qualified dentist, so he went to take up a (far more lucrative) position as a locum in Grafton, a small town in northern NSW. He had been quite a pal – I had gone with him to a few Sydney Swans Aussie Rules football games, as well as other social occasions. One thing that quite a few of us from the office had got into pretty reguklarly was snooker, often at lunchtime.

Pokies, incidentally7, for the uninitiated, are poker machines, slot machines, what in my youth were called one-armed bandits.


September 19th 1983

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Val hitching (with competition ahead of us.)

The alarm went off on time at 5.30, + was the signal for a good deal of panic: so much to do, so little time to do it.  All the packing, all the clearing up – not to mention the relatively unimportant things like breakfast + saying goodbye to Mike.  And yet, somehow, it all got done.  Almost all anyway – discovered later that I’d left a favourite T-shirt behind.  Then took a picture or 2 with Mike, said goodbye (another goodbye) + we were off.

Luckily, caught the ferry into the city – I had rather hoped we would, as it’s such a nice was to say goodbye to Sydney.  It was a lovely day too, making it extra special.  We persuaded one gentleman to take our picture, framed by the harbour bridge.  And then we caught the train up to Town Hall.  The guy we’d arranged the lift with was there, busily unloading vegetables (or vegies), but he had some bad news for us, in that his supplier in Newcastle wasn’t ready for him yet so he wasn’t able to go up.  This was a huge disappointment to us, since the lift was the only reason we had decided to leave on Monday – otherwise we would have taken a rest day, especially in view of our exceptionally late night (Val was still feeling rather fragile.)  So we almost decided to pack it in for the day + go back to Mosman, but reckoned in the end that since we’d actually made the effort to get up + moving, we might as well carry on.  Especially since the bloke was happy to drive us out of town as far as the freeway.  So we had a cup of coffee to wake us up + were off.

It was quite a way so a big help, but we were a bit nervous (as always) about the place we were dropped.  Hitch-hiking is very similar to telephone sales in that respect – one is only as good as one’s next lift/sale.  However, it turned out well enough, and very soon we had a ride.  A young Aussie guy, too full of himself for my liking, + he drove too fast as well, but he whisked us a fair few miles along the road, so no real complaints.  And soon after that another shortish ride, with a pretty drippy girl, nothing to say for herself.  Which probably sounds unkind, but not everyone who picks one up is necessarily a marvellous person.  One can be grateful for the lift without having one’s critical vision dimmed.  And she did have the sense to drop us off at an excellent place – a service station.  There we had some breakfast, much, much needed, a wonderful bacon + egg roll, with a pot of tea.

Our next ride was with the most pleasant bloke yet, a young student heading back to university at Newcastle.  The most amazing thing about him was his youth.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a ride with someone so young, ever.  And he was good enough to drop us out of his way, on  the northern outskirts of town.  Next ride was another fairly short one, but a bloke with some interest in what we were doing, since he had planned something similar himself, before recently landing himself a job.  Took us another few miles, + then we reckoned we might have a bit of trouble moving on from there.  A big truck came steaming round the bend towards us.  “Here’s one who won’t stop,” said I, + to prove us wrong, he did.  It was a bloody good ride too, all the way to north of Taree.  He had a drop-off to make at a small town off the main road as well, so we were treated to a ride thro’ some back country, + very green + beautiful it was.  It was still a lovely evening, had been a beautiful day, + it was a bloody good ride.  There were more long silences than chat – in fact, the chat was limited to straight one question, one answer.  Our mate was heading to spend the night at a truck stop, + reckoned we’d have no trouble picking up a ride from there to Grafton, but as that would get us there around midnight, we asked if there was a camp-site in the vicinity.  The answer was no, but he reckoned we’d be able to camp down there – if they said no, he’d spread the word on his CB that their tucker was no good.  And sure enough, they said yes.  So we pitched tent on a vacant bit of grass, + then had some dinner at the place – fair to middling.  One strange thing – our mate seemed to drop us cold as soon as we were in the place.  Perhaps it’s truckers’ honour or something, not to be too friendly with hitch-hikers.  Ah well – trucky’s ethics don’t concern me.

So finally we are on the move again, even if we did noty get quite the flying start we had anticipated. And disappointing that, despite the diary mentioning two lots of pictures, one of us setting off, one on th3e ferry, I can find no sign of wither of them. Ah well.

Other than that, dropped back into hitching mode quite comfortably. In subsequent years, we were to hear more thhan one horror story about people hitching up this road, and meeting various unpleasant circumstances, but luckily we knew nothing of this at the time, and never encountered anything to give us cause for worry.

September 18th 1983

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Val being plied with alcohol at Giovanni’s.

Considering the lateness of the hour we went to bed – 4 or so – we were up at quite a reasonable hour, tho’ Val, of course, went to work as usual.  We were assisted by Krell turning up, chiefly to say goodbye to Val – he’d left before she arrived last night.  And then, when Krell + Val had both departed, I was finally allowed to get on with snipping away at my Guardian Weekly while sitting in bed.  And then Tatiana appeared, with kids, so I finally surrendered + got up.  I had to anyway really, since there was clearing up to do.  Not much, fortunately – one advantage of having small, select parties, by accident or design, is that they don’t make too much of a mess.  It would have been a piece of cake, except that Tatiana was just sitting there in the sun lounge, so I had to make some token effort at entertainment.  It wasn’t as tho’ she was sitting there for my benefit either – she had some sort of arrangement to go with Mike + Irena to the beach.  So I just got on with my small chores around her.  M + I, + brat Jamie, did eventually appear – they had already spent time down on Balmoral Beach, had been there from a very early hour indeed.  So they all went off together.  I was invited, but had too much to do.

Finished clearing up, + went to meet Val at work.  We ate some lunch there together for once, + then walked to Paddy’s market, the main aim being to buy a pair of trousers.  Out of luck tho’, as there was virtually nothing in that line there, so had to settle for a pair of knickers.  And so I came home, once again to get stuck in to the snipping.  I think it’s worthwhile, as it’s good to have some record of what’s gone on in the world, but it’s also slow + tedious work.  Just for interest, the main issues over the past 3 months have been: the British election, US build up in Central America, a Libyan –backed invasion of Chad, + most recently, the Russian shooting-down of a South Korean airliner.  There were 350 people aboard, + the headline in one Australian paper?  “Russians kill 4 Aussies.”  Amazing. 

I was interrupted a couple of times in my self-appointed task, once by a phone-call from Patrick, to say goodbye – that was nice of him.  And another from Derek, basically with the same.  He had some feeble excuse as to why he hadn’t arrived last night, but said he would pop round in a few minutes, for 20 mins or so.  Which was very nice.  He was very hyper, very up, + full of news about his latest project, a short film called “Beach Games”.  It was a shame, but he could only stay for one glass of wine, + then had to go to collect his daughter.  He even had a phone call to remind him.  His wife hadn’t trusted him, since arriving at my place, to remember to do it, so she’d taken the phone no before he went.  What an amazing bloke.  Another one I won’t be seeing again.

Back to the GW then of course, until the time came for the final j with Mike – very mellow, very pleasant.  Which reminds me.  On Friday, to celebrate the final leaving, John Bush, Patrick + I sat in Bush’s little office, + smoked a joint.  It was, as j’s go, a rather pathetic effort, especially since we were all half-cut by now.  But it was the gesture that mattered. 

Anyway, once Mike had performed his usual trick + trolled off to bed, I continued with GWing.  Until 1 o’clock.  Val still hadn’t arrived, +, as is my wont, I was a little worried, especially since she had promised to be back early for packing etc, + as early a night as we could manage.  I rang her at Giovanni’s, + as I had half-expected, she was drunk.  Very drunk.  But yes, she was coming home soon.  3 o’clock it was before she made it.  And what a state she was in.  They’d broken open some champagne, it seemed, + she’d had her fair share, or rather more, of that.  But I suppose it was just as well, since I still hadn’t finished, even then, tho’ it didn’t take me too much longer.  And then I crawled in beside a very drunken Val to grab a couple of hours sleep.

We were off in the morning, + not a stroke of packing or clearing up had been done.  Not that I’m blaming Val for that – I’m glad she was able to have a celebration drink, + I had been indulging myself too, in my own way.  But we weren’t going to be fresh little daisies in the morning.

And so we are still in Sydney, though indulging in another farewell, Val’s this time. I suppose I should explain aboiut the GW activity, GW standing for Guardian Weekly. It is a weekly digest of the news, and I had been subscribing to it for quite some time. But I had decided, for some reason, that it would be good to cut out and keep a scrapbook of the news events that I had been taken with. Like I said at the time, quite a time-consuming task, and actually pretty near useless, as it cost time and effort and money to send them home, and I think they are still in the loft now, never having been looked at.

But we really are very nearly on our way again, heading north along the coast, perhaps looking for a boat along the way, but then stepping off into Asia, first stop Papua New Guinea.

Derek, incidentally, was another colleague from the office, but he was a film-maker in his real job. And no, never saw him again.

September 17th 1983

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Today being party day, we made the effort to rise at a respectable hour, + head into Mosman to purchase the necessary shopping.  Also the necessary chores – having the Walkman battery case fixed, returning library books etc.  The end result however was still struggling back with armfuls of shopping – food + booze.   Then Val got stuck into all sorts of baking, with me as her faithful assistant, her Johnny Craddock.  I was also given instructions in the gentle art of pastie-making, but really I attempted something too difficult too soon, since we were making cocktail pasties, miniature versions of the real thing, + making one’s first attempt upon something so difficult was dispiriting.  However the final result was: pasties, 2 quiches, sausage rolls, bread pudding, U buns, to which I added, once Val had gone to work, toast with paste + tomato, crisps, + a dip.  Plus a bucketful of fruit punch. 

Val incidentally was insisting on working tonight, party or no party.  And so she left, leaving me to flit from room to room, preparing a bit here + a bit there in no very organised way at all.  However, eventually it was all done.  The flat was tidy, the food was prepared, the punch was sitting – all that was required was people.  However, as Mike commented on one of his rare appearances at the scene of the forthcoming event, he’d always thought this was the nicest part of a party, having done the work, everything in its place, + no people to mess things up.  I had a pull of BH to psyche myself, sat down with a glass of punch, + waited.

Some phone calls came to move things along.  From Denise, saying she couldn’t come.  From Marjorie + Bill, asking the address.  And from Angela.  Is it still on?  So, 2 fairly positive responses.  The first caller was Alan Krell (oh, he too had rung) at 10 or so.  He looked suitably bemused at being the first one there, but that is generally the way first arrivals look.

Fortunately, not too much longer afterwards, there were more.  John + Jean.  Alan + I were in the kitchen, so they had to brave walking thro’ a long + most unpartylike house in order to check they had the right place.  Soon after, a real flood – 3 people at once.  Sandy, his friend Alan, + I was delighted to see Marg too.  She had had a previous engagement, but luckily for her, (+ much more for me) it had been postponed.  So here she was.  Mike appeared about now,  – he’d been sleeping , but had been lured from his bed.  And this was the limit that the party reached.  (Anybody with any savvy will quickly work out that that makes only *, but I had forgotten Angela, who arrived later.  And Val arrived later, but Krell had left by that time, so the balance was maintained.

So what happened to everyone else?  Marjorie + Bill, Caroline, Penny, Sandy, John Bush, Big Dave, Kevin, Sandy, Derek + his wife, all of Val’s workmates?  Sod ‘em all, that’s what I say.  Nonetheless, or even because of their absence, the party was most definitely a success.  It started in the kitchen, chatting, drinking, eating, + luckily, seeing as there were so few, we all got on.  And then, after an hour or so, into the living-room for a bop.  I was about the only feller to bop – except John, once – but this bothered me not at all.  Krell left early, Mike went back to bed, + Alan + Sandie spent most of the time on the settee in the sun lounge.  No, nothing like that.  They were, it seems, very tired after a rage the night before.  So for me, several of my fantasies rolled into one.  I had a ball, dancing with first Jean, then Marg, then Val, then Angela.  Even, at one stage, if my memory serves me correctly, with 3 of them at one go.  Angela was also very busy with her camera, shooting off a whole roll of film.  At the end of the evening, she presented us with it, on condition we sent her a set.  Which was crafty of her, since it means we pay for it, not her.   But we don’t mind, of course, I’ve always wanted a series of pictures at a party, but am always far too drunk or involved to manage it.

And so, at some ridiculous hour or other, I made coffee, + people left.  It seems sadder now, a week on, than it did at the time, because only now does the realisation sink in that one is very unlikely to see any of them again.

So no, not yet on the road again – I thought I would re-start with a farewell to Sydney, in the form of a farewell party. Quite a low-key affair, as you will have seen, bu7t enjoyable, nonetheless.. Some explanations in order, however, seeing as you have just been plonked down in the midst of this world, without much idea of who anyone is.

First explanation i9s BH, aka Bob Hope, aka (by way of rhyming slang) dope. Or pot, or marijuana, or one of a host of other names. It had been pretty much readily available throughout our stay in Sydney, and I had chosen to take advantage. And then we come to a host of names, some of whom I have no idea about, so I have to suppose they weren’t exactly important people in our lives, even then. Denise, Marjorie, Bill, Alan Krell…? Not a clue. Angela was a young woman who had spent a few weeks in the office, and with whom we had become friendly. And John and Jean you do know about, if you have been following the story so far – our sailing friends from the South Pacific. But as for that long-ish list of absentees, vurtually all came from my workplace (though Val’s workplace was equally deficient.) So it was as thought thery had never been. And for the most part, their absence was no great loss.

But it would appear that I had a ball, dancing as I used to, and thus making myself the centre of things – a very small centre of an even smaller world.

But was I right? Did we see any of them again? Angela we did, visiting her in New York a couple of years later. And Pat we stayed with for one night on our journey north. Mike visited us once, briefly, on a trip back home. And John and Jean we maintained conversation with for a couple of years, via letters, before that fizzled out. So, for the most part, we didn’t see them again. But that’s the way it goes… and no huge regrets.

Australia – a summary

posted in: The way back | 1

Chris with fellow salesmen Richard, Pat, Angela, Patrick

When I last posted this blog, Val and I had just arrived in Melbourne, having flown in from New Zealand.  And as you no doubt recall, I decided at that point to take a break from the daily grind, if posting a single blog can be described as such.  A brief recap – I did feel that, in contrast with the rest of our trip, we weren’t travellers at this point, having a proper home, proper jobs, and living relatively normal mundane lives.  I am sure there is material of interest within it, but what it was not was a travel blog, and so it was out of keeping with the rest of the account.

However, I do owe it to you, for the sake of continuity, to provide some sort of summary of that time, so I will attempt to do so without boring you to the point of catatonia (no, not a region of Spain.)  We had arranged to land in Melbourne so as to visit Val’s relatives there, her mum’s brother George and his wife Lucie, plus a couple of cousins.  And we stayed with them for a week or two, enjoying home comforts and being treated, before buying a car to sleep in, and driving over to Sydney (by way of Canberra.)  The car, by the way, was to prove a costly mis-step, but we live and learn.  Or not.

In Sydney, we contacted John and Jean, the sailing couple some of you will remember from Polynesia and the Cook Islands, but then, somewhat unexpectedly, I was able to make contact with Mike, a long-lost (to me, at any rate) cousin.  He had a spare room in his flat, and that was where we lived.  And found ourselves jobs, both under the radar: Val as a waitress in a mildly upmarket Italian restaurant called Giovanni’s, me as a telesales operative, cold-calling companies to persuade them to take some advertising space on one of a range of wall planning charts.  Not just any wall-planning chart however, but official ones, for such bodies as the Australian Medical Association.  Not that this really helped – cold-calling really is dispiriting, as one inevitably gets rejected on a regular basis.

Val in work gear

And so for most of the time I was intensely depressed at work, with  moments of elation when I made a sale; as I was on commission only, if I didn’t sell, I didn’t get any money.  But rather to my surprise, I did find I had something of a talent for it.  It was my proud boast that throughout my time with John Bester and Associates, I never made nothing (though on a couple of occasions it was pretty damn close.)  And when Val finally did the calculations, at the end of our time in Sydney, she discovered that we had both earned pretty much exactly the same.

And while we lived in Mosman, the Sydney suburb where Mike had his flat, we lived pretty much as any other young couple – we went to work (with the added incentive of travelling to the city on the ferry, travelling past both Bridge and Opera House every day – splendid); we cooked (Val in particular taking advantage of both a proper kitchen and a copy of the Australian Women’s Weekly cookbook); we went to the cinema; we entertained friends.  And as there was a regular supply, I at least smoked rather too much dope.  All pretty normal, in fact.  Most importantly, we topped up our funds, ready for the long journey back – half a world, no less – via South-East Asia.

Which is where we rejoin the daily story, preparing to see just a little bit of the eastern Australian seaboard on our way north…

Making progress

posted in: Hotel Lessons | 0

Apologies for my lack of recent activity on t6his blog.  In truth, it has all been rather low-key, with just the core of Hamed, Aisha and Tulsi turning up regularly – just as well, since it was these three whose stories formed the play – with occasional appearances by Abdulaziz and Ali.  Fereshte has been busy trying to sort out a new school form her son, who has been going through a pretty torrid time, and I discovered today that she has now enrolled on a college course herself, which will mean she is unable to attend our classes (or, indeed, the performance.)  A pity from our point of view, for although she is neither an experienced or confident performer as yet, she is intelligent, and would have fitted in well to the Narrator’s role.  But I have to remind myself at times that the most important thing is the fact that they are making progress in putting their lives back again, and not the play.  Our numbers are low at present, but the fact that Dasha and Frishta, for example,  are both starting college courses is absolutely what ought to be happening.

On the other hand, we do feel there is a need to re-energise the class, and to attract new members; quite a lot of people have arrived at the hotel, and so we ought to be reaching out to them… or at least putting up some new posters.

Nor did it help that I had to be away for a week (about which more in a separate blog.)  But even this had its positive aspect, as Matilda, out long-term support, has found someone to take my place.  Or if not exactly that, since she is not Drama trained, then to give the class some official supervision.  Her name is Shamym, and I have to say I know almost nothing about her, having only communicated by email and WhatsApp.  But my impression is that she is very nice, and managed to deal with the constrained circumstances of the group at present, while also enjoyi9ng herself.  And she has promised to come along again next week, which will give me the chance to meet her, as well as providing a most welcome extra body (and voice.)

As for the play itself, it is still in the process of being created, with me adding a few pages each time, as well as taking onboard necessary changes to bring it closer to the truth.  But I am pleased with the way it is developing.  It does mean that our performance at the Migrants’ Festival in a week or two will necessarily be more a reading than anything else, but actually, to some extent, that takes some of the pressure off – having a script in their hands to keep everyone on track will make it easier, while still, I believe, telling an interesting story in an interesting enough way to maintain people’s interest.  At least, I hope so.

There are certainly some effective scenes, such as Aisha’s confrontation with a soldier, or Hamed’s childhood story – in both cases, important in what they revealed about the two of them.