My 21st Birthday and Beyond

My 21st birthday was approaching and my parents asked me what I wanted. I asked for a four track tape recorder and speakers. The depth of music available in the house would have cost me a lifetime to buy, so being able to tape albums seemed a good idea. We also decided to have a party to celebrate my birthday and to farewell the place where we had had such good times. Chris and I decided to put together a party tape. In true Chris style, the planning was almost military. Chatting music at the start, followed by dance and finally, slower stuff to let the guests know it was time to go home. I have kept the catalogue and it is a great reference point for the sounds of the era. We also had some fun with the editing by exploiting the four tracks. By recording a mono version of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” on two of the tracks and then recording the other two tracks with the same song about half a second behind, we achieved a sort of echo effect.
We also decided that we should brew our own beer for the occasion. It was a bit hit and miss. It coincided with sugar rationing in Britain, so everyone was commissioned to buy a ¼ pound pack every time they went out so that we could make our beer. (This rationing came about because of a serious shortage in cane sugar imports from the Caribbean.)
The party happened, and no one died from the beer, although there was a bit of vomit that did not make it into the toilet bowl, which was only detected and cleaned up by Libby days later. Amazingly, many toilets in British homes were carpeted so this sort of accident became a real challenge to clean.
In July, we went to the first Knebworth open air music concert. We were attracted to it because the line-up included the Allman Brothers Band, The Doobie Brothers and Van Morrison. The grounds of Knebworth House formed a natural amphitheatre which meant that the acoustics were incredible, and the weather gods produced a rare English hot day so we were very lucky.
All in all my first ten months in the UK was another blissful time; how could it get better?
Libby and I were partners at this stage, and, as the others were moving on to employment and other places, that share house dismantled. We looked for a smaller house this time with Bob, Ros and her man, Paul. This was in Okehampton Road, Queen’s Park, and twenty minutes on the bike to my job in Paddington. It was an exciting place to be. To our west was Chamberlayne Road which in those days must have been a Rastafarian Mecca. Most of the shops would pound with Reggae music. This street became Ladbroke Grove, made famous by Van Morrison. The flat was close to everything, but in those days, a bit scary. When we came home at night, walking through the 12 hectare Queen’s Park, we were nervous. There was Kilburn to the South; not the most savoury suburb in those days either. Nearer work was the Edgeware Road, famous in those days for their electrical stores and real ale pubs. One night, after a big day at the office including a long lunch, I went to the ‘Green Man’ for a top up. When I felt I had perhaps drunk enough, I wobbled off on my bike to begin the ride home. Before long, a Bobby pulled me over. He determined that I was drunk in charge of a bicycle but he did not write me a ticket. Instead, perhaps more sadistically, he told me to walk my bike home; about 3 miles, and warned me of dire consequences if I chose to ride again.
At the flat, things were not as much fun as they had been in the big house. Ros and Paul did not get on very well, and Ros soon developed the word “Darling” as a term of abuse against Paul. Also the kitty system, whereby we took it in turns to prepare meals etc, was falling apart. Paul had brought his signature Doncaster stodge meal with him, so when it was his turn, he invariably produced baked beans, mashed potatoes and bacon, which tasted as bad as it sounds. Also, Ros would make a sort of stew and leave it on the stove for days to ferment and perhaps develop salmonella. Nonetheless, we didn’t die.
Bob was the nicest bloke I think I’d ever met, and he and Libby got on like a house on fire too. We shared a few joints together, and our evenings were always great fun with music and dancing. He even organised an LSD pill for us which was a bit horrific; never to be repeated. Libby had to be held back to stop her throwing glass tumblers over the balcony, while I just went silly.
Bob had a friend, Liz, but we could never work out if he was in fact gay. One weekend, Liz invited us to stay with her and Bob in a cabin in East Mersea. This was not the Mersey. It was a little seaside place near Colchester in the East. It was tidal and muddy. No one could describe it as a beach. One day, after a smoke, Bob and I decided to go for a row in a boat. We didn’t realise that this was the English Channel and the tide was in. We rowed out a bit and I suddenly noticed, when I looked back to the shore, that we were heading for Sweden at a frightening pace. Libby, who is not known for calmness, was waving her arms in despair as we headed north. Bob’s reaction was not helpful; he burst out laughing and became so weak that he could no longer row. I had to take over both oars and try to get us ashore. We did make land about a mile north of where we took off and it was a monumental task to get the boat back to the cabin.
We have lost contact with Bob. He was such a lovely man. Usually, with the Internet, it is possible to track down anyone, but he has eluded us.
Libby, being a bit older than I, was keen for us to commit to each other, but I felt that I was still too young. I was contacted by a girl whom I’d met in Grenoble and she invited me for a weekend at her place. I lied to Libby that I was off to visit family in Wales and headed off. Libby realised that I was probably lying and she confided her thoughts with Bob, who proceeded to be really supportive of Lib over the weekend.
Once she realised that I was not ready to commit, Lib decided to return to Australia at the end of the year. I was going back to Rhodesia for Christmas anyway, so we agreed to go our separate ways. We had a delightful few months together before the end of the year, and I began to wish that I could go with her. We had a magical weekend together at Littlehampton, where we visited Arundel Castle. But the year came to an end. I had to line up for a dressing down by dad, while Libby headed back to Tamworth, responding to the avalanche of advertisements urging teachers to come to “Sunny NSW” for work.

Libby Golders
Libby in front of 3 Woodstock Road, Golders Green, revisited in 2006; 32 years after we met there.

1974 in London

After about six months, Kathy, Shirley and the two New Zealand girls left. I can’t remember whether Chris only signed them up for six months or that they felt the need to move on. Certainly, if there was choice involved, Kathy would have elected to move on. She hated me. At the dinner table, we invariably had the sort of discussions that my dear mother used to call “Undergraduate”, implying that they were a bit deeper than the regular trivia. I loved them. I used them as a means of clarifying my thinking. I’d float an idea and then wait to be shouted down in flames or have my view supported. Somehow, Kathy always disagreed with me. What she didn’t realise was that I wasn’t a bad debater, having represented the school quite often. As debaters we learned to argue against our actual view if that was what was needed. More often than not I found myself at loggerheads with her, and invariably I “won” the arguments. Eventually, one evening, she had had enough and declared in exasperation,
“I’m sick of you, Tom. You always win!” I just laughed, because I thought we were having fun: she didn’t think it was a game. I don’t remember feeling too upset about Shirley leaving either. I think she may have been brow-beaten by Kathy, but whatever transpired, we just went our separate ways.
Trudy, one of the Kiwis, was another matter altogether. They shared a room and it seemed to smell a bit, but it wasn’t until after they left that we discovered the problem; she had tinea which had permeated the sheets and mattress. We aired the mattress and took the sheets to the laundry, all the while burning incense in the room. We were preparing for new sharers and everything needed to be ship-shape and clean.
The ad went into the local paper and Time Out; a London magazine read by all students and young people. I can recall most of the wording:-
“Gls 2 shr mxd hse. Gldrs Grn. £?/wk. Phone ???????”
Within hours we started to be inundated with calls and after vetting a few out, we arranged for some to come around. Chris had devised an ingenious method to communicate our approval or otherwise of candidates. After showing them around and chatting for a while, Chris would ask,
“Anyone for tea or coffee?” If we approved of the candidate, we’d say “Yes”; otherwise “No”. One of the first pair of girls was Sabine and Libby. All the boys immediately fell in love with the beautiful Sabine, a shy German, or so we thought. She relied on Libby to do all the talking. We found out that they had shared a room nearby but the lease had come to an end. Libby was an Australian teacher. When the tea or coffee was offered, we all accepted. So they moved in within a week. Chris immediately latched on to Sabine and before long the house was frequently resounding to the sound of Sabine’s slightly exaggerated orgasms. Her shyness was just a front. She’d also hop in the bath and complain that she was lonely, so one or two of us would go and join her to keep her company but also to ogle her.
Kevin latched on to Libby and that was that. It transpired that Libby wasn’t actually keen on Kevin; that she was much keener on me. She confided this information with Sabine who told her to go for it. So one night, after a bit of grog and marijuana, we got together. In the morning, we agreed that she couldn’t desert Kevin like that. Instead we would pretend that nothing happened. But it was not to be. The attraction was both mutual and strong so she split with him and we moved into the attic together. I was still 20 and Libby was 25.
Her intellect was quite daunting. This was a surprise for anyone who had watched Monty Python who made a sport of mocking Australians. Also, the Aussies had a terrible reputation in London. They were supposed to be boorish and ignorant, but she was neither. Chris would get home from Uni and ask if anyone wanted a game of Scrabble. Lib agreed and beat him in the first game. From then on their challenges became as important as an Ashes Test. Chris introduced a system of timing between words in the hopes of getting an advantage over her but she was definitely a good match. In contrast, there were times when many of us agreed to a game while under the influence. These were hilarious and went on for hours. They consisted of long delays between turns. Eventually someone would ask whose turn it was and we’d have to work back to find out the answer. Most of the time, I, and others would be contemplating words like ‘Abdominals’ with only 7 tiles in my rack. It was bizarrely funny.
Another Chris moved in at about the same time. He was a great guitarist and we had many enjoyable sessions with him. He introduced us to Sean, an Irish lad who introduced me to a mass of new music. Music was an important part of the cohesion of the household. This was the beginning of the era of what became known as the simulcast. The first of these that we experienced was a Van Morrison concert that we crowded in Chris’ room to watch on TV while we listened in glorious stereo through the radio.
Ros Holder also moved in. She became known as ‘Rosalie Receptacle’. She hated it. I made up a few of these silly names. Sabine Rienas became ‘Sublime Urinal’. Her English was originally a bit scratchy. While explaining how she went to buy a bikini she said
“It showed my trench”, meaning her bum crack. There were numerous examples like this. We all had a good laugh and she took it in good spirit. Libby was her mentor and teacher. She never spoke down to Sabine who had to get it right; no provision was made for the fact that this was not her first language. In fact it was probably her fourth at this stage.
Hugh Chris Tom
1 Hugh, me and Chris

And so to London

All good things come to an end, but I was still looking forward to the next stage of my life. Somehow, I had persuaded Chris to keep a place for me in the house he set up in London. It came to be called a ‘mxd hse’ because that was the abbreviation we used when advertising for new tenants. It was in North West London; Golders Green; a three-storey home that had the potential to house eight people comfortably but invariably housed more because of visiting friends who dossed on the floor periodically. 3 Woodstock Road: we came to call our place ‘Goblers Gooch’ for no reason other than the fact that Monty Python was big at the time and it sounded suitably ‘Pythonesque’. So Chris set up the place and the original inhabitants included Hugh whom I’d met in Grenoble (my skiing teacher and fellow dosser on the beach at Cap d’Antibes). There was also Kevin from Nottingham, two American Girls; Shirley and Kathy, as well as two New Zealand girls; Trudy and Julie. Chris was and probably still is a well organised bloke. He set up a kitty system that we had to pay into. There was also a roster blackboard which had our names in a column on the left, as well as the days of the week across the top row. We were trained to tick to indicate that we’d be eating dinner at home on a certain night and a circle around our tick if we planned to cook. We paid a pound each to the cook of the night who then was supposed to budget. If he or she spent more, that was their problem. By and large we ate well, although I remember that I produced a kedgeree with twice the flour needed; very indigestible. Having settled in, I went for my interview with a firm of accountants; Binder Hamlyn. It was probably a fait accompli that I’d be accepted by them as two of my brothers had been articled clerks with them. And after discussing cricket and rugby with my prospective employer, he told me that I could be trained by them once I completed my polytechnic course in the City of London. This condition proved to be a problem. My fellow students had all been through the English Public School system and they were frightful snobs. They spent most of their spare time in the betting shops and wine bars. They were not my cup of tea. Back at the house, we watched Monty Python religiously every week and there was a skit in which one of the guys said, “I’m an accountant too,” in a very mocking fashion. I was occasionally indulging in marijuana as well and I just could not envisage spending the rest of my working life with these people. I was having a ball back at the house. We ate all our meals together and the conversations were stimulating. I developed a crush on Shirley from New Jersey and before long I was sleeping with her. So I was living a sort of double life; trying unsuccessfully to find some common ground with my fellow accountancy students while making the most of London with my new-found friends. Someone found out that the BBC were about to film an episode of a TV program known as “The Old Grey Whistle Test” hosted by a man called Bob Harris. The venue was to be the Golders Green Hippodrome which was just around the corner so we thought we’d go along, as Robin Trower who originally played with ‘Procol Harum’ was performing. We didn’t realise that we should have written to the BBC ahead of time to apply for tickets which would be posted to us. So, when we arrived, there was a queue of people waiting to be admitted with their tickets in hand. How could we get in? I hatched a plan and asked the others to follow me. At the door, I put on my best Cockney accent and spoke to the BBC man. “We’re artists in a band that Robin Trower knows and he said he’d get us tickets for tonight. Has he left any for us to collect?” “No”, he said. “What’s the name of the band?” “Git Brotty and the Numbling Cripples,” I replied. “Just hold on. I’ll go and see what I can arrange”, he said. After about five minutes he returned, ushered us in and showed us to the best seats in the house. I must admit that I was rather pleased with myself and I earned a few Brownie points from my housemates. We also went to concerts at the Rainbow and elsewhere, mainly in North London. We even saw Queen in their early days. Most of the other punters were about 12 years old and some of them somehow turned on the fire hoses, soaking us all. Back to reality. Since Jack and Betty were still sponsoring me, I needed to talk to them. In those days, we didn’t seem to ring long distance, but they were coming over that Christmas. I told them of my disdain for these people but Jack insisted that I continue. “Accountancy is a great launching pad for all sorts of careers,” he said. So I waited until they were back in Rhodesia, and then sent them a letter announcing that I had abandoned accountancy but that I had a job instead. This did not go over very well but I had started at an advertising company called Wasey Campbell Ewald in Paddington, and I was loving it. My day proceeded as follows:- Wake up at about 8am. Get dressed and down some toast before popping on my bike to ride to work starting at 9am. At about 11:30, a rep (usually male) would come from one of the media companies; newspapers, magazines, TV or Radio. He would try and persuade me to buy advertising with his company for about 30 minutes and then take me to lunch. Lunch lasted until about 4pm, and we’d roll back to the office, where I’d struggle to stay awake until knock-off time. Then I’d either wobble home or go for a top-up at a great Real Ale pub on the Edgeware Road. When I got home, there’d always be someone to talk to until the wee hours. I usually slept for 4 hours a night. I wasn’t paid much but I was thoroughly enjoying life……… And it was about to get a whole lot better.
Golders Mark 1
Some of the original ‘Gobblers’ as well as some dossers.

Palma de Mallorca, Spain

On our return to Cannes, we found ourselves under-employed. The chef was shown the door and I was to take over the cooking. Fortunately, the crew usually went into town for dinner at night so, more often than not, I only had to look after lunches.
I had only learned to cook scrambled eggs at home, but I was in good hands with Claude; a veritable gastronome. We would amble off to the markets quite early and Claude would sniff and smile his way through the stalls, licking his lips as he conversed with the stallholders, sampling this and that before committing to buy . We’d come home laden with the wherewithal to produce beautiful meals and Claude initially taught me how to cut onions and other vegetables while he put the meals together. I developed a great affection for him and his food. He had a rudimentary knowledge of English made laughable by his broad Breton accent. His favourite expression to me was,
“I geeve you a kees, and you f@#k off!”
He also introduced us to some wonderful restaurants in the back streets of Cannes. Because we had nothing to spend our money on while at sea (except duty free stuff), we were cashed up while docked. He had a ‘girlfriend’ in every town, but he would take them to dinner with him before retiring to her ‘hotel’. He even offered to introduce me to one of his ‘girlfriends’ but after my experiences with Patti, I declined politely.
The delay in charters was biting hard at the owners of the ship. Fortuitously, Gael was contacted by a man who wanted a crew to fly to Palma de Mallorca and bring an old wooden ship back to Cannes. He asked us if we were keen and we all agreed that it was better than sitting around eating and drinking. So, within two days we were on a plane.
Patrick met a lovely girl during our first evening there. This is relevant because, as the engineer, he needed to declare that the craft was ready to make the trip back to Cannes. As he was in love, he was in no hurry to make such a declaration so we had to endure four days of stunning weather while we sunned ourselves on the beach and met lovely people. He finally declared that we were ready to sail. I personally thought he had been milking this, but we found out later that his caution was warranted.
All seemed well at first. I served a lunch and a dinner but then the seas became really rough. There is a wind called the Mistral which blows up the Gulf of Lyon in the Mediterranean and on to France. It felt as though this little ship was going to break in half every time we went over a massive wave. Gael told me to ensure that everything was secured in the galley. I started to feel really sea-sick and went to ask the others if they had some medication for me. Claude told me to cut up a lemon into little segments, squeeze some lemon juice into each of my ears, place the lemon segments into them, and lie down. I followed his instructions and was cured immediately. I slept through the night and woke up to a relatively calm sea. Apparently, the citric acid dulls the sense of balance, so, rather than trying to right myself every time we mounted a wave, I just lay there. Nevertheless, we were all relieved to get back on terra firma.
That night the owners summoned us or a meeting. They wanted to know whether we’d be interested in sailing to the West Indies for the Southern Hemisphere summer. With a heavy heart, I had to say ‘no’. I was still under my parents’ wing financially and the plan was for me to study in London to be a Chartered Accountant.
The concept of the movie ‘Sliding Doors’ has fascinated me since its release in 1998. It examines two paths that could result on a lady missing or not missing a train. I was at a fork in the road. By going to London, it was not long before I met Libby and I have had a wonderful life with her. If I had gone to the West Indies, how would my life have been different? Once you start to delve into the what-ifs of parallel universes, the prospects can become really interesting.

Summer on the Mediterranean

Although the academic year was over, I still had a summer to spend before my next course was to start in London. My intention was to become a bi-lingual chartered accountant and I believed that I had the bilingual part pretty well sewn up.
I had been enchanted by my experiences at Easter so I thought I’d try my luck down south again. I had shipped some of my possessions to George in London and just had a back-pack of clothing with me. I hitchhiked and arrived in Cannes mid-afternoon and immediately made my way to the employment agency/café.
Once again, my twenty hours work on that boat over the Easter break paid dividends. The captain of a largish ship was looking for a steward with experience. I crossed my fingers while I told him that I’d been a steward on the Canoubier. The interview was in French and they wanted someone who could speak English and French, so I got the job on the spot. I didn’t even need to find accommodation as they put me up on board that night.
After downing a few beers and a salad Niçoise sandwich, I followed the captain, Gael, to the ship. This was nowhere as swish as the Canoubier, but who was I to complain? I met Claude, the boatswain from Breton; Roger, the deckhand from England; Patrick, the Swiss engineer Gaston, the other captain and Luigi, the chef. The evening was concluded with a splendid glass of cognac and we all headed to our cabins so that we would be ‘on deck’ in the morning.
The first charter group was made up of scientists who wished to measure the pollution of the Mediterranean. This involved sailing to a number of predetermined spots where they dropped inverted parachutes into the sea, attached to buoys. Also they dropped some bottles attached to wires and at different depths to measure the pollution levels. This was quite fascinating: but it was also quite easy for me; these people were so involved with their work that they were undemanding of our attention. It gave me the opportunity to learn the finer points of Italian swearwords. Being the only steward on board, I needed to establish a rapport with Luigi as we worked together, but this was a challenge. He hated me and spoke Italian with only a smattering of French. I was called ‘Porca Madonna’ (Pig Maddona) or ‘Porco Dio’ (Pig God) most of the time. He also urged me quite often to “Va f’enculo”, which I gathered meant to get buggered. He was out of his depth and I was to blame. He was not a good practitioner of haute cuisine. Standing shirtless with a tea towel over his shoulder which he used to shoo flies, he stammered his way through meal preparation. The passengers were all eventually fed, and no one died but no one was happy. Claude was the most incensed. A rotund man who loved his food could not believe his eyes as each meal arrived. The looks could kill. His only saviour was the ‘casse-croûte’ that he insisted on each morning. ‘Casse-croûte’ literally means ‘break crust’ but it was the salamis, patés, hams, olives, artichoke hearts that were served with the bread that made it so delectable. This was served mid-morning and it kept us going most of the day.

After lunch, I always had a few hours off during which I would sun-bake on the foredeck. Gael had a beautiful wife who accompanied him on most trips, and she invariably sunbaked topless every afternoon so I chose a good spot in which to ‘read’ my book.
The evening routine involved serving the charterers their meal, then the crew. I served the crew and then the chef and I joined them. After the meal, cognac was served. Because we were at sea, all the alcohol and cigarettes were duty free, so we tucked in. We would take it in turns to buy the cognac, and as I was smoking at the time, I was delighted to buy cheap cigarettes.
The next charter was to a group of Nouveau Riche Italians. It was a hot morning and I was embarrassed to notice an Italian lady who was sweating so profusely that her yellow pants were darkened in the crutch area.
They had a set itinerary in mind but Gael had other ideas. For example, they wanted to go to Sardinia, but he persuaded them that it would not be possible because of the weather, so we went to Corsica instead. A glance at the map shows that the two islands are adjacent and it would have been unlikely that one would have bad weather while the other escaped. What it meant was that Gael got his way. We did go to Livorno; an ugly place, and Naples of all places. I considered Naples filthy. There was a debate on board as to whether we would fill up with water while we were there. The water on the dockside was revolting and I instinctively spoke out against this. Fortunately, the consensus view opposed filling up. As we were leaving the port, Gael heard on the radio that the port was to be closed because of a cholera outbreak.
And so it was back to Cannes to await the next charter.

Easter on the Cote 2

Easter on the C te, Part 2.
Here I was with no job, no money, no ID, no clothing and nowhere to stay in Cannes. We were met onshore by a distraught owner. We were asking questions about how this could have happened, but no one will ever know for sure.
The owner must have been quite influential because he arranged for us to stay in the Carlton Hotel for at least a night. Most readers would know that this is the hotel where all the glitterati stay during the Cannes Film Festival, so how did he do it? The rooms were not like hotel rooms; merely rooms allocated to staff of the hotel but we were grateful anyway. He organised for all us to have a meal nearby which he paid for. And the night in the hotel was comfortable.
In the morning, he handed us money to replace what we had on the yacht. We all went our separate ways and kitted ourselves out. It was a bittersweet experience replacing new gear for clothes that I’d grown accustomed to. (An interesting side-story is the fact that the jumper I bought on that day is still smart, warm and wearable). I also had to present myself to the police station in order to renew my “Carte de Séjour”, an ID card issued to foreigners at the time. I simply had a letter from the owner declaring that I had been working on the Canoubier when it burned, which seemed to be enough information for the police.
Carte de Sejour
1 The photo from my Carte de Sejour, 1973
I knew that my stay at the Carlton was not going to last forever, so I went to a café which was renowned as a sort of employment agency where boat owners or captains could recruit workers. I managed to pass the word around that I had lost my job while working on the Canoubier. This is where the line between truth and lies can be a bit shaky. I simply replied, when asked if I had worked on boats before, that I had worked as a painter and steward on the Canoubier. Incredibly, I scored another job starting in two days, painting the hull of a small ship. I asked if I could stay onboard which suited the owner as it would add an element of security for him. All the interviews were in French, so I was quite chuffed at my level if bilingualism.
Thus, I was able to leave the Carlton and move on to this old ship. I said goodbye to the rest of the Canoubier crew. I had a day to be a tourist. I hastily wrote a postcard to my parents to tell them what had happened. Incredibly, they claimed on my travel insurance and, in time, I got the wherewithal to kit myself a second time.
I had developed an itch. I went to a doctor who told me that I had a sexually transmitted disease. I had been in a steady relationship with Patti for most of my time in Grenoble, so I was shocked. The doctor prescribed me an antibiotic and told me that I would have to inform my partners (yes he did seem to presume there would be more than one). He also told me to avoid alcohol.
That night I went back to the same café and drank short black cups of coffee all night instead of alcohol. Consequently, when I went to my new abode in the cabin I was slightly over-stimulated by the caffeine and sleep escaped me for most of the night.
In the morning I stood waiting for my employer and fellow workers on land just near the boat. I noticed a type of pontoon attached to the boat. The boss turned up with two other workers and some painting gear. The fellow workers were a Yugoslav who could speak Spanish and a Spaniard who could speak French.
Our instructions were to sand down a section above the water and then wipe it down and paint it. He was apparently keen to sell with summer approaching and was not concerned with the barnacles on the hull and the keel. The pontoon was attached so that we could stand on it, complete a section and then move on to the next bit.
Conversation was a bit stilted. In order to speak to the Yugoslav, I had to go through the Spaniard who would also have to convey the response. We did, however, somehow agree on a common word to announce that we felt a section was finished so it was time to move on; “’S Good?” If everyone agreed, we’d all say “’S Good” and proceed.
I saw out my Easter break doing this job and returned to Grenoble for the last stretch of the academic year.
Returning to Patti at the end of the holidays, I announced that I had contracted VD or something from her. She was devastated and made an immediate appointment with her doctor. This doctor examined her and did agree that she had an infection of sorts but nothing like VD. This revelation, along with my blunt and insensitive approach to the problem caused an immediate and irreparable rift. I was really sad at the time, but I had certainly learned a few lessons.
The last month or two flew past. I had made some great friends. My address book was full and I promised to contact some Londoners after the summer. Madame Cottave planned a farewell party and we all had to go in fancy dress. I am the Arabic gentleman on the right and Jean-François is the clown. I had had so much more than an education in French language and culture during this remarkable year.
Fancy dress in France

Easter on the Cote d’Azur

Easter on the Côte D’Azur.
Buoyed by the success of my hitchhiking endeavours, I decided to use my thumb to get me to the Côte d’Azur, (The Blue Water Coast). It was the Easter break; Hugh was already there and said there was plenty of work. This time it was only supposed to take about 4 hours, but my first lift only took me to Valence; not far from Grenoble. The wait for my next lift lasted over an hour, but then a little bearded gnome pulled over in one of those 2CV Citroëns that the French called a “Deux Chevaux” meaning “Two Horses”. This signified that it just had a 2 horse power motor, so the journey was going to be long. He was actually going to Cannes, which would be about a half-hour from Cap d’Antibes, where I was to meet Hugh. The bonus was that this man was a University lecturer from Grenoble. We had a wonderful chat; solving the problems of the world. At one point he asked me to speak in English so he could practise.
I hadn’t realised that we’d be passing through the iconic cities of Avignon and Aix-en-Provence on the way. We stopped for a coffee near the famous bridge at Avignon and, in Aix, we wandered along the cobblestones to the Place d’Albertas for another coffee. I felt blessed already. As we approached Cannes, Jean-Claude generously decided that he’d drop me in Cap d’Antibes. What a great trip! I thanked him profusely and set about looking for Hugh. It wasn’t hard. He was in a cafe near the waterfront.
We drank draught beer and ate a Croque Monsieur each. This is simply toasted ham and cheese but I have never been able to replicate the flavour using Australian ham and cheese. Hugh was not in a hurry to leave. Our accommodation for that night was to be on a private beach. He needed to be certain that the owners of the house above the beach were in bed before we ventured there. So we had a couple of coffees before heading off. He had his trusty motorbike with him so I climbed onto the pillion with my back pack and sleeping bag. We slept like logs with the Mediterranean lapping metres away. Our plan was to leave before sunrise, but we were woken up by a grumpy old fellow objecting to our trespass. Fortunately he was yelling at us from about 50 metres away on a hillside villa, so he would have taken a while to reach us, and we were gone before he arrived.
Back at “The Cap” as we called it, I followed Hugh’s instructions.
“Walk up the gangway and ask if they have any work for you.”
“OK,” I thought. “Simple enough” and I set about finding work.
Within about an hour, I walked onto a luxury yacht called the Canoubier. There was a youngish New Zealand lady sun-baking on the front deck. I inquired in my best French if there was any work but she asked me to speak English. She asked the engineer if the engine room needed another coat of paint and he agreed. So I set about painting the 50th coat of ivory coloured paint on the immaculate engine room.
After about an hour, the New Zealander, Leonie, came to ask me if I knew silver service. The conversation went a bit like this:-
“The owner is flying down in the morning to spend the weekend with his mistress. He works for Rothschild’s in Paris. We need a steward before breakfast”.
“I don’t know silver service but am willing to learn,” I said. So I was employed more permanently as a steward and set about learning a new skill. Accommodation was included so I was saved from another night of trespass with Hugh.
I muddled through breakfast and was practising in preparation for lunch, when Leonie informed us that the love-birds were going ashore for lunch. We sailed the ship out to the bay of Cannes before dropping anchor. They headed off in a lifeboat and we settled down for a relaxed afternoon without duties, although I did lay the table.
In the late afternoon, one of us smelt something strange and then noticed smoke coming from our accommodation in the bow of the ship. We immediately set about trying to put out the fire even though we were uncertain what type it was. Fire extinguishers and hoses didn’t seem to make any difference, and the smoke was too thick to contemplate getting in there. We called the pompiers, firemen, and they arrived rapidly but it was too late; we would all have to abandon ship.
We had been at anchor in the famous bay at Cannes. Soon after we were ashore, darkness encroached, and the yacht in flames was an enticing sight for tourists. The traffic slowed to a standstill as people gawked at this tragic sight. The finale occurred when the engine exploded and seemed to blow into the sky.
I lost all my gear, of course. The only thing that mattered was Dad’s cast-off SLR camera that he had given me before I left: it had about 23 exposures on the film containing wonderful memories from Grenoble.
Footnote. The Bay at Cannes is a famous Pablo Picasso painting.
the bay at cannes

More to come.

Paris Visits

Paris visits
On a couple of occasions, I hitchhiked to Paris. It took me about 6 hours both each. Hitchhiking was never an issue for me in those days. Often I would get wonderful opportunities to practise my French. It was an uncomfortable time to own up to coming from Rhodesia during those illegal independence years of Ian Smith’s government. The French were and are very aware politically and I found myself having to confirm my opposition to the regime there. Also Vietnam was a hot potato topic at the time and I learnt a great deal about the issues during that year.
I just had to see Paris. On arrival the first time, I headed straight to the nearest ‘Auberge de Jeunesse’ (Youth Hostel). There were no vacancies and the next nearest hostel was a long way away, so I started chatting to others and one of them presented a solution; lock the backpack in a locker and sleep in the park nearby. So I rented a locker and sat around chatting with other youths from all over the world until it was closing time at the hostel. About 10 of us headed off with our sleeping bags to sleep in the park. I was just a bit nervous about this, because Paris did have a reputation for their ‘Clochards’, or tramps. But Clochards, particularly in Paris, at least in the seventies, were regarded as people who were a just a bit down on their luck and were homeless. On arrival at the park we discovered about 20 of them already sleeping on park benches under newspapers and cardboard, their empty plastic bottles of wine by their sides. I was very happy that I had a sleeping bag because I was cold, and the rationale was that we were safe because of our numbers and we were not troubled in any way by these men: yes, they were all men in those days.
Next time I went there was to meet up with my brothers. We had not all been together, let alone for Christmas, since 1959; 13 years. Our accommodation was diverse. Peter had married Anne-France, a French lady, so he stayed in their house in the swish 92nd Arrondissement, in a gated street in Neuilly. Henry had swapped his place in England with a friend he had in Paris, so he had his own apartment. Peter had a brother-in-law who lived in a block of apartments in Paris which was central. He was aware that one of the apartments in his block was vacant, so he arranged for George and me to stay there. He found a double mattress in the basement which we helped him carry into the vacant flat. It was truly vacant. No power, no lights, (not even light fittings). Because it was Christmas time, we were able to use the windowsill as a fridge for milk and butter. We weren’t worried; a roof over our heads at Christmas without any rent to pay was wonderful.
One night we all assembled where Henry was staying. We had had a meal nearby and gathered there for a few drinks. We were all smoking at the time, and, around midnight, we noticed that the goldfish that was in its bowl was swimming around upside down, gasping for air. We tried adding water to the bowl and stopped smoking, but, alas, the fish died, which was a bit embarrassing for Henry who was supposed to be looking after the place.
On another night, George felt it would be fun for us to visit the red light district, Pigalle; home of the Moulin Rouge and other famous nightspots. We followed the signs to a strip club and went to go in. I enquired about the price and was surprised to discover that admission was free. However, I did notice a sign on the way in; ‘Consommation Obligatoire’ , meaning you had to buy drinks while in the club. I asked about the price of a drink and found that it was the equivalent of a week’s allowance for one drink so we left in haste. Consequently, we never entered a strip club after all.
All the brothers were invited to the Neuilly place for a lunch on New Year’s Day. My brothers had already met some of these in-laws but it was the first time I had met Peter’s new family. It was quite amazing. Anne-France was and still is a down-to-earth lady, and so were her parents, even though they were a count and countess. I didn’t know what to expect, but soon after arriving, I was made to feel quite comfortable. The kitchen was where we all assembled, and the place smelt of soft cheese. On a shelf were selections of cheeses at various stages of maturity. A cheese would almost have to have been oozing onto the floor before the count deemed it ready to eat, but his cheeses were beautiful. Apparently he would walk to the markets daily (wearing a beret of course) to pick up a new cheese for the future. We had a delightful lunch and I felt comfortable in their company.
That evening, Peter felt it would be a good idea for him and me to go out for a drink at a nearby café. George and Henry were heading home the next day. As it was, we had more than one drink, and we believed that we were paying for each round of drinks. Unfortunately, when we went to leave, the proprietor presented us with a bill for every drink we had consumed that night. After much dispute, during which I did my best to argue that we had paid for each drink and he argued that we had been tipping, he went to phone the cops because we refused to pay him any more money. Peter didn’t help matters by yelling out something that sounded like “D’accord”, meaning OK, but in fact he was swearing at them. When he started to talk to the cops on the phone, we raced out of the café and fled into a nearby Metro underground station.
PS Henry, after reading this, responded with these words:-
We all seem to have had great times in Paris …Peter’s wedding and antics with melons in Les Halle fruit market etc.
In ’62, kipping on the banks of the Seine – reading Lolita, so cool… and being chased by a bunch of Arabs with knives, with an Aussie student supporting…

Trip Away

Trips Away
As time went on, some of us were keen to explore the area more thoroughly. Someone researched the options and suggested we visit a place called La Grave, only about 80 kms to the East of Grenoble in the French Alps. The snow was melting so we did not go there to ski but the views were exquisite. It took us about two hours to get there and it was approaching evening by the time we were settled. On the way to our lodgings we noticed a restaurant where we hoped to get a meal.
We settled into a Gite, which was simply a place to shelter with bunk beds and limited facilities. We walked down the hill to this so-called restaurant. Because it was out of season, the restaurant was closed and there was nowhere to buy provisions. So we started to tramp back up the hill, prepared to starve that night. A car approached, and we motioned to it for help. It turned out to be the local police, and at first they were suspicious of us. However, once we had shown our ID cards (Carte de Séjour) and explained our predicament, they gave us a lift to the Police Station and found some tinned paté and a baguette to feed us for free.
La Grave was probably the most picturesque village I had ever visited. Being out of season, there was still snow on the mountaintops but there were walking paths that we explored the next day. There was little else to do, but we did manage to stock up with enough food to fill ourselves up with a picnic lunch so that we could hike around. The word ‘bucolic’ always summons up for me images of sick people, but it actually suggests an idyllic rural life with cows and cowbells; exactly what La Grave was.

Grenoble Cont

Once I had my wheels sorted out and I was settling in well to the academic side of the year, I started to explore more vigorously all other aspects of life in Grenoble.
I had arrived towards the start of the skiing season. Grenoble had hosted the Winter Olympics in 1968, so I knew that the slopes must have been good. Hugh, who hailed from Notting Hill in London, became quite a good mate. He was an indulged only child but great company. He suggested that I should take up skiing and I thought, “Why not?”
So sometime in October or November, we took a coach up to the ski resort called Chamrousse and I had visions of becoming the next Jean-Claude Killy. Hugh showed me how to hire equipment and directed me towards the nursery slopes. After an hour or two of ploughing down the nursery slopes and climbing on the T-bar to head back up again, I felt equipped to take the next step. Hugh suggested that I could go up with him and he could help me down if I became stuck. This time we went on an actual ski lift, from which I struggled to dismount, as it were. This should have been a sign to me that I was probably not ready to proceed, but I was a young male.
‘What could go wrong?’
Hugh was really helpful, and at first I negotiated the descent quite proficiently. Then I noted that there was a straight downhill stretch which appeared to have an uphill slope at the bottom.
‘Finally!’ I thought. ‘I can get a feeling of speed.’ I set off downhill without bothering to plough my way down slowly. I felt like the whippersnappers who were whizzing past me. I wasn’t even using my ski poles. My ears were tucked behind me as I accelerated a bit too fast for my liking.
‘Never mind. There’s this hill coming up and that will slow me down,’ I assured myself.
By the time I reached the ‘hill’ I was in danger of breaking the speed of light, so the hill had merely become a ramp, and I became airborne. None of my nursery slope training had equipped me with the ability to land properly after a small ski jump. So, with the scant amount of reason available to me at this point, I elected to land on my shoulder. “Thwack”. The pain was excruciating. I looked at the place where my shoulder should have been, but it had popped out. I wasn’t crying, but the pain brought tears to my eyes that instantly froze. Hugh had gone ahead and was probably at the bottom of the slope by now. The whippersnappers swept past, cursing me for spoiling their ski. Someone stopped and asked me if I needed help, which I did. He helped me click my shoulder back into place. The pain of the process was so intense that my knees buckled and I nearly fainted. He could see that I was in a bad way so he said he’d call one of the skiing paramedics to help me. This was before mobile phones, so he left me and went to see what he could find.
Moments after he left, one of these paramedics pulled up beside me. He checked me over and told me that he would go and collect a sort of toboggan stretcher to transport me to the clinic. Somehow, I remembered that I had elected not to pay for this aspect of the insurance so I knew it would be expensive. I told him that I would be OK; that I’d walk down the slope and call in at the clinic when I got down there. So he shrugged his shoulders in a very French manner, and took off.
Anyone who has been skiing would know that snow boots are designed be worn with skis; not used as hiking boots. So I had double discomfort; my skis and poles tenuously resting on my left (undislocated) shoulder, and my ski boots digging in to the back of my heels with every step. By the time I reached the clinic, my socks were blood red from the burst blister I had collected during the descent. The nurse was flabbergasted that I had made the descent on foot and proceeded to massage my shoulder. I knew there was something not quite right, and she confirmed that I hadn’t replaced the dislocation back into its socket adequately, so she gave it another schrunch and I yelled with a mix of pain and relief as it fell back into place.
This happened in 1972 and the shoulder continued to pop out at the most unexpected times. If I went to bed and fell asleep with my arms behind my head (which I used to do quite frequently), I would wake up with the shoulder dislocated and had to roll out of bed to be able to roll my arm and replace the dislocation.
The crunch came in 1979 in Sydney, just before our son was born . We had bought a stroller and I was loading it into the back seat of the car when it popped out again. I had to get this fixed. Someone recommended me to an osteopath in Bondi, and he had it fixed in no time: just with massage.