I am so badly travelled, it’s not true, although I have my brother to keep up with, which makes my stay-at-homeness seem especially appalling. He’s travelled through South and North America, from China down through to Australia, and across Europe in a variety of ways. I think he’s going to sort out Africa and call it a day. I have been, by contrast, to Ireland twice, Germany once and that was 1973, France a bit more often, and once each to Holland, Denmark and the Czech Republic. I’ve been through Belgium. Crete I’ve been to twice, and Greece, once. And Majorca. And Norway twice (hey, this is looking up).
But if I add in my Easter holiday in 1965, and I rack up the numbers a bit. I don’t remember volunteering to go on a school cruise on a converted troopship, the Dunera. Perhaps 700 children were cooped up on this fortnight away, during which I was sea-sick from start to finish, except when I was lovesick for the first time (I was 12 and she was er, 10). We went by plane to Venice, so a posh start, from there to Itea, which is the port for Delphi, round to Naples for Pompeii, to Cagliari in Sardinia, and back by Gibraltar and then Vigo on the coast of Spain north of Portugal.
It started badly. My father (‘I was in Bombay in the hottest weather they have ever had’) insisted that I had a crew-cut. This was a bit tragic, because I had worked out in advance there would be girls on board, and in 1965, shaven heads were not popular. I had also saved up some money for a cheap bottle of Brilliantine. Now I had nothing to daub this sickly stuff on to, except some stubble. I was glad no-one carried a camera in those days. The memories are clear and appalling enough.I
I will be fair and say that the charioteer at Delphi (didn’t think much of the oracle) and the whole of Pompeii were amazing (we were only ever ashore for about seven hours). But as for the rest…
1. Venice. I had neglected to go for a pee before Venice, and I didn’t have the nerve to say Dove il gabinietto, which is what the phrase-book said. I have a terrible memory of wandering up and down the Campanile, and worse, round the Doge’s (Doges’?) Palace, desperate to empty my bladder. My cultural life has probably been wrecked for good by this experience.
2. Cagliari. The day we landed in Sardinia, where there were allegedly sights, a convicted paedophile and killer had gone on the run, and our 700 looked like a promising target. We were taken to a distant beach, where the sand had the consistency of grit, and where, just to rub that in, two wags buried me up to my neck in the said stuff.
3. Gibraltar. That was okay, but I’d run out of money, and stole some postcards from a stand. Consequently, my recollections of Gibraltar are of silent terror that the police would collar me. I never sent the postcards. Not only was it incompetent theft, it was pointless.
4. Vigo. Aha, the highlight of the trip…
But no, this will have to wait till tomorrow. It cannot be dredged up in my two remaining minutes.