Monday, 20 October 2008

Chapter 5 The Years BC (Before Charlie) Part 2 - Uni and After

Ellie drives Charlie (age 1) into Glastonbury 1984

Part 1 - Women have always proved to be my downfall....

And so it proved at University. Cast your mind back to the GUURLS of earlier in the Last Chapter. I really had a bit of a problem with these girls. You see, growing up in Oz, and going to boarding school, which I did until I was 16, is generally a very poor preparation for relating to women. Oh, we had the odd ‘mixed dances’ when busloads of the poor giggling creatures were shipped in to my school – St Joseph’s College -for our entertainment, but the zombie De La Salle Monks who ran this august establishment would hover just feet away all night, their black carrion cloaks threatening to vapourise any lad or lass who so much looked like they might be having fun. Alchohol was naturally forbidden, as was dancing in any ‘lewd or suggestive manner.’ These same monks had actually destroyed a Jimi Hendrix poster I’d bought on a rare trip into Sydney for ‘portraying immorality and lasciviousness’ or some such rubbish.

As a result of this conservative and sheltered upbringing, up until the point I started at University all my conversations with girls had been pretty stilted, and by that time it was too late. I spent all my time at Sussex putting them on ‘she couldn’t possibly fancy me’ pedestals, and imagining them all to be divine goddesses who wouldn’t, in any circumstances , want to go out on a date with a lowly worm like me. What I did really well was get them to talk about themselves – something they were usually only too keen to do – and encourage them to think of me as ‘a friend.’ Of course this is the kiss of death to any potential non-platonic relationship, but I liked to think I was manouvering myself ever so skilfully towards plucking up the courage to ask them out. In the course of this ill directed manouvering I discovered that nearly all of these divine creatures would holiday in some impossibly far off destination, usually paid for by their rich daddies, but cunningly disguised as ‘hiking’ or ‘roughing it’ type adventures in order to make their sojourns more glamorous and exciting. ‘Ya, went on the overland trail to Indja last year – only ate brown rice for nearly three weeks’, or ‘didn’t like that Dalai Lama chap, doncha know’, or ‘hiked round Orstalya in the vac, fabby’ were the general kind of stories I’d hear related. Of course, being young and impressionable - even at the ripe old age of 19 - I began to forment my own plans for travel but, wanting to do it in style and comfort, I was reminded of my parent’s friends and the beautiful vehicle they had oh so briefly parked up in our back yard when I was younger. Toad and his gang would have nothing on me I vowed, as I roved the world, Boldly Going Where No Man etc etc.

Part 2 - Work, Work, Work...

However, before getting down to the demands of a roving life, I had to get my degree; something which ended up relying on writing a dry as dust 10,000 word dissertation on ‘The Rise of the British Labour Movement Between the Wars’ and an essay which I got really, genuinely excited about, called ‘Freedom not Licence’ – an exposition of A S Neill and his school Summerhill, which at the time was in the vanguard of the ‘free school’ movement. This meant I reached a point midway through my second year when it became obvious that, in between hanging out at the Virgin shop, getting stoned on the Sussex Downs and listening to Pink Floyd late at night with the lights turned off (scary, man), I would actually have to do some work. So I moved home, enlisted the services of my mum and her trusty typewriter, and began to apply the kind of serious thought processes that the government was generously paying me for, via my grant cheque. My mum was heroic, but in the days of blue copy sheets and Tippex, my juvenile musings would often have to be altered or amended, and she stuck with me stoically and uncomplainingly until the process was complete.

I recently discovered two of these these magnum opi, the laboured results of having applied myself possibly for the first time in my life, tucked away in the back of a folder in a storage box in the loft. The folder was immediately identifiable as a 70’s artefact since it had been covered, in the fashion of the times, with paisley patterned fablon, as well as paisley style doodles obviously crafted during some of the less entertaining sections of the lectures I was obliged to attend at Sussex, but which I often found excuses for avoiding. On re-reading them, I was struck by the high level of intellectual argument, cogent reasoning, skilful exposition and youthful exuberance, not to mention large amounts of pomposity and dogmatism. I was a believer, oh yes, and woe betide anyone who disagreed with me! Fortunately the people who marked my efforts were broad minded enough, and accustomed enough to the ways of callow students, to forgive my rant inspired stylisms, and shock horror, gave me a 2.1 when I graduated. Community Politics On graduating I forgot about globetrotting, and became immersed in local community politics. The fascisti of Brighton Council were intending to close down the local community centre, so I threw myself into a round of campaigning, leafletting, and mini demos which would prepare me well for my looming career as a left wing apparatchick and anti-nuclear activist. This, plus helping out at the old people’s lunch club and socialising left me little time for fantasising about travel – there was important work to be done at home!

Part 3 - French Kisses

So it was, I found myself several years later having done nothing more earth shattering on the travel front than hiking round France and picking grapes for three back-breaking weeks. A friend from University had an uncle who had a farm where they needed some help with the Vendange, and armed only with a trusty female companion I took the ferry to France, and began the arduous and, given my complete inability to speak French, slightly ludicrous task of hiking to Bergerac (no kidding) in the Dordogne region of Southern France. Ah yes; by now I had a girlfriend. Granted she had done all the hard work when we got together – I was still my usual tongue tied self, she had to ask me for a date rather than vice versa, and of course it’s entirely usual for the girl to initaite the sexual agenda, but nonetheless, she was a girl and she was going out with me! Also, her French was brilliant, and between us we managed not only to hike south, but to make lots of friends and have some strange adventures on the way. Ahh.. France! One of these involved a French post van and weapons of mass destruction, and I don’t think you could make it up. We’d been offered a lift by a delivery driver whose cargo was possibly worth more than the annual turnover of Securicor, given the amount of weaponry he sported. In hushed tones he explained to us that he wasn’t really allowed to give lifts, and that if we were involved in an accident of any kind, it was likely to be part of a carefully planned hijack, and that we were to hide behind the seat in the cab whilst he awaited the arrival of the supporting SWAT team, police helicopter etc. Sure enough, after descending a particularly winding mountain road, our Gallic chauffer managed to lose concentration long enough to run into the car in front, and he was immediately out of the cab, waving his shotgun and shouting indecipherable French profanities. We hid for a while, and then in the confusion, crept away, vowing never to enlist the help of the French postal service again.

In another incident which I believe could only happen in France, we were given a lift by a lorry driver, who vowed to make sure that we’d get to our final destination for the day, despite the fact that he was only going half way. How could he make such a promise, we wondered, but was all was revealed when, as he was nearing his drop-off point, we began to career crazily after the lorry in front. The other driver, naturally seeing this as a challenge in time honoured bloke fashion increased speed, and so began a hair raising chase. It ended only when our driver, by repeatedly blowing his horn and flashing his lights, managed to get the other driver to pull over. The ensuing conversation went something like; ‘What’s that all about then?’ ‘These are my friends from England and you must take them to Rouen. I’m not going that far but I see that you are.’ ‘Oh OK then, hop in you two.’ The new driver could see, from our ashen features and staring eyes, that this experience had slightly traumatised us, and he repaired immediately to the French equivalent of a roadside caff, where he bought us a large meal and some fortifying coffee. Afterwards, he took us where we were going, even driving several kilometers out of his way to make sure we got to a campsite by nightfall. Such events restore faith in human nature.

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