Prologue

It was women who led me to travel.

In 1982, it started on a Eurail trip with Motorcycle Cate and the young boys on discounted trains. With M.C. at the helm, like a modern day Boadicea driving her innocent charges on towards Rome, we thundered through Paris, Geneva, Milan, then sliced through Germany before Amsterdam and back.

An accelerated Gilded Age Grand Tour.

In 1982, there was the Eurail trip with Motorcycle Claire and the young boys on discounted trains. We swept through Paris, Geneva, Milan, then sliced through Germany before Amsterdam and back. A kind of Gilded Age Grand Tour.

But it was Sophie I fell for, with her bolt straight hair, ink black and framing an angelic home counties face dotted with the adolescent remains of light brown freckles under deep brown eyes. Well the following summer, she smashed wine-ready grapes on a kibbutz then set off solo through the West Bank to Jordan and beyond.

Going further afield was a thing, no matter what the news reported.

But the following summer, Carol Tomashevsky smashed wine-ready grapes on a kibbutz and then set off through the West Bank to Jordan and beyond. Going further afield was a thing, no matter what the news reported.

But it was Peggy Tomashevsky who left the deepest impression. We had both graduated from the same college, class of ‘84, but when I went off to look for jobs, she went off to Asia. I met her next, some 14 months later, when she showed me photos of India, South East Asia and the Far East, and it was then that my world opened up. Not only could you travel but you could do it without working…

That was the point. The travel WAS the work.

And when I met Sabena, she showed me photos of 14 months around Asia, and the world opened up. Not only could you travel but you could do it without working… That was the point. The travel WAS the work.

Everyone else was telling me, No!

Yes, of course I’d listened to the hippie’s trail, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, the Magic Bus, but places were cut off now; whilst China had normalized relations with the US in the late 70s, the Iranian Revolution cut off the overland route to Asia and the USSR was, well, still the USSR.


Look I admit that I had been sheltered from the world around me, myself like Peggy, being from mixed culture parents reluctant to mix with the neighbours. The differences first dawned on me some 10 years prior, in my first year of secondary school.

That moment came one night, when my mum picked up the phone but instead, the call was for me.

The following morning my new friend, in the playground, blurted out, “Your mum? She’s foreign, ain’t she?” and I replied, “How did you know?” like I was hiding it, but no, it was because I thought she spoke perfect English.

I told him she was serving dinner when he called, though eight thirty was later than usual. Well, they were always done with tea by six, he sneered, so what was she cooking? Now I thought everyone ate rice at home, but no, everyone ate potatoes. No one eats rice at home! his friend pointed out.

Out of school and well into the 80s, life became a little more cosmopolitan, and a whole lot more foreign.

Payday Thursdays in Southhall, and fully absorbed into the workforce with friends who originated from Goa and Malaysia, we would spill out of the local after the closing bell, and wrap up the night with chicken vindaloo and a pint of Carlsberg from the tandoori house across the road.

Weekends were spent clubbing in town at the Hippodrome, jumping to White Linesor Frankie Goes to Hollywood with immigrants from Berlin and some new arrivals from (then) Yugoslavia.

Six months later, I was sharing a place in Hendon with a Bangladeshi student. And even though his parents showed up unannounced from Nairobi, and moved in permanently, I stuck it out for another six months on a diet of his mum’s fish curry and, yes, rice.

So everyone was coming here. Why would I want to go there? Everyone said. It’s for later, but this logic would make its return again and again.


Peggy flicked through her photos, while I asked about the people she had met. What was her route? Did she do a gold run? Why was the sky always overcast? It was the humidity.

It took me two years, but I quit my job and my boss, some forty years my senior, pinned me, literally, against the wall and yelled, “Why do you want to go to Asia?”

“But I’ve had all my shots!” I stammered.

Another one, telling me, No!

I felt valuable for the first time.

Angela C, the head of HR, pulled me into her office and sat me down. She described how she had once turned down a trip to Southeast Asia. “Send me a postcard from Bali,” she said.

I could not tell her that I did not know where Bali was.

The deal was I would spend the next three months in Paris transitioning the project to a colleague and then I would leave as I had requested.

That night I dreamt that a bird, black like a cormorant flew across my path. It opened its dark wings wide, gliding close to the water before it settled on the lake’s smooth mirrored surface, and dived down out of sight.

Remember this, if you remember nothing else: the world can only be your oyster if you take the plunge.

As for Paris?

It was already 1987, October and freezing, and I had saved enough money for my travels, but armed with a station-side croissant and an espresso, I was still taking the RER from Montparnasse to a town on the outskirts, the Ceinture Rouge.

The office had placed flag pins on the desks of their visitors and because they didn’t have an Armenian flag to reflect my own roots, they’d given me the hammer and sickle. Visitors had to wear their flag to get the complimentary lunch and so mine caught curious looks in the cafeteria queue.

The office handed out flag pins to their visitors so that we could get a complimentary lunch, as well as it being a simple way of welcoming; but because they didn’t have an Armenian flag to reflect my own roots, they gave me the hammer and sickle. I had a laugh about that but the symbol of the Soviets caught curious looks in the cafeteria queue.

One Monday there was new visitor in the line. Mary Gould. She was older, a yellow-haired blonde; and she was sporting a white dress splashed with large red circles, bubbles which rose up and clashed with a mustard-coloured shoulder-padded jacket. She was loud and a contrast to the muted couture of the French women.

Mary spoke at me with an assertive Southern drawl courtesy of Birmingham, Alabama.

“But after college,” she laughed, “I escaped to Frankfurt Munich, where I got married and bore a child who, and he’s only nine, wears his hair like Billy Idol!”

She too was just visiting and she thought my flag was hilarious, so we became instant friends.

But my replacement, another American newly landed from Boston, called me a Goddamn Pinko Commie, and he meant it.

Well, I just thought he was a tosser.

They were THOSE kind of times.

وا حد. First Sight
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