Thursday, 31 May 2012

Jubilee Time Capsule - The Experience of a Lifetime - 3rd April 1991

The following is a post that I submitted to the Jubilee Time Capsule.

On 3rd April 1991 I boarded a Canadian Pacific plane bound for Toronto. The events that I recorded in my journal for the next year were in the main about my travels, the people I met, places I visited. It is only as I sat to write this piece in Commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee did I realise that I had visited 4 Commonwealth Countries and lived for a year in another. I actually got married in another but that was later!

I have no idea what inspired me to want to travel. Whilst my ancestry is focused pretty much in the British Isles and then excudes into various domains of the old "Empire" I am British, well half British and half Italian, but was born and bought up in England, not too far from 300 years of my ancestral roots.
A soon as the concept occured to me I was completely absorbed by the plans and ideas. I worked like mad to pay for airfairs and living expenses. I sat in Trailfinders in London and selected my destinations, adding in some accommodation in some hotels, as in the early 1990s youth hostels were available, but not in one of my destinations.

My journey took me to Toronto, across to Honolulu then onto Fiji. My final destination was Australia. A year later, just before my visa expired I flew to Singapore and then headed down to a beautiful Malaysian Island called Tioman. I then travelled back to Singapore and then finally made the 10 hour flight to England.

The whole experience was remarkable. I met some wonderful, wonderful people. People that I corresponded with long after my return to this Country. Some I am still in touch with 20 years later. It was an experience that changed my life and made me into a determined individual not afraid to travel alone, and capable of making new friends and embracing new experiences.

My path of travel was England - Toronto - Honolulu - Fiji - Australia - Singapore - Malaysia - Singapre - England

Toronto was much like any modern First World City. Honolulu whilst not a member of the Commonwealth held a special place in my heart.

Fiji was beautiful. I stayed in a hotel because at the time there was no youth hostel. As I checked in, keen for some food and rest I was immediately a focus of attention. Where was I from? The moment I said England, the response was "ah the Mother land". It was a sentence that was repeated time and time again. Fiji was poor. A tour of the island, recommended to me by the Australian hotel manager was a complete eye opener. He simply wrote down details of a few buses and off I went.

The bus had no glass in the windows, but there was tarpauline to pull down if it was wet. The bell to stop the bus was a bicycle bell fixed to a series of rope. People and animals boarded the bus. A sat next to a Fijian lady and a goat called annabel and the man behind me had several chickens. We passed a rubber plantation, worked on by the Fijian population. The higer paid jobs were tended by those who were from India who had been migrated to Fiji to boost the population and increase the workforce.

The biggest adjustment was crossing the international date line. So I left Honolulu on a Tuesday and instead of arriving on Wednesday it was actually Thursday!

My flight to Sydney was an early morning one. I arranged for an early alarm call - 2am as I had to be at the airport for 4am and then the flight was at 5am. The alarm call never came, although I had set my own alarm. I had arranged that a light breakfast, some bread and butter and tea would await me in the resturant at 3am. As I went to leave the room I spotted a rather large lizard on the wall next to the door entrance and knew that I had to be brave - I hate those kinds of animals! - Arrival at the resturant revealed no breakfast. I found the porter and convinced him that a cup of tea would be great before I left for the airport. The tea eventually arrived and so did the transfer at 4.30am. By which point I was fraught with worry. I arrived at the airport and made driver wait incase I was refused access to the plane, but everyone in Fiji was on Fijian time! Time is there, but is not absolute. The check in staff looked at my ticket and passport and said for one last time, from the Motherland. I apologised for the late check in and the response was not to worry, your in Fiji!

Arrival at Sydney was remarkable. The descent was over the Opera House and Harbour Bridge and I felt that I had arrived. I made my way to customs and was waved through with a friendly nod from an official. I arrived at the carosel to see cardboard boxes and bags slowly moving around. That's traveling in Fiji style. I collected my bag and met my family in the arrivals lounge. 

My Mum's Cousin had migrated to Australia in 1946. He had been in the British Navy and on his way back to England the ship broke down. It was docked and fixed. He pointed to another ship and asked where it was going. Having been told Australia he boarded it and never came back to England. He met his wife in 1946 and they married and raised a family of 10 children. I was the first member of my family to meet him in more 45 years. The bond I developed with him,his wife and family was wonderful and that is a bond that continues to this day.

Over the next year, I embraced Australian life and met many many wonderful people, I stayed with people who were friends of family and even friends of friends of family. I visited some wonderful places and loved every minute of it. Of course from England, you have no concept of the distance between places. The airport to my families home in New South Wales was a 5 hour drive. The same distance as my home now in the West Country to the Scottish Borders. The Australian perspective is very very different. Over the years I have engaged in various discussions with Australian family about the Republic debate and I simply do not understand what the advantages are. In part Australian's believe what is the point of being connected to a Country so far away, but you can not change the path of history. I guess I am a traditionalist at heart.

A year later I boarded a plane to Singapore. I was so so sad to leave Australia. I remember walking up the steps at the regional airport to make my way to Sydney. The plane was full of business men taking the 7am flight to Sydney to do a days business. I remember thinking it was odd, but understood exactly why. 20 years later I boarded a plane at my local regional airport on the way to deliver a presentation at a conference in Scotland and remembered back to that day in Australia long ago.

I had arranged to meet a friend in Singapre for the last few weeks of my time on the road. We stayed a few days in Singapore at a wonderful hotel who served Singapore Slings in china vessel in the shape of the hotel. I still have my china vessel after all this time, it resides on the window ledge in the bathroom and on days when I am thinking back to my trip I look at the china and remember.

We then caught a local boat to the beautiful island of Tioman. We opted to stay in a traditional lodge. There was no running water, there was no toilet in the rooms. Showers were a precarious affair involving a shower head, a dubious tap and some water that was apparently warm. The toilet involved a bucket and a pan of water! The lodge itself held a bed and small table, that was it. The island did not take credit cards or have a cash machine or bank. We pooled our Singapore dollars together and converted it to Malaysian Dollars and immediately felt very rich because of the exchange rate.

Meals were taken at the various beachstyle cafe's and it was here that I developed the taste for tomato omlettes. The balcony at the lodge was a simple affair too. Just two wooden seats and banana's growing close by. You could reach out and pick them. I certainly never ate one, just in case! The island was beautiful and remains a real highlight of my journey. 

Having arrived back to England I had trouble adapting. I did eventually, and married in Kenya in 1994, to a wonderful man who listens to me rambling along about the most wonderful trip and something that undoubtly changed my life.

The photograph attached was taken in Tioman. It has to be one of my favourites out of a collection of several thousand that took whilst I was away. 


  1. That sounds like a wonderful trip. I think it would have been ok to eat the bannana because they are so tightly enclosed but better safe than sorry!

    1. Kristin, it was wonderful. I often think back to those happy carefree days & wonder what happened! A very similar trip, albeit, longer is planned for our early retirement, in around another 10 years! We live this life once is our moto!

  2. I grew up in South Africa, in Durban, known locally as the Last British Outpost! Now, my family mostly live in Australia, so we spend a lot of time 'down under'. Singapore is one of my favourite places to visit. Your post brings back many happy memories x.

    The Jubilee Time Capsule is a great idea!

    1. Thanks Lesley. When I wrote this post a few weeks ago I then spent several hours reading my journal & looking through some of those photos reliving those happy days.


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