The anatomy of an Independent Traveller

I remember it snowing when we left the house where we lived with my father, a snowy winters day in Stoke Newington, North London. A taxi waited outside, my brother and I sat in the back peering through steamed up windows like cats, making the journey to my grandma’s house where my mother felt she could find shelter. I wasn’t yet five and It was as if my heart was attached to an elastic band that stretched across town. My father wasn’t a bad man, I missed him.

A few months later I went to my first school, but was never really there in spirit, feeling like I was looking from a strange vantage point at the other children busying themselves, as if they were wildly hacking at some rock face and I had no clue what they were up to. It was soon after this that a buddy called Anthony and myself made our first escape into the big blue, or to Tottenham Marshes as we called it and to freedom.

We somehow evaded capture until the early evening when a police car found us playing hop skip and jump. I think I can recall myself in the back of that police car looking wistfully up at the planes on trail, but it’s a long time ago so that’s probably just fancy. Plus I didn’t discover the vehicle of my dreams until later.

My first time on an aeroplane was at the age of 8 when we went to France to visit my wayward Uncle Jack. This had a two fold effect on me in that I found something that would become a symbol of escape, flying, and in my Uncle Jack just the role model I wanted at that time. You see Jack was a wild man who lived in rural France, drank good red wine, loved too many women and was uncompromising in a world that seemed to be all about compromise – he was also an example to me of what infidelity and stubbornness can do to a man – but I can thank him for introducing me, for good or for bad, to a lot of the rock and roll in my life.

Back home friends and I would steal camping gear that we couldn’t afford from a local camping shop. We knew everything about lightweight stuff, stoves that would fit in a pocket, camping mats you could sleep on an iceberg with, tents that could hang from ceiling in and bags with pockets for the kitchen sink should you wish to take it. I was also looking out of the window a lot, the distant sound of aircraft against a cold window on my face is still a comfort.

So where are we! I’m up the point where I’m a teenager that hasn’t gone to school very much, who has been told by the doctor to give up whiskey and drugs or it’s ulcer time, who has little self esteem but who now has a mighty big imagination about the world outside of the walls he grew up in. So I left school and got a job and earned enough money to stumble around Europe for my first four month trip abroad…

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