Intrepid Optimist is the place where I can share my stories; fact, fiction and thoughts from the past and present. It’s Written by myself for people who believe adventure knows no age
As a young lad I could not read enough stories of adventure and travel. I was determined to become a travel writer. My favourite books were the thrilling accounts of Jack London and W. E. Johns’s adventure yarns about that ace flier, Biggles – “Well, here we go – “chocks away!” Later came Stevenson’s, Robinson Crusoe, H.M.Stanley’s, In Darkest Africa and Edgar Wallace’a, Sanders of the River. Apart from Biggles (1935) these books and the majority of children’s reading in the 1950s had been published during the reign of Queen Victoria and of Edward V11, when there was still an Empire.
The summary treatment of the natives described in some of those books, both fact and in fiction, makes painful reading nowadays. “I shall have to do something with (King) Peter,” wrote Sanders despairingly to the Administrator; “the little beggar has gone on the war-path against those unfortunate Ochori. I should be glad if you would send me a hundred men, a Maxim, and a bundle of rattan canes; I’m afraid I must attend to Peter’s education myself.” Early post WW11 schooling still taught us of the hard but firm values required to oversee our far-flung colonies.
Well before I finished school I had made up my mind to be a journalist, get myself a pith helmet and travel. Making a mistaken effort to get started I joined the army; being quite disappointed on my arrival in the Canal Zone in 1954 to learn pith helmets were no longer army issue. Fortunately, while sweltering under a “pitiless” desert sun I became familiar with two of George Orwell’s books, Down and Out in Paris and London, and Homage to Catalonia. It was with thanks to my friend Mike Connelly, the sole Grammar school, educated man in the 2nd.Bbattalion Parachute regiment for the loan of those travel books.
Captivated by Orwell’s narrative, I was more determined than ever to become a travel writer. Motivated, I returned home and left the army. As a book, Orwell’s getting-up-to’s in Paris and London make compelling reading but after three years roughing it in the military, I was not keen about getting my material by doing the down-and-out thing. Franco’s 60s Spain appealed to me more, so off I went and came back inspired. It is mazing how much material can be picked up on a seven day, package tour to Loret del Mar.
So far so good. I had travelled and experienced and I could manage without a pith helmet. All there was to do now was to write about it. Paris was my next top and I still had to put pen to paper. I read everything Hemingway had written and, clandestinely in those days, Anaïs Nin’s, Delta of Venus and Henry Miller’s, Tropic of Cancer, which are not in the true sense, travel literature but more about culture differences with heavy emphasis on sex. To write in the same genre I absorbed the Parisian atmosphere. I tossed back the Calvados and the Pernod and scoffed the frog’s legs but it seemed, for a petit bourgeois Englishman, getting my leg-over was out of the question, as was my attempt at erotic literature.
In 1941 Anaïs Nin wrote that, “The telephone was unpaid. The net of economic difficulties was closing in on me – I did thirty pages of erotica.” Nin did alright for herself but I was not even shortlisted for the annual Bad Sex award. France could hold me no longer. Refusing to capitulate, and further motivated by John Le Carré’s brilliant spy story, A Small Town in Germany, in 1968 I ventured into that then unhappy country, Deutschland at the end of the sixties was too droll for me. How right their illustrious Goethe was when he wrote, “Nothing is more significant of men’s character than what they find laughable.”
Eighteen months later, having soaked up their beer, scoffed their sausages and with experiences enough for two books (in my head) it was time to move on. With all my worldly possessions in the boot, I pointed my car in a southerly direction and crossed the Alps into Italy in search of warmer climes and hotter material.
(to be continued)
BRT, up-dated 21.07.2017
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