Category: Travels


Postcards No.7: at the crossroads on the Costa Brava

lloret-de-mar

An uncrowded beach, family-run inns and guesthouses, fishing boats and genuine local cuisine: a place familiar to millions but unrecognisable in this postcard scene from the 1950s.

There were none of  the earlier mentioned struggles of recollection when I turned to the next two postcards in my time-worn pile.

So much to remember here. So many highs. Such a crush of never-to-be-forgotten places, people, events and incidents enjoyed in a couple of weeks.

And memorable on a different level for being a time of decision-making; truly the crossroads on my journey through life.

One cannot help but wonder, and doubt, if the boozed-up thousands who nowadays

Lloret de Mar 2

Truly unspoilt: Lloret de Mar in the day before the tourist hordes.

throng the high-rises, restaurants, bars, discos and clubs of this grossly overdeveloped strip of once idyllic Catalan shore derive even a smidgen of the happy and abiding memories that have been mine for more than fifty years.

These were fifteen days of wonderment, unabated pleasure and a simmering of youthful romance.

It was where I learnt how to make a salad dressing – something in those austere days unknown and almost unheard of unless it oozed as a thick cream from a Heinz bottle.

This was thanks to another lone, but more worldly, traveller living in our small guesthouse only a few steps back from the beach. He called for vinegar, olive oil (surely to be used only for medicinal purposes), a shallow dish and condiments.

I watched fascinated as he melded them into an unctuous concoction, part of which he spooned over our salads and the remainder he invited me to use as a dip for chunks of newly-baked bread.

It was my initiation into a world of food I never knew existed and which has given me lasting pleasure ever since.

The culinary wonderment continued. As the message on one postcard naively notes, “I had a meal the like of which you’ve never seen, consisting of prawns, shrimps, mussels and squid in a rice dish plus chicken. Paella it is called.”

I also commented, “The way these people eat is unbelievable.”  A comment probably resulting from a visit I made to the legendary Los Caracolas (Snails), already then more than a century-old and still today the haunt of the world’s movers and groovers.

Somehow its status among the rich and famous passed me by; I was simply in awe of the setting, the atmosphere  – and the food. This was fine dining in extremis, but done with not a single hint of snobbery or elitism. How could there be when little ol’  twenty-something me from the back-blocks had not only passed through its doors but also could pay the bill.

These explorations into the culinary world were not the only steps into unknown territory. There was my first attendance at a bullfight  (okay, each to his own) and being enraptured by the whole extravaganza.  Call it my Hemingway period.  “Will go again,” said my postcard home.

Diane and Me, Lloret De Mar 1950s

Catalan cellar nights: with Diane [get that jacket and tie!!]

Then there were the night-time excursions into the cellar bars for copious wine and Catalan folk music. This was usually in the company of locals of my own age as I broadened my knowledge of the language that I had already been trying to learn back in England.

Again there was a wide-eyed comment on the postcard: “Just got in at 3.30 am – early by their standards.”  And again, “I’ve seen the fishing fleet return three times now at way past 3 am.”

Back then the local boats would pull up on the beach and unload a haul of anchovies. Today?

Nearly always throughout this Spanish interlude I was accompanied by Diane, a delightful young woman I had met back in Worthing. She worked in her family’s travel agency which was right at the forefront of  what became a massive explosion in packaged holidays.

Already they had built their own villa in the hills above Lloret as a base from which to run holidays to a handful of guesthouses in the area.  It took little persuasion to get me to book one of their Lloret de Mar packages, especially as Diane would be there to escort and guide me.

Coincidentally, not only had I been learning Spanish but also contemplating changing careers to become a tour host, preferably based in Spain.  The money was good, the commission a bonus and there was a long break in the off-season when I could teach English in Spain.

The two weeks in Lloret took me closer to making the change, especially when the involvement with Diane deepened (siestas at the hillside villa, Sunday family lunches at her home back in Worthing,  the hint of a job with the firm … and more, suggested Diane).

It was touch and go.

Then family intervened. Let’s just say mum and dad were not best pleased to have me decamp to live among a lot of foreigners, drifting around Spain, an uncertain income and, above all, that big no-no of “no security.”

Back then parental control and influence were far stronger. Not like these free-wheeling times when even pre-teens seem able to dictate terms.

So I relented and, as is often said, the rest is history.

But I can’t help wondering down what paths I would have wandered if I had followed my passion.  And what did become of Diane?

One thing is certain; I would be making a big detour around what the once alluring Lloret has since become.

Saddling up: postcards No.5

 

Great riding country: Sheepscombe, near Painswick.

As the saga of the postcards continues I have at last struck some sort of common thread.

And it’s all about horses. Not all that deep and meaningful but at least it is a consistent theme extending over several of these messages of long ago.

For once during my trawl through these newly discovered mementoes, I have little difficulty in recalling time and place which, in itself, is a great relief.

The first card depicts a white horse looking out over its stable door. “Man’s friend” is how I captioned it on the reverse.

The accompanying message is equally succinct: “Have arrived. This is great. There are 15 of us and it’s an all-male week.”

No hint was given as to whether I thought the all-boys-together situation was good or bad. Maybe on this occasion I preferred the absence of distractions for we were lodged at “the only place of its kind in England” – the home and riding centre established by the legendary Pat Smythe, Britain’s golden girl of the 1952 Olympics.

A week of mucking-out, tuition and riding beckoned.

The location was a dot on  the map labelled as Camp, set in the midst of the Gloucestershire countryside.

As I recorded on a second postcard, also bearing a horse’s head on the front, it was seven days of “plenty of good food, excellent company and fine weather.”

The highlight was doing duty as stable lad at  a day of polo matches, walking the mounts to and fro, cooling them down, giving them feed, making sure they were fully ready to go again and generally being fully immersed in the whole horsey business.

I loved it. And it is one memory that has remained bright and clear down the years. An idyllic time. Rural England at its very best. Something to be treasured, although I fear it is becoming less and less understood, appreciated and valued by succeeding generations.

Postcard home: a good companion

Those seven days at Camp, Painsnwick, Pitchombe, Sheepscombe and other nearby villages set in train a love of horses and riding that remains to this day, although time in the saddle has become almost non-existent.

Throughout my travels I have ridden whenever the opportunity was offered – on an Israeli beach, in the Canadian Rockies, across the Hungarian plains, to the summit of an active volcano and on Lipizzaners at their home in the former Yugoslavia.

Like so many young girls, my daughter caught the bug. School holidays were spent immersed in the whole horsey thing, lodged at a riding centre in the Macedon Ranges.

So we acquired horses of our own: loveable former pacer Brandy, the lively Donna and thorougbred Gypsy. And I had to lug a horse float hither and thither – a cumbersoome and scary task I never truly mastered – as proved by the time the car and float parted company on a sharp uphill bend in a long line of Sunday traffic.

Twice during my double life as a travel agent I devised and acted as leader for an eight-week world horse-riding tour.

The itinerary  included (inevitably) the Spanish Riding school, tuition under a master of the horse on the Esterhazy estate, pony trekking in the Brecon Beacons, lessons at the Fulmer Riding School, tuition and daylong gallops at the Lipica stud plus show-jumping at Aachen, Hickstead and the Dublin Horse Show.

Trying  to control and corral sixteen young Aussie women on what for most was their first  overseas trip added a memorable dimension over which a veil has long been discretly drawn.

So many memories from a clutch of postcards.

**To be continued….

 

Weekends in Beirut – Postcard memories No.4

On the tarmac at Beirut International Airport: a Comet 4C of MEA

So, moving right along …
The next postcard to take my eye among my recently discovered trove of long-lost messages home was another bog standard picture of an aircraft. This one is dressed in the livery of MEA, or Middle East Airlines, the national carrier of Lebanon.
It is a Comet 4C, the workhorse of many airlines back when mass tourism and package holidays were beginning to hit their post-war stride.
In the message on the back I briefly inform my sister that it is being posted during a 45-minute stopover en route to Beirut and that I have enjoyed “superb weather and the smoothest of flights”.
I add, jokingly I can attest, that I had a bullet-proof vest in my baggage “ready for Jordan” which, on this occasion, was my final destination.
However, it was not that somewhat adventurous trip that I was first reminded of on finding this postcard.
At that time, plentiful overseas travel was one of the perks of my job as a reporter and feature writer on Travel Trade Gazette, a publication that owners and staff alike proudly proclaimed as the world’s first weekly publication for the travel industry.
We reported on the politics, finances, management and products of this rapidly expanding industry business. Not merely from a UK aspect, but globally.
The world was ours to investigate and explore, not from the view of the holidaymaker but from that of those who created the products.
New hotels had to be inspected, resorts checked out, marketing plans examined, each new air route flown. There were tourism chiefs to be interviewed and international conferences to be attended and reported on. The world, as the saying goes, was our oyster.
And a very tasty mollusc it proved to be for a bunch of young journalists, most of them yet to see their thirtieth birthday.
An occasional weekend in Beirut was thus routine. It began with the trip out to London Airport (this was in pre-Heathrow days) where our hosts saw us into our first-class seats for the MEA dinner flight to Beirut.
Check-in to the luxurious waterfront Hotel Phoenicia Friday was followed by an exploration of a city that had no trouble justifying its tag of “the Paris of the Middle East”. It was a golden sparkling vibrant city where few could have imagined the carnage and devastation that was to come.
After breakfast, cars whizzed us off through the famed cedars of Lebanon and into the awesome Beka’a Valley.
A dominant feature of this vast plain is by the Temple of Jupiter, (pictured right), one of the wonders of the ancient world that, down the centuries has been frequently vandalised, usually in the name of religion until only its six towering columns remain amid the city’s expansive ruins.
Such unfathomable destruction as has been wreaked on Baalbeck and its spread of ancient building and monuments continues to sadden as my postcard stirs memories of starlit nights attending performances amid the temple’s towering columns.
Sunday – after a luxurious and bibulous Saturday night dinner – was usually a day of much-needed rest and recreation; exploring the souks and alleys of Beirut, sampling the Phoenicia’s pampering, or water-skiing and swimming in the Mediterranean off the hotel’s deck.
It was all good preparation for a flight that departed in Monday’s wee small hours and got me back in London in time to stumble into the office and start another day’s work.
A tough life but, as the saying goes, someone had to do it. And as I gaze at this old postcard I’m thankful it had to be me.
It was a world and experience never to be recaptured.

A Paris interlude: Postcard memories No.3

Concorde: up, up and away.

If there is any validity in the saying that “every picture is worth a thousand words” then my hoard of old postcards could generate sufficient information to create an entire book.

Whether of fact or fiction is open to debate. As reported in previous posts on this topic, two attempts to match the facts recorded on the postcards with my memory of those distant times have ended in failure.

No matter how much I try, I cannot recollect any visit to the Channel Isle of Jersey nor any periods of residence at the address to which several cards were sent.

Better results are being achieved as I peruse many of the others and try to sort them into a vague sequential order. Memories are being stirred, names recalled, places and incidents remembered.

However, as most of the cards are undated and the postmarks are often blurred or lacking details of time and place, they still provide only a random retelling of my life before the internet, mobile phones and messaging.

Among those that ripped the memory bank wide open was the one (pictured above) depicting that marvellous flying machine, ill-fated the Concorde.

This was mailed as I was about to depart from Paris, a place I used the postcard to describe as “this strike-bound city”.

I had arrived there a few days earlier from Australia at the end of what I wrote of as being “the longest supersonic flight yet made”.

To join this one-off experience, I had first flown from Melbourne to Manila, the capital of the Philippines. The Concorde had arrived there bringing European  delegates of an International Monetary Fund conference, or some such gabfest.

Myself and three other Aussie journalists – Frank Gallego, Jack Butters and Charles Sriber – had been invited to join the return flight to Paris.

It was literally an out of this world experience; one of the few that remains bright in the memory.  That soaring take-off, the feeling of the huge surge of power, the weird sense of being confined with only a hundred others in this pencil-thin projectile (only two seats either side of the narrow aisle) hurtling so smoothly way up through the clouds and into the almost translucent rarefied atmosphere beyond.

We were space travellers, peering down on the curvature of the globe far below – a view unlike any experienced in normal flight.

Paris was reached in three relaxing leaps each lasting about three hours; a nine-hour journey to replace the horrendous twenty-four hours or so those of us living Down Under usually endured for visits to Europe. It was made even more pleasurable and memorable by the Michelin-level food and wine that help distract more nervous passengers from the bulkhead gauge showing our progress from subsonic through transonic to supersonic, from Mach 1 and on to Mach 2.

There are, however, other memories awakened by this postcard that go unmentioned in the few words it contains.

This brief visit – a mere three nights in Paris before a tortuous 36-hour journey home – I seized upon to arrange a secret assignation with a “friend” then living in London.

It was soon agreed: we  would meet in Paris.  She could get a couple of days off work – with OPEC, if I remember correctly –  and I had no rigid program to adhere to. My travel companions would be diverted with their own sightseeing.

The best laid plans ….

It was on the morning of the second day that we scurried hand in hand along the Metro platform to board the train. We dashed  through the closing doors of the nearest carriage and plonked down into a couple of seats.

Giggling and breathless we raised our gaze and looked around.  Facing us across the aisle, sagely nodding and with knowing grins, were my three journo colleagues, each of whom was a friend of my companion in collusion.

So much for secret trysts and assignations.

I wonder what memories these other postcards will stir ….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postcard memories and puzzles – No.2

Souvenir of a visit that is beyond recall.

Yesterday’s gone.  But it lingers on, the details not forgotten unless it was one of those total wipe-out booze-laden occasions. Same for last week, the month that has passed and, hopefully, the highlights at least, of the year before this one.

All are within recall in varying degrees of detail unless one sadly suffers, like far too many appear to do, from some debilitating condition.

Going further back down the tracks of life, however, requires more mental effort. Additional reminders and prompts are needed, like a fading actor who has lost the facility for memorising the lines.

Usually, given the right clues and feeds, something is eventually  stirred. A name, a place, a snippet of music, even a catchphrase can niggle away until the past is brought back to the here and now.

The story thus raised from the dead may have been embroidered over the years; there may be distortions to what was said and perhaps subtle shifts made in the precise time and place. The occasion can be relived, hopefully with pleasure although there is no guarding against unwanted sadness or regret.

But what happens when no amount of nudges, hints, reminders and even solid facts fail to winkle out anything other than a total blank?

Is this what is meant by losing one’s mind? Is this an early warning sign of something more serious?

This is the dilemma – one among many – that this sudden discovery of a hoard of old postcards has created.

Found among them is a handful sent to me by family members at two addresses where I was apparently residing in the city where I worked,  but which was some miles from the town where I normally lived with my parents and younger sister.

No matter how hard I try, I have no recollection of ever living at either address or, indeed, in that city even though it does happen to be  where I have lived for the past eight years.

Today I took a walk. I power-walked up the hilly streets where it seems I once lived. Streets up which I have frequently run many times in recent years. And, as on those occasions, not a tweak of memory occurred.

Similarly, in recent years I have visited streets in towns throughout England where I previously lived way back when. On these excursions,  memories were always revived of having trod those same routes in the distant past. Forgotten people and events were often vividly resurrected.

But not this time. These streets are familiar from the present but have no connections to my past. There is a blank … and this is somewhat disturbing. Best to move on.

So I turned to another of my postcards from long ago; four scenes of Jersey in the Channel Islands, a place I have frequently toyed with visiting.

But it seems I’ve already been, and no matter how hard I try it is an experience I cannot recall.

This card, from 1962, informs my family I am “having three days here for a conference.”  Really! Discussing what?

Apparently I endured  “a bumpy flight and two hours late.”

Once there, I decided “this place is just like Bognor but the drinks are cheaper“. However, there was a downside as there were “horrible flat-capped English holidaymakers everywhere.”

So, that’s Jersey for you as it once appeared to one who still believes he has never been there.

I wonder how many more blank pages of my mind I am to discover.

** Memories from the postcard trove to be continued …