The first time I travelled out of Australia, it was 1978 and I was twenty-two years old. I was off on my big adventure to Europe, armed with a copy of Arthur Frommer’s “Europe on Ten Dollars a Day”, a Eurailpass, a youth hostel card, and a five year working holiday visa that was good for the United Kingdom. (Don’t get too excited about that last point – Margaret Thatcher came to power shortly after, and I spent many an anxious hour at the Home Office re-negotiating our agreement).
I flew Singapore Airlines on their version of the Kangaroo Route, with a stop-over in Singapore and re-fuelling stops in Bombay (Mumbai) and Dubai. Dubai for me, back then, was an immense air traffic control tower looming out of the desert late at night. We alighted from the aircraft down a front staircase, and were met at the bottom by a military contingent bearing rifles. Apparently this was standard airport security for the time. The women passengers were hived off to a separate area and frisked by females dressed in military garb – afterwards I saw those same women resting on newspaper underneath the hand basins in the ladies toilet. I had to stretch across them to wash my hands, trying my best not to disturb them.
This time, we are changing planes in Abu Dhabi, and along with that, I expect to change my memories from those long years ago. As far as I understand, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are now modern cities famed for their high-rise buildings and stylish hotels. Added to this, I know from my business dealings just how courteous and cultured the people from this area of the world can be. I have high hopes for this experience, even though we will not have the chance to stop-over until our return leg.
Back then, in 1978, I had a clever friend who shopped with me before my trip. I left with a great mix and match wardrobe, thanks to her advice. As well, a few months before I left I went to the cinema with my then boyfriend who was a Bruce Lee fan. Apart from spectacular Kung Fu feats (visualise yawning at this point), I noticed that the main starlet was wearing a cute outfit of matching short-sleeved jacket and box-pleated skirt. I so admired the look, I rushed straight out and bought some material and asked a dressmaker to copy the pattern. (I have no idea what possessed me to think that a chubby western woman could pull off the look of a dainty Asian beauty). I folded the outfit into my carry-on bag, and a few hours before landing in London, I monopolised the lavatory while I changed and did my make-up. If memory serves, it was twenty-one hours flying time from Singapore, so I was well and truly ready for a freshen up!
I had been living in Adelaide, and it was autumn when I left. The temperature had dropped to 17’c (62 Fahrenheit), and we were running electric single bar heaters under our work-desks to keep warm.
“This is freezing!” I exclaimed. “I am heading north for the summer. You can have this cold weather to yourselves!”
It was 13’c (55 Fahrenheit) when I landed in London. English friends met me at the airport. They were beaming about what a beautiful day the weather had turned on.
“It has been so cold and wet! But what a glorious day it is today!”
My teeth chattered together as we skirted London and I noticed with amazement that people were lying in the parks in skimpy outfits, taking in the sun.
Four years later, I was acclimatised to the English spring. If it reached 13’c, I put on my bikini and lay balanced on the railing of my Juliette balcony, so desperate to soak up the sun that I would risk falling two floors to the footpath below
Ahhhhh – memories of the good old days ……….
It is packing that has put me in mind of those times. Whenever I was on the move, I tried to follow the rule: one on, one in the wash, and one in the bag. I washed my clothes by stomping on them in the shower, and ironed them by laying them out flat under whichever mattress I was sleeping on that night.
Now I am trying to re-capture that ideal. We plan to be travelling around independently, using public transport much of the time, and I will be responsible for getting my own bag on and off trains and buses. My back was no good in 1978, and thirty-five years has does nothing to improve it. I thought I was doing fine with the minimal packing plan until I just heard from Italy – cold and rainy! Drat! At least I will get the chance to flash off my red rain jacket and red umbrella. Any excuse!
According to the scales I have at home, I have managed to limit myself to 14kg (about 30 pounds), including the weight of the bag and presents inside.
It will be interesting to see what the airline calculates tomorrow.
That’s right all – only one more sleep to go ……………
Garrulous Gwendoline, signing off from Wollongong, May 27th 2013