Returning home after a journey like this one, more than a year, in strange places, is like moving house without moving out of one.
Entering through the front door is like moving in for the first time, except it's not empty, it's full of stuff.
And you don't know what a lot of it is for, nor remember where any of it is.
So it feels like utter confusion. But it isn't, because everything is where you left it.
So it takes a while to recover from the deep sense of confusion, particularly as really, there's no confusion at all.
Does that make sense?
So, to keep the tone of this blog positive, I'll report that the recovery is slow but steady.
But not helped by a few incidents on what was, really, an impeccably smooth flight and journey home.
Back to Cape Town, and getting the bike and myself loaded onto airplanes.
It turned out that it will go as cargo on B.A, not on a dedicated freight flight but on a scheduled passenger service. The same daily service that I travelled on, but a few days later.
But here's the rub - almost without asking, the freight people offered to book H.M. The Bike all the way through to Gatwick! Yet all I could get for myself was a flight to Heathrow. I know there should be respect for royalty but that's ridiculous.
Heathrow's a quarter of the M25 away from Whyteleafe, it might as well be halfway to Cairo.
And what's more, H.M. gets carried on board by proper motorised conveyance. I have to walk on, along endless corridors and air jetties.
I'd booked a seat right at the back of the plane, hoping for four seats to myself but only managing three. On the way there a passenger in the aisle was hoisting bags into the locker and apologised for blocking the way.
"No problem," I said, thinking I've just criss-crossed Africa - someone in the aisle is absolutely no issue at all.
"I've walked a long way already, it seems I'll be walking all the way to London! Are we nearly there?"
I just hope those wonderful B.A. crew people remember their training and give H.M. The Bike the proper welcome aboard on his flight.
And I hope all the passengers on that flight know that they have royalty on board. Right there in First Class, underneath their feet in the hold.
Anyway, with all passengers in sardine mode, seated and strapped, my plane was pushed clear of the gate and there was the usual flickering of lights as the engine-start commenced. But the lights went off completely. The whole lot except one or two emergency candles by the exits. It was lucky the doors were closed or they would have been blown out - Cape Town is a windy place!
Then the lights were back on again, then off, and the air flow as well.
It settled down to most lights and all the TV screens off, and a half-hearted air flow, and the Captain's voice. ".......you will have noticed the lights acting strangely there. We have a minor but significant problem with the auxilliary power supply at the rear of the aircraft. It supplies power to start the engines, and we can't at the moment. We'll return to the gate where I'm informed it'll be fixed very quickly."
What's going on here? Yesterday my bike wouldn't start, now the plane won't start. I can feel the hand of destiny here.
True to the Captain's word it was fixed promptly, after a few minutes with no light at all in the cabin, nor air, the temperature rising quite sharply, followed by the announcement that all was well and we'd set sail for Heathrow in a minute or two.
Maybe someone used the kickstarter, because the engines started this time and we were away.
It's all very well this type of travelling, but what does it mean after such a journey over-land?
Riding around new and strange places on two wheels, it's been said many times that you're in the scenery rather than viewing it. You feel the changes in temperature, the heat coming off of rocks and terrain beside the road, the strength and direction of the wind and its changing temperature as you climb or descend. You can stop where you like to chat to the giraffes or elephants.
In places like Ethiopia the children can run right up to you, hands out, as you pass by. I think it was in Tanzania that I scored a couple of 'high fives' as children had their arms extended right out towards me, with shrieks of delight as contact was made. Can't do that up here encased in this aluminium cigar-tube despite flying back over most of the continent. The windows don't open - I tried.
But you can still look out of them. So I'm thinking - I've ridden over this piece of land, seen and felt it close up. So does flying over it all in a few hours mean missing a huge opportunity to see and experience more of it? Or is it, living in the modern age, a huge opportunity to return quickly, regroup, and think of some other great land to cross in intimate contact with the ground (or at least, with tyres in intimate contact with the ground, I trust)?
I was interrupted in those thoughts by the urgent need to speak to the flight attendant as we departed the great continent and closed in on the south of France. On the little TV screen on the back of the seat in front I had checked our progress on the moving map, to make sure we weren't headed to Vladivostok. What I saw made me even more worried.
"Hope you don't mind me asking, but I've been away from home for over a year so I'm a bit out of touch."
"Have they moved Stansted Airport? It's shown on the little map as being where Maidstone used to be. They haven't moved Gatwick as well, have they?"
"Let me have a look," replied the attendant. "Well, I never noticed that before. It's probably a software glitch."
"I have my little GPS in the locker above if the pilot needs it," I offered.
But there it was, Stansted where Maidstone once was.
It seems on this sort of odyssey old memories are easily triggered, maybe that's why people undertake them, and I had the thought, which I didn't feel wise to share with the attendant, "Well, I hope Stansted's radars are working OK."
Back in 1970 or thereabouts I found myself at Stansted Airport, planning the installation of special cables across the airfield to carry signals from new radar scanners to the control hut next to the passenger terminal. The airport was an enormous field with a Portacabin for the passenger terminal and a large garden shed for the control tower. You could probably get a cup of tea there, but not much else. The village of Stansted Mountfitchet at that time was awash with banners and placards declaring, "No Third London Airport Here."
Alas, new scheduled flights were about to start using the airfield, carrying more passengers than before, requiring the provision of radar services. The rest, as they say, is history.
On visiting Stansted now, where you have to take a shuttle train from passport control to reach the boarding gates, I can't begin to visualise where on the earth that portacabin and garden shed were located forty years ago.
Air travel - what's it all for?
Moving on, my first task on reaching home was to nip down to Eastbourne to visit my son and his partner and my grandson. Yes, they grow and progress a lot in thirteen months (grandsons, that is).
My car was also stored down there in my son's garage, so I took a few things with me that I thought would be useful in starting it after it had sat idle for over a year. Not much mind you - most of my tools and other belongings are with H.M. The Bike awaiting their flight back to London.
Well, with jump leads connected, the car started straightaway.
But it was a bit reluctant to move, as though the brakes were stuck on. But we had left the handbrake off.
It freed up OK, then there was the nasty grounding noise as something under the car contacted the tiny concrete ridge at the garage entrance that encourages the rain to flow away from the garage rather than into it.
Well, it's a low car, so it couldn't be serious. It has to be jacked up just to get a spanner on the oil drain bolt on the sump, the ground clearance is that small.
Everything else seemed OK, so it was off to the local garage for an annual test.
Next stop was the scrapheap.
This car has been in the family since new (14 years), and was, for a while, often kept in a wet garage, including after being used in heavy rain. That, and the year in my son's (very dry) garage had taken its toll, and the rust was in bountiful abundance on the underside.
And the suspension had collapsed. "Yes, you should have been worried when it grounded, the front nearside is now sitting on the stops," said Mr. Tester.
So the last few days have been taken up doing one of the worst chores ever invented by modern society, or any other society for that matter.
Acquiring a replacement car.
And, I learn that a new grandchild is also on the way. So congratulations to Richard and his partner Sam. They may have their garage back after the removal of my car, but at this rate it will not be long before their children completely colonise it and they'll never be able to use it again.
So there has been some confusion this past week but tomorrow I hope to return to sanity and make some progress on getting back on the road on two wheels.
On Monday, I nipped down to Gatwick, hired a van, found the BA Cargo depot and collected H.M. The Bike. It had been put on a flight four days later than originally booked, for reasons I don't suppose I'll ever find out. But that was no problem, it gave me a bit more time to clear the decks and settle things down a bit before its arrival.
The collection was all pretty uneventful, although about two and a half hours in all.
And a little unreal - there's no customs office here. It's in Salford.
The clearance all done by computer, on the Gatwick agent's account with HMCR.
Then a gentle van ride back to Whyteleafe for bike and rider.
White van man arrives home. First cut made into the plentiful wrapping and padding materials.
The agents in Cape Town made a good job of all the padding.
And back on English soil.
The engine started easily enough, but does sound pretty rattley now.
I'll put it back on the road here for short journeys and see what happens.
I'm now engaged in the oh-so-stressful business of starting my other bikes after they've sat idle for well over a year. Maybe they'll burst into life as readily as my car did, but definitely not, I hope, head for the scrap heap.
But first, it wasn't only my bike I collected from Gatwick, most of my luggage was on the pallet with it. So now I have to try to remember where it all goes. That'll take some doing. Just WHERE did all this stuff fit??
What'll be even more difficult is remembering where I've put everything after it's all stowed away (about a year's work there, I think).
I've had quite a few welcome emails about this blog and its accounts of our journey - Caroline, Beau and I from Whyteleafe to Nairobi and me onwards to Cape Town - saying it's been an entertaining story and how readers have enjoyed following it.
Armed with such encouragement, I'll try to continue the blog with reports of the upheavals of returning home, what might (or might not) happen next, and other bits and pieces, relevant or not, that spring to mind and have been left out up till now.
So returning to the southern tip of Africa, there was a fair amount of rain while I was there. More usually at night, and people would say to me in the morning, "Look, you should cover your sheepskin up. It's been out in the rain, it'll be soaked!" (That's the sheepskin cover on my bike seat. Standard kit for long-distance riding).
"Put your hand on it," I say. "See if it's wet."
"Oh! It's dry! But it rained a lot in the night."
Now, there's a constant debate about what is the best gear to wear on such long trips. And I'm learning about the practicality of sheepskin on motorbikes, and why Ted Simon still laments the loss of his sheepskin jacket in Central America. It had served him well for over half of his round-the-world journey in the mid-1970s, including Cairo to Cape Town. I'm beginning to think that sheepskin is highly practical for a jacket for long-distance motorcycling.
Back to the rain in the night, many people down there have experience of sheep farming, and end up saying, "Of course! Sheep are always out in the rain and don't seem to suffer or dissolve. I suppose if the wool side is on the top side so the rain doesn't fall on the skin side which is on the underside, then the rain runs off and both sides stay more-or-less dry!"
Which is exactly what I think is happening.
During this journey I've often left the sheepskin uncovered, unintentionally, when the bike has been parked. And when I've folded the back part over the front part, so the skin side is the up side, catching the rain, then the whole lot gets soaked. But now I always make sure the wool side is uppermost, and I can leave it in the rain all night and it hardly gets wet. Including those last couple of nights in Cape Town.
What I need to do now is to test that situation back in England.
Because I have scientific evidence that English rain is a lot wetter than other types.
It was back in the 1990s that Pete, a good motorcycling friend of mine, and I went over to Normandy one year for a D-Day anniversary. In June.
On the last day, riding back to Calais for the ferry, it started raining. But it's always a fuss, stopping to put on waterproofs on a motorway or busy road. And way ahead in the distance we could see the sky was brighter.
Well, it rained quite a bit, but the clear sky drew nearer, and we were wearing fairly good quality leather jackets and trousers. So we continued, eventually leaving the rain behind us a little way before reaching Calais, where we found all our clothing dry on arriving at the check-in booths for our ferry.
Just to be sure, we could hang our jackets up in the self-service cafeteria on the ferry back to Dover.
So everything was dry again, including the weather, when we disembarked the ferry and headed for London.
But later the rain caught us again, so we employed the same tactic - not bothering to stop on the motorway to put on waterproofs.
By the time we reached the join of the M20 and M26 the rain petered out and Pete continued north while I went west. But I had that certain wet feeling, that after years on two wheels you get to know so well.
It was another twenty minutes or so of riding, in the dry breeze, before I arrived home.
The next day Pete and I compared notes over the phone.
"Did we have the same amount of rain on the M20 as we did on the way to Calais?"
"Yep. And what about when the rain stopped. Did you ride further in the dry to get home than we did before arriving in Calais?"
"I certainly did. And everything was dry when we reached Calais, wasn't it? Jackets? Trousers? The whole lot?"
"That's right, bone dry. Were you dry when you arrived home?"
"I was #***@# soaked to the skin! What about you?"
"Me too! Did you happen to collect any samples of that French rain, so we can have it analysed?"
"Don't be silly, we just agreed, it didn't make us wet at all. I didn't keep a drop of it."
"So why's that, then?"
Perhaps that's why those English kings of long-ago were so keen to keep a hold on northern France. Maybe they too found the rain over there to be a lot dryer than our English stuff.
So I've a funny feeling that, in the English rain, unlike in the African rain, whether the wool side is the up side or the down side, my sheepskin seat cover will become a sodden mess. Just like Henry V's did when he was in England instead of surveying his realm across the Channel in Normandy.
So why's that, then?
It's been a fairly dull and dismal time since returning from the great journey. It really beats me how the continent was ever called 'Darkest Africa'.
More on that in a minute.
I've been trying to start my other bikes that have been sat idle in the damp English climate for too long.
My old XBR Honda had a reminder note on it - 'steering lock'.
I couldn't remember what that was for. It was leaning up against the Dominator, so I assumed I'd written it to myself to remind me to unlock the steering before trying to move it. Which I did.
But it was still locked.
Then I remembered. The steering lock broke two days before departure September last year.
It locks OK, but won't unlock. The bolt won't withdraw from the frame when the key is turned.
Have to find a thin screwdriver, and a torch to see with, to help the bolt return as the key is turned.
A torch in broad daylight! But it's November, more on that in a minute.
Having released the lock and wheeled it into a position where I could use the kickstarter, I confidently kicked the engine over a few times, slowly, petrol on and choke out, until it felt as though it had turned enough times to draw plenty of petrol in.
(The battery was flat as a pancake, but it starts easily without it so no problem. For those who don't know, it's a 500cc single).
Then a couple of proper kicks.
No matter how long it's ever stood idle, two kicks is ALWAYS enough.
Not this time.
After quite a lot of time kicking it over - but after thirteen months away I'm not in any hurry - there was not a single solitary splutter.
Time for some contemplation. Whereupon I saw it........
The ignition key was still on my workbench after all the fuss with the steering lock.
Well, it's good exercise I suppose.
Anyway, that bike was then up and running quickly enough.
I've never done anything to the engine of that XBR since new (except rigorous oil and filter changing, and very occasional valve clearance checks) and it has 80,000 miles on the clock now. It still goes brilliantly and will tick-over at 500rpm almost like a steam engine. Also, I've never touched, or even got close to the carburretor in all that time, which is another reason why it goes well and ticks over so majestically and reliably.
Next in line was not so simple.
The Dominator has the same engine as the XBR, albeit 150cc bigger.
But it's newer, and unfortunately has internal 'improvements'. And Mr. Honda definitely had never heard of the Law of Unintended Consequences when he agreed to those 'improvements'.
Inside the camshaft there's a hellish contraption, comprising more cams and springs and levers and centrifugal weights, designed to act as an automatic decompressor. This is a device that operates a valve during starting, so that the engine can be turned more easily by the starter motor. (There's no kickstarter on this bike).
Well, that alone would probably have been a successful design. But the Japanese, always looking for the next new innovation, added even more levers and springs to it, to make it act as a 'reverse decompressor' as well.
Anyone who's read the long-winded piece on this blog buried in the section for Kenya, just before our arrival in Nairobi, and could make head or tail of it, will remember the failure of the electric starter mechanism on Beau's bike, needing the fitting of a replacement starter clutch.
I tried to explain that on these single-cylinder bikes, when the engine is turned off, the piston and crank usually bounce backwards against compression, quite violently, and engage the starter clutch with detrimental results. On Beau's little TTR, over the years, that had caused sufficient wear in the starter clutch to make it jam.
On a big single-cyclinder bike, like the Dominator, the bouncing backwards is even more violent and can cause damage in the starter mechanism in a fairly short time.
So this 'reverse decompressor' is an attempt to use more cams and springs and things to prevent the insides of the engine from bouncing backwards when it's switched off.
And that's the device that has to be fought against when trying to start the bike after it's been idle for any considerable time.
Situated right at the top of the engine, by the exhaust cam (which is a pretty hot place to be situated), this multi-purpose decompressor needs a good supply of oil to ensure that it engages and releases smartly whenever it's supposed to. But when the bike's been unused for a year, there's no oil up there, so it gets stuck in the wrong position at the wrong time, all the time you're trying to start it.
On past occasions it's taken me an hour or more of starting, with jump leads connected to the nearest convenient car, to get the engine going after a year or so of disuse.
Eventually some oil frees off the springs and levers a bit, and the engine coughs and splutters for maybe another ten minutes before suddenly running properly at last, gently ticking away like Big Ben as these big single-cylinder engines are supposed to.
A slight problem during all of this is that, with the exhaust valve mis-operating most of the time, there can be some almighty great backfires, audible a long way down the valley I think, that don't do the silencer any good at all.
And so it has been on this occasion. Last week, having got the XBR running like a precision timepiece once the ignition key was in the switch, the Dominator refused to co-operate. This is the longest I've ever left it unused, and it was not happy.
I don't know how long I had the starter spinning for, connected up to the car, but after a lot of deafening backfires, one of which split the (somewhat rusty) silencer joint, it was still only half-heartedly coughing and spluttering, needing a lot more engine spinning yet.
So, like the pilot in Cape Town, and with the light disappearing rapidly (hey, it's only three o'clock) I reversed it back into the garage, and unlike that pilot, left it there for some other day.
Which was today.
After maybe another ten minutes of running the starter motor it was coughing and popping fairly regularly.
There must be just one particular lever or spring in the decompressor that needs a lot of activation to get it freed off properly, because after another ten minutes of spluttering and backfiring, suddenly as if by magic, the engine ran absolutely perfectly. Reliable tickover, smooth pick-up, not a single misfire.
So at least that's done at last.
I heard there's a cure for all this, posted on the internet somewhere. Remove the cylinder head cover and grind something off of the end of the camshaft to disable the reverse decompressor. But like my XBR, the engine on this Dominator has never been disturbed, and I'd like to keep it like that for the moment.
So back to that 'Darkest Africa' nonsense.
It's been quite difficult to find the impetus to get things straight and organised here, and to make those visits to the garage to get at least one bike back on the road.
When I returned home, my place was full of stuff spread all around in big piles, completely in the way of unpacking all the luggage back from Africa. And that was just my garage.
Indoors was even worse.
Those few weeks just before departure over a year ago had become pretty hectic. Trying to finally decide over the last few days what to take and what not to. Packing and re-packing. Spreading everything around to try to decide priorities. And everything that was spread around and not taken, is still spread around now. All over the place. In the garage and indoors.
Add to that everything that I brought back from Africa.
Well, all this mild chaos was to be expected I suppose, but it's been a slow process to get to grips with it.
And this afternoon, having finally got the Dominator running, and finding the last bike probably needs injectors cleaning before it'll start, and the light almost gone before four o'clock, I realised that that was the problem.
Back home, after all that time in Africa, there's hardly any to speak of.
I'd met quite a few people in Africa who ask, as you'd expect, can you help them in their ambition to go to Europe?
Can you help them with sponsors? Visas? Contacts?
Well, the answer is always no. And I generally try to tell them the other side of the coin - the reverse side of 'streets paved with gold'.
The cost of just renting a little place to live in.
The difficulty of finding a job that will pay enough for it.
The cost of travelling to the job.
The long hours that will need to be worked.
Probably needing two jobs.
The loneliness of living, for instance, in London with no money left to go out anywhere.
The price of a loaf of bread in Tescos compared to that in your local market in Africa.
And so on.
Many people seem to understand those issues, and maybe have a determination to overcome them.
But then we move on to,
"You'll have to spend a lot of money on heating your home from September all the way to April."
The jaw drops a little.
"When you go to work in the morning in winter, it'll be dark, the sun won't have risen. There'll be ice on your windows"
A very puzzled look appears.
"And when it's time to go back home, it'll be dark again, the sun will have already gone."
A look of disbelief.
"In winter you can have two weeks or more of solid cloud, without seeing the sun at all. Even in summer, you may not see the sun for over a week at a time."
And it is obvious that they cannot begin to comprehended such a thing.
"Students from Africa who arrive in September to start degrees at English Universities regularly find themselves in hospital by December because there just isn't enough sunlight for their skin to function."
Now they think you're mad, and realise you were right the first time when you said you couldn't help them with visas or sponsors.
Yes, it's the light. And after a year in Africa, then flying back to London in just a few hours, in November, there's a huge change. But you don't realise it for a couple of weeks or so. Well, I didn't anyway, despite talking to Africans about the whole subject.
Wall to wall sunshine. How DID it come to be called 'Darkest Africa'?
Even in Nairobi's wettest rainy season for three years (as reported) there were a good few hours of brilliant sunshine everyday. I didn't time it, but at least four or more.
And the sun starts straightaway in the morning. No hanging around. It "comes up like thunder," (outer China 'crost the Bay!)
And lasts the full day, high up in the sky, before plunging below the horizon, not hanging about just above it for an hour or more, dithering.
Give or take a bit for the season, winter or summer, it's a full twelve hours each day.
And without wasting time, it's a quick change to blackest night, enough stars to almost see by, or the brightest of moons if it's there.
So it seems reasonable to assume that for us white Europeans, when we find ourselves in twelve-hours-per-day sunshine for a year, well, our skin turns the tap off a bit on all those things it produces for use elsewhere in the body. Even when it's safely covered up.
Back here, the cold and the damp and the rain and the frost are OK. It's the lack of light that's the problem. Needing a torch during the day. The sun, when you can see it, never higher than the lowest trees. Lights on indoors by four thirty.
Hope the tap gets turned on to 'full' again soon.
After 'Darkest Africa' we have darkest winter. Only four weeks to the solstice then the days start to get longer again. That should be good.
I need to build up some enthusiasm to return to the garage in these dark and damp times. The Aprilia needs its fuel injectors cleaning, a job that needs good light which means good sunshine. Something a bit easier might be to give the Dominator a once over and take it for an MOT test. Maybe during the week, rain permitting.
So I've spent a little time with that other universal pastime (even more universal than working on five MOT tests per year), the ubiquitous box in the corner, the television.
I was disappointed to find, having settled in enough to locate the plug for the TV, and the remote control (it was four or five days before I reached that, like finally arriving at Lake Tanganyika again!) that when I pressed the 'Go' button, it actually worked. There was a picture!
I was rather hoping there wouldn't be. I had resolved some while ago, that if it didn't work, I wouldn't bother with a new TV licence nor TV and dispatch the whole lot to the final resting place of expired junk and domestic entertainment. It's an old TV and there was a good chance it would have ceased to function during its year of idleness, like the batteries in the remote control, my car, the front door bell, the bath taps and temporarily, the bikes in the garage. But no, it lives!
Is there anything to actually watch??
Are there men living on the sun??
About the same chances of both of those I think.
But there's always a DVD or two and I have plenty of time to find the remote control for that and the hefty instruction book.
(Margin note: being in a bit of a daze for quite a while, I found myself bouncing between jobs, wondering "what can I do that doesn't involve unpacking or going out into this strange dark weather?" Well, from time to time in the distant past I've looked around to see if a DVD of Cannery Row has been released. I always thought it a bit strange that there wasn't one.
And what do you know? While I was away, a DVD was released in the UK! (Early 2009 in the US). So I could take a break from all the unwelcome unpacking work and watch that. And memories of Lambert's Bay flooded back.
Which leads me to point out, that the 'best restaurant in Lambert's Bay' that I mentioned, on the corner of the fish-meal factory, was definitely a restaurant. You need to have seen the film to understand that........)
I had bought a Nick Sanders' DVD a short while before departure last year, about one of his many round-the-world motorcycle journeys, the one he calls 'Parallel Worlds'. This one was an attempt to make some sort of sense of all his travelling and record attempts by undertaking a RTW trip that was neither the fastest ever nor the shortest distance. It was the opposite, zig-zagging around the globe to make the journey as long as possible.
I bought it because his Egypt to Cape Town route was similar to ours, but on a Yamaha R1 sports/racing bike, with sports tyres rather than the more conventional (many would say essential) off-road knobblies.
The Cairo to Nairobi section was entertaining, as was the description of his luggage (tiny, and 80% of it being camera gear). Also, the scenes showing exactly how he does all his filming while travelling completely alone with no back-up whatsoever.
One result of my purchase was, I now receive emails of his current exploits. The latest being an attempt to beat the record for the fastest journey from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Ushuaia, South America. Unfortunately, and unusually, this ended in failure. But on his blog he says that his blow-by-blow account of the attempt will become a bit autobiographical, to make sense of things.
So, as its dark outside, already, at 4:10pm....................
Yes, we have scaffolding up the outside at the moment, to replace all the external timberwork.
Compare that with western Kenya, in its winter:
Is that summer, somewhere in the world, that I hear calling?
............................ and there's no motorbiking activity to report on, that's a cue to ramble about a manager I was sent to see during the early days of my apprenticeship with the telephone company. He ran the workforce charged with repairing underground cables, and I was sent there for a couple of months to learn about it.
"Look," he said, instead of telling me about the work and skills of his team.
"I'm writing a book about my time in the GPO. Let me read you the latest piece I've written. Tell me what you think of it."
I couldn't really make head nor tail of it, having only just left school a few months before.
But I learned in those early days that writing an autobiography was not an uncommon pastime amongst many older telephone engineers.
But they had one significant, if ironic, advantage. They had been telecoms engineers during the War, and that IS an interesting story.
As an example, a colleague I worked with much later was having a clearout and found an old technical journal given to him by someone years before.
"Take a look at this," he said.
Inside was an account written by the telephone exchange manager on the island of Jersey during WWII. He was, effectively, a prisoner of war during the island's occupation by the Nazis.
At the end of the War, he unexpectedly found himself the most high-ranking 'public-service' worker in Jersey, so it fell to him to accept the surrender of the German commander and take over the government (very temporarily) of the island.
So he writes, ".....I decided to ignore my house-arrest and the guards in the street and walk past them to the Germans' HQ...... .....Having accepted the commander's salute, and shaken his hand, I went immediately to the telephone exchange (from which he had been barred throughout the occupation) where I collected all keys, documents, tools and belongings from the German technicians, escorted them all off the premises, and secured all the doors and windows. The Germans were very polite and co-operative, giving no trouble at all."
Another colleague, tasked with teaching me how to test long distance lines and how to handle the faults, had an account that he definitely considered not to be a story of any sort of heroism.
His job years before had been to repair faults at customers' premises. He was on night duty and was travelling through Epping Forest (north-east London) to an emergency call. On the deserted and dark road, the engineers' van he was driving, in all its 'GPO Telephones' green livery, was overtaken and stopped by a police car.
"Hello, hello, hello. Do you know what the speed limit is along here?"
You know the sort of stuff - and yes, he was exceeding it.
"Look," said my colleague. "There's a line fault at the Civil Defence Observation Post in the forest and there's an air-raid on. Surely you heard the sirens?"
"There's no other traffic, everyone's in their air-raid shelters, do you really need me to stick to the speed limit?"
Well, yes. they did, and gave him a ticket, a fine and an endorsement in his licence. Sadly, to that day (about twenty five years later and still working in the same telephone exchange across the road from the same police station), he never had a good word to say about the police.
Finally, I worked for a few years with another 'Ken' on radio comms services. I was his boss when he retired. So it was my job to 'introduce' him at his retirement party, say something about his career and pass on the company's thanks for all the work he had done. It was also custom and practice to dig around a little in his history to find out the 'dark side' of his career. What were the big mistakes? The wrong cable cut open? The stereo turntables and amplifiers constructed in the company's workshops, maybe in the company's time? All that sort of harmless stuff.
That required a delve into his personnel records and chats with his past workmates. But I had an advantage, because his much younger brother also worked for the company.
So I was armed with stories of Ken's career going back a long way. But could find no dark secrets.
At the retirement do I said my piece and invited others to offer their recollections of working with him.
Straightaway a young technician who had worked closely with Ken for a long time announced,
"You've left out a very important episode. One of Ken's jobs before selling fire extinguishers or becoming a telephone engineer was as a merchant seaman."
"He sailed on the North Sea supply convoys to Russia during the War. Those convoys came under attack many times in the far North!"
Well, that was a revelation to say the least. I looked at Ken's brother, who looked as surprised as me, and later I approached him.
"I never knew any of that. I don't think Ken has told anyone in the family about that, he certainly never told me!"
Learning we had something of a hero in our midst turned that into quite a retirement party.
Back to The Journey. I've constructed a complete route map from Istanbul to Agulhas, courtesy of Google Earth. Here it is:
Yes, all this shows you is that there's an awful lot of Africa still to see.
I've been having quite intense but short-lived longings to be somewhere back in Africa. Featured places include Kericho and Bungoma in Kenya, central Tanzania and Zimbabwe. But I'm still here, and have learnt that this website has had a bit of an upgrade recently. Bigger photos are now possible, so I've re-done the recent postings with larger pictures, and it seems to look a whole lot better.
The larger photos now go back as far as Namibia (use the list of countries on the right hand side to go straight there).
You can judge for yourself.
I'll continue the process, going back through the postings, as and when I get a round tuit.
Next HU Events
- Brazil: Feb 22-23
- Germany: May 29-June 1
- HUBB UK: June 19-22
- NEW! Canada Maritimes: July 4-6
- USA Colorado: July 11-13
- Ireland: July 18-20
- Canada West: Aug 21-24
- USA North Carolina: Sept. 4-7
- Canada Ontario: Sept. 11-14
- NEW! UK - Haggs Bank: Sept. 19-21
- USA California: Sept. 25-28
- Aus Queensland: Oct 3-6
- Aus Perth: Oct 10-12
- Aus VIC: Oct 24-26
- NEW! South Africa: Nov 14-16
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