I related in “From Linz to Berlin” (in a July 19 Beacon commentary titled “Lifelong walker recounts more travels) some walking experiences while living in an Austrian refugee camp, returning home via Berlin.
Back in England, I worked at a tuberculosis sanatorium in rural Somerset, 23 miles from Bristol. A gully behind the male nurses’ bungalow, on its boundary, led up to magnificent hilltop views.
One morning, I was met in the breakfast room with calls of “where were you last night?” A patient had threatened the new night sister, who’d pushed the exterior alarm instead of the button to wake us up.
The grounds had become noisy with ambulances, fire engines and police cars. By then, however, a nurse had helped her superior sedate the “troublemaker,” who was fast asleep. So was I.
However, the Friends Ambulance Unit invited me to wind up its headquarters on a farm near Somerset, drawing on my experience as a student chartered accountant. My duties included selling petrol to passing motorists.
When a friend heard that I was planning to hike in the Cotswold Hills, she invited me to her home in one of the area’s picturesque villages.
A sports car stopped for me atop a steep hill. Its driver was black, rare for the area. He said that if he tooted his long old-fashioned horn on the way down, his tea would be ready when he reached the village, where he was the squire (landowner).
I declined his invitation to stop by, as my friend’s house was several miles away. I was hot, tired and hungry by the time I found it, but the lady opening the door apologised that her daughter had responded to an emergency call.
She told me to get ready to go out to some sort of party in the village hall. I looked dubiously at my hiking gear, but could hardly refuse, particularly as that would be where the food was.
We were met by an energetic rendering of “Jerusalem,” a hymn inspired by the ancient myth that Joseph of Arimathea took the boy Jesus to Glastonbury in Somerset, and were ushered to the front row. My friend hadn’t said her mother headed the local Women’s Institute!
The warm welcome at a party after the meeting dispelled my embarrassment at my attire. “Musical chairs” ended with me standing over the winner, an actor in a long-running BBC radio serial about “everyday country folk.”
I was attracted to librarianship as a profession, so I moved in with my sister Joyce in Southend-on-Sea, recalling my boyhood walks to Old Leigh every Saturday morning.
The chief librarian granted me an interview. After stressing my need to qualify as a chartered librarian, he appointed me a library assistant, adding, strangely, that I should “get on and get out.” What a casual introduction to the profession I grew to love!
Within months, I was managing the Eastwood library centre. Other activities in the hall, beyond a curtain, reflected changes in the area since my primary school days: more carpet sales than seniors playing singing saws.
My gypsy classmates had grown up in bungalows, and the fields where I had gleaned ears of wheat for our poultry were now smothered by estates occupied by commuters from London.
I won a scholarship to the library school in what became the University of North East London.
During the summer vacation, a classical Greek student and I went to Greece for a month, taking three days by slow trains. We slept on a hotel roof overlooking the central square in Athens.
A funicular railway carried us to a monastery topping a conical mountain nearby, but my enjoyment of the views walking down it was tinged with regret I had overindulged my liking for watermelon.
We got up early to join a long line of blood vendors at the hospital. A nurse said our blood types were wanted but all the locals left before she returned. She asked us to come back in a week, as all the doctors who supervise taking blood from foreigners were away.
Next day, we travelled to the most southerly part of mainland Greece. After other tourists had left Delphi’s temple ruins, where ancients paid the Oracle to predict the future, we laid back in our sleeping bags and watched meteorites shooting across the sky.
At dawn we found a donkey staring down on us, at the end of a long rope, explaining some strange scuffling sounds in the night,
We sat on a cargo hatch going to the island of Crete, relatively undisturbed by the poultry and dogs that passengers brought on board at intermediate ports, but when we climbed to the “birthplace” of Zeus, King of the Greek gods, we were repulsed from the cave by bats.
After touring the reconstruction of the 4,000 year old palace at Knossos, with its large, colourful frescoes of contestants leaping over bulls, we sat in turn on its small royal throne. No music! No winner!