I must apologize to my readers for my long absence from publishing new episodes of these stories..
Before I go on with our life at Icklesham I need to back up a few months to 1972. Our honeymoon in January 1970 was a brief one. We flew to Bangalore and stayed a week at the Bangalore Club. I was happy to have been allotted a room near the Club Bar, reducing travel time to and from to the barest minimum! I don’t recall much else except that the two beds in the room were at different levels, which was not helpful. We came away to start life in Cochin but promised ourselves a more exotic overseas trip on a later date.
The trip was delayed because our daughter Sandhya was born in March 1971.
In 1972 we moved to Coonoor and my primary focus was establishing new the J.Thomas & Co branch office. However, in August that year I persuaded my boss T.C. Satyanath to let me have six weeks off for a holiday in the UK and Europe before I buried my nose in developing the new branch.
Vijay and Preethi Swaminadhan had moved from Waterfall in the Anaimallais to Colacumby Estate in the Nilgiris and had become close friends. Vijay was very interested to hear about our desire to do this trip. He was planning something on these lines and had done a fair bit of research. He lent me his copy of Arthur Frommers ‘Europe on $5 a Day!’ The featured image on top was Frommers’ publication in 1987 by which time it had become ‘Europe on $25 a Day’!
In days that foreign exchange was unavailable to the ordinary citizens of India, Frommers’ book raised hopes for the trip we were contemplating. It was still rather a lot of money for a young JT manager but it was doable. Youth bestows on us a kind of audacity that thankfully disappears as we age and get ensconced in family life. I had a premonition that this would happen and so decided to do the trip while we were young and relatively carefree. Doing this kind of travel in one’s prime is a different experience than when you are using a Walker or someone is pushing your wheelchair!
We did what most young couple today would not do. We sold the property that was bequeathed to my wife to go on a six-week holiday to Europe! Our daughter was an infant around fifteen months and we asked whether my wife’s mother would take care of her while we were away. The grandmother was overjoyed at this opportunity and since our daughter was fond of ‘Mama’ we took her along with her ayah (nanny) to Abbotsford, a stately home in Ooty where my wife’s mother and brothers lived.
We flew from Coimbatore to Bombay, and then to London. After a couple of days we took the train to Dover and got the ferry to Calais in France and then boarded a train for Amsterdam. There was no Eurotunnel at the time.
We finally arrived at the haberdasher’s shop to collect our car. People who are used to filling forms online cannot understand the paperwork in the seventies – everything had to be filled in by hand. We had picked up the car in Amsterdam and were to deliver it in Paris.
By the time we finished it was late afternoon. We collected our brand new car, a blue Opel Kadet, which was going to be our companion for the next four weeks. It was my first experience driving on the right side of the road, I kept straying into the wrong lane. Providentially we did not have a collision though there were a couple of near misses!
We had bought an elaborate road map but were new to road travel in Europe. It was getting late, night had fallen and we could not locate a motor campsite. Just outside the city limits we could see an open space and decided to stop, pull down our tent and camp for the night. This was the first time we were setting up the portable tent! The whole thing was stored on the roof of the car when not in use. It had a polythene floor, and a zippered entrance – quite ingenious really. My wife was relieved that this would keep the creepy crawlies away! In the trunk we had inflatable mattresses, sleeping bags and other equipment.
It was cold at night and we were thankful for the inflatable mattress and quilted sleeping bags. It didn’t take long for us to fall asleep.
Next morning we were awakened by the sound of whirring of machines but it was still dark outside and we thought we would sleep some more. The noise grew louder and we could hear the sound of heavy trucks close by. I opened the zip of our tent and crawled out. As my eyes got used to the grey light around me I saw a massive truck discharging stuff into a crusher. I looked around and saw a large pile not too far away from our tent. It had a bad odour!! By now my wife had come out of the tent and took in the scene. We looked at each other and burst out laughing uncontrollably. We had spent the first night of our Europe trip in city’s garbage dump!
We broke camp quickly and fled from the scene.
To be continued….