ONCE upon a time, when I was young and carefree, I ran away from home with my toothbrush, a bottle of milk and some biscuits raided from the larder.
I slipped round the corner to my friend and stayed there all day, both of us setting up home in our secret place beneath the trees in the garden.
That was the start of my wanderlust.
Four continents and scores of homes later, it seems many moons since the good old days when with my knapsack on my back, seated precariously on someone’s else’s suitcase on the deck of the British Railways ferry, I would survive a fearful English Channel sea crossing, set to conquer Europe at someone else’s expense.
There was that marvellous time when my hitching thumb drew the attention of no less than a Rolls Royce driver who ferried me in never to be forgotten luxury from Paris all the way to Rome. He stayed the nights at the best hotels and I enjoyed most of the comforts of home in the finest car yet made.
There were the days I joined the tramps’ queue beneath the bridges of the Seine in Paris for my free soup, washed down with litres of cheap rough vin rouge, a combination which satisfied the inner man until the same time next day.
Oh for the good old days when I boarded the train on the Eastern coast of Canada in mid winter and staggered off again six nights and five days later in blazing sunshine on the West coast. It took another six nights and five days for me to recover my land legs, but a cross-continent train is a marvellous way to travel.
It was in the vast tracts of North America that I first witnessed the ultimate in house moving – the contractor arrives and simply lifts the house on to a trailer, lock, stock and barrel. If the mood takes you, I suppose you might even live in the house while you’re moving, though I was told this was inadvisable. Something to do with taking opened bottles of liquor across State borders.
The Africans, I found later in life, have a similar idea though somewhat less sophisticated. The women simply carry all their possessions on their heads, including sometimes the bed, and trudge off to their new homestead.
Were it not for the unfortunate fact that I have insufficient hair to offer a suitable cushion, I might have tried the same trick when moving from Zambia to Zimbabwe in the Seventies. As it was, we all piled into the car and trundled southwards in more conventional fashion. On arrival, my first task was to count that we were all there: one wife, one baby, one dog, three cats…
The wife was complaining, the baby was crying, the dog was barking and the cats – trapped in their wicker baskets which had already taken them hundreds of miles – were setting up the kind of racket which during the middle of the night is guaranteed to bring me an extra shoe or two from an irate neighbour.
In those days, no matter how hard we tried to avoid accumulating, we always seemed to have twice as much ‘stuff’ as when we were last on the move.
I was reminded of all this when our daughter and family moved back this year from Dubai to Sydney. Gone was the expatriate lifestyle, the spacious home, the maid. Now there were the space limitations of a two-bedroom apartment for a family of four while they settled back into a new life.
Like their parents before them, they seemed to have accumulated ‘stuff’.
With the wisdom of experience, I proffered some advice: why not sell everything before you move, I said? Even if it means you now have thousands of dollars, this is much easier to transport.
But don’t expect to sell anything to me. I’ve got enough of my own stuff.