I started at Eastbourne College of Art and Design in September 1978 with some reservations. I had hoped to study on a degree course, preferably in London, and had applied to Eastbourne very much as a ‘plan B’. I found student accommodation in the centre of Eastbourne at 6 Lushington Road and made the best of it. Whilst the other students were very friendly, I didn’t feel part of their social scene. This was for two reasons, firstly many of them lived in Brighton and commuted in, and secondly everyone was into punk music or ‘new wave’, which was the current and popular musical genre. I was still into progressive rock and blues! I could have lived in my parents flat in Hove and joined the rest of the students in commuting, but it would have been expensive, and besides I am not sure I would have socialised any more by doing so.
I spent the weekends in Reigate where Juliette’s parents lived or in Putney at Roehampton Institute where Juliette was studying. I developed a better social life in those two places than I could enjoy in Eastbourne! it was during one weekend in Reigate that I met Mark Marriage who later became my brother in law. I can remember it clearly. Juliette’s brother, Simon, was studying in Kingston South London, either at the same place or near Mark. Since Mark lived in Reigate, he would get a lift to London with Simon, (it wan’t a favour, Mark had to pay!). I was staying at Juliette’s and one Monday morning was getting a lift with Simon to Redhill station to get my train to Eastbourne. Simon stopped at Mark’s house and as he got in the car, he introduced us.
Juliette and I would write every week to each other with out fail. We also discovered a cheap way to speak on the phone. We could only use the red public phone boxes, of course. Very few of these exist these days, since the advent of mobile phones. However, on a public phone, it was possible to dial ‘0’ which connected you to the operator. If you knew the number of the other public phone you were trying to ring, you could ask the operator to ‘reverse the charges’ to that number. The operator, not knowing both phones were public phones, would ring the other phone and ask whether we would accept the reverse charged call and then put us through – free of charge!! We spent hours talking this way.
My parents were still living in Nairobi, and so in the summer of 1978 when Juliette came out to Kenya on holiday. Her first impression was genuine shock, by the sheer number of black people on the streets. We had a very enjoyable holiday, tainted slightly by the death of the President, Jomo Kenyatta. She and I were staying in Mombasa at the time, (where the president died), and no one knew what was going to happen. We were all in shock. It was THE occasion everyone had dreaded, as there was no apparent succession plan. Most people assumed either the army would take over, or there would be some kind of coup. In the end, it was a peaceful transition of power to the Deputy President Daniel Arab Moi. Juliette and I got back to Nairobi as quick as possible and the whole family laid low for a week until the funeral had taken place.
By 1979 we were quite openly talking about getting married. We were both students still of course, so it wasn’t an option for a year or two. We had decided to spend the summer of 1979 travelling across Europe. It was possible to get an ‘Inter-rail’ train ticket for a month that would allow you any routes on any European train. The trouble was that we had no money!
I took a job in the local Kentucky Fried Chicken take away as a cook just down the road from my new student digs in Langley Road. The advert said ‘no experience necessary’ (!) They wanted a cook for the weekend. I persuaded them to give me a double shift on a Saturday (around 12 – 14 hours) and a double shift on the Sunday. You were allowed one chicken meal free for each shift you worked. Since I spent the entire weekend at the take away, I would end up eating four chicken meals every weekend. I had no choice. To this day, I can’t eat KFC chicken.
That wasn’t sufficient however, and weekday evenings, I also worked at a Fish and Chip shop near Eastbourne Seafront. I smelt of chips and grease all the time! It was all ‘cash in hand’, so the tax man never knew. I was of course still attending college during the day! You couldn’t do it these days – employment law wouldn’t allow it.
Juliette worked for a while as a bingo checker on the pier. It was soul destroying for her, there wasn’t a minimum wage, but the pier paid far below it. Sometime later I also worked at the end of the pier, collecting and washing glasses in the (very large) bar. That too was an endless and thankless task!
It was worth it in the end! The trip across Europe was memorable.
We started in Amsterdam, and went through Germany visiting the Black Forest, Bonn and Cologne. From there we went to Switzerland and stayed with some friends of my parents in Basel. By that time we were grateful of a bed, having spent the nights before sleeping in a tent, but with no mattress. We saw the Interlaken, the chain of lakes that make Switzerland so photogenic. Crossing into Italy we spent a night in Venice before going to Vienna (which turned out to be expensive). On a whim we took the train though what was then Yugoslavia to Athens. It took 24 hours and was unbearably hot. All our food quickly went off! By the time we were in Athens we were exhausted and so spent some precious cash on a room overlooking the old town. That night we dined in a local restaurant where the menu was in greek, and none of the waiters spoke English. At the end of the meal the waiters danced on the tables!
We took the ferry to Cofu and camped on the beach which turned out to be a big mistake as not only did the tent fall down, but we got very sunburnt. Not good when you are carrying a heavy rucksack. We arrived in Rome and again found a room for a couple of nights as we were so tired. Juliette had ‘au paired’ for a local Italian family the year before so we went to see them. They made us a squid Bolognese!
Our train ticket had expired, as we had been travelling for a month, so for the next five weeks we hitched hiked until we arrived back in England. This took us to Assisi (home of St Francis), Florence, Monaco, and on to France. We got a lift out of Italy with a spanish mother and son who spoke no English. We had a wonderful evening communicating in sign language, or bits of italian or French. They made a camp fire and taught us how to make spanish omlette and play spanish guitar. That night they slept in the car and we tented next to the car. We met up with Juliette’s family for a week, who had a holiday house in Navacelles, just north of Montpelier. Getting out of the south of France was very hard, we sat by the side of the road for 36 hours. However we were later picked up by a French lorry driver who dropped us in Paris in the small hours of the morning. We pitched tent on the only piece of grass we could find, only to discover the next morning that we were in the middle of a roundabout.
I June 1979 my father retired, and we left Kenya. It was 20 years to the month since my parents had emigrated. For a number of years, my father had experienced ill health and had undergone several stomach operations in the UK. Wisely my father decided to take early retirement at 55, (he died ten years later).
I went back to Kenya for the last time during Easter 1979, and it was with a very heavy heart that I said goodbye to our faithful houseboy Philip, and left our house for the last time. I couldn’t believe that I was going to leave the country that had been my home for the last 20 years. I had grown up there and never wanted to leave.
Unfortunately by February of 1980 my relationship with Juliette was under strain. Perhaps it was too many years living in Eastbourne and London and only seeing each other at weekends, or perhaps the infatuation had worn off. It was a very difficult and painful end, as these things so often are.
I had a brief relationship with a girl called Fiona, who was a student at Eastbourne. It was the classic rebound. I knew that I didn’t really care for her, and was using her, and I ended it after a couple of months.