‘Breakin rocks in the…hot sun’

‘I fought the law and the…law won’
That song by the Clash has been going through my head a lot in the last few days. It’s probably something to do with the fact that we now get up at 4.00am and are on our land by 5.30am with pick axe in hand… breaking rocks. MoMole (Abbo’s double), Youngco and Mario… our Audweidesein Pet… on the rock and role Croatian workers start to drink beer around 6.00am. By 8.30am it’s around 30 degrees… and I am sweating so much it looks like I have pissed my trousers. The ‘boys’ being on their third beer… find it all rather amusing.
It’s great.
After two and half years of trying to get permission to build a house, starting with our beach house in Norfolk, then Arugam bay… then Siwa…we finally have had the nod and started digging the foundations last Wednesday. We have moved several tonnes of stone away from where we will build the house and have dug a 1 meter deep trench for the water tank foundations. There is a lot of ‘live’ stone and you literally put a sledgehammer in to it until it’s gone. We have started to build our house and feel confident it will be up and done…ish by October/Nov.

This is our building site on our land… and that’s Momo playing with Penny’s bum!
You know these ‘No Going Back’ programs… I’m really glad we did not try and sign up for one. For our land… we have no water supply, no electricity, no architect/structural drawings, we had no road, we have not been able to find any builders due to arriving at the wrong time of year for building… and to top it all off we now have no money. Imagine then having to talk into a camera with some smart arse going ‘So Duncan… you’re a bit of a plonker aren’t you?’
We found a buyer for our house in Norfolk and have sold it for a tidy sum.
CU CHING! …as the kids would say .
Unfortunately the old bag next door on the beach then sends a solicitors letter to our estate agents saying we have stolen 5 feet of her land. As the UK is suing obsessed… it has taken me 5 weeks to calm down our agents and sort it out. Faxing a copy of a survey showing the land is clearly ours that it was produced in 1959 by the firm of solicitors she is using… finally did the trick. On top of that the Land Cruiser’s flywheel decided to…fly off the other day making the car ‘kaput’. We’ve had to hire a tourist car to get to our land at Smokova on the other side of the island.

hire-car
Note the wheel clearance at the back

The combination of the two set backs has mucked our cash flow up and after spending 3 months finding some builders to work with us… they are seriously all in London… we will now have to let them go and hopefully get them back when the thud of cash finally hits… hopefully in the next week or so.
Never mind… it’s hot and sunny and the swimming is crystal clear. The kids and Teresa their teacher are slowly getting used to the 5.00am start and a siesta at 1.00pm. I remember going from being paid weekly to monthly… the first month you are skint for the last two weeks. Now we are builders we get paid… annually… one house a year. We’ll get used to it;)

The water is crystal clear on our local beach which is a 10 minutes walk from the house
Our Island life here on Vis feels… like living in the Outer Hebrides…but stinking hot and sunny every day. It’s a little beautiful island 15km long by 7km wide, two and a half hours out into the Adriatic sea.

Our two acres of land is just to the right a bit

We live in the small town of Komiza that has a population of around 1800 people

The main industry is fishing and… and it appears…drinking wine!
Everybody knows everybody and they are slowing… getting to know us. We have had some racial abuse, we have had some bullying, we’ve been f&*$%ed about by so many people…and government depts… but we are not giving up. We are getting to know people and making real friends. The kids now have one or two friends they play with on a regular basis and we are slowly blending in. We’re like the Japanese family that moves to that little island in Scotland. It takes awhile but we are slowly being accepted.
The islanders have gone from a population of 12,000 before WWII to 4,000 people with no contact what so ever with the outside world including the rest of Croatia from 1945 to 1989 due to it being a military base to a trickle of tourists during and after the Bosnian war to now… with over 500% more tourists than locals arriving every summer in the space of a few years.
Most English people here are either stinking rich…or give that impression. The locals are scared… we are the first English ‘builders’ to move to the island. Like in all our places we are the first English family to live here since colonial days. The islanders assume we are like the other English and are totally loaded and here to use and abuse their land.
We’re here to use a little bit… but we’re also giving a little back. We live here and are hiring local labour, unlike most of the foreign owners…we’re learning the language, we pick up hitchhikers, we’re clearing our beach and Angus is distributing bootleg software from Bosnia into the gaming fraternity in Komiza… Claudia has sewn a bed for the stray ‘dustbin’ cat she has taken in, we are digging our own foundations… they are slowly realising we are not ‘rich strangers’ and are being accepted.
School is out in Croatia and the kids are arriving on the beaches in there…tens…its getting busy and we are settling in for a long hot summer. In the evenings we walk along the ‘Riva’ and look out for English speaking flags on the yachts that are moored up. We have met some English and American families and a 22 year old Bosnian girl Sasha met in Sarajevo who has come to stay with us for a week or two today to help out on the land and have a bit of a holiday. The kids email address contacts and places to stay in the future are growing.

We have the ground floor of this place and a garden with lemon trees at the side

This is the veiw we have from our house

…and this is what it looks like when we get up at 4.00am!

Sasha has become the ‘head’ fire maker and has sussed it get’s her out of washing up!

Angus is in training for the ‘shoot them up competition at the local library

Claudia’s helping mummy with dinner often becomes more of a biology lesson… you have to gut your own fish here…

Claudia is also making some nice pictures with her canvas’s

She’s quite proud of them.
We’re nearly half way through our two years… it seems like a lifetime since we left and yet six months in Egypt then six months in Romania feels like another lifetime to go before coming home.
The last six months have not all been plain sailing… we didn’t expect them to be. That’s why they make programmes about people who do this kind of stuff.
Talking of which…
We are scheduled to be on the telly on July 21st, 9.00pm on ITV which gets confirmed two weeks before hand. We’re the first in a series of ‘SURVIVORS’. I spoke to one of the girls at the production company that made the film. They spent a month filming it in India. They built a huge water tank and ripped the walls away with the actors in it to get the affects. They built a house like the one we were on and ‘ had to rebuild it several times due to it getting washed away by the water canons’. I can’t image what the film will be like… but they say they have done everything they can to make it as close to what actually happened. If your interested, have a look at the press release from ITV.
If any of you are clever enough to video record… and then burn it on to a DVD… it would be great to get a copy so we could watch it some time (our postal address in on www.somewheredifferent.com). We don’t get ITV here in Croatia … and… well we don’t have a TV, we just watch DVD’s on our laptops. But don’t feel sorry for us… we missed the entire election!
We have a few people spending their summer holidays with us this year and if anyone else would like to, (see Vis web site) we can get you a really nice apartment right on the sea for around £30 a night and you can fly here direct with BA to Split.
Have a good summer!
Duncan

The day I split to Split

About 7 years ago, I went to bed… woke up with terrible chest pains and thought I must be having a heart attack.
Penny rang the hospital “Hi, I have a 20 stone man with acute pains in his chest clutching onto a wardrobe… what am I supposed to do?” They assumed the worst and I had the full cardiac arrest treatment. The paramedics in the ambulance took it all very seriously. “ OK we’re going to check your pulse, hang on in there… pulse… is…perfect. OK lets check your oxygen levels…. 100%… OK… your…OK… so what your name.” I had no idea what heartburn was until then. I now know what it is and have had it a couple of times since, but at the time I thought I was dying.
They gave me a cup of something and it cleared the pain pretty quickly. I thought I’d never beat that for an overkill use of my local hospital services to cure a simple problem…
Never say never…
I left England the week after the Easter break. I had our new (old) Land Cruiser full of our kit as the rest of the gang were all flying to Croatia courtesy of the production company that flew us to exotic Manchester. I caught the 5.30pm ferry Thursday night and drove in France until 11.00ish, drove for around 15 hours the next day and around 15 hours the next, reaching Croatia after about 50 hours only leaving the jeep for calls of nature and to buy all the crap they sell in service stations to keep you awake. I probably ate more chocolate and crisps and drank more coke than I have ever done on a car journey. That’s because that was probably the longest car journey I have ever driven. I stopped to sleep, pulling the seat back and apart from that, drove all the way non stop.
That was until the radiator blew in Germany and I then had to stop at EVERY service station between Germany and Croatia. I pretended I was in the Grand Prix and timed my pit stops to keep me from going mad… but that’s another story.
I arrived on our little island of Vis in Croatia on the Sunday having waited 18 hours for the ferry on the mainland in the town of Split. We will stay on Vis now until the winter and have been there ever since, well… until today. We found somewhere to rent for 200 euros a month whilst we work out what we are going to do with our land and where and if we will buy some more to develop and ‘turn over’ at the end of the summer.
I had made a promise to myself on the way down here… whilst munching on the third bar of junk before 10.00am… ‘When I get to Vis, I am not going to eat any more chocolate, any crisps, any junk food!’ Yeah, I thought. ‘If ever I’m going to sort my diet out, now is the time to do it’.
I’ve kept to it.
I’ve not had a single bar. Not one… honest. I haven’t wanted one, it’s been great. We are trying to keep our costs down, as it’s nowhere as cheap here as it was in Sri Lanka where are budgets expected us to be. We have not bought any Coke, Seven Up, and anything that is full of sugar basically. We’ve all been eating healthy food, all the local produce of lettuce, tomatoes and well, lots of veg basically and not a lot else. We even gave up bread the other day; we’ve been like rabbits… on the eating side of things. I’ve been losing weight and we were given permission to build a house on our land yesterday and so everything was going sweet.
I have felt a bit dizzy now and again the last few days. I have had pins and needles in my right arm ever since it sat on the jeep door without moving for 50 hours. I have had the feeling of pressure on my chest and have been worried about my heart. I woke up in the night the other night with pains in my chest and a bit panicked that the only way off the island was by ferry the next day and there was no hospital on Vis.
Penny said it was probably indigestion (again) and I eventually got off to sleep. I still didn’t feel right the next day and went to the local doctors to check out exactly what sort of a set up they had there and if they had any idea what was wrong with me. I told them I had pains in my chest and they checked my heart on their… heart-checking machine. EPG I think is the technical term. “Your heart is OK, the results are fine, but you should go to Split on the mainland and have it checked out properly.” I left feeling OK and thought that I would go and have it checked the next time I go to Split, which would be in the next few days. I kept feeling dizzy, but thought nothing of it.
This morning I had no breakfast and went off into Vis town to get my radiator fixed. The first garage I went to looked at my jeep and said “ How old is this car?” “1990” “Mmmm, it is… a good car… but I suggest you buy a new one. No good for Croatia”.
Nice… The’ can do’ attitude is definitely lacking on Vis.
I dropped the jeep off and walked into town. I slowed down, I had time to kill. I was having a coffee with an old boy who was telling me about the old days on Vis and the way of life here now…and began to feel really dizzy. He had found someone who would listen to him and was not coming up for air…I had been straining my neck to look at him for half and hour without moving. I felt like I was going to pass out. I escaped by going off to the toilet. It was around 12.00 now and I walked along the quay, I felt really dizzy still, I could not shake it off. I went back and picked up the car. The ‘can do’ mechanic I eventually found had fixed it and so I started to head back up the hill to our village on the other side of the island.
The pass is steep and I was worried about feeling so dizzy and driving down the hairpin bends on the other side. I thought I’d stop at the top of the hill. I got out of the jeep, my head was swimming. I could not feel my mouth, I could not control my tongue, I thought I was going to pass out. I have never been knocked out or passed out… ever. When you have a 22-inch neck, you just really hurt in fights. I’ve never had my lights punched out and have always been really scared about passing out. Just as I thought, ‘I better ring Penny in case I pass out’, and was getting my phone out, my heart suddenly went BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG really quickly.
“Sasha… I think I might be having a heart attack!” “MUMMY, MUMMY DADDY… is …MUMMY daddy is having a heart attack… oh my god!” “BILL WHERE ARE YOU?” “I’m at the top of the pass, Penny. I don’t know what’s happening to me… F*$%&… I don’t like this! Get an ambulance or something!”
The guy with the JCB who is going to build a road to our land stopped in his big truck when he saw me and flagged down a car going to Komisha. “Can you get your self down to the doctors Bill?” “ Yeah a car has stopped… I’m coming down, go to the doctors, I’ll see you there.” I thought I was dying… it was really scary. I was so dizzy and my chest was hurting. My heart had stopped pounding but I was still really dizzy. The local boy took me to the doctors. I got out and could barely walk. They splashed water on my face to keep me conscious. “Come in here, we test your heart again.” The doctor who saw me the other day got on the phone and got another doctor to come down and see me. “It says you have had a small heart attack in the last few hours. Have you had pains in your chest” “Yes” “Have you had a heart attack?” “I don’t know, I don’t know what a heart attack feels like”. I explained what happened. “You have probably had a small heart attack in the last few hours. We need to get you to hospital”
The ferry is not until tomorrow now. ‘Shit’ I thought, this not good.
Penny began to look a bit worried, the BUPA numbers where sorted and she was on the phone. “ Don’t worry about that, we will get you to hospital” the doctor said. “The police boat will come for you”. The assistant made a quick phone call. “Ah, no police boat”. She made another call. “We have a helicopter coming from Split to pick you up, it will be here shortly”. “Penny, don’t worry about BUPA, I don’t think they will be able to do anything better than a helicopter…” “ BUPA are saying that you should not get in the helicopter until they know what is going on.” “Yeah, until they know they won’t have to pay for it! I’m going… forget them.” “OK, I guess your right”. I thought I must be in a bad way for them to get a chopper out for me. Maybe I’m going to have another heart attack.
Bollocks!
“OK the ambulance is here to take you to the helicopter” We all piled in and Penny and the kids got out at the top of the hill to get the jeep and go off to buy a phone card. I felt like I did in the Tsunami… what will be… will now be… just keep cool and do your best to stay alive. “OK see you soon guys” and off we went. The helicopter was a lot newer than the one in Sri Lanka… it also had doors on it which was nice. I got in and as we lifted off I suddenly wanted to cry, ‘a trigger’ I thought. It’s reminding me of the Tsunami and, bollocks it’s not fair, I shouldn’t have to go through this again so soon. I can’t die now, now that I have been through so much to stay alive.
BOLLOCKS!
We gained height and again the land moved slowly below us with the defining noise of the blades BU BU BU BU BU BU’ing above us. I thought about the last time I was rushed to hospital for my heart and how it was all a waste of time.
Here was hoping…
These pilots would kill me if I just had indigestion though.
We where in Split in 15 minutes, normally a two and a half hour ferry ride. Another ambulance, then into a wheel chair, all along with a drip full of sugar in my arm. Straight into the hospital, straight past all the people in the waiting area looking at ‘who’s come in the helicopter… he must be real bad’ on went the EPG or ESG or what ever they are called. Those suckers, you know, the ones you see in the films when the guy is at deaths door in his hospital bed. The doctors all looked concerned.
I was shitting myself.
The nurse from the doctors in Komiza, our little village on the other side of Vis island who had come with me suddenly said “OK see you in Komiza” and disappeared. She had half an hour to catch the last ferry home. In went the needles, in went a new drip. Out went the blood sample… dam, that hurt. ‘Does any one speak English here’ I thought. What if I need an operation or something… no one will be able to tell me what’s going on. “ Hello I am doctor (can’t remember her name) we are going to do some tests and will see what is wrong with you.” “OK, great” ‘OK so someone speaks English’. “ What happened? How long has the dizziness being going on for? “ 10 days on and off, as long as I have been on the island” “ Have you changed your diet?” “Yes, no sugar, no… bad stuff” “ I see…we have done a check on your heart. The up and down squiggles on the piece paper held in front of me obviously meant something to her.
“Your heart is perfect. Where are you staying on Vis?” “Komiza” ‘Thank god for that! I’m not dying!’ “You have probably changed your diet and are low on sugar”… followed with the ‘and so instead of eating a chocolate bar to get your sugar levels back up, you press the panic button and get a helicopter to fly across the sea to get you…’ look.
“May be you have a problem in your chest. We will x-ray you”. The x-rays were fine… they all looked at each other and moved on to the next REAL problem.
I’m now sitting in a room writing this little tale waiting for the blood tests to come back. Once they are back we will know for sure… I think… and then I assume I go off and try and catch a ferry back to Vis. Only I think the next one is in the morning. Maybe they will keep me in for they night. Any way… I’m going to live. I have had one car ride, two ambulance rides, on helicopter ride, two EPG tests, and loads of blood tests for having low sugar levels in my blood. Nothing a bar or two of chocolate would have sorted out.
Whooops…
Still… nice to know the emergency services work on the island. I’ll see if I can beat that and get a war ship out for a bout of chronic wind next time. Mmmm…better watch the wolf factor hey…
Ah… docs come back… my sugar levels are OK now…they would be, having had sugar water pumped into me for the last few hours; heart’s OK, tests all look good. It’s ECG’s I’ve been having, not EPG’s. They don’t know why I’m still dizzy. I subtly hinted that I have not had any food or drink since twelve o’clock and is as 6.30pm now, which was probably not really helping the ‘why are you still dizzy tests’.
Just had dinner… pasta, bread and a slab of steak, followed by a jam donut and unsweetened yoghurt. They are taking me off to the eyes ears and throat hospital to check my inner ear. They obviously do not know why I am dizzy, but I’m feeling a lot better now. Now I’ve had something to eat.
I’m beginning to think my chest pains may be from climbing that tree the other day… to see what the view of the sea will be like from the second floor of the house we are going to build. Better not tell them about that before they do my ear checks… they might throw me out of here!
16th April
I stayed in the nose ward overnight being the ONLY person who did not have a tube coming out of one of my nostrils. I’m back on Vis now. I faxed my scans to BUPA in England and they recon I DID NOT have a heart attack.
23rd April
I went back to the doctors and they made an appointment for me to be fully checked out in Split as I did not have all the tests done. I went back on Wednesday and stayed over another night. I had a running test I had a ultra sound test , I had another blood test. My heart is… bobro! ( Good). On arrival they wanted my BUPA no, for the insurance. On leaving, I was sent to the accounts department to give them my details. “You cannot use your insurance to pay. We just need your passport no. and you will have to pay in cash”. As she was writing out the bill I started to guess the total cost.
5 ECG’s
4 ambulance rides
3 different heart tests including an ultra sound and a stress test
2 nights stay over
1 helicopter ride
This could be real nasty…. I’ll just say I don’t have the cash and give them the BUPA no.
“That will be 43 kunas…”
That’s £4.30
Nice one. As anyone who’s children go to Aboyne Lodge will know, the value of getting a prompt reply to blood test can be huge. One of Sasha’s favourite teachers recently had a heart attack… and died whilst waiting for his blood tests to come back. Mr Swanson was a great guy and will be sadly missed by all.
Hope those pilots don’t live on Vis…
Cheers
Duncan

Life in the…donkey lane

I know I only sent one a few days ago. But life in the donkey lane has been fast… ish recently. We’re all coming back to the UK on the 18th for a week. We’ve done a deal with a TV production company and they are using our story for a program in a six part series called ‘Survivors’ on ITV in the summer. They will be filming us all and then getting actors to jump into water tanks and stuff and if they can afford it they will even stick a Land Rover in there as well, seriously. I tried to sell them the ‘original’ one still full of genuine salt water…to make it more authentic like…they were having none of it. They had talked of flying us back to Sri Lanka and filming us there, they mentioned coming out here and doing our interviews in the dessert. They considered us all going to Malta, as there is a good underwater tank there but no… they settled on …wait for it… bloody Manchester! ‘Dad is that another country’ ‘No Claudia… its in the north of England’ ‘England, but I though we were going to go somewhere else’ ‘Yes…’
We where given the dates and… well I started to think, we can’t get planning permission here for a month or two, due to Iraq and the road to Bahariya being closed … it is a bit one horse towny here at the moment (there are actually two horses here we have now discovered) and so I asked the girl booking the flights ‘ Any chance you could drop us off in Croatia on the way back… to Egypt…like?’ ‘Um… I can’t see why not.’ ‘OK, forget the return to Alexandra, make it one way from Cairo to Manchester and on the way back make it London to Split in Croatia if that’s OK’ ‘You sure’ ‘Um… yes’.
So, were coming back for a week in a weeks time. I’m driving the jeep we bought that I was going to drive to Egypt to Croatia now over Easter and will pick up the others on the 31st of March from Split airport.
Another reason for the change is… we have decided to sell our beach house at Snettisham. It’s a shame, but we will never be comfortable on the beach there again. It has flooded twice in the last fifty years and is due for another soaking now. One major sea-bashing is enough for me at the moment. Croatia is booming, so the plan is to sell the beach house (it’s a beach house now, its grown up from being a caravan) and put the money into an old house on the island of Vis where our land is and spend the summer doing it up to put back on to the market next spring.
We will live in Vis for the whole summer, going off to Romania and Bosnia for a month or so at some stage for a break and to get the planning permission going over there. We will then drive through Turkey, Syria and Jordan to come back to Egypt for the winter in October and stay until the snow melts in Romania and drive back there for the summer of 2006, returning to the UK for good, a few weeks before term time in August.
Up until Boxing Day last year everything went according to plan, so far this year we’ve been all over the place, but we’ve got our heads around it now and… that’s the plan. If anyone would like to come and visit and stay at anytime we would love to see you. I will be looking to find some cheap accommodation in Croatia and Romania so if anyone wants to come out and visit you can be picked up from the airport and stay in some cheap accommodation nearby.
A lot of people ask me ‘ Do you have a tel number yet?’ Whenever we move around we always have a mobile number you can contact us on shown on the web site at www.somewheredifferent.com ‘contact the team here’. We have also been asked for some photographs.

The first one is us taken on the ‘mountain of the dead’, we saw some real Mummies in a tomb there today. Our town is in the background. We live in a house a few hundred meters from the old fortified town on the hill behind our heads called the Shali. It melted in 1929 when it rained for three days and is now a big open museum full of knackered old Siwan mud houses.

The second pic is our land. We have 40 acres of really nice land next to a lake 20km north of Siwa town and we think it’s great.

Third pic. The house in the middle is for sale… for £1,500. It’s very nice and is right next to the Shali, but it is made of mud… we are also looking at a stone house where the picture is taken from for around the same price that we can do up to look the same but will know it won’t bend if the heavens open up.
Will hopefully be up for a beer on Easter Friday in St Albans or Welwyn before I head off for Croatia for the summer. If anyone’s around that night, let me know. The beer ran out here two days ago and as the off licence is a mere 4 hours away, I will pretty well hanging for a beer by then.
Cheers

What was all that about…? Sri Lanka and Tsunami

Its, 4.10am on 31st of Dec. The date of this travel log should have been the 26th of Dec and the content more cheerful. We had arrived in Sri Lanka on the 12th and we spent a couple of weeks getting ourselves sorted and buying a jeep before going over to Arugam Bay. We bought an old Land Rover and had a few problems getting it to work well enough to go across the country. We finally got it going and arrived in Arugam Bay at 7.30am Christmas morning. We nearly didn’t go for Christmas and was going to stay in Colombo, but we were on a mission to get there so the kids could have Christmas on the beach. Penny and the kids spent the day chilling and swimming in the sea and I spent it fixing the last few problems on the Land Rover with my new found local mechanic. We had dinner in the evening and opened our presents.
I woke up the next day around 8.00am. I thought… this is the first day or the rest of my life and all that… or at least whilst I am in Arugam Bay. I had done a deal with myself that if I did not have time to go for a swim every morning… then I was doing something wrong. This was the first day of living that dream, I finally had the time! Angus came down with me and was a bit scared so he sat on the top of the beach which was about 5 foot above the shore line. I went for a swim and came out. I had my breakfast and had my laptop already sitting at the breakfast table ready to do my ‘and so the journey ends’ travel log. I had my back to the sea and Angus was near by. I was talking to Sri the girl who jointly owns the Galaxy Hotel and has spent the last year building it up. We were chatting away and… her face looked concerned as she looked out to sea, I looked around and saw the sea bubbling up 30 feet from me. I said ‘ is this normal for here’ Sri’s face said it all, I got up and now saw a 10 foot wall of shit moving towards me at about 10 miles an hour. I started running and realised we had a tidal wave hitting the beach.
‘PENNY, GET OUT OF THE HUT, RUN FOR YOUR LIVES, A WAVE IS COMING’… ‘ANGUS ANGUS WHERE ARE YOU’. Penny popped her head out of our little wooden hut and lucky for once in her life was on time and left with Sasha who had been playing on her new phone and Claudia who had been playing with the sand just outside. It was now about 20 seconds after I still had a fried egg on the end of my fork. We were running down the road behind the Galaxy away from the sea. I still had the laptop in my hand, looking back I could see the wave taking all the huts with it and thought it was about time I let go of the laptop.’WHERE IS ANGUS?’ ‘ PENNY!’ Angus, when he wants to, I know, can out run me, he was in front, he had seen the sea coming in and didn’t need any encouragement. We were all together when we got to the road, there was nothing on the other side what seemed like for ever to climb up. There was an army Land Rover and we piled the kids in, the water hit us, Claudia was on the bottom of the Land Rover as people climbed in on top of her. We all clambered for the roof. The first time I thought we might all die is when the vehicle then just lifted up and flipped over throwing us into what I can only describe as a fast moving flooded river. I fell in and came up for air moving along with the current. We were now probably a few minutes into it. It was like a real bad dream, I was not in control of the plot… but I was in control of me… I saw Angus starting to go by me, I grabbed his hand and not like my night mares I had hold of him and was not going to let go. We flew along bashing into vehicles, fridges, bits of woods, and clung on to anything that was floating. We had no idea where we where going and I had no idea where the other three where, you didn’t have time to look around or yell, we where dragged under by the current, I pushed Angus’s hand up so he might still get air, I swallowed a load of sand and water, yet was calm and new I would come up again. I clung to various floating debris and as the wave finally started to lose its power we slammed into a palm tree and I put Angus on top of the crap that had built up around it… and hung on. I looked back and Penny was doing the same. She had some how managed to pull Claudia out from the bottom of the Land Rover and get her on top of it within seconds and hold on to her for the last 300m.
‘PENNY… WHERE IS SASHA? PENNY… PENNY.. WHERE IS SASHA?’ Penny was looking frantically fifty feet away from me, we could not see her, the sludge was now down to 4-5 feet deep. Do I dive in? Where do I dive in ‘SASHA WHERE ARE YOU’ That was the worst moment of my life, what I did in the next few minutes could save or lose Sasha’s life. Sasha had fallen in and rode the river ride on her own. She managed to grab hold of the back of a fridge that had been wedged between two trees and had stopped her ride a hundred feet or so before us. A plank of wood had slammed into her and she had to pull a nail out of her foot whilst holding on. The water level went down. A very nice guy called Stefan from Sweden saw her situation and gave her a piggy back over to Penny. I will never forget seeing Sasha appearing out of nowhere on Stefan’s back. Stefan, you are my night in shining armour, thank you very much for what you did. We grouped together. We were calm, no one was crying, ‘Dad… what was that’ ‘It was an earthquake at sea Angus’ I’d seen a documentary on tidal waves a year early. I had wanted to watch it to see if they happened in Sri Lanka. Up to now they had not.
‘ Eese OK now, we go back beach… OK now’
Think… think…. Oh yeah…the documentary also said there is often more than one wave . ‘GET ON THE ROOF’ ‘I don’t want get on the roof daddy’ ‘GET ON THE ROOF!’ We had no clothes on, just swimmers and pants… I pushed Penny up on a roof and she dragged the kids up. ‘HELP ME, I’VE BROKEN MY LEG’ A woman was on the ground near by ‘Don’t leave me down here to die’. ‘BILL THERE IS A NOTHER WAVE COMING! GET UP HERE NOW…BILL!’ What do I do, do I leave here… do I help her… fuck I haven’t got time to work out what to do ‘GET UP, HOLD ON HERE… GET UP THERE’. I shoved her up and she was dragged onto the roof. I then started to clamber up climbing on the jagged bricks sticking out but they kept on breaking under my weight, the doctors have always said being too heavy could kill me…. ‘BILL GET UP HERE’ ‘DADDY GET UP HERE THE WAVEIS COMING’ I could see it now, it was 20 feet away. I got up there some how. Woosh… it swept through the house filling up to about 5 feet and then resided away. Bendu, the Sri Lankan guy who had got up there with us said ‘It’s Ok now, we go back now..’ ‘You said that 20 minutes go. We’ll stay here.’ Woosh, another wave. I took a lot of the tiles off and got a firm footing on top of one of the outer walls. ‘Guys you better come off the top of the roof. If any of the walls go you will go with it’ ‘I don’t want to move Daddy’ ‘GET OFF THE ROOF!’ They clambered down, even Helen (we knew her name by now) and stood on the edge of the house.
‘Daddy, can I have a sprite tonight?’ A big beaming smile from Claudia trying to make fun of the situation, what a star. We had another four waves hit the house over about an hour… each time the water would go right down showing the grass. What to do, what do we do? Do we stay, do we move, the house is not going to take much more…. and then it happened, a massive wave came in bringing a wall ten feet high of shit. It hit the house and it shook, rushing through it only a few feet from ours. This is the second time I thought we might all die. I climbed up the roof where they had all been sitting after the wave had gone to see where we could go, and the other side of the house… had literally disappeared, there was not rubble on the floor, it had just all floated away. We had Andrew with us by now, he was a very capable German we found in a palm tree 20 feet away. Everyone was saying we should make a move to some high rocks after this one as the house won’t hold another wave.
What do we do, we go down and a wave comes we’re dead. We stay here and another big wave comes and we’re dead. I remember looking up and seeing a load of birds that looked like vultures and all I could think was ‘you lot can fuck right off’ ‘OK let get down! Lets go!’ We could see the rock 200m away through the trees and it was shit or bust. Get to dry land and move to what we thought was the final level of the game we where in and win a price… our lives. We clambered down stumbling through rubble, grass and god knows what else was under the knee deep water. We kept falling over, I had Sasha’s hand, Andrew had Helen, Bendu had Angus and Penny had Claudia. We where not going to lose anyone again on the next wave. Whilst walking in the open a helicopter came over… Sasha was so pleased to see it and thought it was going to rescue us, we waved madly and Claudia did one of her best screams ever to try and get attention. It flew past, it saw us, it kept going. If any one thinks Sasha is a sweet innocent little princess, think again, you should here what she called that helicopter when it was disappearing out of site. I was shocked.
We had to swim across two rivers currents to get across and we… finally got there. We clambered up and just sat on dry rock and felt absolutely chuffed to bits. We were ALL going to live!’
Helen was in agony and the kids all gathered round to keep her conscious, Andrew and Bendu went off to get help and came back with a tractor and trailer.about twenty minutes later. We all got out and headed for higher ground where there was a hospital of some sorts. There we dead and dying bodies, people screaming, people walking around like nothing had happened. The kids had seen people drown in front of them… not a word… on their best behaviour. Helping others doing as they where asked the first time… smiling… amazing..but obviously deep in shock.
We grouped together and realised what had happened. It was disappointing to learn it was not a local thing for the obvious reasons as well as the fact that we would be very low on any ones ‘get me out of here’ list. We started finding places to boil water and look for food. The bridge we were told that connected Arugam Bay to Pottervil had gone. We were stranded. It really was ‘ ah… another sneaky level to the game, it’s not over yet, you win when your out of here… not just the water!’
We heard there was another, even bigger wave on its way. I thought, if this hits in the night, I just don’t… think I have the energy to do all that again… we need the facts, not gossip. ‘Where did you here this?’, ‘CNN, my sat .phone is working’. Annie, an ex BBC hack piped up. ‘Bloody CNN, they often get their facts wrong, bet that’s bollocks’.
‘Annie, can you remember the switch board no. for the BBC?’, ‘Yeah’. ‘Where’s that guy with the phone’. Anne called the BBC and after persuading the receptionist that she really should put her through to the news desk even though she did sound a little annoyed, they confirmed that there was no more waves on there way.’ I remembered the switch for News International and checked with the Times and my old paper the Sun. ‘We’re surrounded by crocodiles, its terrible!’ Annie was not impressed ‘You can tell you’re an ex bloody Sun man… there’s no crocodiles here!’ ‘Annie, someone saw one face to face today… and we need to get our story out there’… the penny dropped and we both rang up news desks telling them our story… telling them they must get on to the Foreign office and get some helicopters to get us out of there.
Even Sasha did her bit ‘You got to get us out of here’ she pleaded with a BBC reporter. We had boiled water, coconut milk and a slice of lobster for dinner. The Army were very helpful but did not get the joke that if they had lobster they must have some Champagne sooooome where hidden back at camp. An NGO with some sneaky supplies took pity on Angus and offered him some sweet bread and pineapple jam. ‘Do you have any honey?’ The guy stared back… Angus smiled ‘Pineapple jam will be great’. We sat around a fire and all hoped something would come and save us. Penny was my source of energy, she had kept calm through the whole thing and had sat up stroking the kid’s hair keeping them calm and their spirits high, I am so proud of my wife and my children, we should have all been dead, but we stuck together and worked as team. I will never forget the courage and stamina they all showed that day.
It started to rain and we huddled into a porch next to the morgue full of… people grieving and yelling for their loved ones in their sleep, it was very morbid until one of the locals let off an amazing raspberry inches from Angus’s face that echoed around the room… we couldn’t help it, we were with three kids… we all got the uncontrollable giggles. At daybreak it had stopped raining and so we all went back outside. They must have thought us in very poor taste.
I felt like absolute shit, I had no shoes, no T shirt, just my swimmers and a sheet tied around my neck looking like a bad toga party effort. I picked a tree that would be in the shade, I lay down with Angus and we cuddled up, I had still not slept and having not slept Christmas Eve, was completely knackered.
Bub bub bub bub bub bub bub bub bub bub, ‘Fuck me I thought, it might have actually worked!’ I stood up and in came the first one. It landed at a place one helicopter had landed the day before to take out one of the Sri Lankan ministers. Dam… wrong place! We started walking down to the other area; Sasha was in agony due to her nail injury in her foot. There where 30+ people there, ‘This person should go first’, ‘Well I think my family should go first’ … there was no one in charge. The head of the Task Force who I had become friendly with the night before was not around. The area kept filling up with people. Another helicopter flew over head…. it can’t land her I thought, it must land further up the hill. ‘I think we should go back…’ ‘ Daddy, I don’t want to go back…’ ‘Lets go!’. We left, I was not going to say, ‘Get the wounded up the hill’ for every decent person there, there was another that would be on that chopper in no time’ ‘I thought, bollocks to this, it’s every man for himself, I’ve got to get my family out of here, all these people are single, they can be heroes, I’m taking care of my family before a load more perfectly healthy people who didn’t even get wet get on. We clambered up the hill, we guessed right , a chopper landed and there was about 40 people just staring at it, there was no one in charge and no one new what to do ‘RUN, RU N, RUN FOR THE HELECOPTER’ ‘ RUN!’ The pilot saw us coming and I tried to have that ‘we’re next on the list, honest mate, look’. We threw the kids on and Andrew saw we were there, he held back and then saw that no one else was getting on ‘ANDREW GET ON’. He did a very nice running jump onto Penny’s mashed up leg and we were off.
We lifted up and we just all smiled and started yelling with happiness. We flew over Arugam Bay, or at least where it had been. Most of the hotels had completely disappeared. The restaurant where I had been eating my breakfast less that 24hours earlier was now a patch of sand.
Angus has seen solders on our trip, he seen army camps and he has seen tanks. The helicopter that lifted us out was exactly the same as the ones you will see in any ‘Naam’ film, same age with no doors and one massive machine gun on each side. When the gunner with live ammunition smiled and shook his hand he new this was the icing on the cake. If you have been following our journal all along you will know that Angus has now learnt first hand what running around like a headless chicken means, he knows not to drop the ball… and he now knows exactly what the the saying ‘Go with the flow’ means.

Heading Home

I have always said you never really get to meet the real people of a country until you have a small problem like a blow out… and you find out if they really are nice people or not. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country and the people here are… very special. We have had so much help from so many people before and after the shit hit the fan. We are gutted we are leaving, but we need to put our kids first and make them feel safe again as soon as possible. We don’t know what we are going to do next… for the last three days it has been about survival and getting out of here. See you all soon Duncan

Sasha's email on the Tsunami

Hi Guys,
We are all alive with a few cuts and bruises. We were all having breakfast and chilling out when it happened, then my dad said run for your life. I knew he wasn’t joking because I saw a wave coming. We ran and we were dragged by a wave for about 300 metres. We held onto fridges and ovens for our lives. We climbed onto a house and then it collapsed so we ran for our lives again and climbed a rock. We were safe. We were then picked up by a tractor with a trailer and went to the nearest hospital and then slept the night were we were safe. We then got a helicopter to Ampara the highest point for miles around. We went to the hospital there and got are tetenes injections to kill any dieses.
We are now at someones house. A persons house who we had saved. We went to the British High Comission were they gave us a piece of paper to show who we are and now we need to call all the air lines to see which plane has spare seats. We should be back in England in under a week and we will come and see all of you at some point and we will be living with family.
Loads of love Sasha

Village Life – Egyptian Style

Its 3.44 am. One of the many roosters out there crowing sounded just like Claudia crying and so triggered an adrenalin rush to my head and… so here I am wide awake. It has taken around a week for my brain to get used to the usual pattern. The roosters kick in around about 3.00am, the dogs all have a half hour yak followed by the donkeys and then the cats. Just when you think its all over about 4 mosques burst into song in at the same time at 5.30am giving you this weird quadraphonic sound in your head… it is followed by one on its own that sounds like a bee in a tin can with a microphone and a very loud PA system.
I am sitting up in bed and as I look out of the window I can see the old city all lit up. The people here lived within the walls of the city for thousands of years until 1929 when it rained for three days solid… and half the city melted and turned back into mud. When the sun rise’s you can see all the palm trees behind the city ruins and beyond them the salt lake to the west of the town.
I’m in an oasis called Siwa. It’s a 120km from Libya and about 800k from Cairo, and its one of the most interesting places I have ever been to. It is classic oasis. Perfect liqueur ad sand dunes leading right up to the edge of a lake with the token palm trees on the edge of the water. ALL of the women walk around town completely covered by a blue robe and a black non see through veil that totally covers there face… it reminds me of a town out of one of the star wars films that is set in north Africa with mud houses and robots walking around. It is not like anywhere else we have been to in Egypt and is far more African and laid back. Dahab has had its day… this is the place to come and chill out.
We had finished our ‘land fishing’ in Eastern Europe and our tour of the Nile with the Murry’s. We wanted to come somewhere in Egypt where we could relax for a couple of weeks and do nothing before arriving in Sri Lanka and starting our adventure there. We left Alexandra, which reminded me of Brighton with out any one in charge, and arrived in Siwa late at night after a nine-hour bus ride. If you ever play eye spy in the desert… you will be amazed at how many things begin with the letter S.
We had spent two days travelling from Luxor to Siwa, a total of around 1000kms including an overnight train from Luxor to Cairo, then another train to Alexandra, an over night stop followed by the bus the next morning. The kids now knew what it really meant to be a back packer. They had done their ’12 hour train ride’ and the long bus journey… and it was all water off a ducks back for them.
‘Dad… when we get to Siwa… we won’t be going around looking at land will we?’ ‘Don’t worry Sasha, we have spent all our money so even if me and mummy wanted to, we couldn’t buy anything.’ I was really looking forward to having a two-week break until I got off the bus and saw the old town all lit up… Wow… I thought, maybe I’ll just ask what an acre costs… just for future reference.
That was about ten days ago… on the second night in Siwa I popped the question. ‘ So… land here… cost… how much? Bicam? (how much in Egyptian) ‘Ah… you wand to buy land?’ the face beginning to grin, ‘ tree ford years ago…. vedy sheeeeep.’ ‘ Now… vedy expensive.’ The grin getting bigger… ‘Now 3-4 thousand pounds a fadan!’. ‘Whats a fadan?’ ‘4200 sq meters’.
The exchange rate for the UK to the Egyptian pound is currently 11.75… and 4200 sq meters is just over one acre…
‘Yes… your right… very expensive’. Sasha could tell by my lack of further questioning what I was thinking. ‘Dad, you said we weren’t going to look at land here’.
Sorry Sasha, but I just couldn’t resist it. Our two-week holiday has turned into our biggest ‘land fishing’ experience of the whole trip. This is Egypt… they will not steal from you, they will not hurt you or do anything bad to you. But for some here, lying through their teeth and trying to sell you land that is owned by someone less seems to be fair game. We have spent the last week investigating a very nice piece of land. We were ‘encouraged’ to ‘Buy land now, then do all guvernment checks later. Ees net a prublem… land vedy good… net a problem.’. We finally got the right person to come out and survey the land… the minute he got to the land he just smiled and shook his head. ‘We go back now… dis anodeur ones land’. Welcome to Egypt.
We only have a week left; Ruth Jacobs who has sorted all our flights out has managed to move them back to the 12th of December. It’s a small town here… it literally has one horse. Word has soon got around that we are back in the market and we are off to see several pieces of land later today, some at around a hundred quid an acre.
AHHHHHHHHHHHH……..AHUUUUUUUGGGHHHHHH….AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH………… yeap…. it’s now 5.30…
10th December 2004-12-10
5.35am… We did it. We did not give up. Our luck changed after our ‘bad pill’ and we got lucky. I had been using a local Internet café and had got to know the owner, a man called Fathi Malim. He needed some help with writing his new book and so we lent him Sasha’s laptop and Sasha had done a lot of proof reading for him. I told him the problems we had been through and he said he would like to help us as we had helped him.
We had got used to ‘ We meet here at 10.00 o’clock in the morning…’ ‘ OK, make it English time not Egyptian time.’ Big smiles… ‘OK, net a problem’. …at 2.30pm ‘Ah, there you are… shall we go?’ ‘Sody…busy… you get anader one to take you now…’ So when we arranged to meet Fathi out in a small village at 4.00pm we kind of expected him to be a bit late. At 4.30 he turned up. ‘Sorry I am late’ ‘ That’s fine… you’re… on time’ ‘My wife was sick and needed to have the doctor round, but she is OK now.’ ‘You sure you want to come and show us this land, we don’t mind if we do it another day’ ‘No, its not a problem, she has had the baby and she is now OK.’
. Um Sahala… our luck had changed. He introduced us to a very nice family and to cut a long story short… we have bought 40 acres of very nice land, right next to one of the salt lakes. I never felt like giving up… but trying to buy land with no car and no phone (it fell out of my pocket in the dessert) in the equivalent of the Outer Hebrides in Egypt… is not easy. Simon Jacobs, a good friend since school days has come in on the deal with us and bought two of the acres. Simon… we have either pulled off a very good deal… or we have bought a very expensive piece of paper… time will tell;)
The ‘ Dad, when are we going to get there’ turned into just ‘ Dad… when are we going?’ The kids have been great. They are bored of land fishing now and are getting very excited about Sri Lanka… and building a swimming pool. It hasn’t all been about hanging around for them. When I now walk through the Market Sq with Angus, he will say hello to about twenty people. ‘ Angus…. How are you?’. He knows everyone. All three of them have enjoyed getting to know people. Every ‘hand craft’ shop in town knows Claudia. She spends her time haggling and getting the price of a handbag down from 25 pounds to 5. She will haggle for days with a shopkeeper over one pound (10p). She now has several Siwan hambags to add to her collection from around Europe.
Due to local custom forbidding men to see any of the women, Penny, Sasha, and Claudia have all seen a very different side to Siwan life. They would all go off for the day and spend it with a bunch of women in their houses and go swimming and shopping with them. They would never really let on what they got up to in the privacy of their houses… but it must have been fun as they kept going back.
Dec 12th 2004 – 7.38am Windsor Hotel Cairo.
Clean sheets and cold Stella! We left Siwa at 7.30am yesterday and arrived here at 9.45pm. It should have taken several hours less but as we went to Marsa Matrouh, the main town near Siwa to organise a Power of Attorney we managed to pick up a truck load of police who kindly showed us the way and then happened to be all standing around when the government man pointed out our visa’s were out of date… Our friendly police guide suddenly turned into ‘ your nicked, follow us’. Any kid might have been a bit worried by this but Claudia worked out how to use it to her advantage. As we where standing around waiting for our new passport pictures to be proceeded so we could apply for a visa extension, (lucky they did them here and I did not need to go to Cairo and back) Claudia worked out that taking two armed policeman with her into the toy shop seriously helped her negotiating skills and suddenly it was ‘net a problem’ that Mummy and Daddy had dropped the ball.
12.18pm Windsor Hotel Cairo
I’m sitting in the same chair where I wrote the last travel log in the bar, the Egyptian adventure started and now ends here. Penny and the kids have gone off to the Bazaar for some last minute shopping. We’re catching a plan to Sri Lanka tonight and need to leave at 3.30.
For most people this would be the end of a pretty cool journey. For us… we feel it is just beginning.

Sasha in Oludeniz – Turkey

Hi Guys,
Is it raining or getting cold yet if so im sorry cos the heat is unbearably hot. Were in Ölüdeniz in Turkey were there are paragliding, scuba diving boat trips and sunny beach oppotunities. been with the Murrays,Walters,Shipmans and the Jones, Were having a ball but we have not been paragliding or scuba diving cos it is so expensive its so lame but we need the money for other things. The paragliding is 70 pounds and so is the scuba diving so there was no way we could do it….Never mind.
This morning we saw a school of dolphins really close to the shore it was so cool.On to Istanbul in 2 days an then on to Cairo, Egypt for a month its gunna be so cool. Buying soveniers and getting ready to send them home for Christmas.
Mum and Dad met the guy who took Dad paragliding 5 years ago, whilst we stayed at Grandma and Grandads house we met him in his bar….Hes a funny character.:)
Hope your all well missing everyone, loads and loads of love to my family from Sasha.

You thought buying a house in the UK was stressful

It’s 5.32am… I am sitting in the living area and have decided to write what it going through my head. We arrived in Turkey last night around 6.00pm and drove until it got dark. We are parked up in a truckers stop in the middle of nowhere. It’s a clear night out there and there is an alien about 5 meters away (I think in meters now… I’m turning European!) or at least that is what I thought until me and Sasha investigated it last night to find a pile of rubble with a car battery and too glowing lights on the top of it.
We all have a bit of a feeling of achievement. We arrived in Romania on around the 20th of Sept and by the 12th we had sussed out the best location, found the best piece of land, found the best lawyer in town and have gone through the whole process of buying a small estate up in the mountains whilst living in the central park. Romania is the best country we have been to in terms of the people, scenery and OK its dirt-cheap which all helps. The kids have been great and have realised that they have to go through some boring bits to get their own forest. I won’t bore you with the whole process but withdrawing 40,000 euros in cash and having to then drive across town to the local Norty office where we signed a load of papers with about 10 people in the room all waiting for their cash was an experience. The real estate company were… how should we say… a bunch of wide boys. When ever they wanted to make a point or get someone to do something they would wheel out this scary looking ‘body guard’ as they called him and usıng him as there confidence crutch would hassle people into doing things. The seller called them ‘Mafioso’ and well… we didn’t like them. We signed a contract with them to pay them 3% commission but because they did not have a contract with the seller (we found the land whilst out with the agent) they wanted us to pay 6% commission. When I told the agent ‘ No way, I signed a contract for 3%’ he didn’t know what to do… so he called the ‘body guard’ and got him to stand outside the room we where all in. The agent pleaded he had been robbed but the Notary made it quite clear we had paid for what we had singed for and that was it. Being in this sort of situation used to be an every day occurrence for me when working for newspapers… but that was different… I was not with my family. I had a chat with our lawyer to enquire what these characters might try and do when we left an he was more interested in getting a receipt from them than what the balloon outside the door would do.
I had felt uneasy driving alone with 40,000 euros in what it is now called by the locals the ‘Supa Machina’ so we agreed to give the sellers a lift to the Notary office and now had the comfort of having to give them a lift back. The sellers are two really nice guys and one of them is a man mountain…
We left the building with the kids ‘ Dad, can we make a sandwich before we go?’ and left rather quickly. Our friends followed us in their black BMW and then over took us driving right in front of us. I guess this was all standard practice for them. Intimidate the customer, get them scared and then demand what they wanted. What they hadn’t realised was the fact that they had broken the no. 1 rule when following someone in a car…always stay right behind them. I needed to loose these guys, I had three hungry kids on board and to guys who had tons of cash stuffed in their pockets. We came to a cross roads, our friends knowing we had left the sellers car at the lawyers turned left. I held back and let the traffic flow, they were forced to drive on a bit and a go out of sight… my mind went back to my old Fleet St days and we drove straight across and into the rat runs of Rasnov. Having driven through nearly every road in the area by now I knew my way around. We ducked and dived and took as many ‘which way did they go’ opportunities we could take. The sellers were a bit confused as to what I was up to. They don’t speak English and we only know, ‘hello, thank you and where is the toilet’ in Romanian’…. but a minute or two later they got the idea. I explained I had turned into the village to confuse our friends who would have thought we would have turned right and we would now drive over the mountain on the road out of the back of Rasnov to Brasov instead of the using the main road. They liked the idea of loosing the BMW (with , yes you guessed it… the blacked out windows in the back) as they had a lot of cash on them and didn’t like the look of them either. ‘ Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad…. when are we going to stop and make that sandwich?’ We drove over the mountain and dropped the sellers off on the main Brasov/Bucharest road. I explained to Claudia that the two guys in the BMW were not happy with us and that it was best for us to not stop until we were well and truly lost in the streets of Bucharest. She understood… but she was still hungry. A Nato summit was on in Piona Brasov and there were literally hundreds of police along the roadside… we were beginning to relax. We found this nice looking restaurant in Bucharest that looked like Bugsy Malone’s place… the Godfather was in the corner giving tips to the band that where only playing to him and in the other room there where ten head shaven villain types sat eating there dinner. Our imaginations were running wild. We had a nice dinner, gave them a large tip and asked if it was OK to stay the night outside. ‘ No problem, we are open all night’ in a Romanian gangster type voice. ‘ No one will bother you out there’ He smiled, I believed him. We felt we had lost the Mafioso… sorry the real estate agents and we’re looking forward to breaking for the boarder in the morning… and no, we weren’t out pıckıng mushrooms when that bear fell on two people and killed them.
That’s how it happened. If we were without the kids we would have thought nothing of it and drove all the way back to Brasov and let them puff their chests out at us. I was convinced that if there was the slightest chance that they were Mafioso and might had done something to us, our lawyer, the Notary or someone would have said something. The fact that we where with the kids we really did feel we where being threatened and did not relax until we parked up the next day at the Naval museum in Varna on the Black sea coast in Bulgaria. It had real life helicopters and war ships in it and suddenly Mafioso were history.
I know your sitting there thinking we are either completely off our trolley and very irresponsible to put our children in this situation… but… conscience… go away… not now… its done, its over….
or it takes balls… and we have pulled of a really good deal.
The land is 6.5 acres of pastureland. We have done all the checks and we can build on 25% of the total space… so we could build a house with a floor space of 1.5 acres. The view is stunning. To the front you can see rolling hills in the foreground with people cutting their hay by hand and then taking it back to their farms on their horse and carts. In the distance you have the Bugeigie Mountains, (OK its spelt wrong but they being with a B) were the sun rises over the top in the morning. To the left you have a small farm that has been there for generations and the house is one of those Adams Family looking places. A similar farm is to the right and the national park starts right out side the back door going up the mountain, covered in pine and oak trees with the gorge over to the left. It is just over a quarter of a kilometer long and has steep bits, flat bits, small trees, big trees a sheep shed, a stream and loads of grass.
You know ‘the hills are alive with the sound of music’…. yep that’s it.
It was a lot of work but at least it is all done now. We are still finishing off things with the land in Sri Lanka when we get there in December and have still to complete on the vine yard on Vis, the lawyer has had a tough job convincing the company set up department we are for real and will really be growing grapes on our land and not just building a house there… honest.
So that’s it. For me, phase one is complete. I will delegate the loose ends of all the buying to Penny now and start the next phase when we get to Arugam bay and need somewhere to live. We have spent two years deciding were is somewheredifferent and we have spent the last three months actually looking for it. I really do think the places we now have… are somewhere different and really rather special. It has been a very busy two years planning researching etc whilst still doing the day job and now… we are a day or so away from being with the Murray’s an Australian family that are as mad as we are and who started their journey from St Albans in an American camper as well a few weeks after us. We will travel with them down the coast of Turkey until we get to Oludınuz where we will park up and spend half term with some families from St Albans.
Life’s a beach…
I don’t need a holiday as I really have been on one big one since the day we left the UK, but staying still for a week and not driving up that mountain every day with surveyors etc in our ‘Supa Machina’ will be nice!
It’s 6.46am I can see the sun beginning to show it’s self… time to put the kettle on and catch up with those Murrays!

1 bus, 2 months in, 5 people… what's it like?

We are nearing the end of the first stage of our travels. Once we have completed the legals and bought the land in Brasov, we will move on down to southern turkey as quickly as we can to join up with a few families from St Albans that will be there for Oct half term. Its getting very cold at night here and we don’t have any coats!
As I have a bit of time due to not moving around every day, I thought I’d try and put down what it’s been like instead of focusing on where we have actually been and what we have been up to.
It’s a bit long but here goes…
Conscience – ‘Duncan, this is your conscience speaking here… So…do you feel you made the right decision?’
Duncan- ‘Yes, definitely… not 99% sure but 100%. From the minute we left… to now, what we are doing feels right and in a weird way more normal than living in St Albans. We now do what ever we want to. Excuse the pun but whatever road or track we have wanted to go down over the last two months we have. The only thing that we have been limited by is the size of the truck and our feeling of ‘we shouldn’t really do this, we’ve got the kids with us’. Some people move to the country and hate it, some move there and can’t understand why they stayed in town all those years. For me and Penny we have talked about doing this since literally the day we met each other and have always known we would take off one day, we just weren’t sure where, how or when. I don’t have that feeling ‘we should have done this years ago’ for the simple reason as we could not have afforded to do it 10 years ago, we were too busy with our careers and the kids would have been too young. What’s the point in going to the torture room in Dracula’s home town with a one year old? I am however glad I have not left it until I’m 50 or 60 like most people do as I would probably then think ‘shit should have done this years ago’. This is not a ‘I’ve worked all my life, I now want to go see some of the world before I go’ this is a ‘ I enjoyed the rat race in my 20’s and 30’s and now I want to live my life in a different way. I want to live it exactly how I am doing, hence why it feels so normal.
Conscience – ‘A yes or no would have done. Its sounds like you are happy with your decision, but what about yours kids? They had no choice in making the decision.’
Duncan – ‘Well conscience, actually they did have a say in the decision making process. I know you could say that it would be easy to persuade the kids as they would have no idea what to expect, but I’m sorry, my kids don’t do anything they really don’t want to. We spent two years discussing it and working out how it would all work for all of us. Every time I talked about permanently living somewhere else I got the big ‘no way dad’. As far as they are concerned they get all the benefits of living abroad and in two years time, they will slot back into school and within six months it will be like they have never been away. That is the deal, back in the UK for the autumn term of 2006 no matter what happens. I wanted to go for good but as I said the kids did have an input into the planning.
I think they are relying on what I have said about the slotting back in to school bit, but I have been there and done that…OK the New York suburbs of the mid ‘70’s is not exactly Arugam Bay (they were more dangerous but that’s another story). I lived in loads of different places in the states before finally settling down at the age of ten in Welywn Garden City and yes… six months in, I had lost my accent and was just like any other snotty noised English schoolboy.
I have just asked the following question to my kids ‘ If someone could walk in through the Bus door now with 5 air tickets back to the UK and you could all be back at school tomorrow and I could go back to work and we would all go back to our old way of life… would you want to go back?’ They all answered straight away. ‘ No’ and smiled.
Conscience – ‘ OK Duncan, no need to go on the defense… but what about their education?’
Duncan – ‘ This is the question I get asked the most from other parents we have met on the way and well… every parent we know at home, including grand parents. ‘But what about their education?’ Firstly… what is ‘education’ or more to the point what is a ‘good education’? For me it is providing your children with information and experiences that will enable them to be as happy as they can be and live their lives in a way that is best suited for them.
As far as I can see I am very alone on this view. 99% of people I know feel a ‘good education’ is 8 GCE’s, 3 A levels and an honors degree…
Having qualifications can help you create a life that suits you, they can make you feel good about yourself, but they will not teach you how to be happy, what you should do with your life, how to deal with problems, make decision and (sorry couldn’t resist it) how to deal with a tyre blow on a remote mountain pass in the middle of no where.
Qualifications are at the end of the day only pieces of paper you are given after sacrificing years of your life for… only to be put in a box and never used again. What you learnt along the way is something totally different and is not actually the focus of every ones energy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be just like all the other Dad’s in years to come, ‘Come on Angus, Claudia, Sasha, I think you should stay in tonight and revise and not go out and party… its only a few more weeks to your exams and then you can party every night.’ Qualifications did nothing for me, but I know that’s just me and I should not and will not deny my kids the opportunity at getting their GCE’s A levels and so on and I will support them all the way…. honest.
My point is, in my book a ‘good education’ is not just about getting qualifications. It’s about learning about life and how to enjoy it and how to deal with what it brings you as well as passing your exams. Not instead of.
I often admire how my younger sister Johanna has managed her life. She never seemed to make all the mistakes I made. I asked her once ‘ Why are you so sorted in your life and have not made loads of stupid mistakes?’ ‘ It’s easy Duncan’ she said, ‘I just watched you screw up first and thought sod that!’
So… that’s a long way of saying, I feel having the kids out of school for five months and taking them through 17 countries is all part of a ‘good education’. The biggest supporters of what we are doing in terms of the kids education, are their teachers at Abyone Lodge school. They all told us as long as they keep doing the three r’s they will be fine.
Reading
We have a library of about 50 books on board the bus. When we are traveling… which is quite often, most of their time is spent reading one of these books.
Sasha has read; Enchanted Wood, Cool, Artemis Fowl, 4 Caroline Lawrence books, Frankenstein The pearl, Dracula, Airoprt, The back cat, Brothers in Eygpt, Jonny English, The Hulk, Charles Darwin, The house of stairs, Macbeth 3xSherock Holmes, Shakespeare, Oliver Twist and about twenty more.
Angus has read; Enchanted wood, Five go off in a Caravan, Frankenstein, Macbeth, Dracula, My friend Harry, Hound of the Baskervilles, My big book of facts, My book of Geography.
Claudia has read; Frankenstein, The pearl, The black cat
Writing
We actually budget for post cards now, between writing them, talking to their friends on instant messenger in internet cafes, writing their travel logs and personal diaries they are probably spending between an hour and two hours a day writing.
Arithmetic
Show me a kid of 7 who knows what £1.50 is in 5 different countries 😉 This is where we are probably letting then down a bit, but most days include a calculation of some sort for the cost of a chocolate bar, loaf of bread or Dracula fangs.
Projects
They are all producing several projects. This includes the gathering of information, writing it all up and then putting it into Power Point with the photographs and video they have produced to present their findings.
They have seen the new Europe (or the old Europe depending on how you look at it), met hundreds of people who live their lives in different ways. Had a guided tour of a stone quarry, a tunnel used in the war in Sarajevo, an underground church, several churches, monasteries, caves, capital cities and so on. They have sampled several different cuisines and now know that sheep’s brains really do not taste nice. They have been on more ‘school’ trips than they will do in the entire time they will spend in school… show me a 12 year old that has been in a Romanian orphanage and given the children there her unwanted toys and clothes and seen their reaction.
They have learnt to communicate with adults and children who do not speak English. They have been mountain climbing, rafting, swimming, snorkeling, and rolly poyling like you have never seen.
They have learnt how to get on with each other.
They have learnt how to get on with their parents. Learnt the words, hello, thank you, how much and ‘where is the toilet’ in 5 languages.
They have learnt about Tito, Chichessque, communism, Islam, Orthodox Catholics, orphans, beggars, war and what it leaves behind, horses, trees, flowers, bears, wolves, snakes, birds, cows, sheep, grasshoppers, how to entertain a praying mantis, fix a blow out, top up the oil and water in an engine and how to fill up two 50 liter petrol tanks and a 40 liter water tank.
They have learnt that Coke is just full of sugar and the only reason why they drank it was because of the advertising. OK only Sasha actually has learnt this, but Claudia has soon followed. Angus is still convinced it’s the ‘real thing’.
They know what food they like, how to ask for and read a menu, the cost of ice creams in every capital in the Balkans and they really do understand what winds me up now.
On January 5th 2005 they start school with their new teacher from England who will be joining us in Arugam Bay. They will have a school house with four desks in it. One for Jenny their teacher and one for each of them, plus 4 computers connected to the Internet.
Jenny’s main focus is to make sure they will be able to slot back into the English curriculum when they get back to the UK. Jenny’s biggest concern is that they will become too advanced and get used to having access to their teacher and IT whenever they need it.
I honestly feel I am giving my kids a ‘good education’.
Conscience – ‘Wow, easy tiger, why so defensive about their education?’
Duncan – ‘I do not know anyone who has taken their kids out of the education system. I know I get things wrong and I know an awful lot of people, including my parents, who think what I am doing is wrong…every body only wants the best for their kids so yeah, I am on the defense’.
Conscience – ‘OK, you’ve covered their education. Are they having fun?’
Duncan – ‘ I asked all the guys if they are having fun. They said yes’
Conscience – ‘ Is that it?’
Duncan – ‘Yes, they are busy playing chess, I can’t really answer that question for them, they said yes, that’s good enough for me.’ We have had ‘ I don’t want to do this trip any more’ about the same amount of times as we used to get ‘ I want to leave this family and be adopted’. After visiting the orphanage yesterday however I don’t think Sasha will use that phrase again now some how.’
Conscience – ‘Are you having fun’
Duncan – ‘oh yeah… I’m having the time of my life. Traveling with a purpose is the life for me’.
Conscience – ‘and Penny?
Duncan- ‘I don’t know about having the time of her life as she is more hygienic than me… OK so she is hygienic… she is having fun and apart from the lack of shower/washing facilities and the cabin fever, she’s having a good time. Don’t forget Penny is like the kids, if she doesn’t want to do something… she doesn’t do it. We have discussed the next trip and she is definitely on board. Sasha has made it clear she is not and the other two are keen to know if they would get more ice cream if they cam along or stayed at home…’
Conscience – ‘What’s cabin fever?’
Duncan – ‘When your stuck in the same room with… well your kids (or parents depending on how you look at it) for days on end. The living space in the bus is about 7ft by 15ft and it can at times get a bit close. But its getting better, we are all learning to live with each other and respect each other more. The days when we are on top of each other are made up for when we arrive somewhere amazing and have a great time.
Conscience – ‘Is being in that bus for three months too long?’
Duncan – ‘ No, I recon it will be about right. It’s a bit boring at the moment, as we have been in Brasov, Romania for over three weeks now going to the same places over and over. When we get back on the road and start adventuring again, I think we will all get right into it again, but be glad it has finished when we get to Oludines in Turkey. I know I would like to carry on to Asabyshan , but I think the others will have had enough and I am looking forward to the new day job of building a house on the beach and doing safaris in the Jungle hopefully one or two days a month. Traveling in Egypt on trains and buses will be very different and a month of that I think will be enough as well.
Conscience – ‘Is it very different from being at home?’
Duncan – ‘ No, apart from being somewhere different nearly every day and experiencing everything you do with your family, and well… being on holiday every day… it’s like being at home. We live in a house, we have dinner every night we sleep, crap, yell, and laugh in it. It just moves around the world a bit every day.’
Conscience – ‘ Would you recommend it to your friends’
Duncan – ‘ um, dunno really. I think you need to be a certain type of person to get into it. You need to be a bit of a dreamer, traveler and very confident in your ability to deal with… anything.’ So yeah I would recommend it to some of them and not to others’.
(If you have read this far, you are probably one of the people I would recommend it to;)
Conscience – ‘do you feel unsafe?’
Duncan – ‘No. Some times we do a bit when we enter a country and are on our guard for the first few days whilst we get a feel for the place.’ Communism had NO CRIME! So you talk to people here and they are horrified that people actually get robbed now. Their expectation is to have a totally safe life and to be robbed or threatened is something they should not have to put up with. There is a large police presence in all the countries we have traveled in and everyone is convinced we are being watched by their secret police. They are probably unaware their secret police do not exit any more and have been replaced by EU police 😉 As a tourist and foreigner you get the feeling if anyone is going to pick on a punter they will stick with a local as up setting a tourist could get them into real bad trouble. Also being 20 stone and… well looking pretty scary any way, I feel any one taking a pop at us will be pretty rare. And remember, they have to make their attack plan and carry it out all within 10 minutes as most of the time we are movin on!
The safety is more about the roads and traveling. We have had the brakes go on us, a tire blow out, like I me blow up, one minute everything OK, and one second later the wheel has no tyre on it and I am driving along with just a steel rim and fresh air! We took a chunck out of the bus the other day when we hit a traffic cone in the road. It was the first one I have seen since leaving England. I nearly ripped a shop sign off its hinges in Bosnia, but a local’s face said it all and I managed to stop in time. We thought we were going to blow up all of our tyres in Albania when we drove on to a road that had just been laid with hot tar. It took about 3 days for it to wear off. On the whole, we drive at around 35 miles an hour, only in day light on OK roads and take it real easy. The other worry is obviously if any one got sick or hurt in the middle of now where and… well that hasn’t happened and we are confident it won’t. No one has had so much as a cold, tummy bug or anything… Sasha had to have her tooth pulled out in Sarjevo, but that would have been the same at home. Remember you all live in a country where more people die of road accidents, terrorism, muggings, nutters etc than here in the Balkans. We feel shit happens and it can happen any where, we feel just as safe as we did in the UK.’
Consciene – ‘How much is it costing you’
Duncan – ‘um… more than we planned… a lot more. We budgeted £1000 a month and we are running at … £2000 a month. Ouch. The petrol is not as cheap as we thought and… OK I’ll admit it, we eat out a lot as its £15 a go and the kids get a real kick out of it. We are actually spending less than we would be if we where at home… the only problem is we do not have a monthly salary yet… any future somewheredifferent customers that are reading this we assure you ‘ all proceeds of the company will go to a good cause’. Once we can sustain this lifestyle on an ongoing basis, I’ll be in heaven! To be able to travel when ever you want to for how ever long you want, yet all you need to do is secure an income of 24k a year… the fact that we will be back in the UK and the kids back at school in 2006 kind of kills this ideal but hey… as I said, you’ve got to be a bit of dreamer to do this;)
Conscience – ‘So is it all going according to plan?’
Duncan – ‘I sent two years planning this trip, and I am glad to say we have done exactly what we planned to, apart from it has cost us a few k more than we budgeted. If the hole two years go according to plan I’ll be well chuffed. Watch this space’
Bill