When my next door neighbour began to plan a once-in-a-lifetime  world trip she asked if I had any advice. ‘Yes,’ I said firmly; ‘Don’t tell a soul you are going. Leave notes for friends and relatives to be posted once your plane has left the ground.’

 She looked confused for a moment but  suddenly smiled and said; ‘Oh, you mean in case they give me  shopping lists? You’re right. My friend  had to trudge around Florence for days filling orders for handbags and leather jackets.’

 ‘No , it’s something far worse than that,’ I told her. ‘Broadcast  news of your trip and some  well intentioned fool will  give you a travel diary.’  Yes, they are still sold, even though most journeys are now documented  in endless detail on social media.

There is an end to even the longest shopping list, but the tyranny of a diary lasts forever – well until you return home anyway. They force people who have never written more than a Christmas card to sit up late in hotel rooms, painfully recording the events of the day when they should be lying in bed summoning the strength to move on.

Large, page-per-day diaries are the worst, because one feels obliged to fill all available space. To do less, or to cheat by producing grossly oversized handwriting would be to admit  that  a long awaited trip has turned out to be a boring non-event.

However, the biggest problem in chronicling overseas travel is remembering the names of places visited. I have always envied those early explorers who enjoyed the luxury of spontaneously christening landmarks as they sailed by. Mind you, at the end of a long day even Captain Cook may have suffered the odd memory lapse.  I like to imagine him tapping Joseph Banks on the shoulder and asking plaintively; ‘I say Banks, can you remember what I called that wretched  little inlet this morning?’ 

When Governor Lachlan Macquarie was travelling through the Blue Mountain in 1815 he named the village I live in Houndslow. Then on the return journey he forgot all about that and renamed it Blackheath.

During a motoring holiday in Greece with my husband some years ago I had sole responsibility  for diary writing. The following gives some idea of  the difficulties I  encountered.

Sunday August 15th. We arrive at our hotel late at night; tired and crabby and ready for bed. Rob slips between the sheets and turns on the television. His eyes glaze as he watches a game show which appears to be a Greek version of  Catch Phrase.  He doesn’t understand any Greek words except souvlaki  and ouzo but I’m extremely  envious of this mindless pleasure.  I can’t watch, because  I have to write up the day’s activities.

It takes me ten minutes to find the diary and when I do I’m tempted to replace it under  tee-shirts and rolled up socks and pretend it’s lost.  However, I can’t bear the thought of facing two  blank pages the following night. There is another long hunt for a pen before I can get started, and I need Rob’s help almost immediately .

Darling, can you remember where we went first today?’

His eyes remain fixed on the television screen. The host’s gorgeous assistant is revealing deep cleavage as she leans forward  to place letters on a board. I give him a gentle nudge and he responds, albeit half-heartedly;

 ‘Umm, it was that place with the nice little café. Started with a ‘K’, didn’t it?’

 ‘Oh yes, was it Kop…something?’

 He shakes his head; “No, I think it was  Kaz….. Kaza something or other.”

 ‘Never mind.’ I write down the first few letters and leave a space followed by a question mark.  ‘Then we went to those ruins, didn’t we? What was the name of the town they were near?’  

 Oh good grief, I don’t know. I thought you were making notes along the way.  Where’s the map?’

 ‘It’s in the car. Could you just pop your jeans on and go and get it for me ….?’


 ‘OK, I didn’t think so. Oh well, it doesn’t matter.’  I leave another space.

When I  start to describe the ruins I can’t quite remember the name of the fellow who built the original city. I record his initial and promise myself I’ll fill in the now very numerous blanks sometime down the track.

Years later the diary surfaces as I am trying to cope with the chaos of a house move. It’s clear we do not travel lightly in a domestic sense and any distraction from the accumulated  clutter is welcome.  I open the diary and  sit on a packing case to re-live those carefree days under  the Mediterranean sun.

 Sunday, August 15th.  R. and I drove through  Kaz…………….? where we stopped for divine coffee and cake. Then to the ruins near P……………. ..  where C…………….lived and ruled.  ‘ On to  …………….. for a swim and then to Kr……………….”

It is rather like reading the heavily censored journal of  someone involved in an illicit love affair. Perhaps it’s appropriate that the most powerful  image the entry conjures is of Rob,  gazing blissfully  at a  beautiful  girl as she  fills  gaps  in words on a Greek  game show.

  1. That was fun to read. When I went to Europe (seems like a century ago now), I decided that for every picture I took, I would first number then write down what the picture was of. There would always be something on each roll of film that would indicate which list belonged to it. That made it easy after I got home and developed the films to “remember” where I had been. No diary needed! (Until more recently I was never the journaling type.) I still have those lists and pictures 48 years later. I found it a very easy and accurate way to keep track. It would be even easier today with digital cameras because I wouldn’t have a dozen different rolls of film to keep track of.

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