"Indeed, a minimum of life, an unchaining from all coarser desires, an independence in the middle of all kinds of outer nuisance; a bit of Cynicism, perhaps a bit of ‘tub’."
Friedrich Nietzsche

27 Jun 2017

Lord Open Road, by Jim Christy

Lord Open Road, © Myfanwy Phillips

James H. Langford was the real name of a man that I and so many other habitués of the knockabout life knew as Lord Open Road.
His moniker might just as well have been the Rhyming Roadster or the Vagabond Versifier. In other words he spoke in rhyme—a style now familiar with rap. I met him at the annual Britt, Iowa hobo convention in 1977, although I might have encountered him in Britt way back in 1964. He looked familiar.
He was a stocky friendly man who dressed in railroad garb and still rode the rails whenever it was possible. He had the air of authenticity about him, something he shared with Frisco Jack, Adam Ydobon (Nobody spelled backwards), and few others. 
By the 1970s it was a vanishing way of life although recently it has become something of fad with punk rock types jumping freights and tagging them. Some of these go home and maintain websites and post photos and their hobo names on social media. The notion of the old time 'bos maintaining websites and texting is pretty funny, surreal even. I can just picture A-No.1 and his pal Jack London tweeting each other. James Langford would have had nothing to do with that kind of thing. He was too unusual—in a good way—for anything so conventional.
I’ve been thinking of him lately because I received a letter out of the blue—Texas, in this case—from his niece Barbara Saunders Jones. She had a clipping from decades past of a magazine article I wrote about one of the hobo conventions. There was an accompanying photo of Open Road, by Myfanwy Phillips, who accompanied me to Britt. The first one Barbara had ever seen, not only of him, but of anyone on her mother’s side of the family. She was later surprised to hear my description of him as a friendly man who illustrated no tendencies towards violent or abusive behaviour. It seems, according to family legend, that Uncle Open Road—they knew him only as James—was a rough, tough mean character. Although none of the 'bos spoke ill of him neither did they flock to his side. He simply came across as too strange even for these decidedly unusual people. 
Barbara writes that Uncle Road ardently desired to be crowned King of the Hoboes. I’m sure he did covet the title but must have known deep down that his coronation was about as likely as there being freight trains in heaven. By the Eighties contenders were actively politicking for the honour. Unlike some, Road was not what is known as ‘media friendly’. He wasn’t really rough and tough; he just looked it. The position of King was nothing to be laughed at either. There were advantages to it. For instance, free trips to speaking gigs that paid, having your opinions solicited and getting the opportunity to see one’s picture in the papers.
Invariably the men voted in as Hobo King were either wizened, non-intimidating characters like Sparky Smith and Frypan Charlie or the extremely photogenic such as Steamtrain Maury Graham who could also double as the Santa Claus nonpareil.
Steamtrain Maury Graham, © Myfanwy Phillips

James H. Langford was born in Oak Grove, Missouri in 1920. The next information the family has is that he was sent to Reform School in 1935, age fifteen. I have heard rumours that Road wasn’t the most reliable source of information about himself. When I asked him when he had first left home, he replied, “One morning when I was eight, my mother sent me down to the railroad tracks to fill a bag with coal for the stove. A train was coming and I left on it.”
Jim Christy (right) with Frisco Jack, © Myfanwy Phillips
Each would-be King has to appear on a makeshift stage and cite his credentials. Most speeches are usually reminiscent of something the mayor says at the county fair. But Road’s might have gone something like, “Hello, dere. I know you come to stare but I don’t care. On my boots I have wings. I don’t dig any sedentary things. I’m always going down that road like old Tom Joad. In comparison my opponents are mostly ersatz, stay-at-home cats. I’m a real Bo, I just got to go”, . . .  etc.

Steamtrain and I had a falling out because I backed Frisco Jack for King and not him. I pointed out to him that he lived in a big house in suburbia, owned a business, and that his only time away from it was to visit Britt once a year.

I believe Open Road wasn’t so much unfriendly as socially awkward, and he stumbled when called upon to speak in the manner of ordinary people. But he was eloquent when rhyming. In this he reminds me of certain stutterers who sing effortlessly such as Country singer Mel Tillis. He added that a few years later he got into some trouble which curtailed his railroad adventures for a good amount of time—which can be attested to by the dates of the reform school episode. In 1942 he enlisted in the Army but served only a year. 
When I returned to the Convention after a ten or twelve year absence, I asked a couple of the men if they’d known Floyd Wallace, my old hobo mentor with whom I’d first traveled to Britt. One said he’d heard of Floyd, another shook his head. Road nodded, “Oh, yes. The Greeley Kid.” Which was indeed Floyd’s moniker. “He fought bravely in Spain. Wish I could see him again but word got around he went and caught the Westbound.” Catching the Westbound means departing this Vale of Tears.
In the late Seventies and early Eighties I exchanged a few notes with James H. Langford. The last I received was from Herington, Kansas on April 8, 1981. He opened with "Hey, Dere", his usual salutation, and said he regretted he wouldn’t be able to meet up with me in Florida as we’d previously discussed because he “needed to go west to get some rest.” The editor of the Britt newspaper had told Langford that he could, “get me the crown because I have the background but I have to stop using big words.” He signed the note “Open Road.”
Nine days later Lord Open Road caught his own Westbound, having been attacked in the train yards at Dalhart, Texas. According to the autopsy, he died of “multiple stab wounds to the chest.” His killers got $2.81 for their efforts.

More hobo portraits by Myfanwy Phillips from her visit to the Britt Hobo Convention with Jim Christy in 1977. 

Top Hobo Bill and Frypan Jack in front of Bill's trailer, second Adam Ydobon, third unnamed hobo, and fourth Sparky Smith:

NOTE: A biography of Jim Christy's own adventures, A Vagabond Life, will be published by American History Press in the Fall

29 Dec 2016

Guest Contributor—Donald Kerr

Antipodean Musings on a Friend: Jim Christy

by Donald Kerr

Donald Kerr in the Press Room, University of Otakou, Dunedin
It was about 1989 when I first met Jim Christy. I was working in the rare book collection at Auckland Public Library (now Sir George Grey Special Collections), starting there on the auspicious date of 8 August 1988 (a fire at the library that day prevented me from actually starting work). My surrounds included a plush blue carpet, a number of exhibition cabinets, three reading tables, and an office, enclosed with sliding glass windows. It was heavenly, and visitors calling had to have persistence to battle through the public floors, and take the stairs or lift to the rare books collection, the only public area on the second floor. I cannot remember what time of the day it was, but Christy walked in and peering through the glass windows said – in his distinctive drawl – ‘Donald Kerr’. I replied in the affirmative. I have no distinct recall on what was said after that, but we did end up mentioning Blaise Cendrars. Indeed, that was how we connected. Christy had seen my name in Feuille de Routes, the bulletin of the Blaise Cendrars Society, and although only my home address was listed (see No. 17, November 1987), he had somehow tracked me down. In New Zealand. Christy is good like that! And we would have talked about Henry Miller, the American writer whom I had corresponded with briefly, and who had introduced me to Cendrars, John Cowper Powys, Knut Hamsun, and a whole host of other writers through his Books in My Life (1952), a passionate appreciation about all those writers, stories and narratives that had influenced Miller. (Miller dedicates a chapter to Cendrars in Books in My Life, pp. 58-80). I probably took Christy to tea in the staffroom and continued our discussion. However, on this first fleeting meeting there is one thing I do remember. At one stage, Christy asked me if he could borrow $100. He was not ‘skint’; it was for tyre repairs on a rental car that he had. He promised to pay it back. Librarians are not rich, and I was pretty typical; first real job, mortgage, and the usual expenses. I did not hesitate. ‘Of course’, I said. And so ended this rather vague first meeting. One thing, however, was certain. I liked Jim Christy. This vagabond fellow was my kind of guy, and I was sure our bookish relationship would continue.
Through my work at the Grey Collection at Auckland Public Library, I came to know Sir John Galvin, a private book collector who lived in Vancouver. On learning that we (my wife Jude and I) were visiting family in Vancouver and Montreal in October 1991, Sir John invited us to call. We did visit, and it was a great thrill to see his private collection of books and manuscripts, which included a first edition Audubon, rare Mayan and Aztec maps, and medieval manuscripts. However, the first day in ‘Van’ was a real Christy day. We arrived at Jude’s sister place in West Vancouver in the early morning and in order to keep awake, we decided to head to town. Before walking to the bus stop to catch the 10 Dunbar bus, I gave Christy a quick call. With no answer, I left a message, saying that we were in town and that we would catch up – somewhere.
The bus arrived, and we paid the fare to downtown Vancouver. We walked to the seats at the end of the bus, and ended up looking twice. There was Christy, sitting at the back, downing a beer. Jokes like ‘you come here often’ and ‘I always catch this bus’ followed. It had turned out that Christy was returning from working as a gardener for an Arab sheik. And I told him of Galvin’s treasure-house in Vancouver. Really? Truly Cendrarsian. I saw much of Christy while in Vancouver, especially at McLeods bookshop. Indeed, another accidental meeting occurred. While in a music store on Seymour (Sam’s?), Christy was there, with a girl called Nicola. We ended up in a Punjabi restaurant for a nosh, and then to Sylvia’s Hotel to hear some jazz. I think Oscar Peterson’s brother was playing. No matter who, Christy likes his jazz. Without doubt, talk on Cendrars, Miller, Hamsun, Powys, and all the others would have continued. And there was talk of our own writings – his poetry and novels, and my books on book collectors.
In February 1996, we adopted Samuel, a 12 day old boy. And Christy arrived in Auckland. He did not stay long at our West Auckland home, realising that it was such a momentous occasion for us. And he was on the job; from memory a commissioned journalistic piece from National Geographic about some part of the country – Gisborne, Napier, the Coromandel. Christy has always been good at this. Somewhat amazingly, he always comes up trumps with a commission that enables him to visit places around the world. ‘Where are you today old chum?’ I often ask in a letter (now email). Burma – doing an article on Indian elephants; Costa Rica – an article on the poor; Portugal – an article on buried treasure.
In August 1997, we visited Jude’s family across Canada: Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. In Vancouver he enjoyed a BBQ at my sister-in-law’s, bringing with him Carmen, one of his girl-friends. She was fun. Christy was still at Gibson, but had an apartment somewhere downtown. One topic of conversation was eccentrics, those out of the ordinary folk with their mad schemes and plans. On leaving Vancouver and traveling to Toronto, I ended up in Montreal, at another of Jude’s sisters. It was a time to relax. One afternoon I turned on the television and found a documentary on the schemes of one Captain Francois Elie Roudaire, who proposed the building of a 120 mile canal that would connect the Mediterranean Sea to a part of the Sahara Desert. This crazy mad-cap scheme was estimated to cost 25 million francs, and involved the visionary ‘engineer’ Ferdinand de Lesseps. I kept watching it, somewhat amused. And lo, friend Christy appeared on the screen; a character witness-cum-expert talking about this mad scheme. Believe me, this sort of thing occurs often with Christy. Over the six or seven times we have actually met, there has always been some strange coincidence; some very strange happenstances.
In October 2002, we moved to Dunedin, which boasts the oldest University in New Zealand. Christy had never been this south before, and his visit in 2006 was an excuse to visit this fine city. Another girl-friend was in tow; Virginia I think. And as he likes his privacy, he booked a hotel in the downtown area; mixing with us at nights. Dunedin’s weather can be variable; super fine one day – dropping to very cold temperatures the next. Christy came unprepared for the cold. I remember lending him a puffer jacket emblazoned with ‘Champion Spark Plug’ on it. It not only buffeted the winds, but he looked cool. A snappy dresser – as he always is. It was also on this occasion that he met my friend Ralph Lawrence, another raconteur and kindred spirit. Christy and ‘Ralphie’ still keep in touch.
In June 2012 we visited Kingston, Ontario. Christy was living on a farm in Belleville, having got Gibson and Toronto out of his system. The latter did, however, provide a closer connection to publishers and readers. I made an arrangement to meet him outside the apartment block of Jude’s father’s in Kingston. I thought the instructions were clear, but obviously not. I sat on the seat outside waiting for him to turn up. Nothing. A no-show after two hours. Disappointed, I knew there were a few bookshops in Kingston that deserved attention. So I headed towards the first on the list. I remember walking into the shop, which was crowded with shelves of books. A large double shelved bookstand stood in the main area of the store, with the owner sitting behind a desk in the corner. Rather than browse (something I enjoy) I asked the owner: ‘I am looking for books on Henry Miller, and Knut Hamsun’. And who popped his head up from behind the bookshelf: Christy. ‘I knew I would find you here!’ he said. We laughed and joked about the lack of communication and mis-directions, and repaired to a local pub for fish and chips and a few drinks. And I bought a Miller book that day: the Hallmark edition issue of The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder (1971). My note in this book reads: ‘Purchased 30 June (Summer) 2012 for C$12.00 in a bookshop in Kingston, Ontario, where I bumped into Jim Christy.’
Somewhere in the few meetings we have had, Christy got new teeth – gold ones from Vietnam. The operation was, according to him, cheap. They made an impression on Sam. One day he awoke from a dream. He relayed that there was a knock at the door of our villa in Dunedin. The door opened and it was Christy, with his gold teeth all a-smiling, and he was holding an axe. Sam did not say what happened next, but he still remembers this Stephen King ‘Shining’-like episode and Christy.
And over the years I have garnered a number of letters from Christy, and books – many signed. Four excerpts from his emails (pencil gone years ago) give the flavour of conversations: ‘Donald. Are you a celebrated author yet? Receiving kudos? Basking in the attention of nubile young (female) fans? If so, please tell me your secret! I had a dream last night that I and my new lady friend (who I've known for 20 years), a half - gypsy singer were staying at your and Judy’s home in probably Dunedin, although it wasn’t like any home of yours I've ever seen. You both were out of town and lent it to me for a few days. You left a wire-haired terrier there and it was starving, (you heartless creature). We went for a walk and saw you and Ralph carrying bags and on your way to the gym. We had a flight and had to leave. Why such a ridiculous dream? What is the significance? Feed the dog! Jim’ (date unknown); ‘I’m in Holguin Cuba....only have a minute on internet.....second trip to Cuba but this time have had more of a lot inside, so to speak. ... Lots to tell...hope we get a chance to meet in person sometime soon........and hope you weren’t effected by the quake....best, Jim’ (3 October 2011); ‘Morocco is old hat, Suva too wet, New Orleans underwater, New Delhi too spread out so I’m here in Ivanhoe (real name). We’re having the same weather you have in Dunedin! Otherwise all fine. I think I mentioned that I had a play in workshop for three nights last Feb. Well it got picked up by a real producer who will stage it next Feb. at a major theatre in Toronto. For me, I suppose it’s beginner’s luck...Just came across the info that Blaise wrote a song for Edith Piaf that she recorded. ... best, brother from Yogi Jim’ (5 November 2011); and ‘I’d like to see a list of the strangest libraries, ones that cater in a fulsome way to esoteria and odd corners of learning. Don’t think I’ll be using the Iowa law library. Spent a few days in jail decades ago in Cedar Rapids. Was befriended by the deputy and his mother.  But that’s another story.’ (1 November 2012).
And on the preliminary page of his The Buk Book. Musings on Charles Bukowski (1997) is the inscription: ‘For Donald, I’m sure you will find this fellow to be a worthy role model! Jim.’ The above is the bare bones of my friendship with Christy, most of it true. I have failed to mention Dave Mason, bookseller extraordinaire; Christy’s turn as poet-singer in Artspace, Dunedin; and the death of the elastic man in the circus. But that, as Christy states, is another story.

Dr. Donald Kerr is Special Collections Librarian at University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand 

9 Nov 2016

Trumping versus Tramping

America has finally eclipsed Hitler’s appointment as German Chancellor in 1933 by electing an even more toxic leader 83 years later—such is the treachery of democracysomeone even more open about their reactionary and despotic intentions than was the Führer. So much for the march of civilisation, which has now finally gone into reverse. 

In voting to express their frustration and dissatisfaction with the complete failure of the capitalist project, as represented by successive dynasties of corrupt U.S. politicians, business moguls and bankers, what have those folks angry at being denied the American dream decide to replace it with—an even uglier face of capitalism and selfish greed, this time combined with a pathological hatred of anyone who is not ‘white’, Christian, and heterosexual. And as for the latter, certainly in Trump's case, after 100 years of women's struggle to be treated equally to men, a return to the worse kind of open misogyny.

My response to the events of November 8th 2016 is triggered by my last post, the story of a middle aged, white woman who, in the late 1960’s tramped and hitchhiked alone from Britain, through France and Spain to Morocco, onwards through Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, then by boat to Turkey and onwards again to Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Tibet. Kathleen Phelan had tramped for over 30 years, inspired by her personal philosophy that the thrill of life on the road, with only the clothes and few possessions she stood up in, was preferable to a life in the West—straightjacketed by conventional society’s obsession with acquiring money and material possessions—as a means to survive in an increasingly selfish and oppressive world.

Kathleen Phelan took little from the world but gave much. The profession listed on her passport was 'vagabond and storyteller', and she performed for her supper as much as eight hours a day. Kathleen followed an honourable tradition of vagabond philosophers going all the way back to Diogenes the Cynic whose ‘performances’ in Greek cities, such as walking the streets in daylight with a lighted lamp (looking for an honest man), represented his own unique treatise on the bankrupt state of human civilisation in the 4th Century BC. How little really has the human project progressed in over 2000 years.

Reading Kathleen’s story, one is immediately struck by the grim reality that there would be no way a single woman, or even Western male, would be able to make such a trip today. Not just because of the rise of national and international conflicts, religious fundamentalism, and the diaspora of increasing numbers of displaced people, but the corresponding fear and intolerance of the ‘foreigner’ by Western nations as evidenced by Brexit and Trump’s election as US President. 

The idiocy of America’s newly expressed desire to ‘make our country great again’ (expressed by the Brexiteers also) by withdrawing into itself and closing its borders to ‘foreigners’ (particularly Latinos and Muslims), and accompanied by an increasing intolerance of non-white, non-Christian, non-heterosexuals, is that, with the exception of the displaced Native Americans, all Americans are foreigners. The country was built and inhabited by foreigners for christ sake, from every corner of the world, many escaping persecution from elsewhere, and latterly drawn there by the iconic Statue of Liberty and everything she represented in terms of freedom and tolerance of diversity.

And so in what sense do white Christians like Trump—increasingly the minority in Americaclaim that they have the moral imperative to mould the country into their obscene image? America is already close to a police state, in which its own citizens (mainly Afro-Americans) can be murdered by police officers with impunity. Imagine the scenario once Trump and his lunatic henchmen get their hands on the judiciary, the police and the armed forces. Oh yes, of course he encourages the civil protests currently taking place across America, so much so that when he has his hands firmly on the reigns of power, he will be able to declare a state of emergency, implement martial law, and finish the job he has been gagging to get on withsupported by large swathes of the baying, redneck mob who elected him. Americans must ask themselves exactly what does 'make America great again' actually mean to these white supremacists; a return to segregation, even slavery?

A footnote concerning tramping

It was Trump's new demonic lieutenant, Rudolph Giuliani, who in 1998, passed a law to fine pedestrians $50 for jaywalking and fenced off sidewalks in some of the busiest areas of New York City. But then America has been clamping down on the free movement of pedestrians for decades following an idiotic Los Angeles planning report in the 60's noting that 'The pedestrian remains the largest single obstacle to free traffic movement'following which over 1,000 pedestrian crossings were removed in California. As Jim Christy puts it in his book, The New Refugees:

'In America the hitchhiker, the drifter, is not regarded as a seeker of freedom or knowledge, as an explorer of his land and the ways and doings of his fellows, but, rather as a breed of criminal, a jobless, shiftless no-count, out to rob and rape and worse. A man on the road meets all the narrow paranoia, the fear and ignorance of that "pettiness that plays so rough".'

18 Oct 2016

A Philosophy of Tramping—Kathleen Phelan Part 2

The following magazine article written by Kathleen—probably from Woman's Own—was sent to me by Graham Marriott who also told me his own story of meeting Kathleen Phelan. Scans of the original article are at the bottom of this post, but for ease of reading, I have provided a typed transcript below. 

Calculating that Kathleen's husband, the Irish tramp writer Jim Phelan, died in 1966 and she says 'he died 6 years ago', the article would likely have been written sometime in 1972. However, the events described below of Kathleen's first North African tramp from Casablanca to Cairo, would have happened prior to 1970, as this was the year that Jim Christy met Kathleen on a boat from Spain to Morocco and tramped with her for 6 weeks in that country (described in Kathleen Phelan Part 1). On this occasion Kathleen was already speaking Arabic and so the events described below are presumably from a much earlier trip. As Kathleen describes below that she made the North African trip 'after Jim died', possibly 1966 or 1967.

A sadness about this incredible story is the impossibility of a European woman making such a trip alone, or even in company, today.

Graham's story and the stories of others who met Kathleen over the years are also told in Kathleen Phelan Part 1, together with other anecdotes about Kathleen and other samples of her writing and illustrations.

I am a vagabond 

By Kathleen Phelan

For over 30 years I’ve walked the roadways of the world. First
with my husband Jim and, since
he died, on my own. I am living a life stranger than any
fiction. Freer than a bird…

Fine weather or foul I am out on the road. I own nothing but what I stand up in and can carry with me; I rarely have more than a couple of copper coins to rub together and yet you’d have to go far to find a happier woman.
     There is nothing to compare with the excitement of walking each day and never knowing who you are going to meet and where you are going to find yourself by nightfall.
     Sometimes I walk from dawn till dusk and other times I get a lift in a car and just go wherever the driver is going. Once, I started out with the West Country in mind and landed up in North Wales; another time, I started out from Tehran in Persia with a vague idea of heading to Afghanistan, and 12 hours and 300 miles later, I was on the shores of the Caspian sea. But what did it matter.
     For 25 years I travelled the road with my husband Jim Phelan and when he died, 6 years ago, friends told me: “You must settle down now and get a secure job. Tramping the road was alright with a man, but its not something you can do on your own.”
     But never for one moment did I consider changing my way of life, although I did want to get away from the British roads for a while. I had come to know them so well when travelling with Jim; we had made hundreds of friends up and down the country and grief was too sharp to visit them yet.

Singing for my supper,
talking for my tea 

It doesn’t occur to most people that professional tramps make many more friends than people who stay put. You see, you get to know someone only for a short while and you show only your best side to each other. Then you part and these people remain your friends forever.
     Rarely does it happen that a person giving me a lift doesn’t want to take me home and introduce me to their family. People are so intrigued by my way of life and fascinated by the stories I have to tell. Because every vagabond is a storyteller—that’s how we live. On my passport, my profession is given as storyteller.
     It’s a myth that tramps of the road go around telling a whole lot of lies. We belong to a fast vanishing band of minstrels who sing (and talk) for our supper. We are performers, entertainers, and we may have to talk for eight or nine hours a day without repeating ourselves and all for a cup of coffee, a meal, a space on the floor to sleep or a few coins. There are not many trained actors who would want to do this and write their own script! People reward us not because we’re poor, but because they like the tales we tell. 
     I have had so many fascinating experiences that I don’t have to make up stories. For instance, take the morning I found myself in Ataba Square in the centre of Cairo. I had arrived as usual in my jeans, blouse and barefooted (I wear canvas shoes when necessary but prefer to go without any shoes at all when I can).

The universal language
of the traveller

One side of the square small streets led past the Opera House and widened into boulevards with fashionable cafes and shops, luxury hotels, and beyond that, the Nile. On the other side, the narrow streets disappeared into a network of lanes and alleys which held the noisy, colourful bazaars and markets, thronged with people. 
     Suddenly there came a thudding of hooves and warning shouts. Lorries braked, a tram bell clanged urgently and men, women and children scattered swiftly. Swooping into the square came a herd of about 40 camels headed by a small one on which perched a laughing young Arab.
     He sat proudly showing off his ability to control and direct the herd between the traffic. The crowd roared their admiration for this man who had ridden straight in from the desert.
     As he swept across the square to pass me, I made the age-old sign holding up my right hand palm outwards on a level with my face. It is known as the “show-out” which means “Good luck to you.” He then lowered his hand but immediately swept it up and this time, he held his hand still palm outwards but farther away from his face, which meant “Need any help?”
     I at once crossed my arms, hiding my hands, which indicated to him that I did not need anything. These greetings were made swiftly and unobtrusively and he nodded gravely and was gone.
     That was a great moment. There I stood, a stranger in Cairo, coming from the other side of the world, and yet I was able to change greetings with a wandering Arab camel-driver. He probably had centuries of nomadic history. I had only my lifetime, but we were able to communicate because we both follow the road.
     After Jim died, I decided to go across North Africa and I made my way through France and Spain to Casablanca on the coast of Morocco.
     As always I travelled light: a sleeping bag with a built-in ground sheet, a small tent in case the weather is rough, slacks, jeans, a change of underclothing, a dress and two or three blouses. I take woolen socks and tights but rarely wear them, toilet things of course, scissors, a knife, a torch—and a chess set. That is the one truly international game. You can enter a cafe practically anywhere in the world and by setting up your chess board, you’ll soon get to know people.
     I made my way towards the south of Morocco because I had always wanted to visit the town of Goulimime which is right on the edge of the desert. I found it every bit as fascinating as I’d been told. Here, the people lived in tents looking out on miles and miles of pinkish sand, unbroken but for stark stumps of stunted trees. They wear their own distinctive costume, long blue robes with white turbans, and they welcomed me warmly but with curiosity. Arabs can understand wandering tribes, but not the solitary vagabond, and especially not a woman on her own!
     For Eastern people, hospitality to the wayfarer is part of everyday life and I stayed with them for a few days in order to see the famous weekly cattle market. It is a magnificent sight to see the Arabs, who come from miles around that region, dressed in their colourful robes and weaving around the thousands of camels which fill the market place.
     I travelled some of the way back to Marrakesh with a party of Berbahs. One of the women presented me with a little portable stove which was to prove most useful. It consisted of a pottery bowl in which I put charcoal and when I had fanned it to glowing, I placed on top a special dish containing the food I wished to cook.
     I conveyed my thanks to her and resolved to try and learn Arabic at the first opportunity.
     In a country where I don’t know the language, I always buy a phrase book as soon as I can. For one thing, it enables me to understand the signposts, but more important, I can ask in the right tongue for a cup of coffee and a space on the floor to sleep. I have a good knowledge of French and so I knew I’d have no difficulty when I reached Marrakesh where most people understand this tongue.
    I walked quite a lot of the way because not many people have cars in this region. But the lifts I did get were in large cars—officials and such going to Casablanca or Rabat. All were kind, insisting on standing me a meal at a roadside cafe, giving me addresses of friends in towns I might visit, and always ensuring that I had somewhere to sleep for the night.
     People are wonderful, you know. Every person is better than he or she thinks. This is the high sacred secret of the road—the vagabond is staking his life that this is true.
     I reached Marrakesh and my experience there shows vividly the contrasts and the excitement of a vagabond’s life. I had been given the address of a friendly cafe in a poor quarter in the casbah. By our standards, it was run down and far from clean, but the people were kind and were happy that I should sleep on the floor.
     By day I talked with the customers and told them of my life and I leaned about theirs. In the evenings, I would go round the market and stall holders would give me scraps of food which I would bring back and cook on my little stove.
A palace guest

I had been there about 10 days when I was invited to a meal with the owner and his family. The meal consisted of a huge dish of rice and vegetables and we were, as is customary, sitting on the floor around it, eating with our fingers.
     Suddenly there was a great commotion and a beautiful horse-drawn carriage pulled up outside. The driver in resplendent uniform entered and to my surprise made straight for me. 
     “Are you the lady who travels the road and calls herself a vagabond and storyteller?”
     “Yes,” I said. (I wasn't all that surprised that he should know about me because when I fill in the entry form to any country abroad, I put: Profession, Vagabond and storyteller; Money, Nil; Address, No fixed abode.)
     The driver then said, “We would like to offer you better accommodation.”
     I said thank you, but I was learning much about Morocco and the people from talking to customers here, and the owners had been more than kind.
     “I think you had better see the accommodation before refusing.” he replied and there was an air of authority about him, and so I followed him into the carriage. We drove across the town and eventually he pulled up at a place that looked a cross between Windsor Castle and an Arabian Nights palace. There was a huge wooden door and he gave me an enormous key to open it.
     I entered into wonderland. A tiled courtyard was surrounded by beautiful gardens filled with geraniums and bougainvillea and in the distance, I could hear a fountain playing. Inside, the rooms were just as palatial with mosaic tiles and ironwork as fine and dainty as lace.
     “You are in a palace which belongs to King Hassan II and we will be happy for you to stay here for five or six weeks.” he said courteously.
     I was stunned but I managed to stammer. “But why?”
     “Storytellers are welcome and respected in our country and we have heard of your fame. May you be happy here . . .”
     After he had gone, I had to have a quiet laugh to myself. The luxury was fantastic but not much help when you haven't got any money or any food. I had actually been a lot better off at the cafe where I might eat with the owners and customers bought me the odd cup of coffee. Each night I let myself into my palatial quarters with the massive key, sat in solitary state in the courtyard and cooked scraps from the market on my stove.
     I stayed there for about four weeks and then came the call of the road. There is never any denying it. I gave the key to the caretaker, said farewell to my friends in the casbah and set off for Algeria . . .
     The next night couldn't have been a greater contrast. I spent it in a filthy Moroccan doss-house with 60 men, old, poor, sick and hopeless. I had walked to a small town and into a sandstorm. I’d never seen one before and I found it terrifying—wave upon wave of sand like a mighty, roaring ocean.
     I sheltered in a doorway with a small boy and I asked him if there was anywhere I could sleep on the floor for the night. He took me to a doss-house where the owner gave me a dirty straw mat. I wrinkled my nose at the smell and thought, “I shall never be able to sleep here. As soon as the storm clears I’ll go . . .” And settled down to wait.
     All around, the old men were making coffee or mint tea on portable stoves like mine and in no time at all they had clustered around me, offering me refreshment. It was a terrific thing for them to have someone like me to talk to and I fixed a smile on my face as I took the proffered cup, which was really filthy. Oh well, I thought, if I get dysentery or something worse—I just will . . .
     All night I sat up telling them of my life and it was dawn before I set out again, the storm having blown itself out. (And mercifully I didn't suffer any ill effects!)
     I found Algeria the most interesting of the north African countries because of the attitude and evolution of the young people. Many had grown up having been orphaned in the war and they have taken to the roads as individuals. They had a great understanding of my way of life and I enjoyed travelling with them part of the way.
     Then happened something which occurred quite often in Britain as well as abroad. A car put me down on the outskirts of a town at the far end of Algeria—Constantine. It was six o’clock in the evening and I hadn't a clue in which direction the city was. In such circumstances I look for a nice house and I saw one at the end of the street with lights in every window. A girl of about 18 came to the door and in answer to my question said yes, she spoke a little English.
     I said: “Could you or your mother direct me to the centre of the city?”
     She told me it wasn't a private house but a girl’s school and she invited me in and took me to the headmistress. I told her about my life on the road and she asked if I would talk to the girls about it and afterwards, she would be pleased if I would have supper and stay the night. Which I did, and I stayed nearly a week, helping in the kitchen and teaching the girls in English.
     This is typical of chance encounters and when I find a comfortable billet I’m often asked why I don’t stay. The answer is that you don’t discover the essence of people when you’re surrounded by comfort or at least not for quite a long time while you get to know one another. On the road, people confide their inmost thoughts. Preliminaries are disposed with because you're coming from nowhere, going nowhere and you'll probably never see them again.
     From Algeria I hitch-hiked into Tunisia and spent about three months crossing this country. It was here I learnt my first Arabic. At a cafe in a small town I fell into conversation with with a young fellow of about 20. As always, he wanted to know where I came from and why I was there, and suddenly he said, “Would you like to come see my little school?”
     It transpired he was a student, and to make a little money, he taught children of poor people to read and write their own language. Parents paid him a shilling or two a week which was far cheaper than proper school fees. His class was held in a shack by the river and there were about 20 children sitting at little desks.
     The student indicated a chair, gave me a notebook and Arabic reader and within minutes I had joined the class. This is what is so exciting about my life. When I had got up that morning, I didn't dream I’d be taking Arabic lessons a few hours later!
Luxury hotel

From Tunisia on and on into Libya. One of the highlights there was my stay in Tripoli. A car had deposited me in the town about 10.30 at night and the driver had given me a postal order for a pound so that I could have a bed for the night. I knew I must find lodgings quickly because it simply isn't done for a woman to be alone on the street at night in such places. I looked around for a small hotel but I couldn’t see one. There were only enormous luxury hotels near to hand—so I thought I might as well just walk into the largest!
     I asked for the manager and showed him my postal order: “Have you a small room you could let me have for the night for one pound? I will cash this tomorrow.”
     He said actually it would cost £2.40 but I didn’t have to pay now and I could go to my bank in the morning . . .
     “But you don’t understand.” I said. “This is all I've got in the world.”
     He was amazed. “But how . . .” he began, and was at a loss for words. I told him of my journey across North Africa and when I had finished, he said “You may have the room for a pound.”
     It was a huge double room beautifully furnished and with a private bathroom. I hadn’t been there five minutes when there was a knock at the door and a waiter came in with a four-course dinner on a tray. Oh heavens, I thought, he really doesn't understand I’ve only a pound, so I rushed downstairs and said to the manager, “Is the meal included in the pound?”
     He nodded, “Of course. I thought you might be hungry . . .”
     Next morning I cashed the postal order and returned to the hotel prepared to pay and depart. The manager wouldn't hear of it. “We are not busy at this time of the year. I shall be pleased if you will stay a week in that room. I was in England a few years ago and people were kind. This can be my way of saying ‘thank you.’ ”
     Well, he told everyone in the hotel about me and they were particularly fascinated by my wandering life because they were very rich oil people. To them it seemed an incredible existence. Everyday they would come up to me and say, “Madam, you must come and see this place or that place”—they took me everywhere in great limousines and we ate in some of the finest restaurants.
     A young couple on holiday at the hotel asked me how I was going to cross the desert to Benghazi and I told them that I understood there was a good road and I should, as always, set out and see what happened. They were appalled.
     “You cant do that. We’re returning to Benghazi and we’d be happy to buy your plane ticket if you'll come with us.”
Desert treck

Its marvellous how one moment you have nothing and the next you are offered something like this. I thanked them warmly but privately I thought: I haven't hitch-hiked all the way here from Casablanca to look down at the desert from a plane. I should be frustrated all the way wondering what it was like down there.
     So I explained and they gave me their address in Benghazi “If you ever reach there”, they said doubtfully. The next day I set out to cross the desert. After two days’ walking I came to a little oasis and there met two Bedouin families who were going south with their camels. They immediately suggested I accompany them and offered me one of the camels to ride. We travelled together for five or six days and it was out of this world. In my mind now, I can recall those glorious nights under a sky full of stars and the breathtaking sight of the sun coming up.
     They took me about half-way to Benghazi. I then managed to get a lift on a large convoy coming up from one of the oil wells.
     It was a most enormous convoy—about 20 lorries, a benzine truck which “tanked up” the lorries across the desert, 100 Libyans, two New Zealanders, two Australians, an Austrian, a Frenchman—and me! I rode beside the driver of the benzine truck and each night they made a huge circle with their lorries and set up bivouacs and portable huts and lit fires for cooking. The way they looked after me was unbelievable. They erected a little wooden hut for me to sleep in and a different group invited me to eat with them each night. When the fires died down, the lovely, graceful silhouettes of gazelles would appear and stand all around watching us. 
     We used to get up early—about four a.m., just before sunrise, and I’ll never forget those lovely hot mugs of coffee and huge sandwiches for breakfast. It was like the old pioneering days and I could have gone on for ever.
     They dropped me at a little place called Agedabia and I managed to hitch rides for most of the remaining distance to Benghazi. I had crossed the dessert and I was looking forward to visiting the couple who had doubts as to whether I’d ever reach Benghazi! After a little while there, I thought, it’s Egypt for me.
     My reaction to Egypt was quite simple—I fell in love with it. I stayed six months—a lifetime to a vagabond’s way of thinking. I wandered up and down the road alongside the Nile from Cairo to Aswan until I came to know every inch of the way. I became famous in Egypt through broadcasting and television and with the money I received from the talks I made my way by sea and road to Turkey. Crossing Eastern Turkey from Istanbul was, perhaps, my most terrifying journey in that everyone carried guns and an unarmed woman on her own was very suspect.

Held at gunpoint

I remember accepting a lift in a car and immediately the two men pointed their guns at me and demanded money. I said I only had a few pounds and then proceeded to talk non-stop about my travels. This is all I can do when I find myself in a tricky situation. Eventually they lowered their guns but every two miles or so, they would stop at a water tap and say, “You are thirsty.” I had to be! So I got out and they amused themselves by firing over my head as I drank. Most unnerving.
     I walked a lot on that road which was surrounded by wild, rugged countryside. As always when you're on such lonely paths, you feel you must be miles away from another human being—but you're not. There are always shepherds or goatherds, woodsmen of farmers, who come out to meet you because a stranger walking alone is such a very rare happening. Usually they take you back to their homes—often wooden huts or even caves in the hillside, and here you'll meet their families, have a few dates, some fruit and a drink and perhaps sleep the night.
     From Turkey I went to Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India . . . I met two Tibetan families with 40 ponies and travelled with them over the Himalayas, climbing to over 12,000 feet.
     I have made dozens and dozens of friends in each country I’ve visited, people I write to and others with whom I know I can have a meal or spend the night whenever I happen to be where they live.
     They come from all walks of life, from the humblest peasant in a mud hut to an oil merchant in his magnificent air-conditioned house. 
     Civilised people who live under a roof tend to ask me the same questions: what things do I travel with, how do I keep clean and am I ever afraid, sleeping out?
     Well, the professional vagabond always stays clean, otherwise he dies. There are streams in the country or you can go into the washroom of a cafe in a town. Failing that, I would guarantee I could go to any house and say, “Look, I’m travelling the road. Is there any chance I could wash out my undies and blouse?” and they'd invite me in at once.

Hard times

As for being afraid, well I think its much more dangerous to be wandering round the streets of a big city at night than settling in a sleeping bag in the middle of a forest. Anyway, you don’t find vagabonds staying in towns for longer than they need. They belong on the road and they want to be out on it.
     Most roadsters average a walking pace of 10 miles a day. It’s interesting that most people will boast they've driven 500 miles in a day or walked 30.
     To a tramp that’s a waste of road! He will boast the other way, saying proudly that it took him three days to do five miles. This means that he’s found plenty of doors to knock on and get a cup of tea, a couple of cigarettes, some food or conversation.
     When I’m talking or writing of my travels, I try hard not to paint a too romantic picture and tell of the hard times as well as the lucky strikes. I’ve slept in impossible conditions for days on end and often been hungry and very tired, although the latter is mostly my own fault because I keep on walking, not wanting to stop because the road is so exciting.
     Neither would I wish to make the vagabond himself to be romantic and of stern stuff. He’s really a weakling, a person who cannot adjust to society. Lots of people can’t adjust and some have breakdowns and others become criminals.
     A true vagabond is too strong in himself to break down but he’s also much too timid to commit crime. So he drifts on down the road taking each day as he finds it. The thrill of the unknown, the call of the distant horizon, will never let him rest anywhere for long. But this is the way it has to be for us. Home to me is the road. THE END