Friday, September 10, 2010


It was only when you escaped the confines of apartheid South Africa that you realised quite what a police state it had become. I had my first opportunity to do so in May, 1983, when my new wife Anne's father funded a trip for us to London, and from there a whistle-stop coach tour through Europe. I was already one of the SA Defence Force's treasured possessions, so I had to get their permission first before I could go.

We boarded the coach at the Autotours headquarters in London soon after arriving on an overnight flight from SA. It was down through picturesque Kent then onto a ferry at Dover and across the channel to Callais. At this point I am likely to start mis-spelling words, so please bear with me. Paris was our first port of call, as it were. The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Follies Bergere and the Tuileries. I was quite familiar with the mood of Paris from having studied fine art (especially the Impressionists), and made my small contribution with this study of a fountain, probably in those lovely gardens. This was done in ink and coloured later.

The 13th Century Notre Dame cathedral is a wonderful landmark on the Seine. This is a detail of some of the flying buttresses.

We did have a "mik-en-druk" camera, but I still managed to do the odd sketch. We spent a night camping somewhere on the Riviera, visited the casino at Monte Carlo and then made for Pisa to see its tower. From there it was south to Rome, where I think we spent a few days, taking in such things as the Vatican's Sistine Chapel and the Spanish Steps. This was a detail of the columns at the Pantheon, built some 1800 years ago.

Wherever you go in Europe you are confronted with an almost overwhelming preponderance of ancient buildings and statuary. This was one of many spotted in Rome.

While I did no drawings of landmarks in Venice, I did a few drawings of tourists at St Mark's Square, among them this one.

Another tourist spotted somewhere on that journey.

Did I mention that this was a camping holiday? At each city we pulled in at a camping site and had to erect our tents, which I was not very good at - especially not in the rain. I did a little cartoon of the situation.

This was my first experience of Western youths en masse. An under-30s tour, there were people from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with a handful from the UK and possibly two other South Africans, though we tried to avoid them. This was an Aussie oke who, with some mates, sometimes preferred to stay at the camping site "activating alcohol" than go along with the rest of us visiting tourist sites.

This may well be one of the US people on the trip, who worked at a flea market somewhere and earned enough to travel abroad. Made me think.

This guy, I think, was Canadian.

And was this one of the more serious Kiwis, relaxing on the coach?

After arriving at our campsite overlooking Florence, I made a couple of quick sketches of some of the buildings in the valley below. I'm not sure what this one was, but I recall that it had a pale green roof.

I had learnt about Brunelleschi's Duomo, the cathedral church of Florence, officially known as The Bssilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Sadly this is all I got to draw of it.

This was one of the bell towers, or campaniles, which dot the Florentine skyline.

Can't recall her name, but this young woman - probably in her thirties - was our very helpful and informative tour guide. She may have been British. Here I think the distorted chin is due to my sketching part of the mic she was speaking into.

Another town, another tourist, or possibly a local.

And another.

This guy, one of our tour party, had a nose to reckon with.

The same nasally gifted oke.

After Florence - or was it Venice? - we headed north through stunning mountainous countryside. I loved this fort built on a hilltop. I did these drawings from the bus as we travelled. The lines at the bottom seem to suggest movement.

It's a pity I didn't colour this drawing too. I was possibly too frightened of ruining the thing. This gives some idea of the beauty of the Italian alpine landscape.

With no decent drawings from our stops in Switzerland, or West Germany (we did a beerhall in Munich, along with the Olympic stadium), the final country on our list was the Netherlands. What would Rembrandt have made of his precious windmills having to share the skyline with electricity pylons, I wonder?

A close-up view of one of the old windmills, but no sign of Don Qixote.

Another quick sketch of a windmill on the flat plane.

And another.

We visited a Dutch cultural centre somewhere among the poppy fields where they made clogs and wonderful cheeses. This was a very quick look at rows of clogs.

And this, I think, was one of the old Dutch guys working there.

A kaaskop. Another of the people met in Holland, where we also visited, naturally, the Red Light District in Amsterdam, and the Heineken brewery, along with a boat cruise along the canals.

But all things must pass, as George Harrison once said. So it was that we drove through to Rotterdam harbour to take a ferry back to Dover. It was an overnight affair, and I hardly slept a wink. But I did draw many others who were more lucky, like this elderly soul.

One of our tour group getting some shut-eye.

Ah, to sleep like a child again.

What bliss.

This white-eared guy was a Yank on our tour. Why I did that to his ear I can't say.

Well over 30, this was another of the passengers on that ferry.

More happily snoozing punters.

And even more of the beggars.

My then-wife Anne, too, fell quite readily into a deep sleep.

Or was she fully asleep? Can you sleep with your thumbs doing this?

No, it looks like she was so far gone she didn't realise her mouth was open.

Or that she was poking herself in the eye.

As for moi, well this little cartoon tries to capture what it feels like to be almost the only one awake in a crowded ferry. Completely exhausted, but unable to sleep. We spent a week in London, taking in a couple of shows in the West End and visiting, among others, Hyde Park where, at Speakers' Corner, I experienced the power of freedom of speech, something apartheid South Africa had increasingly outlawed. Sadly, as I write, the ANC government seems bent on doing the same. Where are the likes of Thabo Mbeki and Mandela and Tutu, shouting from the rooftops that the ANC is wrong? But then again, no-one in the ANC raised too much of a fuss when Robert Mugabe destroyed all freedom along with the economy in Zimbabwe from 2000, so let's not expect miracles. Suffice to say that brief sojourn in London certainly imbued me with a sense that liberty is the most previous gift one can have.

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