Road to Andamooka
from Chapter 1: England's Gone
Roaaah-RRR! a cloud of steam exploding behind the two big pink funnels of the Cunard liner.
My shirt collar fluttering in the wind, I leaned over the tourist class rail tearing cheese and brown bread sandwiches in my teeth and tasting my freedom.
To Canada! I could hardly believe my luck. My luggage was down below in my cabin – an old Commando rucksack stuffed with warm woollen clothes and my big college suitcase tied round with a leather strap and plastered with labels – Cunard, Tourist Class.
I counted the loose change in my trousers pocket. Apart from that I had just £21 left. It was 3 August, the same day that Columbus set forth to discover America by happy chance.
The promenade deck throbbing under the soles of my feet, I felt my stomach lift with excitement.
I was going to travel. I was going to see the world.
The Cunarder rising to the first great swells of the Atlantic, the sea-gulls broke the tops of the waves with their feet and went the same way as the wind with their red feet dripping salt water.
Westward Ho! To Canada. And Adventure!
I opened my notebook to start the notes for the book I was going to write. A quick trip round the world. I would write about the world as it really was ... the way I saw it.
On top I scribbled “The World I See...”
Then I reeled off the rail with the first qualms of seasickness.
When I sat to table in the tourist class dining saloon and felt the table rise under me to the rhythm of the liner’s engines as the seas got under her I found myself in a depressed looking little group of British migrants for Canada.
Somebody was just saying: “Jobs are pretty scarce in Canada I understand.”
Beside me a handsome young Scot from Edinburgh was crinkling his hands through his wavy black hair and saying: “I’m sending for the wife and kids when I’ve got fixed up in a job. I’m not showing worried,” he was tapping his finger on his own chest, “but I am worried in here,” tapping his chest “mind ye!”
We all sat round the table listening to a craggy old Scotsman, his face burnt the colour of leather by so many American summers, who had emigrated to the States when he was just twenty and he had just been back home for the first time in forty years – for a holiday.
“...and I’ve got a job to go back to in America, that’s all. I haven’t made any bloody fortune out there, I’ll tell you. I’ve got a job to go back to in the States – I’ve got a job to go back to and that’s all,” the old Scotsman growled at us. “Anybody tell you America is paved with gold they’re goddam liars. It’s a tough country is America. If you haven’t got a dime then nobody wants you. And Canada – it’s even tougher there!”
A depressed little bunch of British migrants, we spooned despondently into our Cunard line soup.
“Oh well,” I interrupted him brightly, flapping a folder with COME TO CANADA on it in glowing colours, “they can’t let you starve. They just can’t let you starve.”
And the craggy old Scotsman turned his glittering rimless glasses on me.
Gritting his tough jowls: “Are you drunk, or daft?”
* * *
We were only twelve hours off Newfoundland. I counted my £15 left in Travellers’ Cheques. That left less than 40 dollars!
That last night before we reached Canada I sat beside a whisky laden saloon table in the tourist lounge with a drunken grey-haired English ex-company director. An Oxford graduate. Broke, and hoping for a new life in Canada.
“Have a cigar.” The Englishman pushed a fat Havana in my mouth. “And lemme buy you another whisky.”
The Englishman belching. “Oh, I’m broke you know, yes! I’m an Oxford M.Sc. Had my own factory in London. I was rich. And then I went bust...”
He sloshed a thick trickle of whisky in my glass.
“...but I’m going to make a fortune again in Canada, boy! I told all my friends in London before I left, ‘In two years I’ll be back with a Cadillac!’” The grey-haired Englishman belched in my face. “‘I’ll even sweep the streets to start with!’ I said. ‘Oh, you couldn’t do that!’ all my friends told me. ‘You couldn’t do that!’ But I could. I will. I bloody-well will. Before I left England I told ‘em, ‘In two years I’ll be back with a Cadillac!’”
He gulped a mouthful of whisky.
“England’s gone! Dead!” mooned my friend, his fingers tight round my arm. “Bloody socialism, boy! The Welfare State! Keep takin’ all your money. All your money’s gone? Come into the workhouse, friend! With open bloody arms, boy. First they take all your money then they say that.”
With staring eyes the Englishman shouted through the cigar smoke.
“In two years time I’ll be back with a bloody Cadillac.” The Englishman nagged his finger at me. He got up from the table, took a few quick steps to the ship’s roll, slipped on top of a companionway and fell down two flights of stairs to B deck.
I rolled him over into his bunk and staggered along the promenade deck myself, smoking the remains of his cigar and looking at the sea.