13th July 2014

At Christmas 1986 we had a three week holiday between batches of Mozambiquan recruits. So, against the law and our better judgement we broke out to South Africa. There were strict rules in those days, with much of the world boycotting the aparteid regime. But we were young and adventurous so we drove to Beightbridge, parked our hire car, had bits of paper in our passports stamped and hitched our way south. We arrived in Jo'burg and hopped on the overnight to Durban. Durban is the home of Juicy Lucy - the best fresh fruit juice and tuna roll in the whole world. We then hired a car and drove the garden route to Cape Town via a parking ticket is Ciskei and boring street barbeque in east London and not much in Port Elizabeth. We slept on beaches and ran in the dawn light to keep fit. After three utterly memorable (if only I could) nights in Plett we rented a small appartment in Greenmarket Square for three nights, Took in  Johnny Clegg concert and a Christmas Day service with Desmond Tutu before driving non-stop up through Kimberely, 1400 miles to Pietersburgh, Abandoned the hire car and hitched back to the Limpopo. We arrived back in Nyanga as if we had never been away. Utterly naughty and like all the best utterly naughty things - utterly unforgettable.


My final travels with film came in 1987, six months before I left the army to become something else. I had been in Belize in 1979 with the Black Watch for a six month tour. By 1987 much had changed. Again the corrupt comet-tail of drugs and proximity to the US had taken its toll. Ambergis Caye was now world-famous thanks to Madonna and the nightly entertainment of the huge 'Big C' bar and brothel had closed to the threat of aids and christian aid. The Peace Corps were doing good and the bonefish were running scared.

But Belize was still wild. We were still wild as well. For seven of us it was our last six months in the Army. For all of us it was probably our last chance to have fun. In the army, fun means that the fun-detectors are no where to be seen. Great parties, good tricks, stupid ideas and strong bonds. everything in the Army is built on laughter. The harder the job, the harder the humour but it is never absent. And when all your companions are Jocks, there is no mercy.

We saw the sun up on many occasions, we patrolled, we partied, we even indulged in high spirits. The memories last for ever. Belize was a thing of beauty and we dated her - big time.


Photograhpy is a bugger of a bug. Once you get hooked you become unusable by normal humans. Holidays become solitary affairs. The difference between now and then is that once you had taken the picture there was nothing left to do until you got back as the film needed a lab - if you were using Kodachrome. No mobile phones, no computers, no prost production software. Only two dimensions - Speed and Aperture. ISO came with the roll.

So off you trundle to exotic climes with all your kit - alone. Because no-one can be allowed to distract you when you are taking pictures - 100 in your head for every one taken on your camera. The deep sense of loss at every image of the world you failed to capture. Now the world is flooded with images every second. The sense of ownership declines. Very few people now wouold even entertain the idea of shooting for stock, let alone make a living out of it.

I should have died in Mexico City. I was walking around the Zona Rosa for a week with five cameras (medium and small format), a tripod and camera case, slung around my neck. I must have looked like the tethered goat set up by the police to be ambushed. Idiot. But it gave me free access to shoot many aspects of the city that will have changed so much by today. The statue of Pope John Paul outside the cathedral cracked in half by an earthquauke. The murals of Diego Rivera. The sunset at Teotihuacan. The Olmec heads in the parks, the flowers on the canal at Xochimilco. I saw some lovely sights in Mexico but the most pathetic was this bullfight. So pathetic that the summary execution of the dying bull by a farmhand in jeans and t-shirt really sums up the utter lack of anything that the Spanish gave Central America.