Life on the road is a strange existence. I found myself in the backpacking bubble in 1992. I was into my fifth month of a trip to Africa. Christmas in Cape Town was over and the city was losing its sheen.
My travelling companion Sam and I decided it was time to move on and we hooked up with an old friend of hers, Hugo. Hugo had one thing going for him. Something we both needed. This came in the shape of a little blue Nissan pick-up or bakie as they are called in South Africa.
What a noble little beast she was. We made are way north, horse trekking thru the grass fields of Lesotho’s, encountering extreme prejudice in the Orange Free State, to then find ourselves in the little independent kingdom of Swaziland. Surrounded mostly by South Africa Swaziland also borders Mozambique to the west.
Our days were filled with reading books, going to post offices in hope there might be a letter, getting over hangovers from the night before and the occasional cultural excursion. However there really was not much culture in Swaziland.
We were staying at a depilated campsite that had been once gleaming but now was well worn and unloved. Though out Swaziland there was an undercurrent of sleaze and this place was no exception. The proprietor was an Englishman who no doubt has not set foot on home shores for some time. His wife was a local and considerable younger than him, if in fact it was his wife.
As with most days we had waked and baked and were lurking around. Hugo had been disappearing and we found him talking to Mr. Sleaze outside his caravan.
‘He says we should go to Maputo. It’s only about 60km away’ Hugo told us gesturing toward the fat wife beater wearing owner.
Sam and I looked at each other, we’d been told that Mozambique really was the most beautiful place but had been ravaged by a brutal 17-year civil war and was pretty much out of bounds
‘Really’ we said in unison
‘Yes really. The road to Maputo is safe now they are letting goods thru
As long you drive it before 4pm when the cease-fire stops you’ll be fine. Sleazy said.
I think it was mainly the desire to be anywhere than the shithole that was Swaziland that Sam and I agreed to go.
In the morning we jumped in to ol’ reliable and sped off to the border.
We reached there in jing time. Crossing borders had become second nature to us
We crossed without much hassle, just curious faces.
‘How long you going for’ asked the South African Border guard without much concern for three white twenty something’s crossing the border into a civil war.
‘Oh just the weekend’ I said cheerily
It really was the most exciting and dangerous thing we’d done the whole trip and we were definitely getting a kick out of it.
The hassle started when we got to the Mozambique side. There seemed to be loads of men hanging around and when we said we were going to Maputo, the little Datsun’s empty back was swamped.
People were more menacing and our carefreeness disappeared fairly quickly.
I managed to get some people out with the help of the border guard but another said we had to take them. We made our way thru the border town which
looked very raggedity indeed. Little Datsun struggled under the strain of her new charges.
As we hit the open road we really saw the full reality of war. Burnt out cars abandon tanks and a new bombing which had happened last week when a truck carrying supplies to Maputo had been hit by a mortar. At that precise time a nun in a little Renault 4 on her way to some mission has got caught in the explosion.
Great I thought
Just then we hit a massive pothole sending us all up to the roof and very nearly all the guys in the back out. As we had landed back to earth it became apparent that all was not well with Little Datsun.
‘What’s the matter’ I asked
‘Seems like a flat’ Hugo replied
No sooner had we stopped that the passengers in the back had decamped into a truck that was travelling behind us and zoomed off. Just like that.
This was not good
We inspected the truck and it was more serious that a flat the whole passenger side suspension had broken
We were in deep doo doo.
We were a good five miles out of the town and it was about 3.30. To make matters worse it seemed we did have company. A lone figure could be seen casually strolling up the road swinging an AK-47
We were really in deep doo doo. At that moment a truck rounded the corner and actually stopped. The driver a Mozambican on his way back to work in the mines
of South Africa told us to get into the truck and he would take us back to South Africa.
The figure with the gun was a slowly approaching and looked like a teenager.
The army had not been paid in months and by all accounts it was them that were carrying out the attacks on the supply trucks.
What to do?
It is amazing the decision you make in short time spaces and this was ours.
Hugo did not want to leave the car, Sam did not want to leave Hugo and the truck driver did not want to leave any of us and I just wanted all of us to stay alive.
So it was decided that I would travel into town leaving the others and try and find a mechanic to tow little Datsun into town.
I jumped into the truck and as I looked at the scene of little Datsun with her hood up with Sam and Hugo giving a ciggie to the soldier, getting smaller in the passenger side mirror, I smiled nervously at the driver and wondered if that was that worse decision I had ever made.
To be continued…
Three flights up sits a rocking horse. Dented by years of use and bald now after an unprovoked act of vandalism. Never the less the mechanics are in full working order. It has been friend to many a generation. It has also witnessed many tantrums, countless family arguments and much underage smoking and drinking. It was brought in a time when a nursery was a hive of activity in a large country house. A rocking horse being as necessary as table and chairs. A nursery that was ruled by a Nanny, who was in the true tradition of the breed, strict but fair.
It was the glimmering play station of its time. Brought to amuse, to mimic what was going on outside.
My earliest memory of the rocking horse was as a five year old. My brothers had flown the nest or were away at boarding school. My parents had gone rogue and dispense with the services of a nanny after the long serving one had passed away and now I was the ruler of the third floor.
It was December. Days had grown short. Darkness fell at 3.30, bringing a grey and cold day to a close. Once a week the house was full of people. There was a pheasant shoot and with it brought friends and strangers to play with. As the grow ups were discussing the day and moving swiftly from consuming tea to whiskey, I used to led a gang up stairs to the nursery, to the rocking horse. Manners taught me to let my guests go first but it wasn’t easy. Some of my parent’s friend’s offspring would bring out the prima donna in me. It was my house, my rocking horse. I would show them how to get the best out the raging stallion. As I jumped up onto its back and grabbed the rains I imagined that I was a jockey in the final states of a race. Kicking it to go faster,
Come on, Come on I yelled as I jumped the last fence and cruised to victory. Claps all round from the ecstatic crowd.
Maybe someday I was just out for a leisurely hack. Taking in the scenery around me. There was a big green sofa where if you took off the cushions the leather became a slide, a cupboard full of games missing vital pieces, heavy and dark looking children’s books and a television. The television was rarely watched due to the fact that transmission didn’t start before 5pm and the presence of a snowstorm filter that that seem to come with all nursery tellies made it impossible.
The original excitement of the horse died with growth. But it did not stop the imaginings. After consumption of many bottles of wine that had been liberated from the cellar, there I was, with a sneaky fag in mouth. A pissed up cowgirl riding into some strange town, not knowing who was your friend or foe. I was safe though as I had a trusty steed, which would whisk me, away if the heat got too much in the salon bar.
Hours of stories where told upon it. Mostly in holiday times when I was catching up with rarely seen relative’s lives. Realizing then it was in need of oil on the joints as it squeaked loudly as the stories got more animated.
It was by then just functioning as piece of furniture but as nephews and nieces appeared and technology had not completely taken hold, I saw some similar times evolving. Well maybe not completely, I had been the perpetrator of the vandalism. The mane and tail had brought it after the supply of dolls hair had dried up and my dog got wise to the fact that I was a serial cutter.
I did not have a preconceived idea of where my trip was going to take me visually.
I just knew that I was going to go overland by rail with my Mamiya 7 and a bag full of black and white film. Stopping in big cities, hoping to encounter vibrant cultures that make up the essence of the continent of Europe.
Once in these cities, I found that their major tourist attractions related to the wars and oppressions of the 20th Century.
As I travelled eastward it went from scars caused by World War 1, to World War 2 then to Communism. I passed thru many countries that had been changed due their membership of the European Union and others that had not embraced the idea of Europeanism at all. All are now being affected by the migration from countries to the east and south that are in deep conflict.
The migration, I missed witnessing first hand by months. It is reminder however, how Europe as a continent, has thru the centuries been witness to great movements of people, as well as changes of land borders. It is and always will be a continent that is in constant flux.
There is a mixture of hand printed and digital images.
As well as this show I am having a Retrospective of my work from the last 20 years
PRIVATE VIEW 23RD SEPT 6-9PM HARTNOLL & DAUGHTER 37 Duke st St James SW1 6FD OPEN 12-5
These works pay homage to a desolate yet stimulating urban landscape, as captured by an artist whose palette is influenced by the ultra rural, the lush green countryside of the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland.