Can You Teach an Old Traveling Dog New Tricks?

When you're young, free and foot-loose it's a very appealing - and simple - matter to head off (maybe on a planned gap year break) or simply to head off wherever and follow your travelling instincts.I know - when I was in my early 20s my brother and I drove my old Morris Minor estate "wagon" from south London to Greece to hang out, see places and eventually I was to return with my then girlfriend and her belongings. She'd been living with an aunt near Athens...... but that's another story.

What do you do though, when you're at the other end of the age spectrum? And no richer than you were as a student? I'm in my 60s and have spent many happy months over many happy years seeking out travel and adventures: sometimes work related, sometimes not.

In that time I've stayed on boats that smelt of sandalwood on Kashmiri lakes, skinny-dipped in strange dark red pools in remote Western Australia,travelled in style from San Francisco to New York by train and watched a total eclipse 400 miles from Nairobi in the remote East African bundu, courtesy of the American Embassy's Cultural Attache.

What I have never done is follow a career path with goals and targets. With one exception: acting.NOT that there is anything wrong careers (if it suits you) but I have always stayed a freelancer; a contractor or project manager who agrees to do a certain job, in a certain time-frame, for a certain fee. I have been (and still am) an actor, a trade show manager, an exhibition and event producer and organizer, a butler, a Tour Director, a hotel manager and a Concierge - to name but a few of the hats I sometimes still wear.

My wanderings over the years brought me several times to Australia. The first time - 1985 - I came with a play from London and should have stayed then. The people, the life-style; but more than anything, the country itself (the bush land), called me. It was the same feeling I had in East Africa years earlier.If you crave a connection with life, with this strange blue planet we live on and a curiosity about where we came from and why we are you, you won't find the answer in these remote and ancient lands BUT you will feel that you belong. And it will give you, as my mother told me, "itchy feet". You will want more.

So, I should have stayed in Australia, but I needed to return to London to continue my slow but steady rise to the top of the acting tree. This did not happen.

Instead I found that long periods away on travel adventures stalled any impetus I was achieving when I was back"home" and could concentrate on my chosen career. That didn't matter because I could still travel and work and over the years I trod the boards, as we used to say, in Ayr (Scotland), Folkestone, Chichester, London, Chester, Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Cheltenham and even toured the home counties presenting Theatre-in-Education to more school children that I can recall. I hope they recovered OK.

But India called. The Balearic Islands, the Greek Islands called. Africa called again. The USA : I went to San Francisco to see if they still wore flowers in their hair.The cities of Italy - probably my favorite country - I know and love most of them, especially Florence and the lesser-known Umbrian / Tuscan hilltop towns and villages.India - again and again. And again in 2018 I hope.

The pictures below are Castiglione del Lago in Umbria; the long climb up to the top of Mt Kynthos on the holy island of Delos (but a short boat ride from party-central in Mykonos). Island-hopping in the Cyclades is one of the best pleasures on earth - IMHO. 

This in Chantel who allowed me to chat and to stand in wonder at her ageless and enduring fortitude. After a lifetime of hard work, she now rests, eats sugar cane in prodigious quantities and tolerates tourists!

I'm writing this in England, at my sister's on the south coast near Brighton. A townI grew up between here and London and (as a child of the 60s) Brighton was a favorite seaside resort. Especially on bank holidays, though we (the Mods) and Rockers fought legendary battles along the sea-front. The papers said civilization was coming to an end!Nothing ended. New teen groups arose in their turn and, for all I know, still come here to Brighton for their holiday fun.

Six years ago I returned to Australia. My 4th, maybe 5th visit, but this time I stayed. I became a citizen and have been telling myself for 6 years that once that was achieved (Plan A)I would put Plan B into motion :

to try and spend "Summer" in both northern and southern hemispheres. So, as the weather cooled in Sydney (late May) I began my northern odyssey and will return south when the cooler weather arrives in the UK in October.

But as I said at the start, how do you manage such an extravagant plan, with no private income - much less a bulging bank account of pension fund? Well for me the answer was to do what I have always done : to trade such skills as I have for bed and board in return for my working hours.

This system requires work: I belong to 3 or 4 house-sitting, care-taking, pet-minding and live/work websites. I won't advertise them here, but they are not hard to find. Some charge a membership fee, others not : my experience is that you get little for free, so I pay 2 subscriptions and surf around freebies. I spent weeks surfing for possibilities and have just returned from my first project : mostly garden clearing and tidying for an older couple from northern Europe, who now live mostly in Umbria and run art courses, rent out 2 apartments and generally welcome paying vacationers in different ways.

Non-paying visitors, like me, can expect hard work from early morning till lunchtime - with stops for breakfast and lunch. In my experience, they want 4/5 hours of my time daily, but since I choose remoter places and have little to do (apart from Blogging and reading) I often do more later. after resting through the hottest part of the afternoon. My reward - in this instance - a lovely little cabin next to the ecologically-splendid pool and a breathtaking view.

As summer progresses, I will return here - as stand-in manager for their holiday renters while they are away. My hospitality skills will come into play. Later still I will help a retired Professor with his garden issues in Umbria's capital Perugia and will house and pet sit for two dogs in the south of England while their owners are away. 

 There will be more projects for sure, though as I have both god-daughter's and nephew's weddings to attend, it will be a busy summer before I finally return to Oz. 

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20 July 2017
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