[This story was originally published in the August 2018 edition of etc magazine. A PDF version of the article is available at the bottom of this blog post.]
Emily Jessica Turner meets a Midhurst writer who has penned a memoir about her travels around the world
‘Planning my trip, I breezily muttered: ‘huh, travelling solo is not just for gap year students’,’ Midhurst based writer Vivien Fallows tells me. ‘But in all honesty I was not going to trek into the jungles of Borneo nor was I planning to bivouac under a desert sky. Instead, I was heading for Australia to spend time with my son.’
After her two grown up children leave home for international pastures anew at the turn of the 21st century, Vivien set off to pay her son, who has found a new home on the other side of the world, a visit. Funded by a piggy bank pension pot, Vivien decided to make several stops to discover exotic worlds on land, sea, and deep in underground caverns.
While travelling, Vivien wrote down her daily adventures in a 50 pence lined exercise book: “Keeping a journal was the only condition my husband placed me under,” she says. This journal formed the basis of the writer’s next adventure – turning her notes into her first book, Travels With George.
A travel memoir about her solo mission to the other side of the globe, the book follows Vivien and George – her green wheelie suitcase – on their round-the-world adventures.
And what adventures: the book traces Vivien’s travels from the ‘muscle beach’ of California to snorkelling, sunburn and stalking by Picasso Trigger fish in the Cook Island. Then on to North Island, New Zealand, where she whizzes about in a red Mitsubishi Lancer and discovers a whalebone corset busk, inscribed with sweetheart poem in the museum of ‘bawdy and profane’ Russell.
Quad biking in the Waitomo Caves region and black-water rafting through caverns lit by glow worms is next on Vivien’s agenda, as is abseiling through a ‘Lost World’ and visiting the magical pools of Wai-O-Tapu. Then on to Sydney for a family reunion with her son and his partner, and an attempt to see Melbourne in less than a day, including an ‘unforgettable’ visit to the Old Melbourne Gaol.
Vivien then travels the Great Ocean Road via Adelaide, the ‘City of Churches’, experiencing mines worked by gold prospectors in days of yore, the White Queen lighthouse, and the Otway rainforest. Hiking up Mount Kosciuszko, devouring tiny Clair de Lune Sydney Rock oysters in Blackwattle Bay and the ‘visceral’ experience of seeing Ulura (Ayer’s Rock), which changes colour at sunset and sunrise, are also stops on the author’s trip. Next stop in Vivien’s travels is Perth and Western Australia, where she coaches past Red River Gums towards the sapphire blue, dolphin-populated waters of Monkey Mia.
Tokyo up next for the final stop of Vivien’s first trip – but eighteen month after returning home, she has caught the travel bug and is planning her next venture. This time, Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur is the first port of call, where museums and massages are the order of the stay. KL is a stop-over before heading to Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia, where Vivien aboards a sailing tub on the Yellow Water billabong and climbs to the summit of Nourlangie. Back to Perth and heading east from the city – during which Vivien has an incident with a ‘PC Coates’ – an unexpected windmill and angry seagulls make an appearance.
Vivien’s authorial ‘voice’ rings throughout the book, whether she’s commenting on rusty tins for sale in Aitutaki or making a crack about an incident with an unflattering, buttock-encircling rubber tube. It’s accessible and entertaining, much like listening to a friend talk you through their travel adventures over a cup of coffee.
There are also doodle-style illustrations by Tim Beer, which appear throughout the book.
The real highlights of Travels with George are the moments Vivien gets to explore the history or culture behind the places she visits, such as visiting the 18th-century bells in Perth which, immortalised in the nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’, once rang out from London’s St Martin’s-in-the-Fields.
It’s certainly a book which makes you catch the travelling bug, filling you with wanderlust every time the author describes stepping out into a new world. Vivien has dedicated this book to other ‘empty nesters’, encouraging them to do the same. ‘It’s your turn now’, she says to her readers.
Vivien emphasises that setting off on a solo journey can seem scary, but she wants others to be inspired by her own adventures.
“In reality, travelling alone is a bit of a misnomer as rarely are you truly alone: I treasure the memories of weird and wonderful conversations I had a long the way,” she explains. “One word of advice would be to trust your instincts: if something doesn’t feel quite right, move on as there will be more to see just over that tempting horizon. I experienced a sense of magic as I drove tracts of the red dusty awe inspiring Australian outback and a feeling of timelessness as I scampered on the white sands of pristine southern beaches. I know I ate too many muffins and (probably) drank too much beer and think I discovered a ‘me’ who had temporarily disappeared under the hurly burly of everyday life. I went to Sydney, as that was now home for my son. Had he moved to Scotland or Surrey, I would still have challenged myself with an adventure.”
Vivien’s travels have led to a fascination which Australian culture. “I feel fortunate to have experienced two solo trips and would set off again if the opportunity arose,” she explains. “However, the experiences left me with a legacy which provided a challenge of a different sort. Whilst in Australia I became fascinated by the culture of the Australian Aboriginal people and went on to submit a Masters Degree dissertation entitled Honey Ant Dreaming which was based on Aboriginal creation mythologies. Without my travels, it would not have occurred to me to study these absorbing oral traditions.”
And what has it been like for Vivien since returning from her round-the world adventures – what has Sussex got to offer? “I do miss the open horizons of the Australian outback, but from my desk in Easebourne I can look across Midhurst to the green fields and pastures of the South Downs,” Vivien says. “Surely the beautiful surroundings in which I now live will provide inspiration for book two?”
Published by The Book Guild Travels with George is available online from Amazon, Waterstone’s, The Book Depository and others, plus two local bookshops: One Tree Books in Petersfield and The Haslemere Bookshop, priced at £8.99.