[ 22:22 wednesday 21 august – scari, isola di stromboli ]
one year ago today i woke to my alarm at half past four and the first hints of the london dawn. i’d got to bed an hour earlier after spending the night digging through months of phone, electricity, gas, water and council tax bills, writing cheques and stuffing them in envelopes (i’m not very good at bills). a taxi arrived at ten past five to take me to heathrow airport. with everything i’d need for life and work for the next three months’ in my backpack i closed the door of 13 taplow house. i knew it was the last time i would think of this place as my home, maybe the last time i’d have a home in london.
the previous day (the 20th) i’d arrived at the passport office in victoria at opening time (by bike of course) so that they could produce a passport for me by tea time. i’d organised a new passport a couple of months earlier but it got lost in the post. in its wisdom the uk government doesn’t consider a passport sufficiently important to merit sending it by registered mail.
on the 19th i’d tracked down and reserved a flight from heathrow to rome for the 21st, taking a bit of a gamble there wouldn’t be any hitches getting my passport together. in fact this nearly ended in disaster. after queueing for half an hour or so at the passport office i was called to a desk where i spread out my various forms and documents. i really can’t remember why but the officer quickly decided that the photo i’d brought was no good (even though it was witnessed by michael young as a good likeness!). i nearly fainted. initially she said there was no possibility of getting me a passport that day but i must have looked truly pitiful because she relented and gave me one hour to get another photo, find a friend of at least three years’ standing to witness it, and get back to them. i racked my brains for any of my friends who lived or worked in the vicinity. stipo was my first thought since he lived just round the corner, but there was no answer to his phone and i couldn’t think of anyone else i knew in that area of london. i phoned christian, but his mobile was off. so i phoned jp morgan and they (eventually) came up with a number which would reach him. i called it… he answered and immediately agreed to help. he even calmed me down a bit with his usual relaxed manner.
christian’s office though was at london wall, four or five kilometres hence. printing a new photo took five agonising minutes. but finally the strip of images dribbled out of the machine and i grabbed them and ran for my bike. i don’t think i’ve ever cycled so ruthlessly. pedestrians and other cyclists received no quarter. i even cut up a couple of cars. i got to london wall in twenty minutes flat, found jp morgan’s office, and arrived panting at reception. they eyed me suspiciously whilst they put through the call to christian to tell him i was there. he was down in moments, accompanied by donald, both of them grinning at my predicament. in no time the forms were filled in, the back of the photos signed, i’d said my goodbyes and i was on my way back to victoria.
i got there with a few minutes to spare (when this happens craig castigates me for not cutting it finer). the officer was satisfied with the new photo and told me to return at half past four to collect my passport. i jabbering some kind of incoherent thank you, overwhelmed with relief. i felt nervous when i returned later, braced to learn of some new hiccup, but the passport was there waiting for me when i handing over my ticket. i urged the cashier to pass a message of thanks to the clerk who had rushed it through. she stared at me blankly, as though i was mad.
so it was that i escaped london one year ago. when i landed at rome i didn’t have any plans for where i was going. anywhere in the south of italy or sicily would have suited me. it wasn’t til i was on the train to napoli that i started phoning friends to see how things were looking. bobo, roberta and eric had a house near catania, but at that point it was infested with little insects and didn’t sound too inviting. there was no answer to fabrizio’s phone but i knew he was on stromboli. i had happy memories from my previous year’s visit so i thought i’d join him there for a couple of days then continue to sicily to see bobo and the others.
the rest is already documented. i spent the next three weeks on stromboli, two of them living with alice and her friends in ginostra on the other side of the island. by the time i finally continued my travels in sicily and pantelleria i knew i was going to be on stromboli through the winter. i haven’t got round to leaving yet.
this has been an intense year for me.