Plagued by the idea that I could do better in life, I pursued many educational avenues. I continued to study French and German at evening classes. I enrolled to do a BA in history at London University, but dropped out before I’d begun. I started a business studies course at Farnborough, run by Portsmouth Polytechnic but after a term decided I couldn’t bear it. With the support of my tutor at Oxford’s extra-mural department I applied unsuccessfully for a place to study philosophy at Oriel College.
And then in 1973 a circular came round asking for volunteers to study Turkish, Iranian or Arabic, the last of which appealed to me. And so during the winters of 1973/4 and 1974/5 I studied this difficult language full time at the Central London Polytechnic. While there, I joined the college Middle East Society, and confronted, perhaps for the first time, the strong passions of Arab students about the Palestine issue.
I had never lived in London, and so at the beginning of the second winter I took the opportunity to do so. Sub-letting my Bracknell flat, I moved in with two actresses in Tooting Bec. Liz soon got a job with the Bristol Old Vic. Thais had just finished a tour as one of the hookers in No Sex Please, We’re British. She was actually Australian, but the title was equally applicable to us! I’d accompany her to various repertory theatres where she would operate the lights and I’d watch the show for free. She told me all about her love affairs and I owe it to her that she took on the task of remodelling me sartorially. For the first time I wore jeans, cheesecloth shirts, cravats and white cotton jackets.
Away from my Tory friends in Bracknell, I dared to switch parties. I had disagreed with the way Ted Heath had handled the miner’s strike and before the October election of 1974 I joined the Liberals, with whom (and the Liberal Democrats) I’ve surprisingly remained ever since. I would have resigned over the handling of Jenny Tonge’s remarks on suicide bombers (very similar to those of Cherie Blair), but never got around to it!
Three significant girl-friends spanned the period from 1972 to 1975. Ann was Swiss; I met her at a German lecture at the City Lit. I soon realised she wasn’t right for me, but we drifted on for quite a long time before she went to study sociology at the University of East Anglia. Then there was Kay, the daughter of missionaries who had settled back in Worthing; she was fortunately not so tight-laced as her parents! Giving up on me, she went off to Hong Kong where she met a German-Canadian hippy, and settled with him in Toronto. And then there was another Ann, from Ireland, whom I met through IVC (Inter Varsity Club). When I decided to pack up my life in England and travel the world, Ann was going to come with me, but we gave up the idea at the last minute. Nothing less than the perfect relationship would have suited me in those days.
For some time I had been thinking that if I reached the age of 30 without having found my way in life I would travel round the world, and being an immigration officer was certainly not for me. Since 1972 I had worked as a Samaritan, and when I moved to London I transferred to the original London branch at St Stephen Walbrook. Here one of my colleagues, knowing about my hike across Britain, suggested I walk the route of the first crusade to Jerusalem. And so that is what I set out to do in August 1975.