Atomium, a learning lesson - Robert (Bob/ Wilko) Wilkinson
Do we ever wonder sometimes how some things get started, My departure was from Melbourne on the Italian ship the Marconi, we boarded on the 23 July 1964.
A group of somebodies from all over the place who were joined together by an opportunity placed before us.
I met Brian and Kim along with Photo when I got to Melbourne, they were the ones to instigatethis trip.
I knew my mate Singalong from his regular visits to Mildura and it was at his suggestion I should join him and these others going to England by driving overland across a lot of countries,
which we did, arriving at Earls Court early that November 1964.
We all said our hoo roos and waved our good byes and that was that, most going to who knew where.
Photo, Singalong and myself, went to the Zambesi Club just beside where we had stoppedthere in a side street off the Earls Court road, a Club bar for those who haven't heard of it. (not there anymore).
Photo had been there before, on his previous time in London.
We found accommodations at a bed and breakfast hotel nearby within a couple of days, and found another fellow from our journey already staying there, nicknamed Morgan, he was a journalist.
Morgan showed me a newspaper with anadvert by Wilkinson Sword seeking a sales rep, it was a mighty posh job, paying a lot of money plus a car etc. I laughed at him, however he was insistent, saying you need a job so give it a go.
Much to my surprise I got the job and a contract of employment, it was a very good job and for me it was easy and lucrative, I got the London East End and North London area.
The Company were sorting out the areas for the other reps across the UK, and as I had no abode of my own they booked and paid for all my hotel accommodations.
Several months into the new year of 1965, Brian I found out, was back in the UK after being delayed a few extra weeks holidaying in a prison in Iran which happened whilst on a return journey
from India, with another small group of Australians.
All this I was told by Ron and Singalong, who also informed me they needed a driver for the next tour.
They also told me there was already some new bookings for another return overland and that Ted, a former passenger with our July 1964 trip, now having returned to Sydney Australia,
had raised some money somehow, and was forwarding it to London so a new vehicle could be bought, as the original Commer 8 seater van was rats and like its driver wasn't going anywhere.
I said no thanks, find someone else, they said we haven't anyone to drive the next tour, we have tried.
I continued with my job and never gave it any further thought, until they found me again, at least speak to Brian they said, so I did, when I met him I was surprised at how unwell he looked, and when
he explained it all I began to understand his Iran experiences and the predicament he was in, but that’s another story.
The job I had at Wilkinson Sword was a contracted job and everything was good with it, but over the next week or so I gave it all a great deal of thought.
I met again with Brian and we talked some more, I asked how much was he paying, he said we don’t have much money, we could pay pound a day living expenses, and maybe plus a small weekly wage.
At that time I was receiving twenty plus poundsper week and new car to drive around in and all my accommodations paid in nice hotels.
I went to think some more and finally I met with Brian again and said I will drive the tour for one pound a day for every day away as expenses whilst away on tour, but no wages.
I know the company is yourself, andRon who will eventually be in Sydney and Ted, who sent money for the purchase of the bus and as you said will return to London in a month or so.
If you agree I will drive the vehicle for two years for no wages, but in exchange for an equal share of the existing company, Brian agreed and said that will make
you a quarter share of The Sundowners.
On the morning of departure from Earls Court, I loaded the bags on the roof rack and tied the tarp down.
It will be easy they said, all you have to do is take these people to India, and to get to the ferry at Dover just follow the signs, and good luck.
Somehow we found Dover and loadedthe bus and the dozen or so passengers went on board.
That wasn't too bad I thought, we come off at Bruges and drive on to Brussels, for an overnight and then next day we drive into Germany and Koln and beyond, so far so good.
I went upstairs to the passenger area, and was confronted right away by one of my passengers, Bob he asked, can we go look at the Atomium in Brussels.
I was surprised to my boots (or thongs), the bloody audacity to ask me to take him to the what, I had never heard of it, and didn't know what it was, not a clue, why didn’t he realize he had paid for
a bus ride to India.
I said, speak to me later I'm busy right now, and I went off in a huff, thinking this is going to be a bloody good trip, their already asking me to take them bloody sightseeing to places as well.
I sat for a long while until I got my head together and cooled down, and went and asked one of the staff, yes he knew what the Atomium was and explained it a little to me.
Over the next hour or so I thought a lot about things, but mostly how I knew nothing about what it was I was doing. and what the tour business was all about, no one had told me or given me an itinerary
I thought about that firsttrip over, was it only a year ago.
We all went and looked and some wonderful things, but I didn’t remember much about it all.
It was just a means to get to London, something different.
We drove off the ferry and once we were heading for Brussels, I called the fellow up to the front and asked him what was his interest was in seeing the Atomium, Oh I'm an architect he said, and the
Atomium is something I would really like to see and it would be so good if we could go see it.
I asked do you by some chance have some map of Brussels with it on, why yes he said its in my book, very good I said, for this part you are the courier, and if you could help with the directions it
would be a big help.
I gave him the mike and he read out of his book to the other passengers about how it was built in 1958 for the world fair it stood 102m high and 18m wide etc,etc they all paid attention and listened.
We found the architectural wonder and when they came back from looking they were all so happy,
And they all thanked me. That went well I thought.
So that’s how we went across Europe there was always someone sitting up front playing the courier and guiding me to where we had to go. 1965 was an interesting time, for information on Europe was in
the books, but when we got to Yugoslavia, and beyond it would be a different story, for any information that they, or myself had, was almost nonexistent.
We departed Trieste and arrived in Ljubljana and while they all went for a walk I too went on off on my own and as luck would have it, a MIRICAL, I came across a book shop and in the window was the
book called The life of Alexander the Great, and in English.
I bought that book and every evening I would read that book, andI would make some notes and the next day spoke to the passengers of the great man and his travels.
To my knowledge I don't believe they ever knew I had the book.
In all I did fourteen overland crossings and nothing sticks in my mind like the education I received when one of the Passengers wanted to see the Atomium.
It started as just a driving position, and became a Journey of education, and a tour to remember, all thanks to all those passengers who taught me so much of what was required and needed to develop
a successful tour company.
Travel and Learn.
Robert (Bob Wilco) Wilkinson. Sundowners,In London July 1964 - November 1977.
Re: Atomium, a learning lesson - Robert (Bob/ Wilko) Wilkinson
I joined Ted and Fred with Overlander Coaches in 76, was with them for 3 years, I had my own coach but things went pear shape in late 78 and then joined Sundowners in 79 and was with them until the end. I enjoyed your story, it's funny the twists and turns our life takes.
Cheers Col/ Shirley.
What a great read. Bob I am sure you have many a tale or two of your adventurers. Given the era your did your journeys in would make for interesting reading for those of us who followed in the years that followed. So like strands of hair we all came woven together into a plait of time, only then to divide again and go our separate ways. Thank goodness for the Reunions to revisit that plait.