I was the Quality Control, Product Development Officer at the Blayney Abattoir in NSW and I boarded with Eric Black’s mother. One of the duties Ester Black gave me was to “vet” all incoming mail from Europe and to lodge Eric’s tax returns. It didn’t take me very long to realise Eric was having the time of his life as a Tour Leader.
I arrived into London early on Sunday morning and after the usual delays I got a bus to Gloucester Road Bus Terminal (1975) and directly opposite was the NAT Euro Tours Hotel. I was too early to get a bed so I went to the Bar where I got talking to three Couriers who informed me that NAT were always looking for staff and they gave me the boss’s name and where to find him.
Monday morning at 8.30am I went to 27 Poland St and spoke to Mike who said he needed Drivers urgently and gave me the name and address of the Driver Training people at gate 12 White City and I went there immediately. Unfortunately the next course was in a months’ time in Oxford so I booked my place and headed back to Earl’s Court. I dropped into the King’s Head for a drink and got talking to the Barman who introduced me to the Manager who offered me a job and I raced off to get my National Insurance number returning just in time to start picking up glasses for the evening session, (as it turned out I picked up more than glasses). I did get to rise to the ‘dizzy” heights of Barman and the job filled in the waiting time. It was the time where you could get a bed in a room with seven others for around a pound per night and often dinner was early at “The Pot” and usually consisted of Spag Bol as an entree followed by Chicken “a La King” as a main, all for under a pound!
I was the only one doing PSV in a group of twenty or so and I drove the bus to and from Oxford each day which gave me lots of practice. The Oxford depot consisted of a few “Portables” on a massive WW2 airfield. I soon discovered that Oxford is a narrow gutted place and a challenging setting for a two hour driving test. I passed my test on Friday afternoon around 2pm and rang Mike to give him the good news, he seemed happy enough telling me to get back to the London Hotel ASAP as I was leaving for North Africa next morning!
I was given a key and directions of where to find the bus and I walked a couple of miles to a Bus & Lorry park where I found my bus, a 28 seater 330 Bedford. I did my checks, started it up and drove to the hotel to load the passengers. Nat issued yellow Globite suitcases to passengers so that everybody had the same space and these suitcases fitted perfectly on the roof as the boot was full of camping gear. I had an experienced Courier and we headed for Ramsgate, we got about 100 miles before I could hear an unhealthy engine rattle and I pulled into the first Services and rang Mike, he sent another bus and we continued on our way. It was my first experience with a Hovercraft (this one was named “Sure”) and I was called back to the bus as it was moving too much on the handbrake. I sat for thirty minutes with my foot on the brake pedal and hands over my eyes as I felt very unwell watching all the cars moving up and down on their suspension.
Into France and down to Italy where we were to catch a ferry from Genoa to Tunis in Algeria. We arrived at the Ferry terminal around 6pm and had to wait until Midnight to load the bus so we found a Bar (where the girls seemed very busy) and had a few drinks. I managed to get the bus onto the ferry and immediately had instructions to report to the ships Purser. It turned out the previous NAT tour (think “experienced courier”) had damaged the Disco and the Purser didn’t want a repeat. I went back to the bus and got the courier who was by this time completely “leg less” and carried him to the lift, we arrived at our floor and the lift door opened and the Purser was waiting for the lift and I don’t think he was at all convinced about my assurances of a trouble free journey. I must admit the Disco was a bit hit and it took us a day lying around the campsite at Tunis to get over the ferry ride.
Five weeks later we are about to leave Paris and the Courier informs me that he has to leave as he has another tour to take and “anyway it’s dead easy to get back to London from here”. I head out to Lille and Dunkirk but about halfway I hear very upsetting engine noises and head for the nearest Services and call Mike, he says keep going as we have a Hovercraft booking and I did as I was told and got another 50km before the engine stopped with a terrible crunching noise and we found ourselves on the side of the motorway about 30kms from Dunkirk. I had to walk a few kms to a farm house and use my best French to ask if I could use the phone to call Mike. A bus turned up an hour later and took the passengers to the Hovercraft and I was left with the bus and the not too happy Police. Some time passed before two blokes turned up in a Renault van with expectations of towing me but it didn’t take too much to convince them that a bigger tow vehicle was required and they returned an hour later with a monster, I kid you not, the wheels were nearly as tall I was, they joined up a metal bar and head off and after I got their attention with the horn and mad waving I was able to explain that the rear brakes were locked on and we were leaving black marks on the nice motorway. They towed me to the ferry and I had to wait until last to be loaded, when we got to Dover I was to be the first out but the Guards of London tow truck was late and when it finally turned up the operator asked me if I wanted a short or long pole and I chose short. A good decision as once out of the ship it rained all the way to London and all I could see was the glow of the red tail lights of the tow truck. We arrived at the Guards Depot around lunchtime and as it was December 24th the boys were keen to share a beer but I did the right thing and called Mike, no beer, I had to drive a Guards of London 12 mtr Leyland Leopard semi auto into Threadneedle street (ran over a few curbs I can tell you) to pick up a group of 56 Bank of NSW employees and take them to the English Lakes for Christmas!
After Christmas I was sent to Amsterdam to assist a Dutch firm rebuild one of the NAT mid mounted Bedfords which had expired. It is hard for me to believe that even the Bedford salesman liked these under performing vehicles. I was there about two weeks finally taking the coach to Switzerland to pick up a group and drive them back to London. I did the Ski trip about four or five times sleeping only on the ferry each way and I finally weakened and asked for some time off. It was Sunday when I got back to London, I had to book into “Scotty’s Hotel next door to the NAT Hotel (as crew weren’t allowed to stay at the NAT) and I headed for the King’s Head and drank a few over my normal limit. At around 10pm I came out of the toilet and was met by Graham Strachan of Bustrek and he offered me a job driving in South America starting tomorrow, that’s Monday! I said “yes thank you” and agreed to meet him at his office in the morning. I had another drink and after closing retired to the bar at Scotty’s where to my amazement sat one of the secretaries from the Blayney Abattoir so I got up next morning not having had much sleep and feeling slightly hung over, I headed for the Brazilian Embassy to get a visa so that I could fly out of London on Tuesday. I rang Mike to give him the good news.
I arrived into Rio de Janeiro and when they opened the door of the plane I nearly expired, I had come from Europe to unbelievable heat and humidity, I caught a bus into the city and found the passengers in a hotel in Lapa which is a red light area of Rio. As it turned out the old Sundowners Ford coach had not turned up from the UK and we had to do the first ten days of the tour on public transport but that’s why it’s called “Adventure Travel” after all.
Fifteen months later I got back to London and did some mechanical work on a coach for Bustrek and I was asked to take it around to Capricorn Travel and take Mr Dick for a ride. It turned out Dick was more interested in hiring a new driver and a few days later Phil and I left for Morocco in “The Slug”.
I'm liking it. While we think we knew a bit about those we shared the road with, we didn't really. It is interesting to hear where people came from and personally, I am even more interested in what became of.
I could use some support against these big SUNDOWNERS blokes, you should read what Vicar calls NAT, your hair would rise with fury. I think they may be just jealous of the yellow globite suitcases, I've still got mine.
Les, I re-read my story and I was careful not to mention Brian by name but he was infact the "experienced courier". I am led to believe that he resides in Perth and probably with kidney and liver failure.
Les you were a year or so after me and I would be interested to know more about your time with NAT. Did the coaches improve, did they use dry hire coaches and did they still go to "Meski Oasis"? I have a couple of photos of Brian and I will try and post them on the "your Pictures" area.
Hi Simon, Les
I joined NAT in 1976 - and also have many many stories to tell. After a year a "courier" - Wazza then had me doing training trips. Then I was in Europe for most of the summers as "operations/problem solver" - driving around in an old kombi painted in the "new" NAT colours. Yes - we did get some new coaches. Like you - I started in a Bedford 29-seater Dominant, then did a couple of trips in "Luigi" - the DAF/Van Hool we had from Levasier in Holland. I even did a trip in the old Bussing we got from somewhere. It was fun parked by the cathedral in Grossetto watching ball bearing falling fallout of the gearbox!! Then came 5 new Mercs - which were luxury compared to some of the other vehicles in the fleet. For awhile NAT leased quite a few vehicles from Beuk in Holland (mainly Mercs/Dafs) - then with the move from camping tours to static camping (for the UK market), Wazza started to buy his own vehicles - mainly MANs and Volvos. Both were not without problems. When I left in 1983 - the fleet was huge - with quite a lot of double deckers. Needless to say by that time - many of the Aussie/NZ drivers got no fun out of doing the long-haul drives to south of France and Spain and returned home. I did quite a few driver training trips with UK drivers. Whilst there were some very good ones - there was also a lot of "failures". I was not a popular trainer - leaving drivers scattered all over Europe!!
Trevor welcome, I really appreciated your post and I can tell you that there are many readers of this site that will have read your comments with much interest. I will be surprised if you don't get a few comments and questions.
Every operation needs to keep some sort of standards and that usually requires somebody to uphold these standards and I am probably as guilty as anyone in not respecting that fact at the time but I did change a bit later when I had my own Bus business and I found myself being that person and seeing things from the otherside, being a bit older may have helped as well.
I spent most of my time in the wilderness and only really passed through Europe (London being the centre of my universe) and I am stunned to read about the number and quality of coaches NAT had. I do remember "Wassa".... a man to avoid where possible I used to think. The last I heard he and Mike had bought a Hotel/Motel in Florida as well.
I worked with Freddy Linger (I think- short balding gent) seemed to be a good English Driver for NAT and I worked with Mike Ward also English in Capricorn and I thought he was good as well. No doubt it came down to attitude and what you could expect from an experience like that.
At the last Sundowners Reunion (there is another in October this year) it was said many times that we lived and operated in interesting times which are unlikely to be repeated, quite special really.
Yes - I knew Freddy Linger. I was flown to Tunis to join a North Africa/Spain/Portugal tour as a trainee - with Freddy as the driver and Peter Clingen as the courier. This was the first of about 6 trips I made on similar itinerary - which later became the Spain/Portugal/Morocco. In turn I also took other couriers down there to train them. Over the course of the tours - I did them in a 28-seater Bedford, the "Luigi" Fiat Van Hool (several tours), a Levasier Mercedes and a Beuk Mercedes. Loved doing these trips because it meant we were "incommunicado" with Mike Barden - and it gave us some leeway to "do our own thing".
Interesting to read as I've been searching to see if we were not the only ones in the world to experience NAT Euro Tours. We all left Earls Court 29-10-1975. There were about 30 of us....Australians and New Zealanders. Our tour guides were Dennis and Tony. There was Jim, Sam, Julie, John, Black Pete, Blonde Pete, Anne, Garry, Bernice, Michael, Georgina, Dianne, Margaret, Ralph, Brendan, Bede, Wendy, Sue, Chris, Karen and probably more. The reason that I have those names is because one of the guys on our trip was I believe a Bio Chemist and he wrote several captions of what we chit chatted about while sitting for hours on the bus....some never to be repeated ha.
Our bus took us to Calais and onto Genoa and the ferry to Tunisia and camping on the beach where we got totally washed out and had soggy wet tents for the next 5 weeks. We were privileged to be allowed to sleep in hotels for the last two weeks due to the wet camping gear.
All in all it was a good hectic, tiring trip with the occasional (being terribly sick) bout. I think that we all experienced the best of those types of bus tours at that time because little change had occurred and the French were being marched out during 1975 which added to the awe. Good memories and great scrapbooking.
We nicknamed the bus trip Never Again Tours.
Mike McDermott an X NAT Punter?
And here I was thinking I knew ALL (and probably too much) about my much loved trainee (not loved enough by Ms Gully it would seem) and in all those "learning" sessions I do not recall NAT being mentioned????
Going by what I saw Mike I doubt it was lust it was more likely embeded love.
AND you don't remember the crew!!!! What is the world comming to?
;-) Simon, I can only surmise that after your lecture to me in Pokhara about the nature of passengers, I must have decided that if I revealed to you that if I had actually fallen in love with one (yes, you are right about that) you would have pounded me to death with the Titanic.
Her size and shape was similar to that of one Ms Lilija Razma Rozensteins, a cause of later puzzlement on my part. I concluded that it was within the powers of road crew to make exceptions to the general philosophy you revealed to me in Pokhara, if only from time to time and under the most exceptional of circumstances (in Lily's case, her strange difficulty in obtaining an Iraqi visa).
Yes, I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t remember the NAT crew. I do recall that there were different drivers at different times, and that the courier had made one of the aforementioned exceptions, and how. If you are trying to figure out who he may have been, I recall thinking appearance was similar to a footballer of the time, Peter Marker (http://www.sanfl.com.au/hall_of_fame/peter_f_j_marker/) – that is, about 6’1”-6’2”, with straight black hair. Sorry I can’t help more, but my focus was elsewhere.
I think it is Mike this time.
It seems that you were on NAT in 1976 so that was not long after I finished mid Dec 1975.
However, I have been trying to find the name of the place which was on the edge of the Sahara dessert.
Possibly the southern end...it was a small place from what I can remember and there was a camel sale yard, a small cafe/eatery where we got a great curry (heavens knows what was in it).
I'm lead to believe that it could be donkey..poor little critters were worked to death almost. One grabbed a huge bunch of carrot tops that I was carrying. They were for our travelling kitchen supplies.
The bus travelled a long way through the dessert to get there and we were told that we were at the edge of the Sahara. Wish digital technology was around then as I would have got more photos. I just had a good old Nikkormat film camera, and I have totally lost contact with the chap who I was then with..he had many photos.
Still, the memories are there and it was best thing doing it then as apposed to attempting the trip now.
Any info would be appreciated.
McDermott get a grip - she's gone - move on! Don't go getting dark on me over a holiday shag in 1976, she probably looks like her mother now.
All the NAT trips that went to Morocco went to the Sahara and there are some photos you may like in the "Your Pictures" at the bottom left of this page. You have to go to page 2 and there are two, one of a NAT group at the Sahara and another with the bus in Paris, on page 3 there is a photo of Meski oasis which you may have stayed at. Anybody is welcome to post photos.
You do not have to be a member. Just scroll up to the laughing rabbit and on the far left the is FORUM FOR YOU (which is where you are now) and above that is YOUR PICTURES, click on that and you can follow the prompts to come up on our first picture page and you can then go to page 2 and 3.