The Journey That Never Was - Around The World in a Mini by Jeanne de Ferranti
I had a dream; to go to Australia. Rather than go by ship I opted to go ‘overland’. I was lucky to have a father who extolled independence, as he himself had travelled widely as a young man. He understood my vision of adventure and rather than stand in the way, encouraged and helped me, even though I was ‘only a girl’.
Another English girl, Jane, who I had met briefly in Switzerland where we had been working, was also eager for adventure. She agreed to go with me, providing we included New Zealand and her extended family in our plans.
The Mini, Jane and I eventually reached Australia and New Zealand. After a year of trying to adapt to the culture and earn a living, we headed back home (which had not been the original intention), across the Pacific Ocean, through Mexico, the United States of America and Canada. Our expedition took two years to complete.
It was definitely a first for the indomitable Mini, to travel all the way round the world and home again. The achievement was never released to the press, as it never occurred to me to do so. Besides which, my family shunned publicity. So the story that follows has never been told before.
Chapter one - France, Switzerland and Italy
The airport at Lydd, in the south of England, was casual and friendly after the turmoil of preparation in the big city. Passengers sat around idly waiting, cups half-full of tasteless coffee on the bare tables in front of them.
The 12.15 flight, No 206, was a quarter of an hour ahead of schedule and the early morning drizzle had finally cleared. With only eight other passengers and minimal fuss, we filed past the customs officer, who eyed us critically as he examined our passports. Three cars were lined up with their bonnets open so that the engine numbers could be checked before being driven, by the airport chauffeurs, up a wide ramp into the gaping mouth of the small plane. Once inside they were secured with heavy chains, the ramp was removed and the great doors were closed.
It was the 5th of September 1961, and at last Jane and I were on our way to Australia, overland in a blue Mini. I had met Jane earlier that year when she came out to Switzerland as a replacement for my job in a finishing school. She was a trained children’s nurse, tall, with short dark hair, twenty-eight years old, a no-nonsense sort of girl. I was only twenty-one, ripe for adventure, with a burning ambition to go to Australia.
In those days most people went by passenger liner via the Suez Canal, which took six weeks, but that meant that I would miss all those exciting places on the way. So slowly a plan took shape; to drive overland through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India. The RAC were extremely helpful providing me with a very rough map showing the principal, mostly dirt roads, crossing the region and the necessary triptych, containing all documents and a detailed passport for the car, which guaranteed I would not sell it on the way.
Initially I had planned the expedition with a cousin, but we soon fell out over whose car we should use. That was the first blow. I had already given up my job and preparations were well underway. It was not a journey I could undertake on my own, and no way did I want to back down and go by ship, so I wrote to a friend I had worked with in Switzerland. She suggested I ask Jane, who enthusiastically agreed, provided we postpone the departure date. She felt obliged to give her new employers six months’ notice. We also agreed to modify the route to include six months in New Zealand, where she had numerous relatives.
At last we were on our way, belted into rough canvas seats at the rear of the aircraft, which lumbered along the runway, creaking and shuddering as it gathered speed and then finally took off protesting, and oh, so slowly!
“I didn’t think we’d make it!” remarked one of the passengers. Neither had I. The sea below looked very close and rough and I began to wish we had crossed the Channel on an old-fashioned steamer instead; that is until only twenty minutes later, we circled over Le Touquet and glided gently down onto the runway in France.
The Journey That Never Was by Jeanne de Ferranti is published by Mereo Books (RRP: £12.99). It is available from all good bookshops and online at amazon.co.uk.
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