To Tonga…eventually.

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Departure boards. They tease you, with their tantalising suggestions……like a hostess whipping the covers off a party feast.

Your appetite’s whetted , but some of the delights get whisked away if you wait too long. Thankfully….even when the most delicious options have disappeared…they’re replenished by another dozen destinations.

Whether it’s a train station terminus in New York, Paris or London…or a flight departures board at Heathrow, I’m hooked. And I’m pretty sure my late Dad’s to blame. As a small girl living in London, I’d watch him, as a royal bodyguard, pack and plan for trips to the palaces in Scotland. In the early days, they involved a sleeper north from London. A train…WITH A BED in it!  You snuggled down and woke up over the border. My small mind boggled at the prospect.

As his career progressed…the spellbinding stories of his travel locations rolled in. A flight to a hot, stressful royal appointment in the Congo….a taste of the colour and madness of San Francisco… Sydney Harbour Bridge glinting in the sunshine….those crazy Mexican guitars. I hadn’t flown anywhere by this stage, and would have been thrilled enough with his discarded BOAC bag and eyeshade, but no matter how busy he’d been, there would be gifts: from cuddly koalas, to African straw dolls, to shiny market trinkets, beads…and one day…. grass skirts.

” I was a young suburban schoolgirl, with as much chance of seeing Tonga for myself as flying to the moon..”

Nestling inside mine was a little Tongan doll; with a similar grass skirt and beads, and glossy black locks. Not just that…programmes and pictures from the royal occasion Dad had attended on the island; descriptions of hot white sands….and the heady harmonies the choirs had sung at the event.

I was a young suburban schoolgirl, with as much chance of seeing Tonga for myself as flying to the moon. But I knew I had to capture what I’d seen and heard, somehow. I bought a navy blue ring binder folder from W.H Smith, a pad of lined paper, a pack of sticky photograph corners and some new blue cartridges for my pen. I raided the larder for some split peas…and arranged them into the word TONGA across a white sheet of paper which I stuck to the front of the folder.

(I think I hoped this would make it look more exotic; less like homework.)

I wrote what I knew. That there were colours in this place…. sounds, sights and tastes, fruits, dishes, wildlife, vegetation… that had captivated my Dad, a Scot who’d worked down his local IMG_0317 1mine at 14 but had studied hard to move to London to join the Metropolitan Police Force. I tried, from the stories Dad had told us, to convey the sense of occasion; and above all, the friendliness of the Tongan people.

I secured a few pictures, clicked the steel rings shut and handed it in with all the other school summer holiday project entries. Winning an ‘A’grade , glowing praise and a book token prize for my efforts was thrilling. For me…and my Dad.

Fast forward half a lifetime. I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled to a few European destinations on family and solo trips, and to experience several cross Atlantic journeys, too. Dad died two years ago, but his own travel memories and mementoes are still with me. I think he’d be delighted to know that the small inheritance he left is helping fund a trip I never imagined I’d be able to make. Yes, the night sleeper to Scotland is still on the list, and will still excite me. But first, the world.  And yes…of course Tonga’s on the itinerary …and of course I`m going to write about it.


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