My Romantic World Adventure, A Ghost And A Real 200 Year-Old Mystery
The Prince's Palace in Brighton
True love story #1: An Aussie in Regency England
When we met she already had her airline ticket back to England - to live. That was in five weeks' time. She had sold her lovely home 'Jasmine Cottage' in a small country town in the hills north of Melbourne, Australia, in a street that bore my surname. What a coincidence!
We lived those five weeks as if there was no tomorrow.
She was an English lady whose deceased father was Australian and English mother living here. Born in Oxford, England, most of her life had been lived travelling back and forth between the two countries, never being able to decide which to call home.
Before our fateful meeting she had made a decision that her home should be back in England. Well, her Oxford accent certainly suggested that she was English. Now my heart was asking, why now? Why had fate left it right until the last minute, when it was too late to reverse her choice, for our meeting.
As if fate hadn't given us enough to think about - you know, the street name being the same as mine - we were both writers. Plus we both shared similar views on life, a rather spiritual point-of-view where she lived a kind of Buddhist lifestyle and me, well, I was a bit of everything all rolled into one.
BUT ... I found myself in this country town, again through fate?, as a result of my life in the big city taking a sudden turn for the worse. My freelance business of over ten years had crashed and It and I had been declared bankrupt. I had nothing. I was homeless, living in an old leaking caravan parked by the roadside about a kilometre from her home. I was penniless, friendless and unemployable. Who would be interested in a bum like me, with nothing?
Settlement day came for Robin to move out of her house and, for the next ten days, lived in my caravan. The day finally came and I bid her an emotional farewell at the International Airport in Melbourne.
Did we ever meet again?
Yes. Years later I found myself - through mysterious events connected with the mystery that had fallen into my lap after Robin's departure - when for three magical weeks she gave me a guided tour of Regency England, Oxford, the Cotswolds, London and more.
That was the first of three true love stories that happened to me during those years when I had nothing and when my home was an old caravan.
Read more about 'The Mystery of Granny's Ghost'
My caravan in the Aussie bush (note the blue waterproof tarp)
Have you ever been to England?
True love story #2: A Down And Out Aussie in New York
Living alone in a leaky old caravan in the bush can get pretty lonely. But what to do? I couldn't even afford to treat a lady friend to a takeaway pizza let along a decent meal out. I no longer owned a car so walking was my only means of transport. I needed an idea.
Stowed under one of the seats in the caravan were some old issues of 'Writer's Digest' which I'd kept just in case, one day, I might get to fulfill my dream to be a serious creative writer (until then I was writing ads which, I'd decided, was no longer my dream job). One day I was browsing through the classifieds at the back of the magazines when I noticed ads for overseas pen friends. (This was in the days before the Internet.)
Hey, maybe I could afford an occasional postage stamp to a friend far enough away not to require serious dating. I sent off to a number of them and waited.
I received replies soon enough to get me excited about the prospects of having a long-distance friend or two. One reply offered free membership for a year so I joined at no cost. A list of a dozen names and addresses came back. I was off and away!
What happened next is detailed in the book.
Long story short. For two years Jo, a school teacher from New Jersey USA, and I conducted one crazy sequence of letters, tapes, gifts, phone calls (from her), and we seemed to have fallen in love. One phone call decided it was time that we should meet. But wait, I had no money, certainly not the return air fare to the USA from Australia.
I was overwhelmed by her generous offer to take care of all expenses ... I mean, ALL expenses. The day came for me to board the plane in Melbourne and, after quite an eventful journey including missed connections, a storm that had us circling Chicago for half an hour with one of the two runways there knocked out by the electrical storm, wondering if we had enough fuel to make it, I arrived at Newark airport.
The moment had arrived. How would we greet each other, a hug, a self-conscious kiss, a handshake? It was none of these. I entered the passenger lounge to find no-one there. Had I been stood up on the other side of the planet?
Out of nowhere a figure emerged, running straight at me, colliding as I stood there fixed to the spot. No need to have worried how we'd greet each other. Back at her luxury apartment on the banks of the Hudson across from New York City we enjoyed breakfast together and, well, you can guess what else.
I was prepared to leave after a few weeks ... I stayed for six months, as long as my visa allowed. We vowed to meet again, who knows where.
Have you ever been to New York?
4 months living in romantic Italy
True love story #3: An Aussie in northern Italy
Some years later, as I was coming to the end of writing my book, which included the fascinating story of the Italians who came to the area where I had been living in the caravan in the days of the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. By a strange coincidence my last remaining pen friend was from the north of Italy where those men had lived. The Swiss-Italians had made up around 10% of the population of the area in those days and their ancestors still remained.
For something to do I had written a series of articles for the local paper about the history of the Swiss-Italians. This was picked up by a woman who decided to launch a Swiss-Italian Festa which, I'm proud to say, is still going stronger than ever today.
Again, after two years of corresponding I was invited to visit my Italian nurse with the voice of Sophia Loren. Long story short again. I arrived in Milan not knowing what Fulvia looked like. We had decided that looks were not everything and that inner beauty was what counts. So I had arrived in Italy, where I couldn't speak a word of Italian except "bongourno" and "ciao" nothing more.
In the distance a woman stood gazing in my direction. Was it her? I walked closer and closer but she showed no sign of recognition. Was I about to make a complete fool of myself in a country where I couldn't speak the language?
"Is it you?" I asked, sheepishly.
"Yes, it's me!"
In half an hour we were entering Bergamo on the road from Milan to Venice. Was I dreaming? A nine kilometre climb up a winding road in the foothills of northern Italy brought us to a tiny village where my friend lived.
Would I be put on the next plan home or would I stay? Reluctantly I returned after four amazing months when my permit ran out. I was taken to the romantic places of Italy ... Venice, Rome, Milan, Florence, Sanremo on the Italian Riviera and many other little known places of historic (and romantic) significance.