Traveller's tales: Lads' adventures in Middle East

February 01 2018

A Longwell Green grandfather is making waves in the world of publishing with his book about his round the world adventures in an ageing Land Rover back in the 1970s. Jayne Taylor catches up with Pete Strickland to find out more

A Longwell Green grandfather is making waves in the world of publishing with his book about his round the world adventures in an ageing Land Rover back in the 1970s. Jayne Taylor catches up with Pete Strickland to find out more

 

HEARD the one about four young men who travelled through the Middle East in a 21-year-old Land Rover? 

You'd be forgiven for thinking this is the opening line of a joke, for surely this would be impossible in today's political climate. But nearly 50 years ago, this is exactly what happened when four twenty-somethings embarked on an epic around-the-world journey with just a few hundred pounds between them and their fingers crossed that Sweaty Betty, as they affectionately referred to their vehicle of choice, would last the course.

One of the men, now a Longwell Green grandfather, not only survived the three-year trip but has gone on to regale others with his tales of friendship, hospitality, high jinx and danger.

Today Pete Strickland is 76 and finding himself very much in demand as a public speaker, engaging everyone from WI ladies to Probus club members with his enthralling memoirs.

As author of Round the World on a Shoestring, Pete has finally got round to what he promised his two children, Daniel and Victoria, he would do.

When you ask him how long the book took to write he jokes 46 years, for that's pretty much how long he'd been thinking about it.

Armed with notes and a manuscript he'd written during the journey, Pete found the memories and words just flowed, and in the end, the 285-tome came together in a matter of just a few months.

Pete was born in Castle Cary and on leaving the Navy at the age of 27, found himself perusing the small ads in his local paper. The words jumped out at him: "Persons interested in an overland trip to Australia contact..."

It wasn't to be long before Pete was united with Ron Harvey, Tim Evans and Dick Williams and an enthusiastic, if somewhat naive, team were ready for a trip of a life-time.

On a shoestring budget, and armed with just a few paper maps, the men travelled through Europe, Turkey, the Middle East, the Far East and Australia, living off the land and sleeping in a tent.

"It was a journey that you couldn't do now," said Pete.

"We were living rough in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and spending time in places like Aleppo, Raqqa, Helmand Provence, Kandahar, Kabul and Peshawar. Today, with the Taliban, these are no-go areas."

Despite her age, Sweaty Betty did the lads proud. She saw them through to Afghanistan but they were forced to sell her, realising they wouldn't be able to take her across into Pakistan which was at war with India.

"We sold her to a hash dealer to get enough money to get out of the country," said Pete.

"Then we went through Pakistan, back into Afghanistan, through to Kabul where we stayed until we could get a flight to Sri Lanka. We then went to Malaya, Thailand, Singapore, Bali, and ended up in Australia."

Having run out of money, Pete took jobs in Australia, spending 14 months working at a space tracking station about 18 miles from Woomera.

Pete said: "There were many highlights - and low lights. I remember sleeping in about 20 degrees below zero in a tree trunk in the mountains in Turkey. We'd been driving all day, it was getting dark and the roads were icy so we pulled into the side of the road and just kipped where we were.

"At one point we were held up a gun point. We were camping just off the side of a road in Iraq and an Arab came by. He was nosing about, saw our camera and wanted to have his photograph taken. We took a photograph of him but he then wanted to see it. Of course, we couldn't show it to him so we tried to explain that it has to be developed in London. He said he'd wait whilst we went to get it done, which wasn't quite realistic!

"He then disappeared but came back in the middle of the night with his cronies. He pointed a gun at us so we took the spool out of the camera and gave it to him. Thankfully, it pacified him and we managed to survive."

Another hairy moment came while the lads were in Iran.

"We were travelling through the desert and tried to camp so we pulled off into some sand dunes. In the morning we heard a rumbling and looked out and saw we were surrounded by tanks. We'd set up camp in the middle of a tank training ground. It was the quickest we'd ever dismantled the tent!"

Pete, who has four grandchildren, all under six, looks back most affectionately at his time working in Australia, where he spent 15 months. 

"I worked for NASA Space Agency on a salt lake island lagoon in the middle of Australia. I was more or less a Man Friday picking up dead kangaroos between the tracking station and Lake Woomera and collecting confidential mail from the plane which flew in every day."

Despite facing extremes of temperature, Pete was made of stern stuff and his constitution strong.

"I didn't suffer from anything too drastic, just the usual runs you get in Pakistan and India. We called it Bombay gut rot!  We all survived it though!"

Pete finally returned to the UK in 1975 after a three-month boat journey from New Zealand and built up a successful career in the amusement business, repairing fruit machines, juke boxes and pool tables.

Today, Pete still runs his own vending machine business as well as finding time to do charity work as bosun on the ex-military boat the Pride of Britain, taking young people on sea adventures.

Pete said the book had been a long time coming: "Every night I'd write a little blog of where we were, what we did that day and how far we'd travelled. I did that religiously. When I was in Woomera I had quite a lot of time on my hands and thought I'd write it up as a manuscript. I finished it when I was coming home to this country on the boat. It had been stuck on the shelf for years and my two children kept asking me when I was going to write a book. I said 'I will - one day'. 

"They kept on to me then last year I did it. It was one of the boxes I wanted to tick while I'm still here!"

These days Pete opts for more sedate journeys with visits to places like Croatia and Malta but has been known to maintain his spirit of adventure, recently dabbling with white water rafting. 

"When I came out of the Navy I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do and going around the world seemed a good idea at the time. Everyone thinks I was mad to have done it but I'm glad I did. I don't have any regrets - you've got to have a spirit of adventure; you can't let life pass you by."

If you would like to find out more about Pete talking at your event, you can call him on 07840 240330 or 0117 932 5384 or email psvending@talktalk.net

Round the World on a Shoestring is published by Brown Dog Books and is available from Amazon at the price of £13.99.