1975 - The wheels on the bus...



There must be something about Corfu as we were going back there for a third time.


Like our motorcycles over the years, the vans were getting better as well. This time, for our third major van trip, John had acquired a double wheel Bedford minibus with proper seats and enough space for everyone to stretch out. This was a step up in sophistication and we were confident that this time the trip would go without problems so we could relax and enjoy it. We also had a new bunch of adventurers, many of whom were experiencing European travel for the first time.





















John's tale -


I have a peculiar fondness for vans and after selling my old 17 cwt short wheelbase Transit in 1973 to finance the purchase of my Triumph Trident, decided to get another van in 1975. The old Transit had taken a group to Yugoslavia in 1972, been rented to my friend Graham so he could go with his friends to the South of France and was veteran of Bank Holiday trips to Cornwall, Wales and the Lake District. I had doubled the initial mileage but still managed to sell it for twice the original purchase price of 70 pounds.

This fondness goes back to my friend Andy's trips in his old Ford Thames to Spain in Easter 1969, Morocco the same year and to Austria (when it had been purchased by my Dad, then borrowed by me) for the winter of 69/70 and finally to a trip to Perranporth Cornwall Easter 1970. There is something nice about being in a van and travelling with a bunch of friends but of course, when I am in a van I wish I had a motorbike and when on a motorbike, wish I had the capacity for multiple drivers and virtually not stop driving until we reached our intended destination.


This second foray into vans did not start well as I bought a large diesel cube truck which immediately broke down. I was persuaded by my mother, fed up with it stuck in the front garden, to buy a newish long wheelbase Bedford CF. It even had seats and windows so I did not need to bodge in old ambulance windows and make bench seats like I did with the Transit. She even loaned me the money to buy it! It had a three speed gearbox but was quite low geared so grinding over mountains was not too much of a problem but cruising speed a little slow. One of the other problems with the van trip concept was finding enough people to fill it without resorting to advertizing. I always liked to keep things word of mouth if only to keep the authorities at bay.
I decided to re-visit Corfu once again. The 1971 trip on the motorbikes was momentous. The 1973 trip on bigger bikes a complete bust for me so maybe 1975 in a van might amount to something.


I managed to find 8 people to go including my friend Stuart, my brother Michael and a young lady named Christine. It is these last two that this account of the trip revolves around. The other cast of characters included friend Stuart, work mates Vic and Barbara and her boyfriend Bob, brother Michael and my soon to be wife Julie.

Now, my brother was just 18 when we set off. That he went at all was a miracle as throughout his childhood he would always refuse to go away with the family for a weekend to our place on the Essex coast then regret it the moment our car got to the end of the road. He also suffered from travel sickness and unlike me had very pale skin and was prone to sunburn. The other person, Christine was the younger sister of a former workmate who lived close to my parents. I had taken her out a few times but any attraction was definitely one sided. She was a very nicely brought up middle class lady, probably only 19 or so and the least likely person ever to go on a Piskwik Tour that I could conceive.

On the departure night Christine showed up with a most enormous suitcase which we managed to shove somewhere and my brother amazingly got in the van and fell promptly asleep. I believe he slept for the three days it took us to get to Corfu.


The route took us through Belgium, Germany, Austria and south through Yugoslavia. We took the inland route through Belgrade and Skopje then over the mountains, skirting Albania and arriving in Greece round about Kalambaka. The roads through Yugoslavia, even their excuse for a motorway, were in poor condition and frequently bumpy so the folks in the back were having a tough time. The mountain road towards the ferry port of Igoumenitza was extremely bendy but I had to keep up a good pace in order to make any progress. With the heat and continual bend swinging there were some complaints of sickness from the back so I needed to slow down. We spent the night in a campsite just outside Igoumenitza and walked into town for a meal. With multiple drivers we had driven virtually non- stop from England something impossible to do on a motorbike.

The walk back to our camp ground was quite eventful as the ground was crawling with extremely large insects. This un-nerved a number of the women but my brother took it into his head to tickle the back of Christine's legs with a twig. After a couple of incidents she had a complete breakdown wailing that she wanted to go home. She was eventually calmed down after we promised to search her tent every night for intruders of the insect variety.


The next morning as we booked the ferry over to Corfu I experienced the first and only mutiny in the history of Piskwik Tours. The vast majority wanted to go back through Italy and be done with Greek mountains and Yugoslavian roads so I acquiesced. I did not fancy it either to tell the truth. Inland Yugoslavia was nothing like the tourist influenced coast and as drab and gray and lackluster as only a communist country can achieve.
Generally, the van trips were not very democratic and if we had made decisions by committee we would never have left Dover. I organized the whole thing, it was my van and I had the worries, I decided where to go and when, and people generally went along meekly. On the upside, many people had their first taste of traveling abroad or, even if they had been before, outside of the confines of a typical 1970's / 1980's package tour. Nowadays, I feel a little pride in introducing so many to this form of adventure, for in those days it really was an adventure.


We arrived in Corfu and set off going north from Corfu Town along the eastern coast road looking for a suitable camp site. Nothing of course had been pre booked. The resorts along this stretch of coast were little more than strips of a few restaurants, a few locally run hotel tavernas and a few shops following the small strip of beach. Too near to town would be dumpy and grimy and too far away would mean long drives to get to anywhere different. When we settled at our campsite the modus operandi was this. Set up tents and have a communal patch near the van where we could brew tea or coffee using our propane gas stove. The first few days were spent on the beach recovering from the journey but after that we would depart mid morning for another beach elsewhere on the island.
First up in the morning would light the stove to boil water for tea and coffee. Some people would wander off to a nearby bar and try and score a breakfast. Par for the course would be strong coffee, Greek Yogurt, bread, peach jam. Sometimes you could persuade a friendly waiter to find a fried egg or two. Whatever showed up it always seemed delicious and just to be leisurely eating outside in the warm made England seem like a million miles away. In the evening, after a hard day sunbathing, swimming or reading we would walk or drive to a local taverna. The Greeks seem to have a knack of having fun and we were not going to miss the chance of having fun too.


It was early on in the holiday that we descended upon Taki's bar a short drive from the camp site. I had convinced myself that this Taki's Taverna was the same one mentioned in Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals

book despite half the male population of Corfu being christened Taki and the other half Spiros after the local patron saint, St. Spiridion. Actually, when we arrived in Corfu and filled in the entry form, we had all put our middle name as Spiros!

There was a dance floor outside, a number of long tables alongside it and music provided. We settled down to eat and drink and have a great evening. I persuaded everyone to order a small bottle of Retsina since we were in Greece. This resinated wine basically tastes like disinfectant and is definitely an acquired taste. Most of our party were not able to stomach the Retsina and soon switched to other beverages. Just outside the perimeter of the dance floor a local vendor was selling souvlakis on small wooden sticks grilled over charcoal. The pieces of meat were quite small but absolutely delicious being marinated in herbs and olive oil. My brother loved the things as did I and we kept a steady flow of them coming to our table. Nowadays, the Greeks have gone Super Size Me and the lumps of meat on a souvlaki skewer much, much bigger but definitely not tastier.

It began to get dark and people started dancing.


(continued top left)
























The route







John's tale (pt2)


Christine had seemingly taken a shine to Stuart and was pressing him to dance. Eventually he was coaxed onto the dance floor but pretended to be extremely drunk and was reeling about (or was it dancing) when he lost his balance and toppled over. He grabbed at Christine but only managed to tear half her dress off before he hit the ground. While all this was happening, my brother Michael was going up and down the table polishing off everyones unwanted Retsina in between visiting the souvlaki vendor. When it was eventually time to go we realized he was extremely drunk. We put him in the passenger seat of the van but opened the window and stuck the upper part of his body out in case he was sick. We then wound the window up so he couldn't get back in. He was going on about seeing white rabbits all the way home.

When we got back to the camp site no one wanted Mike to sleep in their tent so we rolled him, fully clothed, under the van. In its former life it had apparently been a school bus and had metal side skirts to prevent young kids from crawling underneath. Why small kids should have any inclination to crawl under a van is beyond me but we rolled Mike underneath as a "precaution". Anyway, when he awoke the next morning he sat up and cracked his head on the drive shaft but otherwise was none the worst from the night before.


This was a two week trip but with both weekends counted and maybe a bank holiday as well, we could be away for sixteen or seventeen days which left ten days or more at the destination and three days each way for travel. During our stay on Corfu we would visit the must see beaches of Paleokastritsa and Nisaki and some of the less frequented towards the south of the island as well as a couple of trips into Corfu town for souvenirs and a visit to Sid's Souvlaki Bar (our name not the vendors) which we had discovered in 1971.

On one of the excursions out the brakes failed at the campsite entrance. Now, the brakes had failed in the Thames van in Innsbruck in 1979, the Transit in Yugoslavia in 1972 and now Corfu in 1975! To cut a long story short, we were not able to get the parts to repair the brakes on Corfu and the parts we had shipped from the U.K. did not fit so we drove back to the U.K. using the front brakes only as we had blanked off the rear and were using the hand brake to activate the rear. This obviously added a few grey hairs to my head but other than that the trip was trouble free.


Another incident worth relating and one I did not witness involved Christine and Vic. Nearer the end of the holiday and when the van was semi laid up because of the brakes and I was off on a rented Honda 50 looking for parts Christine set out to impress Vic. As mentioned before, she had an enormous suitcase that had been packed by her mum. It contained, amongst other things three separate swimming costumes and a number of long elegant dresses more suited to Royal Ascot than low life Corfu. On this particular day, Vic was out on the water on his air bed sunbathing. Christine got herself all made up, put on her best bikini and paddled out on her air bed to socialize. As she arrived, fully resplendent, Vic casually reached out and pulled the plug from her air bed at which point she unceremoniously sank, bikini, make up and all.

As the holiday drew to a close, more and more of us were abandoning our tents and just sleeping out under the stars. It is a wonderful feeling to just fall asleep with the night sounds of the crickets and cicadas around you and wake up with the dawn feeling the slight chill of the dawn hours and the dampness of the dew that would be soon burnt off by the rising sun. The very last night Christine dragged her sleeping bag out of her tent, she who was petrified of insects, put down her blanket and joined us - another convert.

The journey back through Italy was uneventful and we all survived to tell another tale. Corfu was to be revisited three more times but those will be other stories.




































































































































































































Picture explanations (from the top)


1. Our camp set-up in Corfu. People are (l to r) Vic, Christine and John.


2.General view of the campsite bar.


3.Excursion to Glyfada beach. l to r - John, Julie, Christine and Vic.


4.Paleokastritza beach bar. Julie and Michael.


5. Michael clothes shopping in Corfu Town.


6. John and Julie clothes shopping in Corfu Town.


7.Packing up for the return trip. l to r - Julie, Christine, Vic and someone I don't recognise.


8 Ferry back to Italy photographed in Corfu harbour.


9. Arriving at Otranto harbour in southern Italy