I went around the world in 80 days ... the hard way
Jules Verne’s hero did it and Mike Todd proved it — but they had money. I hitched, fast-talked and smuggled my way by ear, plane and troopship
“It happened to me”
This is another of the series of personal-experience stories that will appear from time to time in Maclean’s . . . stories told b.v Its readers about some interesting dramatic event in their lives.
HAVF YOU SUCH A STORY? If so, send it to the articles editor, Maclean’s Magazine, 481 University Ave., Toronto. For stories accepted Maclean’s will pay the regular rates it offers for articles.
I was having a few beers with a couple of friends after seeing the movie Around the World in Eighty Days and one of them was marveling at Phileas Fogg’s ingenuity.
"Nuts." I said. "When he got in a jam he’d dip into that big money bag and buy his way out.”
"So what?” said the other. "How far around the world could you get without a bankroll?”
1 should have had a premonition where a question like that could lead, but in no time 1 had talked myself into much the same predicament as Jules Verne's hero—minus the money. My proposition (laughed to scorn by my companions) was that 1 could travel around the world in eighty days, starting from Toronto with not more than fifty dollars and depending on chance and ingenuity to beg, borrow, work, or wangle my way along.
Next morning, the adventure didn’t appear quite as alluring. No money had been bet and 1 could have laughed the whole thing olT. But 1 decided to try to go through w'ith the improbable journey. I had a job that paid three hundred and fifty dollars a month, which I thought not bad for a twenty-six-year-old newcomer from Jamaica who had been in Canada less than two
years. But it w'as a job that needed, 1 felt, occasional changes of scene to make it bearable.
I was a field adjuster with a finance company, a prodder of people who bought things and fell behind on payments. In a time of prosperity this meant I dealt mostly with the very unlucky or the very shiftless. Nearly all my calls ended with a woman crying or a man threatening to throw me out. This caused periods of depression, one of which was coming on at that time.
I asked my boss for leave of absence "to take a trip.” Without even knowing what extent of a trip 1 had in mind, he refused. So I resigned.
I inserted a want ad offering to drive a car westward. My only reason for wanting to set out in that direction was that 1 knew a girl in Vancouver. We had gone around together in Toronto but had broken up before she went west, and 1 hoped to meet her again and patch things up.
I got an answer to my ad from a resident of White Fox. Sask., who had bought a Volkswagen in Toronto and would take me as far as Regina. At noon on Tuesday, Sept. 3. with my baggage and forty-seven dollars in cash. 1 drove out of Toronto with Mrs. Omemee-Kema Lidster. She was a brisk woman who said she was sixty but
looked younger. She had been born on an Indian reservation where her father was the minister. she explained, and her name meant Cooing Dove. Her friends called her Mamie.
We stopped for the night at a motel near Port Huron, Mich. 1 couldn't afford a room, and anyway 1 wanted to accustom myself to a sleeping bag. So I lugged my gear to a small park near the motel and settled in. Morning brought two elementary lessons in sleeping out: don’t leave shoes on the ground—dew makes them soaking wet; and don’t leave an alarm clock in a haversack—it won't wake you up.
On the road next morning an approaching car bleeped at us. I stopped and walked around our car to see what was wrong. Everything seemed in one piece, so I drove on. Presently another car bleeped at us. This time Mrs. Eidster had the answer. “They only want to be friendly,” she said. “Both of them were Volkswagens too.”
So we drove on through northern Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota and back into the Canadian prairies, cheerfully exchanging greetings with fellow Volkswagens every couple of hours.
At Regina I parted regretfully with Omemee-
Kema and her car and started hitchhiking. It was. to tell the truth, all hitch and no hike, because I could scarcely walk a step under my luggage, which consisted of a suitcase containing a spare suit and extra windbreaker. plus shirts, socks, underwear; a knapsack in which 1 kept my toilet kit and alarm clock; a sleeping bag rolled around a winter coat; a brief case bulging with my big logbook and materials for sketching—a hobhy that would later, incredibly, rescue me from starvation. It was not until a Canadian Pacific Airlines dispatcher in Vancouver told me my luggage was two pounds over the sixty-six-pound limit that I realized how much weight I lugged across Canada.
Several short lifts set me down at eight o’clock on the gusty night of Friday, Sept. 6. at a highway intersection just west of Moose Jaw. I had made a cardboard sign lettered “Vancouver” but the wind was too strong for me to hold the sign up. Bv ten o’clock the wind was a gale and not a single car had so much as slowed down for me. I was ready to tie my luggage to a fence post and crawl into my sleeping bag for an uncomfortable night.
But first I tried prayer. 1 wondered what a clergyman would ask if
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‘We’ve got a submarine leaving for Singapore,” cracked the officer. “Swell,” I said eagerly.
lie were in my place—and it suddenly dawned on me that he probably wouldn't have to pray for a lift: his clerical garb beside the highway would halt any car.
I tore a two-inch-wide strip of white cardboard from my useless sign and pinned it around my throat, above the black sweater that I hoped would look like a clergyman’s dark vest. The next car stopped for me. The driver laughed when 1 explained my disguise, and gave me the longest hitch of my trip across Canada.
I crossed the Rockies in low gear, grinding endlessly upward in a huge trailer truck driven by Sam Huston, a northof-Ireland man. I rode into Penticton with Gord Pratt, an RCAF youngster on his way home to get married. Four more lifts took me into Vancouver just nine days after l left Toronto. I still had forty dollars, which meant I had crossed Canada on seven dollars for food, cigarettes and incidentals. 1 was limiting myself to one big meal a day, and wasn't suffering, though outdoor living and sleeping did sharpen the appetite.
Vancouver was a ten-day nightmare of frustration, after a good start. 1 met my girl, and we made up. Next I went to the office of Mayor Hume of Vancouver and got a letter from him to the mayor of Hong Kong. (It turned out there was no mayor of Hong Kong, but that problem was still in the future.)
Day after day I tramped around Vancouver, trying to find transportation— any sort of transportation—westward. 1 soon discovered that Canadian Pacific ■Airlines was not interested in sponsoring a latter-day re-enactment of Jules Verne’s story for the publicity value, if any. For sixty dollars down, however, 1 could buy a five-hundred-and-sixty-dollar, one-way (light to Hong Kong, on the “fly now. pay later” arrangement.
I canvassed the steamship lines. Someone who hasn’t tried it wouldn’t believe the number of assorted steamship agencies doing business in Vancouver. But none of them would give me a job, unless 1 signed on for the round trip. I haunted the offices of a dozen Vancouver businessmen and politicians who conceivably might be talked into helping me. Eventually, I talked four of them into putting up fifteen dollars each for the sixty dollars that CPA needed as down payment on my fare to Hong Kong. I took off on Sept. 26, lost Sept. 27 at the international date line, and reached Hong Kong via Tokyo next day.
1 landed at Kaitack airport in Kowloon, Hong Kong's mainland “suburb,” with twenty-eight dollars Canadian, which brought six times that number of Hong Kong dollars at a moneychanger’s booth. I checked into the Kowloon Hotel, which could be described without libel as second-rate. Then 1 went out confidently to get a shipboard berth that would take me as far west as possible. A copy of the South China Morning Post 1 had seen on the plane featured a four-page section of steamship arrivals and departures. 1 reasoned that if steamship companies wouldn’t take Westerners one way to the Far East, they should be willing to let me work my way out of the Orient.
Three days later, exhausted from tramping between ship agents, I was not one step closer to departure. Next I tried the air lines. Two companies, Thai
Airways and Cathay Pacific, took at least a fifty-percent interest in my plight: they offered passage to Calcutta or Singapore for half fare—eighty unattainable Canadian dollars.
I even got an offer of a free plane
ride, from a EI. S. liaison officer. But the destination was in the wrong direction —Manila. 1 said no. thanks.
“Well." said the officer, "we’ve got a submarine leaving for Singapore."
“Swell," 1 said eagerly. The officer
looked startled and said he was only kidding. By then. 1 wasn't. A submarine was transportation.
Suddenly I remembered my letter to the mayor of Hong Kong. He might be able to use his influence to get me start-
ed again. But when I tried to locate the mayor I discovered there was no such person. Hong Kong is a colony, not a city, and the head man is the governor, Sir Alexander Grantham. I telephoned Government House, explained about the letter to an aide-de-camp named White, and a little to my surprise was given an appointment for the same afternoon.
Wearing my cleanest clothes (and somewhat sensitive because that included my gaudy calypso shirt) 1 boarded the Kowloon-Hong Kong ferry. In honor of the occasion I rode first class. Fare: three cents. I should have stayed with the masses. When 1 put my hand into my pocket for bus fare at the other side, the feel of that still-fat bankroll of Hong Kong dollars was sickeningly absent. My pocket had been picked on the ferry.
I felt utterly beaten for the first time since I left Toronto. In panic I couldn't bring myself to spend even the almost valueless coins that remained for a bus ride. I walked lip the long hill to Government House.
A half hour with Sir Alexander restored some of my morale. He was a pleasant easygoing man w'ho, with perfect British aplomb, made me feel I was correctly dressed for a Government House audience. He spoke fondly of Jamaica, where he had spent happy years as colonial secretary before World War II. He was sympathetic, too. about my lost money and when I left he emptied his pockets and handed me a wad of hills. “This may help tide you over," he said casually. I resisted counting the windfall until 1 was out of sight of Government House. It was forty-five Hong Kong dollars.
I told Matt Fipscomb, the Kowloon Hotel manager, what had happened to me on the ferry. I expected him to explode, to call the police, to seize my baggage. Instead the big sombre man shrugged and said gently, "That's nasty for you. As for your bill, there's always the post, you know, when you get hack home.”
In gratitude I decided not to increase my debt to Lipscomb, but to move to the Y MCA where as a member I could get a rate of a dollar sixty Canadian a day. Kowloon's "Y" sounds like something out of a smoking-car story—it houses both men and women. They’re on different floors, however, and are kept virtuously apart. It's all as moral as any "Y."
The “Y" had a gift shop well patronized by soldiers. That gave me an idea.
I worked several hours in my room finishing a couple of dozen sketches I had roughed out during my trip. The manager of the gift shop agreed to offer them for sale at ten Hong Kong dollars each.
In the first three days the soldiers bought fifteen sketches. Including the governor's forty-five dollars, that gave me nearly two hundred dollars. It meant I could pay off the Kowloon Hotel and bring my “Y” bill up to date. I figured the sale of even two sketches a day would keep me until I could find some way of moving on.
I made one miscalculation. Much the same group of soldiers used the "Y" so 1 ran out of customers. By the fifth day no sketches sold. The next day was Sunday. For the first time in my life I went a whole day without eating. Monday was no better.
Next morning I wrapped up a pair of almost-new slacks and went in search of a pawnshop. I consulted an enterprising rickshaw boy whose station was the front of the “Y” building. He called himself "Number One Boy” and I knew him by no other name. He recommended the shop of Won Cha Yung, in an alleyway two blocks away.
Won offered ten dollars after fingering the cloth expertly. I asked twenty and we compromised at fifteen. That would cover a day’s lodging and cigarettes.
But I decided there wasn't much future in that system, pawning my possessions bit by bit in exchange for a bare existence. And in the end I'd he broke and no further ahead. I decided to pawn everything I had at once and enjoy myself for a few days. That would bring on the inevitable crisis a little sooner, hut meanwhile I'd have seen a little Hong Kong life. I bundled up all my possessions except the clothes I wore and went to the pawnshop.
Won pushed aside my sleeping hag. winter coat and spare windbreaker with an impatient “no sale" gesture, examined my other clothes briefly, and peered through a jeweler's glass not only at my watch but at my hall-point pen and electric razor. He offered a hundred and fifty dollars, I demanded six hundred and 1 walked out with three hundred.
That was only fifty dollars in Canadian money, hut Hong Kong is a town where money goes far. My first splash was at the Parisian Grill, one of Hong Kong’s better restaurants. A filet-mignon dinner, with sherry before and coffee and liqueur after, cost me just over two dollars— and it would have been under two if 1 hadn’t ordered coffee, one of Hong Kong’s comparatively expensive items at sixteen cents a cup. Forty minutes of dancing and dallying with the partner of one’s choice cost a dollar thirty in the decorous dance halls, with tea throvsn in but coffee eight cents extra.
“What would they do to me?”
Even Hong Kong’s clip joints are cheap. One place I was warned against as a sucker trap, but visited anyway, soaked the unwary twenty-four cents for beer instead of the usual sixteen cents elsewhere.
That first night out I fell in with three young English Ordnance Corps privates who really had something to celebrate: in a week they were sailing on a troopship for England, to be demobilized after a three-year enlistment. When the party broke up they asked me to visit them at Camp Sham She Po next day. Since I later involved them in things that might mean trouble for them with the army, I’ll call them Paul Day. Butch Williams and Monty Phillips.
The camp was in holiday mood, what with a thousand men preparing to go home. We went down to the dock to have a look at the big white troopship, SS Oxfordshire. When we left I had made up my mind that somehow 1 would be aboard her when she sailed.
That night in a bar I gave the idea a trial run with the three soldiers. "I think I'll stow away on the Oxfordshire," I said lightly. They laughed.
"Impossible," said Paul. "On embarkation day you couldn’t even get on the dock without a pass. And if you did get aboard they’d find you at first ship inspection.”
"What would they do to me?" I asked, trying to sound casual.
"When they got through reading the charges you'd feel lucky to escape hanging,” said Paul. "Actually, it would probably mean thirty days’ hard labor."
From then on I lived in a panic—but still determined to try what seemed the only way left to get out of Hong Kong. My plan to smuggle myself aboard in civilian clothes changed abruptly a day or two later when Butch Williams, sorting his gear, innocently offered me a spare tropical uniform with the suggestion that perhaps some tailor could con-
vert it into non-military work clothes.
I hurried to my room at the “Y”, turning over meanwhile a plan that was more dangerous, yet more feasible. It would be easier to get aboard in uniform.
In my room I tried on the uniform, and groaned. I hadn't realized how much bigger Butch was. The uniform was oversize in every direction. I changed again and took the uniform down to the street where Number One Boy was leaning, as usual, on his rickshaw. I asked him to take me to a tailor who could alter the uniform while I waited. Number One Boy examined the uniform and said, “Why fix old uniform? I get you good fit one very cheap.”
He dumped the uniform into his rickshaw and trotted off. An hour later he knocked on the door of my room and lugged in a huge paper parcel. It contained not one, but two uniforms; one, the jacketed, big-pocketed tropical dress uniform, the other, a standard battledress. Both fitted perfectly. Number One Boy's price was the old uniform plus twenty Hong Kong dollars. Where the almostnew uniforms had come from and why they cost so little I did not pause to enquire.
When I thought of the problems ahead I came to the conclusion, reluctantly, that I would have to take one of my soldier friends into my confidence. I chose Butch as being the most happygo-lucky of the three. The night before the troopship was to sail I told him my intention. He took it calmly, but said he still didn't think it would work. There was the matter of identity cards that would be checked at the gangplank, for example. What's more, all enlisted men’s luggage was already aboard and a man in uniform carrying a suitcase up the gangplank tomorrow would be stopped. He knew—he was on the luggage detail.
Butch told me that the only luggage going aboard next day would be that of Brigadier Haddon, the senior officer of the troop movement. His stuff was to leave Camp Sham She Po in a truck at two p.m. When I parted with Butch I said with what I hoped was assurance, “See you tomorrow aboard.”
Back at the “Y” 1 packed my civilian suit, battledress, logbook, sketches and other odds and ends. On the suitcase I lettered the name I had chosen for myself: Pte. Morris, 2324/6768. The first four figures were important — the code number of the troop embarkation. The other numbers I had assigned myself. Over my name I Scotch-taped a black card left over from my sketching materials, and lettered in elegant silver paint: Brig. Haddon; SS Oxfordshire; Hong Kong to U. K.
Minutes before two o’clock next day, burdened with my suitcase and a bad case of the jitters, I arrived at the camp’s motor-transport office. A sergeant was supervising a gang of coolies loading an assortment of trunks, wooden cases and straw baskets on the truck. I told him I’d been detailed to see that the suitcase I carried got on board with the rest of the brigadier’s baggage. I added that I had been assigned to help him with the baggage movement, too.
That was the magic phrase. Tell a soldier that you were to help him, or relieve him of work or responsibility, and you were his friend, I discovered. The sergeant looked at my suitcase and winked. Heaven only knows what contraband he thought the innocent brigadier was sending aboard by special courier.
At shipside the sergeant assigned me to boss a quartet of coolies carrying the brigadier's hand luggage up the passenger gangplank while he supervised the hoisting of the hold baggage. Never, I'm
sure, were bewildered coolies more briskly chivvied up a gangplank. No one would have dared question a soldier carrying out his duty so smartly.
In a washroom I tore off the label with the brigadier's name, exposing my own. Then I went in search of Butch and Monty. When I found them they wouldn’t believe their eyes. I asked about Paul Day. He had been the one most emphatic about the impossibility of stowing away on a troopship, and I wanted to show him that I had managed it. The others hadn’t seen him for a couple of days.
I still faced knotty problems, of course, in addition to the imminent danger of being detected: how would I eat, and where would I sleep? The ship’s loudspeakers announced that by tomorrow every soldier must have his meal ticket. Butch and Monty told me they had already been assigned spaces in the jampacked triple-decker bunk rooms below decks.
I lined up and had a big dinner, just in case. When lights-out sounded I borrowed a blanket from Butch, crept out on deck, found a coil of rope in a corner
and went to sleep. Next morning I was awakened by warning shouts from a deck-hosing party. When I looked around I was delighted to see that dozens of other passengers were sleeping on deck, too. It had become stifling hot below and they had drifted up with blankets and pillows. That solved the “where to sleep” problem.
In the breakfast line-up I told the checker I had mislaid my ticket. He swore at me for a fathead and told me the mess sergeant would issue me one replacement, “but only one, mind. You’ll blooming well starve if you can’t ’ang on to a little ticket.”
I couldn’t see the mess sergeant, of course, but the reliable Butch obligingly “lost” his own meal ticket and got a replacement. Thereafter I ate four meals a day (tea included) and can testify that the British Tommy is well fed. I gained ten pounds on the voyage.
On the second day out I got the worst scare of all. I spotted Paul Day across a crowded smoking room and pushed my way toward him. “Hi, Paul,” I said. “I told you I’d make it.” We looked at each other—and I was far more surprised than he. Because he wore the ominous armband of the Military Police.
I mumbled something and kept on going. All that day 1 jumped every time the clipped military voice boomed, “Attention please” over the ship’s loudspeaker, feeling sure that the announcement that was to follow would spread the alarm for the apprehension of a stowaway.
The tension had almost reached the stage of nervous breakdown when I ran into Paul again. “Where’d you barge off to in such a hurry?" he asked. 1 told him I thought, as an MP, he'd turn me in. He laughed. "Heck, no,” he said. “If I'd known you were going to do it I might have tried to stop you, but since you did it, well good luck to you. Besides,” he added, “if I’d turned you in I’d have to fill in forms and give evidence and do all sorts of tedious things.”
The rest of the voyage was troublefree, a pleasant twenty-five-day sightseeing cruise via Singapore, Colombo, Aden, the Suez Canal (where there was no shore leave and no cameras allowed on deck), Limasol, Cyprus (which was quiet and dull), Gibraltar to Liverpool. There were some ticklish moments at disembarkation at Canada Docks in Liverpool, but presently I was on the troop train bound for London, in a carriage with Butch, Monty and a dozen others who had traveled with me for nearly a month but didn't know my story. In the last hour I decided to tell them the truth.
They flatly refused to believe me. It took Butch and Monty, plus my logbook and clippings, to convince them, and they kept shaking their heads and muttering, “I'll be blowed.”
Someone must have tipped off the newspapers, because a man from the London Express interviewed me—and also interviewed somebody at the War Office, who said darkly that the case was being investigated. When I read that, I decided to give myself up. It would be a terrible thing, I thought, to have the British War Office after me for the rest of my life.
1 telephoned the War Office and eventually was connected with the man who was apparently handling my case. I told him who I was and that I understood he wanted to question me.
, “Not at all,” he answered, coldly. “We have considered the matter and have decided that nobody could possibly have done what you claim to have done. So the matter is closed."
That was a relief, if a little insulting to me. And I was still a long way from home. I went to Canada House where 1 told my story to two pleasant young men in the high commissioner’s office. All that 1 asked, as a Canadian resident stranded in London and with no funds, was transportation back to Toronto. They told me there was a possibility ot getting me a plane scat: the plane that brought over the Canadian purchasing mission to Britain would probably be returning to Canada on Nov. 22 with a few “deadhead” passengers. If 1 could get that plane I would be back in Toronto in just under eighty days.
On Nov. 22 Canada House told me the deal was off: Trans-Canada Air Lines had decided to send the plane back as a scheduled commercial flight. Fare: £146, nine shillings. I had less than one pound.
1 knew exactly one person in London. He was the manager of an English finance company who had visited my boss in Toronto and had gone out on a couple of visits with me to study Canadian collection methods. He had said, “If you're ever in London, look me up." Now I was in London, so I looked him up.
He greeted me warmly, listened to my story and without hesitation said, “By Jove, it would be a shame if you didn’t finish in time, after all you’ve gone through.” He asked me what the fare was, and before my astonished eyes wrote a personal cheque for £146, nine shillings.
I thanked him dazedly, telephoned and got a reservation on the last seat on that
night’s flight to Toronto, and hurried down to the TCA office. There was an Englishman on duty. He looked at my friend's personal cheque, then handed it back to me. “Sorry, we can't accept this,” he said.
I felt weak with helpless rage, but finally managed to persuade the TCA man to try to verify the cheque. This took nearly an hour of telephoning; first to my friend, then to his bank where the TCA man managed to get the wrong person, who knew nothing of the account; then back to the cheque writer
and back to the right man. Finally I got my ticket and a cool apology.
1 got to Victoria Air Terminal five minutes after the bus had left for the airport. London airport is fourteen miles from the terminal. Fare: £2, ten shillings. I had fifteen shillings.
But 1 had finished worrying. 1 sat in a comfortable chair and relaxed, utterly confident that nothing could go wrong now and 1 would somehow get to the airport in time.
Ten minutes later a TCA public-relations man asked if I was the passenger
who missed the bus. He had to go out to the airport and would give me a lift. We drove in a chauffeured car. An hour later 1 was eating my best meal in just under eighty days, one of TCA’s champagne dinners.
At ten o'clock next morning 1 landed in Toronto, two hours less than eighty days since 1 had left; jobless, some hundreds of dollars in debt—but with a sort of illogical satisfaction in having answered that original question, “How far around the world could you get without a bankroll?” ★