SD Crockett tells how a vision on her travels saved her life. And her son's...
Mountain/desert/jungle/ocean which are you?
I’d like to think of myself as a mountain – but I’m sure my husband would insist on jungle.
First travel experience?
Without parents and outside of the UK, I guess it was hitching with a boyfriend. We flew to Corfu and crossed Greece in a day – against all warnings that it would be impossible.
After the obligatory island-hopping, we hitched back through the former Yugoslavia. We were headed for Dresden in the recently unified East Germany. My boyfriend had been a political prisoner in his late teens and then transferred to the West, and he hadn’t seen his parents since that time. It was the definition of surprise visit.
Flight from the Caucasus to Turkey in the 90s. I was going to work in a veneer mill. In those days, Aeroflot seats folded over so you could properly stretch your legs if the flight wasn’t full. There were signs on the overhead locker saying: ‘Escape rope. Throw free end out first.’
I spent the journey joshing with a couple of Turkish men as we all supped from a bottle of vodka, smoked with our feet up, and talked gender differences in the great cultural vacuum of the sky. It was Ramadan so I guess they were making the most of being out of territorial waters before touch down…
Top five places worldwide?
Hotel Bass, Yerevan, Armenia. Probably two-star by normal standards but a great view of Mount Ararat and a basement sauna.
Havelock Beach, Andaman Islands.
Felixstowe Ferry, on the mouth of the River Deben in Suffolk, UK.
Beech forests of the Montagne Noire, France.
Victoria and Albert or British Museum, London, on a lazy day with no commitments.
Special place to stay?
This won’t sound very adventurous, but a really special place for me is a friend’s house on the coast in Suffolk. It’s an old fisherman’s shack on stilts. You have to climb a ladder to the guest bed under the eaves. The view from the window beside your pillow is of the river mouth and sea and often a great fat moon coming up. It would heal any wound.
Three items you always pack?
Mascara and lipstick (I know that’s a cheaty two); toothbrush; an unsuitable and never-to-be-worn pair of heels.
Passport stamp you're proudest of?
Sri Lanka. I was there during the tsunami. I had a vision of the sea drawing back and a huge wave appearing on the horizon. This was two days before it hit. I had an overriding sense that I had to leave the coast and get back to Colombo. I was alone with my young son so that stamp reminds me of a lucky vision.
Passport stamp most like to have?
Bhutan. I wanted to go there and paint the king. Never made the slightest effort to achieve this goal though.
Guilty travel pleasure?
When flying it used to be the Caviar House franchise in airports – no one knew you could smoke there, they had extractor fans under the bar. Now of course that’s dead and gone and my guilty pleasure is travelling alone and having no one to answer to. I love that.
Window or aisle?
Aisle on a plane. Window on a train.
Who is your ideal travelling companion?
My son was great when he was about eight-years-old. Interested in stuff, old enough to be well-behaved, still thought I was the oracle, made me act brave on take-off – and I could indulge him all the way. My daughter is still too young but I have that to look forward to.
Best meal on the road? Worst?
Best? In Nagorno Karabakh I stopped at a riverside shashlik restaurant. They’d dammed the river and had live trout in a mini-pond. It was the freshest barbecued fish I’d ever had, with healthy bunches of mountain herbs, great homemade cheese and flat bread, eaten in a cabin over the river with a jug of Armenian wine…
Worst? In Yerevan. Crayfish. I was pregnant and overcome with food poisoning, staggered to the loo and fainted. Woke up with the waiter throwing water in my face.
Most surprising place? Most disappointing?
Surprising: Edinburgh. Thought it was going to be a grim northern city and it was the most stunning place I’d been for a long while. How un-educated I felt…
The most disappointing place was Chennai. Everyone raves about India but I found the dirt and babies sleeping on the pavement too much.
Where do you NOT want to go?
Right now? Somalia, or Afghanistan.
Who/what inspired you to travel? Any travel heroes?
Dervla Murphy, travelling with her child on horseback.
What do you listen to on the road? Any song take you back to a particular time or place?
When I was first in Russia I had a tape of the Concierto de Aranjuez by Rodrigo and listened to it while reading And Quiet Flows the Don by Sholokhov. The two are welded in my mind in a wonderfully reminiscent way.
What do you read ?
Ideally it would be something like Middlemarch, or a gripping historical book. Usually it’s just what’s available.
Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity? Anyone who made you lose it?
The ‘lady of the night’ who helped me when I fainted in the restaurant in Yerevan after eating aforementioned Crayfish. I suspect she thought I was drunk.
Cruelty to animals is my bete noire. I won’t detail the times I’ve been sickened.
What's the most impressive / useful phrase you know in a foreign language?
Avez-vous une bouillotte? Do you have a hot-water bottle? in French.
What is your worst habit as a traveller?
Getting ratty with dangerous and fatalistic drivers in macho countries. When you’re stuck in the back of a car there’s nowhere to work off the fight or flight adrenaline.
Snowbound in a tent in Antarctica, how would you entertain your companions?
I’d probably start whittling on about all sorts of things and everyone would soon be telling me to shut up and go to sleep. Maybe I’d suggest the rizla game and the same response would occur.
When and where in your travels have you been happiest?
It’s always eating a simple meal in a deeply rural setting with unlikely companions with whom I have nothing in common except the chance of the encounter.
What smell most says 'travel' to you?
The black-soil smell of Russia. Hits you as soon as you get off the plane.
Given a choice, which era would you travel in?
Any era in which I was reborn as a wealthy adventurer.
If you could combine three cities to make your perfect metropolis, what would they be?
That’s hard. I don’t spend much time in cities but…
Colombo for its food and exuberance and hope. And the weather and being by the sea.
Edinburgh for its architecture.
New York, because I’ve never been there so I can imagine it how I want.
On leaving university Sophie (SD0 Crockett) travelled to Russia as a timber buyer in the Caucasus Mountains. After the birth of her son in 1996 she started a business selling walnut gunstocks from Eastern Armenia. Currently living in the beech forests of the Montagne Noir of Southern France, she still regularly travels to Armenia buying timber.
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