Do you recognise this man? Yes, believe it or not, it is Yours Truly – the photograph being the one that appears in my first-ever British passport, issued to me forty years ago in 1974, by the British High Commission in Canberra, Australia. It dates from the days when you were actually encouraged to smile and show your teeth in a passport photograph, something that is now no longer acceptable or allowed 🙁
It was with this passport, that in 1975, I travelled from Australia, where I had lived for the previous four and a half years, back to my country of birth, the United Kingdom. After flying from Sydney, to Kathmandu in Nepal, the rest of that journey was overland, taking a period of two and a half months.
It is amazing to think how much the world has changed since I made that journey. I travelled through three countries that no westerner in their right mind, would currently seek to visit – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. For at that time, there were no Taliban in northern Pakistan, the Soviet Union was yet to invade Afghanistan, and the Shah still ruled in Iran.
I also travelled the length of a country which has since ceased to exist – Yugoslavia. This does create problems when I’m asked how many countries I’ve visited. Do I count Yugoslavia as one country or as seven 🙂 To be fair, I usually ignore Yugoslavia in my calculations, but include Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia, as I’ve visited all five of them since they became independent nations. But in 1975, I did also pass through what are now Macedonia and Kosovo, but have not been back there since then.
Whilst I am saddened by what has happened since 1975 in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, as I have fond memories of my time spent there, including attending an Easter Day Communion Service in a little chapel of the Episcopal Church of Iran in Isfahan, the last forty years has also seen one massive change for the better that I never, ever expected to see in my lifetime – the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989. As a result, I now live in a country which was once part of the Soviet Warsaw Pact. I still smile and pinch myself when travelling by tram past the headquarters of the Czech Ministry of Defence and see the NATO flag flying on top of the building.
That dramatic change has, since moving to live in Prague in September 2008, allowed me both to explore the Czech Republic, but also to at least briefly visit, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland. And visiting the Baltic States and properly exploring both Poland and Slovakia, is firmly on my agenda during the next three years. Until twenty-five years ago, freely being able to visit any of these countries was well nigh impossible.
Finally for this post, any intelligent individual reading this and wondering how on earth I managed to travel to Australia, without previously holding a passport, the answer is that I travelled on a ‘Document of Identity’, valid for a single journey to travel to Australia as an approved migrant. The photograph of me on that item of paperwork is so awful that I’m surprised the Australian authorities ever let me into their country 🙂 I have no intention of reproducing that photograph here, without a generous donation first being given to support the work of St. Clement’s Anglican Episcopal Church, Prague 😀