Forty years on – how the world has changed


My passport photograph from 1974

My passport photograph from 1974

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 😀

12 comments to Forty years on – how the world has changed

  • Russell Roe

    Thanks for this post Ricky, I reckon I think exactly the same as you when I go past any building associated with the communist past. It is important to be mindful of both how the past has influenced the present and consider how things will be like in the future. I am just watching the first game of the world cup and it is great how goal-line technology is used, (I think), which is vital for a fair game. If it isn’t it just highlights another big problem with FIFA. I hope the countries you mention will one day be stable enough for me to visit as they have a lot of positive reasons for tourists to come which have inevitably been overlooked in recent years

    • Ricky

      Hi Russell – As you are a regular visitor to Prague, I can understand why you think like I do when passing any building associated with the previous communist regime, no doubt amplified by knowing of the experiences of your mother and grandmother. I did only write about political changes – technological changes over the same period have been massive as you rightly identify.

      I very much concur with your last sentence. The Swat Valley in Northern Pakistan is amazingly beautiful, the journey from Peshawar up the Kyber Pass to Kabul was an incredible experience, and Iran has so many ancient historic sites dating back over 2500 years to the time of the Persian Empire.

  • I think Iran is about to become more normal. They look at Turkey’s 34 million tourists per annum and want the same. Yesterday, I realized that both America and Iran are trying to help the Iraqi government. That means, all of a sudden, we’re on the same side! Who’d a thunk it? You can visit there at present, it just has to be part of an organized group. Iran is much more diverse than all of the “Death to America” news footage had me believe. It has amazing Christian churches serving the Armenian minorities and a substantive Jewish population, and Bahais to boot (although ask an Iranian about Bahais and they get real snobby and say “that’s not a religion!”). Not a very neighborly attitude, that.

    • Ricky

      I think you may well be right about Iran becoming more normal, Karen. I certainly hope that you are. I was aware that it is currently possible for Americans & Brits to travel there as part of an organised group. But there is still the risk for anyone from the West whilst visiting Iran, if they show an interest in something that isn’t on the tour itinerary, that they run the risk of being arrested as a western spy.

      In Iran, there are the religious minorities that you mention but none has an easy time with the present regime & many have fled the country. And if someone were to dare convert from Islam to Christianity……….

  • Yes, I would have recognised you from the photo, Ricky. 🙂 That was a wonderful journey you made and as you say, it would be virtually impossible to accomplish it safely today. You are much more widely travelled than me.

    I will admit that I wondered how you’d managed to travel to Australia without a passport, given that you were too old to have travelled on a parent’s passport as was once common for children.

    • Ricky

      Thank you, Perpetua. Maybe I haven’t changed as much I think I have. However, one thing is certain – I no longer have all that hair 😀

      The reason I didn’t previously hold a passport is that, until I was eighteen and emigrated on my own to Australia, I had never travelled any further than England, Wales and Scotland. Many British people at the time were in a similar position. Therefore if you were accepted for migration to Australia under what was known as the Assisted Passage Scheme and you didn’t hold a passport, you were issued with a Document of Identity for a one-way passage.

  • Sean Mccann

    Hi Ricky,
    You’re a much travelled man and I envy you that, it was quite a trip to take on your own and it illustrates how the trouble spots vary across the globe with time. Regarding the hair, my late father always said hair wasn’t worth worrying about because in the end you either lose the hair or the colour anyway. He went bald before his 28th birthday and in later life resorted to the great Irish solution for baldness – ‘The Combover’. The combover is an Irish institution that thankfully is rarely seen today. It’s great to see you still have your wonderful smile and you obviously still have your kind, generous and adventurous heart. God bless.

    • Ricky

      Hi Sean – Yes – I was very fortunate to make that trip when I did in 1975, just as I’ve also been fortunate more recently, to live & work here in Prague. I know exactly what you’re describing with ‘The Combover’. Dare I say it, it isn’t uniquely Irish 🙂 If you look at all three photographs of me in , you’ll see that I do it to a certain extent as my central bald area ever-increases in size 🙁

      • Sean Mccann

        Hi Ricky,
        You come nowhere near the ‘True Combover’ in any of those photos and I know it wasn’t a purely Irish thing. What I am describing involved the hair on the left side of my dads head being allowed grow until it could reach to his shoulder and that on the right side being cut closely and tidily and then the long strands being combed across the large bald dome (in my dads case). My dad always wore the traditional Irish farmers tweed cap and whenever he had to take it off there was a danger of a sudden gust of wind making his hair stand up as if someone had opened a hatch cover in his head. As a child I found this hilarious and my dad to give him his due was able to laugh along with me. Remembering him and all our dads on this weekend, may they reap the rewards of their good work.

  • An interesting “wrap up”… It’s really strange to realise how much Middle East has changed. But also nice to realise how much my own country has changed. Just since 1989, my hometown turned from an ugly grey place with a very closed small-town mind, into a colourful, beautiful place that… still has a small-town mind, but now in a better way. 😀 There are so many involved people here, various events taking place all the time.

    I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for you to visit the Baltic countries, since they are among my favourites. Actually, my sister speaks both the Baltic languages and has lived in Latvia for a while, and for my father, Latvia has now supplanted northern Wales as the place he visits nearly every year. 😀 I’d regale you with stories of places worth visiting, but I guess it’s a better idea to actually write about them on my blog, as I’ve wanted to do…

    • Ricky

      Thank you, Hana – Expats who visited Prague pre-1989 have often told me how grey everything was compared to how it is now. It is interesting to have you, as a native Czech, make a similar observation about your own home town.

      I would certainly enjoy reading about your favourite places to visit in Latvia as I always enjoy your illustrated posts about interesting places to visit in the Czech Republic.