Working alone from home during the mid-sixties gave me the opportunities to be a secret cross-dresser but I wanted to get out more and hopefully find a girlfriend, but I was inhibited by my shyness.
Then in 1967 a new ‘trekking’ type of holiday appealed to me. The one I chose was a two weeks camping ‘trek’ around Morocco by minibus. I really enjoyed it and even became friends with one girl but only met her again once after the holiday as we were not really compatible.
Besides being a good way to meet new friends, I thought that if I were to set up business to run this type of holiday myself it might be a good way to help me overcome my shyness as it would continually put me into new leadership situations. I had found I could often make some progress when I was in new situations with people who were unaware of my shyness as I’d feel less inhibited to speak out when I knew that no one present would be expecting me to be quiet.
So I bought a brand new minibus and camping equipment for my own trekking business (this was before stringent public service vehicle regulations came into force). I did seven trips the first season, each for 2 or 3 weeks to Morocco, Greece, Turkey and Portugal. It was a demanding schedule because of the tight itineraries and I’d have just 5 days between trips to turn around.
|On a school expedition with a Land Rover in the Sahara|
It was worth it though as I think I did progress a little with my shyness and did meet lots of new people. Unfortunately any friendships with girl passengers were of short duration as I’d rarely have time to follow them through after the trips. That is except for one: Judy. After a couple of years the business had grown and I had two vehicles on the go with another driver doing some of the trips. A school in Darlington started having annual trips with me during the Easter vacation. One of the teachers would drive the second vehicle and I asked Judy to accompany us to act as cook. We became very close despite being apart for long periods because of the business but eventually I lost contact with her, much to my regret.
One year’s travel season ended in disaster when, one very hot day in Northern Greece, a passenger who had volunteered to help with the driving fell asleep at the wheel. The minibus rolled completely over onto its roof but thankfully no-one was hurt except for some minor cuts and grazes. The minibus was a write-off but I was able drive it back home – a very draughty drive without any windows! I arranged for the passengers to be travel back home by other means whilst my poor mum back home had to arrange refunds for them and contact the passengers for the following trip to tell them it was cancelled.
I did not give up the travel business after this though. The following season one of the trips was through Scandinavia (to the northernmost point of Norway) and Russia and then early in 1972 I did a 6-week Land Rover expedition to the centre of the Sahara.
|Me on the Land Rover prepared for the Afro-Asia Expedition. I had a beard in those days!|
The latter gave me a taste for longer more ambitious expeditions and in 1973 I planned a 6-month round trip right across the Sahara to East Africa, then shipping the Land-Rover to India and finally back overland via the Middle East. Separate groups would join me for each leg of the journey. However the expedition was fraught with problems right from the start which lead me to the depths of depression but also an enlightenment that changed my whole outlook on life.
A couple in the group for the first leg of the journey across Africa were critical and they eventually turned the others against me. I’m the first to admit I don’t really have the right personality to be a good leader, but I hadn’t done too badly on my previous trips. However on this trip I was inhibited by my shyness to exercise the authority that was needed to stop the rot before it got too bad. Then to make a bad situation worse I had a few breakdowns with the Land Rover including a broken rear axle when driving through the jungle tracks of the Congo. I managed to get it welded but the various problems put us several days behind schedule which increased my stress as I tried desperately to make up time whilst driving through the most difficult of terrain. I had to get to Nairobi by a fixed date to meet the next group (which included my mother) flying out for a 2-week safari of the East African game reserves. I just about made it and when this group had flown home I had a ship to catch from Mombasa to Bombay (now Mumbai) in India.
The sea crossing which included a stop-over in the Seychelles, gave me the opportunity of a few days rest but after delays getting my Land Rover cleared from the Bombay docks, I had to rush to Delhi to meet the next group who were flying out from London. This was a group of birdwatchers who were to do a tour of Northern India and Nepal but when I met them at Delhi airport my heart sank as they had all obviously greatly exceeded the strict weight limit for their baggage that I had specified. The Land Rover would have been grossly overloaded even if it was in perfect condition but I knew there was no way the welded rear axle was going to hold up. Sure enough we hadn’t got far before it buckled. Fortunately the group realised they had flouted my rules and accepted that they could not expect to continue the tour. I left them to spend their time in India in the beautiful town of Jaipur whilst I got the axle re-welded and then returned to Delhi.
This was the lowest I have ever felt in my life. I felt a failure and very sorry for myself. I had tried desperately hard to overcome the main thing, my shyness, that I felt had held me back in life by putting myself into situations where I had to lead. But when faced with a hostile group I had failed miserably. I knew anyone else would have handled the situation better and I knew I could have done better myself. I cursed that I had such poor social skills but no matter how hard I tried I felt I could not change the way I was. And of course, the wish that I had been born female had never left me but by immersing myself in the travel business I was frustrated that I was denying myself opportunities to cross-dress. I felt very much alone with no one I could really call a friend, not even back home. I was stuck in India, which I hated, and worried that my crippled Land Rover would not be able to manage the 6,000 mile overland journey back to the UK. I was camping in my vehicle on some waste ground in Delhi and the heat was oppressive. I felt suicidal.
The only thing that stopped me was the thought of my mother. My father had died a couple of years earlier and I did not want to burden her with my death. It would have been a particular problem to end it all in India as not only would she have had to arrange the repatriation of my body but also the Land Rover. India had a strict requirement that any vehicle temporarily imported into the country would have to be taken out again, even if it was a wreck.
To escape the heat I went to Nepal taking with me a few hippies I’d recruited by putting a few notices up in the places in Delhi were they hang out (these were the days of the hippies trail to India). It was so much pleasanter in Nepal and one of the trips I did was up to the Chinese border where we had some great views of Mount Everest.
Whilst in Kathmandu I met a Trail-finders group who were en-route from London to some place further east. Trail-finders were then another company doing expedition-type holidays using large ex-military trucks. I arranged to join them when they would be passing though Kathmandu again in a few weeks time on the return journey to UK. This would save me the worry of trying to drive my crippled Land Rover back to UK as I could sell it in Nepal (I couldn’t in India).
First I had to get back to the birdwatchers and after seeing them off for their return flight, I decided to go to the very beautiful Kashmir region of North West India with another small group of hippies. This turned out to be a major turning point in my life as their easy-going, peace and love, positive attitude really rubbed off on me. I realised no one loves anyone who is miserable but if you can present a happy image even though things might be tough, people would be much more inclined to like you. I found this philosophy really worked and I actually began to really feel a lot happier.
Returning to Nepal, I sold my Land Rover just before Trail-finders were due back. The return overland took us back to Kashmir, over the Khyber Pass (since closed) into Pakistan and then through Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey (something that would not be feasible in today’s world!). Without the responsibility of leading the group and with my new-found happy demeanour, I was able to really enjoy the journey and found I was extremely popular with the rest of the group, making some good friends. I remember one of the girls wore a ring with jangling pieces and this in particular stirred my feelings of wishing I had been born female again. How I wish I could have worn a ring like that, or just dress as the other girls on the trip did. Actually these thoughts had never really left me throughout my travels though I was obviously unable to act on them. But whilst in Nairobi I had bought a dress and in India I had bought a sari, a load of Indian jewellery and fabric (for dress-making when I got back home). All this stuff was locked away in a metal trunk that was part of my luggage for my homeward journey. I arrived back home feeling very evangelical about my new positive outlook on life.
I was not through with travelling. Through the spring and summer of 1974, with a new friend, I planned an even more ambitious expedition to travel through the whole of South America. But in order to spread the costs and because it was far cheaper to ship a Land Rover to New York rather than directly to South America, we decided to start with several tours of North America.
|My first site of the Grand Canyon was the most awesome I have ever seen anywhere in the world. No photo can convey its sheer majesty and scale. In this view the far rim is about 9 miles away and the river that you can barely see is a vertical mile below this viewpoint.
Photo by Antoine Taveneaux
In September 1974 I shipped a distinctively modified Land Rover to New York and flew over to receive it with the first group joining me a few weeks later. The initial 3-month tour was to cross USA to the west coast, down into Mexico, and then back to New York via the south coast of USA. Then I spent the winter months in Florida before driving solo all the way back across the States to San Francisco. Whilst there from time to time I stayed with an American couple I had made friends with travelling back from Kathmandu. In early summer 1975 I did a trip up to Alaska with some students I recruited by putting up notices in several university campuses. This was followed by another tour of the Western States with another group which included my mother again and Angela who had previously done the initial 3-months tour (she wanted to see more of the States). To me she had been just one of the passengers on the first trip but this time we really got together.
After this I returned to the San Francisco Bay area to prepare for the really big expedition to South America. We had recruited a core of interested persons back in UK but could have done with a few more to make it financially viable and my heart was no longer in it. Also I was feeling run down health-wise, probably due to a poor diet. Then one night whilst camping in the hills overlooking San Francisco I suddenly developed an excruciating pain in my groin and there was blood in my urine. I drove to the nearest hospital and, after checking that I had medical insurance, I learnt I had a kidney stone. After a day or two in hospital the problem just went away. I never did pass the kidney stone and I never had any further trouble with it until a couple of years ago when it and other complications were finally sorted out.
The kidney stone finally settled the matter as regards South America. I could not risk the kidney stone flare up again whilst in some remote part of Central or South America and with general poor health it was reason enough to cancel the expedition. Once again I had to sell my Land Rover in a remote country and fortunately I found a Scotsman living in California with a passion for Land Rovers who agreed to buy it.
So in December 1975, with great relief that it was all over, I flew back to London where I was met by Angela. My desire to travel had finally been expunged.
‘Home’ for me now was a caravan on a plot of land. My mother had sold the cottage whilst I was in America as since my father had died she wanted to move nearer to her daughter. But I retained part of the large garden where I had installed a caravan before I went to America. Angela wanted to come and live with me in the caravan but I was faced with a problem. For years during my travels my desire to cross-dress had been suppressed and I was desperate now to resume but that would be difficult in a caravan with Angela without her knowledge. I had to tell her!
I explained all in a long letter and her initial reaction was to call off our relationship. But she agreed to come to the caravan as previously planned and after lots of talk and tears, we eventually made love. We made love the whole of the next day and it was the most wonderful sex either of us had ever experienced. It brought us back together and we agreed that I could cross-dress as long as it was out of sight and mind for Angela. In practice I very rarely got the opportunity to do so. In the end I felt this arrangement could not continue indefinitely so I had to tell Angela she must go. She was not at all happy but understood my reasons and moved to Bedford, 8 miles away. We remained friends and kept in touch for many years after, even after we had both moved on. She visited me some years later when she was more accepting of transvestism generally and even met me as Martine but we did not get together again as she had found another partner by then.
|This is the earliest photo of me as Martine (far left) taken at a Beaumont Society Dinner in London in the late 70s.|
After one or two part-time jobs I became a taxi driver in Bedford. I had applied for planning permission to build a house on the land which initially had been refused but after a lengthy appeals process, eventually got the approval. But I no longer had sufficient money to build the house I had planned as I had lost more than I made over the years with the travel business. However the land, now with planning permission and in a very attractive location, would fetch a very good price if I sold it; perhaps enough to build my own house if I could find a plot in an area where prices were a lot cheaper.
I spent a couple of years searching far and wide, mainly in the remotest parts of Wales, for anything that might be suitable. I wanted somewhere with complete privacy so that I could cross-dress without being seen. But anything with planning permission, even the most derelict old barns, were all too much. I began to realise that one could actually be more private in town than in the country and also town houses in need of renovation were much more affordable.
In the meantime I was developing my own self-acceptance about my cross-dressing and became aware that there were far more other people like me than I could have imagined before. In the late 70’s I eventually discovered the Beaumont Society and joined. It was all a bit cloak-and-dagger in those days as I had to be sponsored by an official of the organisation before I could contact any other members. Once sponsored I did go to one meeting (in Cambridgeshire I think) but did not enjoy it, and also attended a BS dinner in London.
Part 1 The Early Years
Part 3 I start a completely new chapter in my life as I set up what was to become known as 'Rose's House' in Sheffield