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A Season Of Clouds is a fictionalised memoir that tells the story of my life-long battle with mental illness and PTSD.  Much of the book is based upon a series of events that occurred during my thirties, mainly while I was traveling overseas on holidays or for work.    The specific trips covered in the book include a holiday to the United Kingdom and Europe in 1995, my attendance at the Rugby World Cup in the UK in 1999 and my posting to the Philippines in 2000-01 where I undertook a master’s degree in National Security.

The urge to travel and seek new adventures remains a fire burning inside of me that will never extinguish. It is no surprise, therefore, that the most pivotal moments of my life occurred during my overseas escapades.  In that six-year period between 1995-2001, I met some amazing people, including several incredible young women who enriched my life in the short time that I knew them.  However, those trips also exposed me to a range of personal challenges that impacted greatly on my mental health, which over time, eventually contributed to a major emotional breakdown in 2016.

To help explain some of the context behind the A Season of Clouds, allow me to take you on a brief journey, where I will share with you some of my memories and mementos of that time and their significance to my story.

EUROPE 1995                      

            I was 32 years old when I embarked on my seven-week holiday to the UK and Europe in late March 1995.  This was my first overseas trip for ten years and came at a time when I was recovering from a personal issue.  I began my new adventure by first touring England and Scotland, before visiting the World War One battlefields of France and Belgium.  My holiday ended with a nine-day sojourn to Athens, the Greek Islands and the ancient city of Ephesus, in Turkey.  Part one of A Season Of Clouds – ‘Strangers on a Ferry’ – focuses on a series of events which occurred during this time.  Those events would end up having a significant impact on my life.

The calm before the storm.

           Little did I know in the days and weeks before my trip to Athens, that my world was about to change.  Both of these photos, one in front of the legendary Strawberry Fields in Liverpool, England, and the other in front of the Tyne Cot war cemetery just outside of Passchendaele in Belgium, reflect the musings of a mainly contented young man, unaware of the storm that was about to hit him.

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Athens

           Athens remains one of my favourite cities in the world.  For those interested in ancient history, I cannot think of a better place in the world to visit. The city is adorned by a rich maze of historical treasures such as the Acropolis and Parthenon, the Ancient Agora, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Library. The historical Plaka district, which surrounds the famous Acropolis, is one of the most beautiful places in Europe to take a quiet afternoon stroll. If you are looking to shop, then go no further than the beguiling Monastraki flea markets where you can find the best deals on virtually anything that takes your fancy. Should you wish to beat the city for a few days, then a day trip to the ancient seaport of Piraeus is always a good move, while there are some fantastic things to see as you drive into the Greek heartland, including the famous Oracle of Delphi.

            However, the biggest attraction in Greece for me are the people and the food.  The Greeks are among the friendliest races in Europe, and they generally welcome visitors with open arms. Show an interest in their culture, try to speak a few calm words of Greek when you can, and they will invite you into their hearts.  As for the food, well where does one start?  There are always the old favourites to tantalise your taste buds like Souvlaki, Moussaka and Spanakopita.  But my personal favourite is Yemista, which are Greek style tomatoes stuffed with peppers. And of course, the desserts come straight from the gods themselves.

            In the book, Athens is where I first meet Reginald Crump, a strange, English travel guide who seems to be deliberately following me everywhere I go in the city.  I also befriend Marco, a furiously handsome and charismatic Italian photographer, who invites me to accompany him to the island of Samos for several days.  But before we do, we both attend one of the most bizarre parties ever staged, where I will get mistaken for some guy called Robert for most of the night and then meet the dumbest couple in modern history.

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Samos and Ephesus

            When people think about the Greek Islands, they automatically turn their attention to the glamourous hotspots of Santorini, Naxos and Paros.  All beautiful places, no doubt. But for me, the most interesting of all the Greek Islands is Samos. It is situated in the eastern Aegean Sea, south of Chios, north of Patmos and the Dodecanese, and off the coast of western Turkey, from which it is separated by the 1.6-kilometre (1.0 mi)-wide Mycale Strait. It is an island with a rich history and culture, home to a variety of UNESCO protected sites including the Temple of Hera and the Tunnel of Eupalinos, one of the great engineering feats of the ancient world.  Samos is also the birthplace of the famous philosopher Pythagoras. Most importantly, it’s close vicinity to the Turkish coastline makes it a convenient doorway to the ancient city of Ephesus, surely one of the wonders of the ancient world.

            The events that take place on Samos (and later Ephesus) will leave an indelible mark on my life.  During my three eventful days on the Island, I meet the irrepressible Martina, a beautiful Bosnian woman whose tragic story will haunt me for years to come.   I will also connect with a wonderfully precocious Dutch girl called Lottie, who tries to convince me on a ferry ride to Piraeus that I am suffering from PTSD.  And I will face the wrath of Marlena, a feisty young Italian woman whose chiding words will forever remind me of the senseless betrayal that I once committed.

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Stratford-Upon-Avon

            When I was a high school student studying Macbeth in English class, little did I realise that I would one day visit Stratford-Upon- Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, with two amazing young European women.  During our stay in this beautiful little English town, an innocent picnic with Danielle by the banks of the Avon river almost leads to disaster for the three of us.  The impacts of that day remain an underlying theme of my story.

            While the town is fully dedicated to the memory of Shakespeare, it is situated in the West Midlands region of England, one of the prettiest areas of the country.  There are some fascinating places to visit nearby, including the famous and eerie Warwick Castle and the Mary Arden’s farm. If you are a Shakespeare nut like I am, then go and see one of his plays being performed at the historic Royal Shakespeare theatre. You will never forget the experience.

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Ireland

            Prior to meeting Eleanor and Danielle, I spent two weeks in magnificent Ireland, following the Wallabies as they played their first-round matches against Romania, USA and the Irish.   There is so much to see on this amazing island, but here are my thoughts about my favourite places:

            Belfast – the main city of Northern Island came alive after the Good Friday Agreement of 1997 brought an end to the Troubles.  I have been fortunate to visit the city three times, and on each occasion, it welcomed me with open arms. While steeped in history, it also offers a range of fantastic pubs and restaurants, and the local music scene is brilliant.

            Dublin -   The home of Joyce, Guinness and U2.  What more can I say?  Dublin is a historic, vibrant city steeped in culture and humanity.   Top of my lists to see include Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse and the Temple Bar.  And if you’re into Karaoke like I am, knowing that extra Van Morrison or U2 song just might help.

            Limerick -  As much as we love the name, my memories of Limerick will always involve the day the Wallabies smashed the USA, whereupon I then celebrated by exploring its many welcoming pubs.  But there are other things to do as well beside party, including visits to St Mary’s Cathedral, Bunratty Castle and the Frank McCourt museum. And if you have the means and the time, take a drive to the magnificent Glen of Aherlow, a truly beautiful place.

            Galway -  When I think of Galway, it epitomises everything that I love about the West of Ireland and why in my next life, I hope that I am somehow recreated there.  One word describes this fabulous city – celebration.   Apart from its many festivals and events, it’s a city full of happy people, always ready to party at a whim. Spend some time at the Galway market, visit the Galway City Museum or simply people watch at Eyre Square. And if you fancy a quick pint or two, Galway has some of the best pubs ever concocted.

            Aran Islands – The Aran Islands are a group of three islands situated in Galway Bay.  A regular ferry service connects it to the mainland.  A great way to spend a few lonely days away from the city and reflect about life, love and the universe. A beautiful place.

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PHILIPPINES 2000-01

            In 2000-01, I was posted by the Australian Government to attend a master’s program at the National Defense College of the Philippines in Manila.  The fourteen months I spend in the Philippines cover the seminal parts of my story.  During this time, I meet the redoubtable Brother Rojo, whose wisdom sets me on a new pathway in life; Sally, an American woman who steals my heart and Delilah, an African American woman I meet in New York City who becomes my new conscience. I also become entangled in a military coup, try to save a seriously ill girl in a remote village and visit a haunted Villa.

            The Philippines and its people will never leave my heart.  A day rarely goes by where I don’t think about those crazy fourteen months and the many friends I made during my stay.  The country welcomed me with open arms, and in many respects, I became a de facto Filipino citizen.   I was lucky to visit much of the country and obtained a unique understanding of the land and its culture.  While blessed with an incredible zest for life, the Filpino people have also endured some difficult moments in its history, including the EDSA Revolution in 1985, which ousted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and the EDSA 2 Revolution in 2001, in which I unwittingly played my own role. It is also a country that has been beset by insurgencies and insurrection, especially in the southern island of Mindanao.

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In October 2000, during a week-long break in the course that I was attending, I travelled to New York, mainly for medical reasons.  I have now visited New York eight times, but my visit in 2000 was easily the most eventful.  During this visit I meet Delilah, a fiercely independent African American nurse, who shows me a side of New York that most holidaymakers rarely get to see.  Our brief friendship epitomises a kindred spirit that will help guide me towards redemption later in my life. Given that my visit to New York occurred barely 11 months before the tragedy of 9/11, our breakfast at the Windows of the World restaurant at the World Trade Centre is especially humbling. 

So many great things to see in the Big Apple but my favourite include:

  • A night-time visit to the top of the Empire State Building

  • The beautifully poignant 9/11 memorial

  • Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge on a warm Spring day

  • Getting lost in Central Park

  • Visiting the John Lennon tribute memorial, Strawberry Fields

  • Taking a ride on the free Statten Island ferry

  • Getting a soup from the real ‘Soup Nazi’ from Seinfeld fame

  • Chilling out in one of Harlem’s jazz clubs.

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The Yugoslavian Wars 1991-1995

            The breakup of the former Yugoslavia following the fall of communism in the early 1990’s resulted in a series of brutal internecine wars, mainly in Bosnia and Croatia.  The impacts of the conflict can still be found in the region today.  My brief friendship with Martina, a Bosnian Serb,  helps me to remove some of my preconceived perceptions about the war in Bosnia and obtain a more holistic understanding of its genesis.   Should you wish to learn more about the breakup of Yugoslavia and its consequences, I can recommend the following books:

  • Misha Glenny's The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War 1996

  • The Serbs by Tim Judah.

  • The Fall of Yugoslavia by the BBC.

  • The Death of Yugoslavia by Alan Little and Lauren Silber.

Read different accounts, don’t prejudge and try to see the conflict from all sides.

UNITED KINGDOM – 1999

            The official reason for my visit to the United Kingdom and Ireland in 1999 was to follow the Australian Rugby union team during the 1999 Rugby World Cup. In reality, I use the Rugby as an excuse to escape Canberra for two months after I attempted suicide in the New South Wales coastal town of Bateman’s Bay several months previously.  

This part of my story focuses on my fleeting relationships with two beautiful young European women -  Eleanor, a charismatic and highly intelligent history teacher from Salzburg, and Danielle, her desirable, yet incredibly complex French best friend.  My competing emotions for both women help me understand my own personal and mental frailties at a time in my life when I am completely directionless.

Brighton

            After meeting Eleanor in London, the two of us spend an eventful two days in Brighton, a wondrous seaside resort situated on the Southeast England coast.  Famous for its magical pleasure pier and the Royal Pavilion, an Indo-Saracenic palace built for King George the IV in the 18th Century, Brighton keenly observes its reputation as one of the ‘hippest’ places in England.  Although I retain a number of personal memories of the city – some good, some bad – it is a wonderful place to visit should you wish to escape the madness of London for a few days.   While the Brighton Pier and Royal Pavilion are must do things, Brighton also offers an eclectic range of offerings to the discerning visitor, including mouth-watering restaurants and some of the best takeaway fish and chip shops in England!  It also has a thriving gay community which attracts visitors from around the UK and Europe. There are also some fascinating attractions to see close by, including Arundel Castle and the Roman ruins at Fishbourne and Colchester.

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