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Derek Hamlet

Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to slide in sideways, totally worn out, shouting

"Wow, what a ride!"

Fifty years since graduating from high school in 1963. Where has the time gone; what will they say when my obit hits the papers, if it ever does? I guess I'd better take the plunge and get my $.02 in before the rest of the memory cells disappear like the seeds from a dandelion in the autumn breeze.

Leaving high school, I was quite sure that I my goal was clear; get a degree in physical education, get a job in a high school and play games for the rest of my life. That little fantasy took me to UVIC for a year and four more years at UBC. For the first three years I actually did enjoy the studies, learned a lot about partying and thought Timothy Leary and the Beatles were the new messiahs. After three years of partying I got nose to the grindstone serious and actually learned to think; sort of.

Those were the halcyon days of job availability and with a passion for science teaching and rugby, I ended up at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary teaching science, biology and P. E. plus coaching the rugby team and Senior Girls basketball. What fun, and two years disappeared like magic.

As much as I enjoyed that, there was an itch that just couldn't be scratched while standing in the class room. Somewhere, somehow I looked at all the people around me with years of experience, mortgages, children and summer vacations and just couldn't see myself travelling that path, quite that soon.

So........... I talked the school board into a two year leave of absence to study alternative methods of science teaching in Europe. Yeah right. So, I sold my car and my trusty Triumph motorcycle, packed a rucksack and was ready to go.

Did I mention I had met this quite wonderful Australian geography teacher (Elizabeth) while teaching at Churchill? Well I wasn't going to let that stop me so it was "catch you later" and I was gone. I had a few things yet to learn about this whole relationship thing.

I ended up catching a job as a deck hand on a Norwegian freighter going from Vancouver to Holland That experience is a book in itself, but I worked hard, learned a little Norwegian and ended up in the Rotterdam in September of 1969. Working on the docks for a bit, coupled with living in a Dutch Youth Hostel was fun and the night life in Amsterdam a quick hop away was quite the adventure. I still had fantasies about a garret on the left bank, poetry, novels, love affairs and living free. I carried a dog-eared copy of Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London", "The I Ching", Shakespeare's Sonnets and, in a fit of late adolescent stupidity, "Ulysses" by James Joyce.

After a few weeks I headed off to England, bought an old Triumph 500 and hit the road for the Continent.

Until late fall I just spent most of my time in France, exploring the river valleys, drinking wine, camping with the Romani and trying to be open to what life had to offer. By harvest season I was in Avignon, working on an apple farm with a bunch of student travellers from all over the world. My French improved radically and the nights in Avignon, dinner at a little Arab bar called the Pyramide where everything I imagined about life on the road seemed to true. Eat your heart out Kerouac.

All good things come to an end so, I headed to Marbella on the coast of Spain and then on to Morocco and points south. I loved the Moroccan people, the food, the climate, the colours, the dope....... everything. Eventually I joined a truck convoy and crossed the southern desert to Dakar. I wanted to do it alone; thank God I listened to those truck drivers. Solo motorcycling in the desert is not for wet behind the ears Canucks.

Fun and games, but reality seemed to be getting a little distant so I headed back to Spain. It was thundering cold in Madrid and riding the motorcycle was getting downright dangerous. I left it parked at a Youth Hostel chained to a chestnut tree and hitch-hiked to Amsterdam where I lived in a Kabouter House (that's a whole story on its own) and worked as a dishwasher in a swanky hotel on the Amstel Canal.

You remember Elizabeth. Tracked me down she did. My Mum always liked her and gave me up faster than a crooked lawyer with a trust fund. We met up in Amsterdam, I was re-smitten and moved to England where we lived in a tiny bed sitter in Notting Hill Gate. She taught and I worked on the building sites. Weekends were spent hiking, soaking up the museums and movies at the Electric Cinema theatre at the end of Portobello Road. Spring came and it was off to Greece to get married. Her parents were not impressed. We hitch-hiked around Greece and Europe and had a pretty damn good time, although I did miss my motorcycle every day.

Back home, I started teaching again, this time at Sir Charles Tupper, an inner city school. I loved it, but swmbo (she who must be obeyed) had other ideas and 1973 saw us leaving for Borneo as CUSO volunteers to teach at a secondary school in a remote village in Borneo (Sabah).

I could go on for hours about the time spent there. Certainly it opened my eyes about the reality of world economics, inequality, the realities of political power structures and the cushioned life I had led.

Gloriously, daughter number one...

was born in our little village and I was a proud father.

Home to Canada to teach one more year in Victoria, but the magic was gone. We moved back to Ottawa and I was hired by CUSO to head up their Orientation Department which prepared new volunteers on how to be successful, transfer their skills and stuff like that.

I did that for five years, managed to become a father again and finally we ended up back in Victoria in 1980.

Not all marriages last; I suspect I am a bit of a challenge, so Elizabeth and I went our separate ways; still friends and parents to our kids and now two grandchildren.

I ended up working in adult education and human resources in various government ministries and finally pulled the pin at age 55 so I could play with motorcycles, do photography, play music, write and, did I mention, play with motorcycles?

There was another marriage in there somewhere, but I've been single since 2006. I rather enjoy being single, playing with my grandchildren, reading, writing, pretending to develop skills in photography, cooking, wine-making, distilling, killing the wrong plants in the garden, messing around with motorcycles

and going for long motorcycle trips.

I was blessed to have had the opportunity to go to Oak Bay High. I had great teachers, squandered many opportunities and had the good fortune to know some fine people.

I leave you with one deep and philosophical question to ponder: I wonder if that motorcycle is still chained to the tree in Madrid.

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