You meet a lot of people when you go travelling. Some of them, you forget as soon as you get home, and then others stick in your memory for a lifetime. Or at least for 27 years and counting.
Two such people were the couple in the centre of this photo - Pookie and Jean. Pookie had a real name, which I've forgotten, which just goes to show that everyone always called him Pookie. They were a British couple who travelled to Greece most summers in that brown van you can see in the background. Or at least they did back in 1985 when we met them.
We met in Italy, waiting for the ferry, and if my memory serves me correctly, it was thanks to them that we decided to stay a few days in Igoumenitsa on the north-west coast of Greece, before heading further south. Igoumenitsa was the first Greek port of call for ferries crossing - was, and still is, according to my internet wanderings. Back then it was relatively untouched and totally idyllic. We free-camped out on a spit of land that Pookie and Jean guided us to, and this spit of land captured my imagination for many years. I would draw it constantly, and I still remember how I used to draw it (badly):
So does that scribble conjure up Greece for you? ... probably not, but it did for me, at least! We had so much fun spending those days in Igoumenitsa with Pookie and Jean, and then some months later as our European adventure came to an end, we drove up to Norwich in England to visit them, and parked our van in their driveway for a few days.
During these few days, Pookie taught me two things that have remained with me vividly ever since. Simple things, and ones that he probably didn't intend to be important, and one perhaps isn't, although it's served me well. The less important one is a particular card trick he showed me. In fact, it's the only card trick I can do, but it's proven to be a great party trick and I've often impressed classes of English learners over the years with my ability to be cool enough to do a card trick that actually impresses them. As all good tricksters know, you shouldn't reveal your secrets, although I'm glad Pookie did - but I'm not going to tell you more. If you meet me in person, bring a pack of cards and ask me.
The second thing Pookie taught me was about the power of telling stories out loud. One night he was given the job of tucking my sister and I into bed, and that included telling us a story, or so he decided. I don't remember the details of the tale any more, but I remember hanging on every word. It was the story of a lonely but lovable creature, and it had a punchline that stuck with me even though I didn't understand it at the time: "It's a long way to tip a rary". Yes, the creature was a "rary" and he ended up over a cliff; I hadn't heard of "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" and wouldn't until later. But almost three decades on, I remember how enthralled I felt, listening to this story in the near-dark.
Thinking of that feeling and wanting to recreate it in others has influenced how I write and how I teach. Which just goes to show, you never know who you'll meet on your travels, and how much they might change you, even if they're not trying to.