Traveller’s tales from an exotic region

Author John Freeman in Sri Lanka
Author John Freeman in Sri Lanka

FORMER Hipperholme man John Freeman spent much of his working life in the Middle East at a time when travel there was difficult, complicated, exotic and occasionally dangerous.

But he describes his 20 years of working in countries as diverse as Yemen, Iraq and Oman - as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and Sri Lanka - as an ‘absolute privilege’.

Author John Freeman..

Author John Freeman..

“This part of the world is often looked upon negatively in news reports but I wanted to show that there are many more positive things going on there. I was shown great respect, friendship and at times overwhelming hospitality.”

Now 77 and living in Bristol, John has written about his experiences in a new book, ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’. The book is being sold to raise funds for St Peter’s Hospice where his late wife Ve was cared for in the last year of her life.

His first book, ‘Iraq, from Adam to Saddam’, was written out of a sense of frustration with the West’s perception of that country but his new book broadens the focus to look at his experiences of travelling round the region from the 1970s to the 1990s when an ability to think on his feet and be prepared for the unusual and the bizarre were essential requirements.

“The Middle East is rarely out of the news - usually for all the wrong reasons. The people who form this region are as diverse as those who form Europe yet they all get lumped together as unruly and ungovernable.”

John was educated at Hipperholme Grammar School. His father, Sydney Freeman, was Methodist minister at Ambler Thorn from 1941 to 1946 and at Hipperholme from 1946 to 1953. He worked in sales for packaging company Colodense, part of British Cellophane, and was often away from home for four or five weeks at a time.

One of John’s most bizarre experiences was arriving at the new Intercontinental Hotel in Bahrain to find that it still appeared to be under construction and that he was the first guest.

“It was very hot, I was sweating buckets and all I wanted to do was get in the shower. The manager and all the staff were lined up in the foyer to meet me and take me on a personal tour.”

On one of his first overseas trips he found himself stranded in Yemen and facing a tortuous 150-mile journey on unpaved roads to get a visa to enable him to get home.

During his travels, John, a father of four, logged every trip, took photographs and kept a diary - which have helped him write the book. His travels ended abruptly in 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

“I was very lucky to get the chance to travel round this beautiful and fascinating region when I did. I made great friendships and developed a lot of respect for the people and the culture,” he said.