Belated journey

Last updated 05:00 09/03/2014
Philip Watson

Blenheim lawyer Philip Watson and his daughter Alice at Blenheim Place, London.

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Clients were understanding when Philip Watson gave their files to another lawyer and closed his Blenheim law practice to do a belated "OE".

His 2013 great escape was the realisation of a long-held dream and partly prompted by his daughter Alice travelling to France before starting her own law career.

"I never did the OE when I was young. Instead I bought a house and got married," Philip, a widower, says this week.

He is sitting behind a desk in his Scott St office which reopened on February 24 in time for the new financial year. He returned to Blenheim in time for Christmas, he says, but nods when asked if it took a while to get out of holiday mode.

"It took me about a month to stop wanting to catch a train and find somewhere to sleep the next week or the next day. My body was on a body clock, like: ‘OK, where am I going now?"'

In true OE fashion, Philip had eschewed strict travel plans, preferring to follow his instincts rather than a pre-arranged itinerary. "I had nothing planned, it was just random ... like being in the Wizard of Oz. I didn't know what I was going to do."

He and Alice met each month for a week of shared adventures and in June Philip's son Cameron arrived from Melbourne to spend some time with his Dad. But Philip was often on his own and France, he says, was his favourite destination.

He admired its residents' quiet arrogance, the confidence its shopkeepers showed when they closed their shutters and ordered customers off their premises between 1pm and 3pm each day for a leisurely lunch break and at 6pm in time for dinner.

Visitors can be abused in French villages if they buy take-always instead of taking the time to stop and savour the cuisine with a sit-down meal in a cafe.

Philip had enough money for eight months' travel without an income.

Costs were kept down, though, by using backpacker accommodation within two kilometres of a train station. Many were in old hotels and had one or two-star ratings, he says.

He also joined the "Workaway" programme four times.

It provides free accommodation in return for a few hours' labour and places Philip used it included Antequera, a medieval town in Andalucia, Spain, where he helped renovate a 17th century house; and at Lake Como, Italy, where he re-varnished an antique yacht for an eccentric American.

"I got to know people, got into the lifestyle and saw how they lived.

"I didn't want to learn their language; they just wanted me to teach them - and their children - English."

He did enjoy a few "tourist" attractions, though, including a 10-day cruise on the Mediterranean from Nice, a journey through the Swiss Alps on a train and a five-day tramp from Spain to Portugal. Trekking 25 to 30 kilometres a day didn't wear out his shoes but the blisters on his feet were "shocking".

Philip ended his holiday in Britain, where he attended the Edinburgh Tattoo, enjoyed 15 shows over 10 days at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and in London saw some of the world's best ballet for the price of a £10 theatre ticket.

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- The Marlborough Express

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