From The Park to Pakistan

I said I would come back to tell a story from the Queen Park Farmer’s Market.  It comes from one of the people I met at Chad’s stall called Pete Durnford.

Chad's chat connects coffee drinkers

Chad’s chat connects coffee drinkers

Now what are the chances of meeting someone who has been on a possibly even bigger adventure than oneself, just casually at your local farmer’s market cafe?  Is that itself part of the fable of the farmer’s market?

Pete’s story is about a guy called Abdullah, who he travelled with in a van through Afghanistan to Pakistan in the mid-seventies. This was a time when there was no Internet or mobile phones to connect them back with the people they had left behind in London, or to contact the people they needed to meet on the way.

They began their journey here, in little old London, starting not far from Queen’s Park where Chad’s stall stands now on a Sunday.  It was at Cafe Quest Base Camp where Pete showed me photos he’d taken of the time, on a little 35mm camera.  Unlike now, these are photos taken on celluloid film, and so had to be taken to a chemist to be developed.

Equally, it is not so easy to convert such photos to digital – however there was one page in Pete’s album which stood out as capturing the romance of the journey, from the silhouette of minnarets at sunset and the magic of Biblical Mount Ararat at midday, to the dusty old van which they travelled in along this dramatic Middle Eastern highway.  So I felt a little like I was using the modern technology of the mobile phone like a time machine as I took a snapshot of this page from Pete’s album.


It was a cafe-related connection that got us talking originally.  It was about a place called The Pudding Shop in Istanbul, a place where travellers are known to meet and share stories. Abdullah and Pete visited there on their way, but it was perhaps not one of the greatest highlights as it was quiet at the time and not as dynamic as the stories they had been told. Perhaps that in itself is a fact about fables:  the truth is not always as great as the story is cracked up to be….

It was at Taste of Chamberlayne, yet another great NorthWest London coffee establishment with Middle Eastern connections of its own, where Pete regaled me with many stories of the people they met, and places they visited, between here and Pakistan. This included travels in Afghanistan, a place since scoured by Russian invasion and American wars on terrorism against The Taliban.

The places sounded more innocent back then, than they do now – but is that really true?  It perhaps comes down to the perspective of the storyteller and what they see and hear at the time.

What’s perhaps more fabulous is Pete’s and my recognition of any cafe – be it Chad’s, Ishmail’s and Max’s or The Pudding Shop in Istanbul – as being the places where travellers can meet and share such stories, but there also needing to be someone to help make that happen – like Chad, at Queen’s Park Farmer’s Market, who is happy to encourage people to stand and chat at his stall and will connect people based on what he has learned about their common interests.  There needs to be more of this.

Now, the big question is, will Pete be happy to make for a Cafe Quest first in becoming the first guest blogger to share their own stories and photos from a time before t’Internet and mobile phones?  Stay tuned, folks…..


About Matt's Tale

A New Age travel writer, seeing the old in the new and the bold in the blue - but mainly seeking the freedom to be, as much as to do. His tales come from meeting modern day travellers following their likes of King Arthur to Geoffrey Chaucer, leading him on to places considered "Camelot" and different ways to see Canterbury and cafes a lot. Email: Twitter: @mattstale
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