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A successful second marriage

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Free petrol coupons are better than sex
Brian Aldiss Writer
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What was it that drove me? What could it have... what kind of discontent could have driven me to think I can't bear this any longer? I'm going to… I'm going to go away, I'm going to drive round Yugoslavia. But that was what I did – that was what I did. I bought a second-hand Land Rover, and I went off with a girlfriend, a woman called Margaret Manson, she came with me and off we went, and we went to Yugoslavia.

Now, two things I must say for that. For one thing, I loved Yugoslavia. I knew I would, and I did, because, if anything, it was a bit like being abroad in the East. The other thing was that I had taken my lady friend, expecting… well, of course, expecting that we would have a sexual companionship. But once we were there, this lady said to me, 'No, we're not married – we can't do this'. I cannot understand it now, and I couldn't understand it then, but that was the way it was.

But, in any case, we travelled round Yugoslavia, and we had visited… we had visited the people that ran the travel in Yugoslavia, and they had opened a vast safe and had given me free petrol coupons. Free petrol coupons. There are times when free petrol coupons are better than sex because, in the whole year that we were in Yugoslavia – this was 1964 – we never, ever paid for petrol, and we just drove round all the various provinces. And, I have to say, that that period was certainly the happiest period of my life, apart possibly, from the year when I was in charge of a barn in... what was the name of the place? The island?

[Q] Sumatra.

Sumatra, yes. So, yes, we saw… we saw the most beautiful things in Yugoslavia, quite hidden from the rest of the world, including the little churches that the Serbs had built in the hills away from the invading Muslims, hoping that the Muslims wouldn't see them and wouldn't close them down, and that had been the case.

And those little churches are part of the inheritance, at least of the Western world, and are not known. I wrote a little booklet about them, which I gave to the local church, and I included them in the book I finally wrote – my one travel book which is called Cities and Stones about Yugoslavia.

Dear Yugoslavia... It broke up after President Tito died, and now the states are separate and are peaceful and have much to be said for them. And several times on holiday we have visited that wonderful coast on the Adriatic, and in particular, the town of Dubrovnik, which is so lovely as indeed it always was, but now, it's better maintained.

Brian Aldiss (1925-2017) was an English writer and anthologies editor, best known for his science fiction novels and short stories. He was educated at Framlingham College, Suffolk, and West Buckland School, Devon, and served in the Royal Signals between 1943-1947. After leaving the army, Aldiss worked as a bookseller in Oxford, an experience which provided the setting for his first book, 'The Brightfount Diaries' (1955). His first science fiction novel, 'Non-Stop', was published in 1958 while he was working as literary editor of the 'Oxford Mail'. His many prize-winning science fiction titles include 'Hothouse' (1962), which won the Hugo Award, 'The Saliva Tree' (1966), which was awarded the Nebula, and 'Helliconia Spring' (1982), which won both the British Science Fiction Association Award and the John W Campbell Memorial Award. Several of his books have been adapted for the cinema. His story, 'Supertoys Last All Summer Long', was adapted and released as the film 'AI' in 2001. His book 'Jocasta' (2005), is a reworking of Sophocles' classic Theban plays, 'Oedipus Rex' and 'Antigone'.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Yugoslavia

Duration: 5 minutes, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014

Date story went live: 17 August 2015