The Drive of my life: former Sheffield steelworkers’ round the world trip

Drive of My Life feature with busineessman Allan Milburn who was a former redundant steel worker. Allan is pictured outside Kelham Island with his BMW X5.
Drive of My Life feature with busineessman Allan Milburn who was a former redundant steel worker. Allan is pictured outside Kelham Island with his BMW X5.
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Ex-steelworker Allan Milburn travelled the world for four years before setting up telecoms firm IT Installations Ltd in 1995. The Sheffield-based firm has since carried out projects at Buckingham Palace and Downing Street. Allan, 57, now drives a BMW X5.

The first time I ever travelled in a car was during my first driving lesson at 17 in 1975.

I was one of seven children from Attercliffe; our family had never owned a car and neither did anyone we knew.

I desperately wanted to drive a car of my own. I could afford one - I was an apprentice roll turner at Dunford Hadfield’s. By 18 I was on price work - you got a price for doing a set piece of work. I was turning 20 tons of metal at a time and I was fast.

It took me four years to pass my test. I bought a yellow Ford Cortina with a black vinyl roof and tiger-print seats. It was my pride and joy. I had no hesitation in selling it, though, when the chance came for me to change my life in 1980.

Steel redundancies were announced for workers over 59; I was 21. Richard Caborn, my shop steward, wasn’t happy that I wanted to leave but I insisted I was released.

I got a £150 pay-off. I wanted to travel - to pick grapes in France, work on a kibbutz in Israel and go to Marrakech. I’d been influenced by Woodstock, The Beatles and Cat Stevens.

Drive of My Life feature with busineessman Allan Milburn who was a former redundant steel worker. Allan pictured in Australia in 1981.

Drive of My Life feature with busineessman Allan Milburn who was a former redundant steel worker. Allan pictured in Australia in 1981.

I set off on April 16 1980 from Pond Street station on a coach journey to the South of France that was the first important ‘Drive Of My Life’. I got a job in Antibes scraping barnacles off boats.

A rich yacht owner offered me £70 a week to live on A 12-berth yacht and chauffeur him and his guests. That car was a posh Peugeot.

I did that for four months, then went hitchhiking with two boat-workers. We got to Rhodes, then Egypt. We each had a 2kg rucksack with a collared T shirt in it so we could go into hotels and eat the peanuts off the bar and drink free water. We took toilet roll by wrapping it around our waists under our shirts.

Pakistan was the most dangerous country we visited. We got robbed before crossing the border to India, then we booked a houseboat in Kashmir. Unbeknown to us our telegram got intercepted by a rival boat owner whose cousin worked in the telegraph office. He picked us up in New Delhi and took us 1,000 miles to Kashmir. We took rickshaws, went up the Khyber pass in a battered yellow Austin A40 taxi, then joined a ramshackle coach.

We spent six weeks on that houseboat. The owner became a friend and took us by bus to his mountain village near Tibet. When the tyres hit a pot-hole your head hit the roof.

The lads and I travelled through Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bali, got ambushed by bandits in the jungle crossing the equator and in 1981, ended up in Australia.

I settled in Perth for six months and worked in the steelworks. But the wanderlust set in again and I set off on a 3,000 mile journey to Sidney in a 5ltr 1966 Automatic Holden with an Australian fellow turner.

We got in the car, he stuck a house brick on the accelerator, put his feet out of the window and steered with one finger while he drank can after can of beer.

I was scared to death. But as I got drunker I forgot my fear and assured myself that on those straight desert roads, you could see a car coming from miles away.

The journey, via Adelaide and Melbourne, took 12 days. After that I spent three years in Sydney. One of the proudest drives of my life was there - the daily mini bus drive as an independent living skills trainer for adults with learning difficulties. Best job I’ve ever had.