They say that traveling broadens the mind. Certainly, having lived abroad since I was thirteen besides fingering the old bucket and spade a few times even before moving to Spain, I have never been at a loss when in the company of foreigners.
It probably helped that I came from an area which has no particular tradition of either superiority or paranoia; an area best known for being flat and cold: somewhere in the east. Our most famous son, you’ll want to sit down for this, being the Singing Postman. They say his guitar picking wasn’t up to much, but that he was known for his First Class Delivery.
There weren’t any foreigners in Norfolk in those days (‘them days’) except, of course, for the odd Londoner that had got lost. This was probably, along with the flatness, the cold and the terrible music, just another good reason for leaving. Years later, when driving my new wife along a Norfolk lane (a rare visit to England), we came round a corner and bumped into a troop of Nazi soldiers with their collars loosened, having a fag. While my wife wrestled with the possibility that the English were odder than she had originally thought, I asked an amiable-looking feldwebel the way to Downham Market as we were lost.
‘Somebody hass removed all zer signs’, he agreed, pointing vaguely East.
It turned out that they were shooting a piece from ‘Allo Allo’.
Living abroad, you need to be flexible with your language, your ideas, your culture and your understanding. People, you soon discover, are pretty much as friendly (or as disagreeable) regardless of where you happen to be: despite their sex, race, age and golf handicap.
We all pretty much know this by experience, so there’s not much point in banging on about it.
Traveling, for me, has a purpose. Usually it means that I am going to see someone for some fairly solid reason. The days of going on vacation with a rucksack and a copy of Lonely Planet seem to have passed and the opportunity to go on a group-holiday - a package - has, in my case, yet to arrive. Then again, I doubt you learn much from this latter kind of experience beyond knowing to watch out for the Shepherd’s Pie.
And the people in the room next door.
I live in a traveler destination anyway: making sure that I’m not taken for a tripper by mistake. I go around stoutly wearing sweaters when the tourists are in tee-shirts – which is bloody uncomfortable I can tell you during August. Hell, I’ve been here so long I need a holiday.
Travel might be good for you, it may remove some of your day-to-day stress and it can be agreeable, exciting or instructive. It is no doubt wonderful once you’ve got there and taken your boots off with a satisfied groan; but for me, the actual process of traveling has become increasingly arduous. I don’t mind driving the two kilometres or so to the beach, but driving to Madrid has lost its charm. Nowadays, the stress of having one eye on the speedo, one on the mirror and none left to look out of the forward porthole is beginning to take its toll. The thought of driving all the way across Europe quite undoes me (and it’s not because of the French, who I get on well with). It’s more to do with my back.
That disgusting motorway coffee.
Those friggin’ lorries!
Flying is, of course, uncomfortable, violent and embarrassing (ohmigod, I forgot to put on fresh socks and they’re going to think it’s a Nerve Agent). If you are flying to the UK, you are certain to be searched by some pimply redheaded bastard from Slough. I’ll grant you that, while the flight is cramped, it is, at least, cheap. Somebody told me they flew to Heathrow for 99 pence the other day - plus airport taxes and an extra pound for the lavatory. This, of course, doesn’t include the interminable waiting, or the last bit - the taxi or train to your final destination. Don’t forget the two-mile walk as well, lugging a heavy suitcase and a bulging plastic bag.
Why do prices never make the least bit of sense? Are the airline accountants drunk the whole time? The girls at the Vera travel agency told me that the flight from Almería to Madrid can cost 600 euros return ‘but there are special offers for just 75’. Well, I’d rather pay the 75 euros but, what is it going to cost me? The Americans make the joke about obtaining cheap tickets or ‘upgrades’ that means you have to ‘wear a purple leisure suit’ which is, presumably, something of an imposition. When I can, I’ll take the train.
One day, there will be a high speed train that will take one in comfort from the Vera train station to Madrid in the blink of an eye. It all sounds very exciting and novel. Until then, there’s the Murcia/Madrid Talgo which will do. Some time in the bar, plus a few turns walking up and down through the carriages as the train deposits you, after four hours, in the middle of the Nation’s capital. Ver’ civilized, yes. Ah, the hurly burley of the city, where the finest sights and Man’s most noble attractions can be enjoyed while swivelling the wire postcard stand in your comfortably appointed hotel!
So - these days I prefer a good armchair, a reading light and a small side-table, upon which the very best travel awaits me between cardboard covers. The characters and guides in the books piled on the table besides me are guaranteed to always be stimulating, refreshing and different. They will take me to the very best places, place me firmly into the most remarkable situations, introduce me to quite the most peculiar people and, in short, show me everything. They will know to offend, impress or attract me and they will have the good sense to leave me alone when the mood has passed.
I have made a lot of friends that way.