PC 156 Time to Stand and Stare?

Travel and time seem to be a theme that I keep mulling over, keep coming back to; sometimes it comes out in the written word. My last scribbles about having some overseas experience prompted a number of readers to comment. “I was posted to New York with my company two decades ago. Changed my perspective on those pesky American cousins.” and “Teaching for two years in China in my early thirties was life changing, and life affirming.” and “I was reluctant to leave my parents when we went to Singapore on posting …..” (This from a chap who worked for a law firm) “ …… but they visited us and our children, who went to the local schools, now have some great experiences of Malaysia and Borneo. Never regretted it for a moment.” Whilst these are all positive, go-and-do-it sort of comments, I recognise that there will be some for whom my postcard brought back negative thoughts!! Hey! Ho! You never know ……. unless you try it?

Last December we flew to Portugal, just before some numskull decided to operate a drone within London Gatwick airport’s airspace. Flights were cancelled and the airport effectively closed for three days, so ruining a few thousands’ people’s holidays. Personally I thought they should have caught the bastard(s) and left them in the terminal building with all the disgruntled passengers – maybe with a note around their necks saying something like “It was us wot done it” or words to that effect. It would have been cheaper than putting them in prison!

As we descended into Lisbon’s Portela Airport I reflected how the last time we had travelled to Portugal we had taken the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Santander in Northern Spain and driven. Five slowish days, west towards Santiago de Compostela and then south to Porto and on to our destination of Estoril, compared with seven hours door to door. Time to experience ….. we hear that saying ‘travelling is a journey not a destination’ so often these days it’s become a cliché but we all understand the sentiment; it broadens our outlook, our knowledge. Throughout our limited time on the planet, we need to suck as much as we can from every day!

The daily chore


Whilst we haven’t developed the ability to tele-transport yet (aka Startrek and ‘Beam me up Scotty’!), fairly instant travel over long distances by airplane is something our forebears may have envisaged but not experienced. Jumping from one place to another, from one continent to another; no time for reflection or for acclimatisation – in, bang! George Nation, my great grandfather, went to Alaska as fast as he could in 1900. Firstly on the US Mail Ship St Paul; five days across the pond, days of sea air, of formal dinners, of gambling and of conversation. (Round trip on Queen Mary 2 in 2019 would cost £2650!) Tired out by the time he arrived in New York he spent two days in the Grand Union hotel. If you’d never been to NY, you’d probably have a look around, walk in Central Park. He left by train from Grand Central Station for Montreal in Canada, took the train to Winnipeg, where it was 15°below zero, passed through Calgary and arrived in Vancouver some 8 days later. (Today the train journey would take around 4 days and six hours and cost £275). Flying Air Canada from London’s Heathrow will get you there in ten hours and cost £470. In 2015 we followed in his footsteps, his letters to his wife Eva in London being the inspiration, but we flew to Seattle. We both caught the ferry up the Alaskan Marine Highway (See PCs 44-46) to Skagway, although George’s ferry was an old river steamer and very crowded compared with ours.

He then took the train to Whitehorse; we drove. On to Dawson City by horse-drawn sleigh; we drove our rental car. George stayed in basic roadhouses; we did it in a day. In a romantic sort of way it would be wonderful to experience a horse-drawn sleigh, but for five days in the snow?

Some moons ago I drove from Sydney to Coffs Harbour on Australia’s East coast. Whilst the view from 30,000 feet might be dramatic ……..

PC 156 2 Sydney to the north

……… you can’t feel the heat, smell the dust, get bitten by the mosquitoes or put your toes in the Pacific!

PC 156 3

Nambucca Heads

Walking from home to Hove station you pick up the street vibe, amuse yourself with observations and judgments, up George Street then past Dean’s fresh fruit and veg stall with a ‘How’s it going?’ sort of exchange, past the gentlemen who like to spend their day on the bench on the corner and up Goldstone Villas towards the station. Past Osman’s new 24/7, past the Small Batch Coffee café, which gives you an instant whiff of coffee beans being ground, and arrive at the station in touch with your surroundings. If you get in the car drive there and drive back, insulated and isolated from other people, you get none of that.

Working for Short Brothers, after a year of sale’s trips around Europe, my first venture out East was to Singapore. As we disembarked, I remember exiting the aircraft door and being overwhelmed by the smell, the warmth, the humidity, the excitement of a Singaporean evening, the essence of the Orient. That particular memory, that particular moment, will stay with me forever.

A reality TV programme a few months ago offered £20,000 to the first couple to reach Singapore from London – without using an aircraft. Credit cards and mobile telephones were taken off them and they were given the cash-equivalent of the airfare (economy I suspect!). With this limited budget it was clear they would have to work somewhere, somewhen (A delightful English word from 1300 or there abouts; originally spelled sumwhanne and meaning exactly what it says!!). Of course there was a sameness of the cheap rail or coach travel, one long distance train or bus as uncomfortable as the next, but instead of hopping Europe to South East Asia by air, they saw Delphi, made their way to Baku in Azerbaijan, then through the Stans – Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and into China. South to Cambodia and on to Singapore. Now there’s a journey with time to stand and time to stare!!

Last month in a Yin yoga session with the brilliant Sam Goddard, she finished with a wonderful quotation from Pico Iyer.

“In an age of speed, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. In an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”

Twiddling your thumbs? Travel ……. quickly or slowly! Or simply enjoying twiddling your thumbs. Always your choice!

Richard 11th July 2019

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