Tots and Travel-What a Difference a Generation Makes

People’s behaviour with their children makes fascinating observation; no more so than during holidays and while travelling.

We have boarded [another] ferry-this time from North Denmark to Norway. The ship is teeming with people of all nationalities, ages, shapes and sizes. Many of these people are small, flaxen-haired and extremely excited. They are swarming like pale, shrieking insects all over the decks, and in particular in and out of a caged area which houses ‘Captain Kid’-a portly, foam encased figure [housing, no doubt a beleaguered student taking an unenviable summer job], wearing a jolly, striped T-shirt and a peaked cap. The excited squawking lasts until the vessel has negotiated a turn and exited the harbour, then settles into the odd squeak or howl, accompanied by whimpering and whining.They are all undeniably beautiful, despite the whinging.

An hour into the voyage and Captain Kid’s able assistant has sprung into action rustling up standard summer ferry-boat fare-balloon animals, for which the little tots and their long suffering parents have formed a long, snaking queue that obliterates the entrance to the ladies’ lavatories, the stairwell or indeed anywhere else.

Elsewhere they continue to holler and gallop about, or are occupied with computer games, pizza slices, swinging on bar stools or watching cartoons. It is all a lengthy voyage away from the number plate games we were encouraged to play whilst enduring the interminable drives to Wales, Devon or Scotland when I was a child in the fifties. I’d be sandwiched between two brothers on the back seat of the small family car, condemned to the middle due to my small stature, with my knees under my chin due to the obstacle that was the cylindrical prop-shaft and not enough room for as much as a pack of cards.

Later some of the infants have fallen into oblivion on a parental chest and others are voicing their discontent in no uncertain terms. A tiny boy swamped by a gargantuan buggy has set up a pitiful whine, his mouth a large O in his cherubic face framed by white curls. He is inserted into a high chair and supplied with pizza and chips, effectively stopping up the ‘O’.

Then the Norwegian coast is upon us, looking like Thunderbirds’ Tracey Island, or the dastardly villain’s secret location housing an evil world-threatening machine from a James Bond movie.

Later, at the first night’s stop by a beautiful lake, the sun blazing bright at 9.15pm, a cavalcade of small boys races round and round the camper-vans on minute scooters, hooting wildly as they career in their circles, one of their number a large, grown up man. There is something uncomfortable in the sight of adults scooting along on children’s scooters.

At 11.00pm the scooter circus shows no sign of abating, no doubt due to the abundance of daylight and it is not until twilight finally descends that the revellers give up their conveyances and retire. The next morning the sun is up early-and so are the small boys, up and attired in multi-coloured swim gear ready to leap into the lake. When do they sleep? I hear my mother turning in her grave……

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Check This Out!

It would be an understatement to say I flounder in the waves of new technology. No sooner do you begin to get a grip on some gadget, software or device then some new upstart replacement arrives and you must begin again. Nevertheless there is the odd innovation that I do, after some tuition and practice start to get the hang of-even derive some satisfaction from and appreciate.

Take automatic check-outs. At last, after studious avoidance, suspicion, trial, many failed attempts, instruction and practice I am able to process my shopping through the complicated business of self-check-out totally unaided [sometimes]; I am able to bag things without the strident voice admonishing ‘unauthorised item in the bagging area!’ I can manage to tell it I have my own bags and collect the points on my loyalty card. Even so there are blips, like this morning’s debacle of the machine refusing to acknowledge my bananas.

I can see the benefits of self-check-outs. They cut down queues, take up less space and time and negate the need to engage with real people. Wonderful! But actually I am getting to an age where I’ve begun to enjoy those mini conversations, those minor snippets of small talk-with the person queuing in front of me or behind me; with the baby sitting in the trolley, with the person sitting behind the check-out or the boy scouts helping to pack the stuff. And if those of us who have company at home want to speak to others-what of those who lead solitary lives, these moments of minimal chit-chat the only conversational encounters in their day?

And what will those check-out workers do when the machines finally edge them out of employment? Nobody wants to be labelled a Luddite or to stand in the middle of the road of progress, but what are the employment options for manual workers whose occupations are being usurped by machines?

The Japanese [who else?] have designed and manufactured a ‘drone waiter’; a flying tray that delivers meals to diners. I don’t know if it is programmed to intone ‘Enjoy your meal’ or ‘have a nice day’ or to return and ask ‘is everything all right for you?’ but I doubt if it can process the reply. What if your steak is underdone, your side salad hasn’t appeared or the wine is corked? What on Earth are all the resting actors to do to support themselves in between roles, if waiting at tables becomes a redundant job?

Technology has come a long way, no more so than in the field of communication; but the future holds a bizarre vision. Silent people queueing to commune with machines, restaurants full of silent customers jabbing at screens. Will we lose the power of speech and the ability to look anyone in the eye? Perhaps our personal machines can take on our communication for us? Why not? Get your mobile device to speak to your friend’s mobile device. Get it to select and order your meal-why stop there? Get it to eat the meal, tip the drone waiter, call the driverless cab and go home. Who needs people anyway?