Hopeful Travel on a December Day

I listened to a programme about the way the digital age is influencing literature and drama. Thrillers and crime novels are becoming trickier to construct in these days of mobile phones and closed-circuit TV. It is more difficult to make characters disappear and dialogue has become problematic with the advent of text, email, messaging and so on.
This week’s trip to visit Offspring in her new house illustrated perfectly how our lives have been transformed since devices became essential in our lives. A quick glance around a crowded train reveals rows of passengers travelling together on a shared journey  engrossed in their own little world of screen, plugged in, switched on and oblivious to everyone and everything around them.
Things have moved on since stepping into a carriage and settling into a seat would be interrupted by interminable blurtings of ‘I’m on the train’. A mother climbs on with a toddler and searches for a seat before taking out a phone and placing it in front of the child; pacification by screen. Around me individual travellers sporting earphones are watching videos, listening to something, typing something, reading something, scrolling, swiping, clicking. Almost everyone is lost in their own world, communing with unseen entities.
To me, any unfamiliar travel is interesting, whether it offers stunning scenery or not. This winter trip, taken on a dank and gloomy December day is not pretty, does not offer historic sights or amazing vistas-but although I have my own tiny screens tucked away ready for a waiting room or a platform, I am held enough by the changing views from the window. I like it all. I like seeing the misty fields, the sleepy villages and the towering pylons of the docklands. I like the industrial conglomerations and the uniform suburban streets. I love to peer down into the gardens that line the tracks-abandoned toys, vegetable beds unkempt in their winter state, lines of laundry hanging in the damp air, neat rectangles of lawn and summerhouses with misty windows.
We change trains. The platform where we wait offers people watching opportunities and I’m struck by the way travellers dress. There is a plethora of hole-in-the-knee jeans, a look I’ve not been tempted to adopt, having long ago abandoned high fashion in favour of comfort. On the next train I’m taken with the sight of a man reading a paperback. It is a Dave Eggars novel. I’m tempted to ask if it’s any good but fear I’ll be intruding.
We change again-and again. [It is not an easy journey]. I’m struck by the paradox of this travel. Altogether this expedition to the outer reaches of the capital has taken four trains and a bus. All of the vehicles [including the bus] have been stuffed full of phone-wielding, laptop-tapping screen users. Technology moves on apace. Transport does not.
The return is no better, requiring a bus and a further four trains. The windows are dark. I sit back and delve into the reaches of my rucksack for my Kindle…

It’s Christmas. Happy Christmas to all my lovely readers, whoever and wherever you may be…and a happy and peaceful 2018.

 

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Travel or Holiday? What’s the Difference?

We are travelling across The Netherlands, meandering slowly northwards with the aim, having negotiated Germany and Denmark of an eventual stay with a Norwegian friend. The Dutch countryside, though flat as a table-top is scenic in a bucolic way and the villages chocolate box pretty with their thatched, angular, barn-style roofs and manicured gardens. [I suppose the analogy of the chocolate box must be becoming obsolete nowadays-as a child I was used to seeing the array of assorted chocolate boxes ranged along the top shelf of the village shop and all bore images of thatched cottages or streets of half-timbered houses. Heaven knows why…]

All this prettiness is, of course very uplifting. But to enjoy travel [or a holiday-whether the two are the same is a matter for debate] every sight need not be picture-book gorgeous, in fact quite the contrary-some of the ugliest views can provide the best travel experiences.

Take docks. We sailed overnight last night from Harwich in Essex [East coast UK] to Hoek von Holland [The ‘Hook’]. Harwich is a tiny port, occupied almost entirely by the two sailings of one ferry company. The enormous ship dwarfs the quay as lorries crawl up the ramp like swarming insects to be swallowed up by the gaping mouth of the vehicle decks. At last it was our turn to be swallowed, trundling across the metal gantry and shuffling into a narrow space between two caravans. We downed a couple of drinks, chatting to some touring Americans to one side and some touring Australians on the other before tumbling into bed in our cabin.

We woke to the view of Rotterdam, a forest of cranes and pylons all engaged in loading or unloading container ships. How many containers can there be in the world? One per head of the population? You could be forgiven for thinking so. The containers look like children’s bricks as they are plucked from the quayside in giant pincers and placed with meticulous accuracy on to the wide, flat deck of a ship, piled to an impossible height until it seems the vessel might topple sideways-and yet there is one on the horizon, disappearing somewhere with its unwieldy cargo.

We ground to a halt in the berth and descended to the depths to rejoin out vehicles and a long wait for our turn to disembark. Then we were away into the Netherlands and Northwards.

I attempt to make sense of the signs. ‘Slag boom’ says one, or ‘sluiz-droomen’, or broodjes slommen’. The Dutch language seems to consist of faintly abusive and insulting words although they are in fact all innocuous terms for everyday objects. We cross ‘dijks’ and wait for ‘brugs’ to open and allow boats to pass on the countless  waterways that make up the country-once passing underneath an aqueduct bearing sailing ships-an astonishing sight. We cross huge barrages like driving across the sea, where on either side cormorants are gathered, spreading their wings to dry before plunging after another fish, or tall grey herons poised motionless along the roadsides.

So to Germany then-ausfahrts, glottlestops and beer-swilling, thigh-slapping efficiency-ah, but only for one night!