Site Behaviour

                ‘Flight Behaviour’ is a recent novel by the established American writer, Barbara Kingsolver. It is a noble attempt to use fiction to bring climate change issues into popular consciousness, although somehow it fails to grip the imagination. Barbara must have worked hard on her research, insinuating much scientific jargon and information into the story, but it is this very insertion of earnest scientific knowledge that reduces the impact of the story, rendering it clunky and uneven. The story concerns the plight of thousands of Monarch butterflies deflected from their normal migratory course from Mexico to the Appalachian Mountains, an event that is celebrated by the local community who are unaware of the catastrophe it portends.

                As I finished the book I reflected on the migration that we now make as summer comes to an end, in search of a warmer climate, along with hundreds of other Northern Europeans fleeing Autumn’s first chilly blasts. There are Germans, Netherlanders, Danish, Czechs, Belgians and more. They are here with us along the Mediterranean coasts of France, Spain or Portugal, filling up the camp sites and exhibiting what I now like to think of as ‘Site Behaviour’.

                After many years of staying on campsites, first with tent and now with a camper van, I’ve had plenty of time to study site behaviour and etiquette. Take shower blocks, for instance. It is customary to greet anyone you encounter within the shower facility, using the language of the host country. A mumbled, hasty ‘Bonjour’ is enough [since we are in France] and eye contact, if any, should be brief. You should not launch into lengthy discussions about the weather or travel plans, or which part of the UK you are from whilst your companion is applying deodorant or cleaning their teeth. This being France, shower blocks are not divided into genders so you must expect to have to sidle past a urinal or a man at a basin trimming nasal hair on your way into a cubicle.

                You may have to carry toilet tissue to the block with you, in which case no one will be in any doubt as to your intention. A way around this for those sensitive to anyone knowing their purpose is to stuff a wodge of tissue into your pocket. Years of less-than-luxurious travel have taught me never to go anywhere without a tissue in my pocket.

                Many [particularly women] make their morning/evening trip to the ablutions wearing such attire as they might habitually sport at home; in other words they wear a dressing gown, slippers and often-curlers. In Yorkshire, UK recently there was an inexplicable plethora of Onesies on show. Myself, I do not own either dressing gown or slippers, and have never mastered the art of curlers, so a version of day wear [shorts and T-shirt] suffices.

                A site is a transient village, inhabitants changing daily, their temporary homes, paraphernalia or pets a subject of interest for those already established. What might they be preparing on their elaborate barbecue? Why do we see the husband and never the wife? For some, the activity involved in setting up, building the awning, hammering in pegs, putting up a washing line, adjusting the awning, oiling the bikes, putting up a wind break, taking it down-these are the end itself, the reason for the trip. These scenes are the soap opera that is a camp site. Long may they continue!

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The Measure. How tourist friendly is your country?

                It must be gratifying to be of a nationalistic disposition. It must be delightful to have your heart swell with pride at the sound of your national anthem or well up when your national team wins a championship. As far as anthems go, the UK would not win any prizes. It is the dreariest dirge ever to be suffered at a sports event. For me, the Welsh would have to take the prize for the most rousing, melodic and enjoyable national anthem, with ‘Land of my Fathers’. Whenever it is performed the crowd, spectators etc join in with stirring gusto like a wall of harmonic sound-most uplifting. But-I am not Welsh, and neither do I possess feelings of nationalism. Of course I am always pleased when England wins something, but I don’t feel moved to hoist a flag over the house roof or paint a red cross on to my face. But the UK has much to offer overseas visitors, such as sites of historical interest, traditional seaside and coastal walks.

                Countries vary hugely in terms of ease of travel and facilities offered to visitors. Take tourist information offices, services that can be a boon for sightseers and essential for map-mad folks like Husband; the bureau may be closed, or it may be manned by a bored, disinterested, diffident moron, or it may be an Aladdin’s Den of brochures, local goods and displays and be staffed by an enthusiastic, helpful local expert who is prepared to engage in conversation, explain how, where and why and provide all the relevant paperwork, like the tourist office we recently visited in Aberaeron, mid Wales.

                One basic yardstick you could use to measure the visitor-friendliness of a place is by its provision of public lavatory facilities. I would rank Wales’ profusion of these services alongside its national anthem. They are everywhere. Aberporth, a tiny cove whose tourist site boasts the post office among its must-sees has two toilet blocks within 200 yards of each other!

                Among other countries, New Zealand caters very well in respect of this basic requisite, as does France, which has improved over the years in that when I first set foot on Gallic shores the only places provided for peeing were men’s urinals on the street-small screens shielding the mid portion, the head and feet visible above and below. Who knows what women were supposed to do if nature called? Perhaps females were deemed to be unearthly beings who were not possessed of such an indecorous need.

Spain falls far back in the rankings. In Madrid last year I fell back on the only option of a workmen’s portacabin when desperation overwhelmed me, relying on Husband to lean heavily on the door whilst I negotiated the hole in the floor that southern Europeans often favour over the comforts of a seat. Other than this the choice would be to visit a museum or a gallery or to purchase a drink in a café, with the inevitable result in needing to pee ever more frequently.

Munich is similarly deprived of public loos, with the exception of the park, where we had to insert lots of euros into a slot but were serenaded by piped piano music once we’d breached the portals-a kind of tinkle while you sprinkle.

Manhattan may have improved, although when we visited about sixteen years ago there was a woeful lack of street bathrooms, necessitating, when desperate, a late night, post beer pee into a darkened doorway, [shielded by Husband], for which I apologise in retrospect. But what is a girl to do? [Answers on a postcard please].