Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Romance of Travel

I have just finished reading They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie. It is one of the few novels of hers that I have not read. As always with Christie, it is an entertaining read. It did make me smile to realize how very different modes of travel were in her day. She wrote this around 1950 when air travel was not as common as it is now.  It got me thinking.

Sixty years or more ago, travel was a leisurely affair. People packed hampers with turkey and ham sandwiches, flasks of tea and bottles of milk, to take with them on train journeys because it took hours to get anywhere. Race-goers at Ascot and other racecourses around the country added wine and champagne to the hampers (as some do even to this day) and made a big day out of it. It was all fun. When you set out on a journey by train you felt you were taking part in an adventure. There was the sleeping car, the dining car, the carriage proper where you sat and watched the countryside roll by and very often you met interesting fellow travellers. You could have fun when the train stopped at railway stations along the way and you watched passengers embark and disembark

Nowadays, it is all rush, rush. We don't have time to wait or to watch other people, so many of us are glued to our mobiles that we bump into people rather than looking at them. At airports, we have to get through security, find the departure gate, find our seat on the plane (squeezing past those fellow passengers who suddenly remember they need something out of their hand baggage about one minute after they stow it in the locker), remember to put our phones in flight mode, pay attention to the safety drill, wave away the offers of duty free stuff we don't want.
Train journeys are only slightly less of a scramble. In the old days, a friendly porter would carry your luggage and see you safely ensconced in your seat. Nowadays you have to find the right platform, find a seat if you haven't booked one or even if you have and stow your luggage yourself. Oh, and keep an ear open for announcements in case the train you wanted to get has been cancelled or delayed. There isn't really an ounce of excitement or pleasure in it all.

When I was at school, many years ago now, we read some of  Robert Louis Stevenson's essays. The one that appealed to me most was his An Apology for Idlers, which is against very many principles which are held dear by so many today.  Stevenson maintained that "extreme busyness" was a "symptom of defective vitality" and complained that when waiting for a train, the "busy man" had a wooden expression because he did not know what to do with the time on his hands. Stevenson advocated being idle, by which he meant taking in our surroundings and, like the poet William Henry Davis in his poem Leisure watching Nature's feet "how they can dance".
Let's start doing this from now on.Every day will be a big adventure.

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