Aargh! Why the joys of travelling have left me

Aargh! Why the joys of travelling have left me

by Stuart Crawford
article from Wednesday 27, June, 2018

I HAD TO go to Bristol the other day. Well, not had to go, wanted to go. My elder daughter works there and needs to buy a car for commuting in the next month or so.  She had phoned to say that she had some free days off work and would I be able to go down and help her choose a suitable motor. I thought “Well, that’s a good sort of Dad thing to do”. So I said yes, I’d love to.

First question was how to get there. Well, there’s a choice of course. My beloved “free” bus pass would only get me as far as Hadrian’s Wall, so bus was immediately discounted. I don’t mind the time it might take or the bum-numbing journey down the country’s motorways if it’s free, but not a journey of this length if I have to pay for it.

Then there’s the ‘plane. There was a time when I revelled in travelling by air, back in the 1970s and 80s before all the current security nonsense was imposed. I used to fly to and from school, from Glasgow to Bristol with a stop at Liverpool in between. On many occasions I flew standby from London to Glasgow; turn up at the terminal, go to the Standby Desk, and then wait to be called forward for a vacant seat on the plane after all the “proper” ticket-holders had boarded. I was never left off a flight, not once. My memory tells me a standby ticket was only £5 one way, but that can’t be right, can it?

Nowadays there is no pleasure in flying; it is a truly joyless experience, thanks to the increase in cheap, downmarket airlines and the response to terrorism. I just can’t be bothered with the rigmarole of getting to the airport hours early, going through security and having to take half my clothes off, and then waiting in the inevitably stark and unlovely departure lounge for a flight which will invariably be delayed.  All this followed by the undignified boarding of the aircraft alongside all the other grey, dead-eyed passengers.  Plus, no airline does a senior citizen discount card as far as I know, not yet anyway. So the ‘plane is a no-go.

Driving is out too. I’ve driven up and down motorways between Scotland and England for most of my life and I’ve had my fill of it. The M6 at Sandbach, the M5/M6 interchange in Birmingham, and the M25 in its entirety feature large in my nightmares. To be stuck on a motorway in a traffic jam with no information on how long it might last is not my idea of fun anymore, if it ever was.

Which leaves the train. I have long preferred travelling by train if I have to go anywhere. When I worked out my cost/time/hassle analysis on getting to Bristol the train was a clear winner. Slightly longer overall (by about an hour), slightly more expensive than flying even with my senior citizen railcard, but usually an infinitely more pleasant experience altogether. And it takes you city centre to city centre, so no faffing around getting from airport to centre by bus or tram. So the train it was.

Having said all that, the train was packed, a combination of young people going (I presume) to/from universities – Newcastle, Durham, York, Birmingham and Bristol en route – and others going on holiday or on business. Busy, but not overcrowded, and by and large everyone was well behaved. I just wonder why Cross Country Trains (for it was they) provided only four carriages for the train? Six would have been more appropriate for a journey of this length.  Plus the electronic booking system was broken in my carriage, leading to a certain amount of musical chairs as folk couldn’t work out where they could sit. That apart, it was fine.

I sat next to a very nice older lady who was on a day trip from Edinburgh to York to meet some friends for lunch. We got talking, and it transpired that in her youth she had travelled and worked around the world, sometimes turning up alone in strange countries with no job or place to stay but always finding her feet.  She admitted that she just couldn’t be bothered travelling any more and I found myself agreeing with her. When I was a soldier I did my fair share of travelling – Germany, Canada, France, Belgium, Pakistan, south of England, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and the USA amongst others – and I think that got rid of any travel bug I may have had.

I fact, my aversion to travelling by air owes much to the Royal Air Force, to whose tender mercies we were often forced to submit to go on training or operations. The RAF always insisted that we present ourselves at some God-forsaken airfield in the middle of nowhere at stupid o’clock, then made us wait for hours on end until we eventually boarded. 

It’s entirely accurate to state that we army boys detested the RAF. We thought them rude, ill-disciplined, offhand and inefficient. On one infamous occasion our commanding officer almost decked an RAF sergeant who addressed him as “mate” after many hours delay. In the Gulf in 1991 the RAF ground crews, who unfortunately shared our living accommodation, were the scruffiest, most slovenly, and unimpressive body of men or women I have ever witnessed. Bad leadership was to blame, as it usually is.

The thing is, I quite like being in other places and seeing new and different things. It’s just the getting there that puts me right off.  If only we could be transported instantaneously to our preferred destination, without all the hassle and drudgery of normal travel. “Beam me up, Scotty, and put me down in the Dordogne!” Wouldn’t that be marvellous?

But even the train let me down this time. In Sheffield we ground to a halt. Some poor soul had been hit by a train down the line, and as all trains heading south had to go via this particular accident’s location we were well and truly stuck. People were philosophical; what’s a delay compared to someone losing their life? We all settled in for a long wait. Then, miraculously, another train arrived at a different platform which allowed us to bypass the delay. We all piled in and were shortly on our way. Arriving at Bristol 1½ hours late, my daughter met me in the concourse and all was well.

But travelling? Best done when you are young. There’s no joy in it any more for us oldies.

© Stuart Crawford 2018

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