These days, my ambulant abilities seem to be almost solely restricted to mechanically assisted travel – be it by plane, train or automobile. The only walking I really seem to accomplish is along endlessly long airport corridors towing a mid-sized wheely-bin load of cabin luggage supplemented by an eternally preferable mile or so of evening dog walking. So I thought that maybe it was time, if only because I haven’t had one for a while, to share a grumpy old moan about modern transport in Britain and beyond.
So – here goes.
Firstly: Driving. From now on, I vow to avoid the M1 at all costs. It is a hateful hell-hole of a road which just seems to have an endless series of speed restrictions and road works. If you need to get anywhere in good time you need to plan for an additional hour, or maybe two – particularly if your departure time matches that of the daily commuters. And if you dare to attempt to travel it’s length in the middle of the night, to get to an airport at stupid o’clock, then forget it: It will be closed at random places beyond any Satnav system knowledge and any diversion will sit you in a 3 a.m. traffic jam in the middle of nowhere. It is not a road – it is an obstacle course! Other roads to avoid include the M42, M5, M6 and the A1 North of Doncaster. Oh and the M74 – if only because of the ar****les in white vans hiding alongside bridges with speed cameras!
Secondly: It’s official. I really hate airports! I’m not going to boast about my supposedly extensive and exotic travels recently, as I want to be absolutely clear in expressing that international travel really isn’t glamorous these days. I’ve seen more than my fair share of terminals in recent months, particularly Heathrow T5, and though I still manage to maintain an air of pleasantry and smiles, deep inside all I can see is an endless myriad of:
- Parking nightmares. If you park within a mile of the airport it, you might need to up the credit limit on your MasterCard. In a word – extortionate!
- Transfer buses – a soulless mode of transport made worse by having to wait for one in a howling winter gale underneath T5.
- Queues – oh my god are airports good at queues – even if you are a fast-track flyer.
- Dragged hand luggage – just the best trip hazard going
- Security checks – requiring you to unpack, dismantle and repack a perfectly organised set of personal essentials in under a minute. I now understand why some people are so adept at dismantling and reassembling assault rifles.
- Pungent perfume smells, war-painted shop assistants and numerous pointless designer shops devoid of clientele.
- Miserable looking business travellers who huff at you if you cross their path.
- People rushing to get on the plane first. That one always baffles me – do they just want a nice big slot for their cabin bag?
- Overly long corridors: Yesterday I clocked up 2 miles …. inside two airports!
- Escalators up, then down and then in, out and shake it all about.
- Electronic passport gates that just don’t work and thus deposit you in another queue.
- Occasional dodgy foreign airport officials looking to bleed you of the odd dollar or fifty just to get in the country.
- Overly cheesy airline crew who try to convince you that flying with them is a pleasure
- And the treat of flying business class spoilt by a bloke in the next seat with a non-stop sneezing affliction and a disturbing twitch.
Thirdly: Rail travel. To be brutally honest, trains are my favourite mode of travel, but with a few conditions thrown in:
- I’m not travelling at rush hour and paying through the nose to stand next to a draughty door.
- I’m not sitting next to a student whose head-phoned music rhythmically psssts my ears like a night time blood seeking mosquito.
- I’m not sitting in the same carriage as someone who likes to shout down the phone and inform the world that he is “on the train!”
- I’m not sitting in a train with a small collection of loud mouthed, mildly threatening, drunk, tattooed prats.
- The train isn’t sitting at a red light for hours with the vague excuses of a “another broken down train blocking the line” crackling through the tannoy.
- My train’s departing platform hasn’t been changed with less than a two minute warning.
- It’s not cancelled!
All in all, travel seems to have lost some of it’s glitz. Yes, it is lovely to see new places and meet new people. Yes, I enjoy people watching and smiling wryly at those whose stress levels get a bit frayed. Yes, I like a window seat to watch the world below or the countryside whistle past. Yes, I sometimes like the challenge of getting from A to B without mishap and with just a little bit of comfort time to spare. Yes, I even quite like the occasional bumpy landing (thanks Storm Doris) or waiting on the runway during heavy snow and watching the plane get de-iced. But hell – I prefer walking!
You really are getting old!!
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I share your frustration with those electronic passport gates at airport. Especially as the chip doesn’t work in my passport. I’m increasingly finding that even when explaining this I’m still told to try the eletronic gates or that you can’t go to the manned gates until you’ve proven it doesn’t work in the electronic gates!
I agree about the M1 too it seems that at anyone time at least 50% of it has a 50mph speed limit. But on the M25 the M3 is often closed overnight at the moment (10pm to 5am). Not a problem if I’m on the M25 you’d think? But the highways agency have now taken to putting up a 30 (yes 30!) mph speed limit (backed up by cameras, of course) for 3 miles or so before the M3 slip road. 30mph on a virtually desrted 4 lane motorway because a road I’m not on and not going on is closed with a few comes!
Could not agree more with your thoughts on the Motorways, but as one who struggles to walk very far these days, I do love the train. I have found that the East Coast Trains offer a particularly fun journey. The views are spectacular, particularly as you get past Doncaster. There is no better view of Durham than from the railway station approach and as the train folds into Newcastle and later into Berwick, it’s just magical. Those engineers were just amazing.
However, the key note I would make is that one should plan to enjoy the journey, not the arrival. This way, if there is a delay, this becomes a delight. I Have found that it quickly brings out the best in train travellers. They are not to blame for the delay, nor can they do anything about it – unlike drivers who all think there must be a way or getting out of the mayhem and hence create a greater mess elsewhere. Train travellers simply fetch drinks for one another and sympathise with each other. They remember journeys which were far worse and advise fellow travellers on how to claim a refund.
On a recent journey we were all hoping the delay would be at least an hour so we might get a full refund – especially the guy who had paid full price rather than those of us who had got a great deal by booking early.
And then there is the young mother who is struggling to entertain her children. DElay suddenly produces a troupe of entertainers, new friends who will fetch drinks and snacks and young people who will quickly sacrifice their reserved seats to provide her with more room for the children.
So travel by train, but plan to enjoy the journey and make the most of the delays and distractions. But, to avoid the annoying stereo or phone conversation book the quite carriage. Alternatively you could use a line I saw on a long distance journey where a young man was on the phone and loudly for so long that the whole carriage was annoyed. An old lady took the initiative and walked up to the young man and said, in thew sweetest tones “Oh do come back to bed darling, I’m getting cold”. He quickly closed his phone and the whole carriage cheered! He moved to the lobby shortly afterwards!
So where’s your next walk? – you need to do one.
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