A Lifetime Of Nomadic Wanderings
WHEN I was a small boy, if my parents or elder siblings left any loose change lying around, I would pick it up and head for the nearest bus stop or railway station. You see, I had this incredible urge to travel, to find new places and seek out the remotest corners of localities, those that are not on the itineraries of travel agents or tour guides.
From an early age, London's bus blinds beckoned me with names such as ``Crystal Palace,'' ``Wormwood Scrubs,'' ``West India Docks,'' and ``Chingford Hatch.'' And the Victorian stations would tempt me with destinations such as ``Blandford Forum,'' ``Bures,'' and ``Edmonthrope & Wymondham.''
Fortunately, the opportunity to remove loose change from the house did not last long, for I was caught - and punished. My father furnished punishment he thought fit for the crime, but my mother saw through the problem. She called the family together and instituted a system whereby each earning member of the family contributed pocket money to those who didn't earn anything. It was not much, but it was enough to feed my nomadic urges.
Before I had access to the family change, I engaged in the most fundamental mode of passage. I walked.
After school and on weekends, I would walk, following those bus routes and ribbons of steel until I was exhausted. If I had no money for fares, I had tricks to ensure my means of travel. One ruse was to ask a policeman where I was. It did not take him long to figure out that I was ``lost,'' and I would be taken to the local police station. There, I would be given hot tea, a sticky bun or biscuits, and a few pennies to catch a bus home. Sometimes I would be run home in a police car after I told them that my father was also a policeman - which was true.
The second trick was more elaborate. When the lure of a distant destination was too strong to resist, and too far to walk, I would board a bus going in the opposite direction. When the conductor asked for my fare, which I didn't have, I would tell him my destination. He would immediately tell me that I was going in the wrong direction and stop a bus going the other way. It took me a little longer than normal, but I usually managed to get to ``Tooting Bec'' or ``Woodford Wells'' without a penny.
Later, thanks to my military service, I visited exotic places around the world. I gazed up at the rock of Gibraltar and marvelled at the construction of the Suez Canal. The blinding white sun of Aden, the teeming throngs of Bombay, Raffles Hotel of Singapore, and the cramped but thriving streets of Hong Kong, all have been added to my list of way stations.
Where did this passion for travel come from? It may have started when I was sent away from London as an evacuee during World War II. My earliest memories are of boarding a train at Paddington Station. The chocolate and cream carriages of the Great Western Railway and the huge green locomotive took us westward. I watched fascinated as the suburbs, with their neat privet hedges and mock tudor frontages, were replaced by equally neat fields and hedgerows, with assemblies of cows and sheep and horses hardly noticing the train as it carried me to my first exotic location.
I can still smell the coal and steam of the local train that took us up the scarfed valleys of southern Wales to Llantrisant and the lilting tongue of the Welsh.
In those carriages, full of children and comics and lunches wrapped in brown paper and string, I watched new scenes flash by me that were different from the bricks and mortar of London's endless streets. They told me that there was more than the world I lived in.
My passion for travel has been moderated and restrained as job and family have placed demands on my resources and time, but it has never waned.
When I have had to travel, for business or pleasure, I have tried to go beyond the ordinary. When I came to America, I booked my passage on the Queen Elizabeth. For six days, I was surrounded by Art Deco, teak, silver service, and deck walks - a kind of travel within travel.
Coming to America meant a whole new freedom of travel, and the means to accomplish it: the automobile. Now the legendary places of the United States were mine for the asking: New York with its falls and Arizona with its canyons; Detroit and Los Angeles, the king and queen of the kingdom of the motorcar; plus Canada and Mexico, hugging the United States at the top and bottom, all were within reach by simply getting in my car and putting my foot on the gas.
There is still much to explore. I have yet to travel the Trans Siberian Railway, the Silk Road, Route 66, and the Pan American Highway. When other people have flown in a Boeing 747 from the concrete runways of Logan Airport, I have boarded a freighter on a rickety pier in East Boston to cross the North Atlantic. When others take the shuttle to New York, I would rather ride the ``Water Route'' of the old New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, each clickety clack of the wheels ticking off the miles.
Despite the availability of mechanical travel, I often return to my first technique - walking. The intimacy of each step and stop along the highway and sidewalk open up a new world of houses, gardens, fauna, and flora and, more importantly, people.
Exchanging one place for another, and relishing the space in between, enables us to encounter a whole range of human history and activity.
Robert Louis Stevenson said: ``I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.''
I could not agree more!