An Englishman Abroad – Part 1

In a change from our usual bloggery i’m typing this while currently sitting on a plane awaiting French air traffic control to allow us safe passage over their land. While the wonders of travel are often vaunted as a way to increase the mind, my more immediate concern is that of decreasing the amount of time it is going to take me to reach my intended destination.

This, I fear, is hardly the attitude a gentleman traveller such as myself should be adopting. For centuries now the English have been regarded as a travelling breed. Be it in the form of explorers such as Captain Cook, Charles Darwin, or Ranulph Fiennes, or the more aggressive form of colonization that we were once famous for. Our island home necessitated the use of the sea to reach our neighbours, and once the navy had set sail it saw little point in stopping at the shores of France (which was probably closed due to a harbourmasters strike anyway), instead heading out into the great ocean expanses in search of adventure and an indentured workforce.

The English aristocracy invented the Grand Tour, which saw them take trains across Europe while hoping not to find themselves in a carriage with a small Belgium detective and a collection of upper class cultural stereotypes, in order to overcome the boredom of privileged life and to see the world. In the sixties the package holiday became a way for the great unwashed to also sample the pleasures of the continent, while generally searching for somewhere to have a proper cup of tea.

Now, in our globetrotting, carbon footprinting age, we take to the skies on airlines such as Easyjet (whose hospitality I am currently enjoying from 33,0000 feet, France having temporarily sorted it’s life out) which pack us in like cattle and invent ingenious surcharges with which to lighten our burden of personal wealth.

Gone are the days of dressing for dinner on the Orient Express while we discuss rumours of new scientific discoveries we heard about on the wireless. Now travel is a chore, best ended, rather than part of the adventure itself. Would Dr Livingstone have taken to the wilds of Africa if he’d had the Discovery channel? Could Scott’s ill-fated expedition been avoided if he’d saved up enough air miles? Who knows…or indeed dares to dream?

Instead, iPad to hand, I hurtle through the clouds towards a country I know little of, with events to transpire that I cannot predict. But I like to think that a little of the British spirit of adventure goes with me, that coursing in my blood is a measure of the wonder that drove my countrymen to seek out brave new worlds, new civilisations, who boldy….oh wait, that was Star Trek. Well, to use a phrase made popular by one of the illustrious Captains of the Enterprise (himself a Brit) – let’s see what’s out there…

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