For the week that’s in it and with all the commotion across the Irish Sea I thought I’d reflect on my own travel experiences in Perfidious Albion.
My first time on English soil was as part of a school rugby trip over 30 years ago. I can’t remember the name of the village we stayed in but I know it was near Taunton in Somerset. My first impression of England, as I sat squashed in the mini-bus seat which I had been allocated (I think there was 20 of us in a bus that could safely carry 15), was of being slightly overawed by the infrastructure and in particular the road network. Our driver (a teacher at our school) must have been similarly distracted as we ended up 45 miles from London on our journey from Holyhead (Taunton is c. 160 miles from London). Perhaps it was the scale and grandeur of the road signage that confused him. Irish signposts at the time very rarely, even on national thoroughfares, exceeded those simple white elongated triangles angling in various directions from a central pole, but these motorway road-signs were works of art bringing to mind Mondrian at his finest, even though I hadn’t a clue who he was back then.
My first substantial anglo-trip was in early 1996 when I decided to go land-bridging to France after the Christmas holidays. At the time I was on Erasmus, studying in Paris (or Cergy Pontoise on the outskirts to be exact), and thought it would be a nice adventure to visit friends who were studying in Oxford and Cambridge at the time. It was a great trip and was neatly book-ended by a boxer shorts & negligee party in the student residence at Oxford and a hovercraft trip across the English channel. You could not have two more opposing insights into English society. The first was like the last days of Rome with opulence and flesh aplenty and while it might sound extremely appealing there was something about it that clashed with my slightly repressed hiberno-catholic upbringing. I ended up slinking away after an hour or so as I was unable to relax with so much skin on display outside of a rugby dressing room! The second was rough as hell and I’m not talking about the waves outside our vehicle. I have yet to see anybody neck more John Smiths (lager) in half an hour than the overly tattooed man immediately to my right on the trip from Dover to Calais. Given the amount of alcohol that I saw consumed on that crossing it still amazes me how a business case couldn’t be made for it to keep going!
More recently my trips to England have centred around London and in particular the business areas of Canary Wharf and the City. The bulk of my time on these excursions has been on public transport (or the Heathrow Express which is basically overpriced public transport) or in conference rooms. These tend to be uneventful with the highlights generally being the ability to check what’s going on in the West End as I travel up and down numerous tube escalators, always nice to find out what Jason Donovan is up to! There have been a few non-business related forays, with a party in Islington which ended up with the neighbours hosing cold water over us in the back garden, while an industrial size tub of mayonnaise was thrown at the front door being a particular highlight. I believe the tub of mayonnaise came from some disgruntled locals in a nearby estate who had been refused admission to the party earlier. To this day I still don’t know where they sourced this particularly large tub of mayonnaise and why they felt it was a good use for it!
Trips with the family have been few and far between however it would be remiss of me to leave out our trip to Peppa Pig World. There were a few lessons that I learnt from this particular journey. (i) Southampton (where Peppa Pig World is located) is further away from London than you think. I had believed that by setting out early from Victoria station we would have plenty of time to enjoy the delights on offer on the south coast, two hours later I wasn’t so chipper! (ii) Kids get very excited over the darnedest things, even (or especially) when I think it is unwarranted. I laughed at the two burly security guards escorting the six foot Peppa when I first saw them, ten minutes later they were more than earning their corn as a swarm of youngsters tried to show their appreciation for their heroine. (iii) The theme park (Paultons) outside Peppa Pig World was actually a lot more fun, particularly the spinning tea-cups which I believe are Niki’s (my wife) favourite thing in the whole of England. This is particularly ironic considering she doesn’t touch a drop!
I look forward to many more trips, hopefully without the need for passport checks!