Away from it all…

Getting away from home always seems to result in a number of insights into various aspects of life.
At the moment I am on my Easter holiday from my work in school.  I enjoy the change and the chance to see my family – both daughters came “home” and it was quite like old times!

We also made the journey “up North” to see my parents for a couple of days, then over East to take student daughter back to university, then back home the next day.

I realise that in some parts of the world, a journey totalling 750 miles would be no big deal.  Across the USA, almost-empty roads stretch from coast to coast; in France, I’m told, the main autoroutes are similarly clear of traffic.  But here in England, our motorways are packed with cars and lorries, nose to tail, impatient to overtake with the illusion that once past the next artic, the road will be clear all the way to their destination.  Sometimes all of the traffic travels at around the speed limit of 70mph, but if there are road works, or an accident, or just through sheer weight of traffic, it slows dramatically until we are creeping along, sandwiched between each other, overheating our clutches and our selves.  There is no pleasure in such a journey.  And that’s just the motorways.

Crossing the country from west to east, we decided to take the shorter, scenic route through the Peak District, rather than the longer motorway route.  In the middle of a busy Friday we found ourselves on the wrong road in Cheadle, a short but unpleasant interlude until we came across the right road, more by luck than judgement.  Lucky that we had two navigators and a road atlas to help.  The Peak District was as beautiful as I remembered, but then came Chesterfield, Staveley and Worksop.  Again the traffic slowed almost to a standstill under its own weight.  And we felt that weight, impatient as we were to arrive at our destination before the shops closed.

People these days expect to be able to travel where they like and when, at their own convenience and in their own vehicles.  But the roads are full.  There are too many people and too many cars.  Almost all of our goods are transported by road these days too.  Britain is a small country – in America we have seen that when a road is inadequate for its traffic, they build a whole new road through a previously untouched piece of land.  We have no untouched land, no wilderness, and if we did, would we want it to be wasted on roads?  We have beautiful countryside, but it is precious.

However, there are advantages in living in some of the busier areas.  In Cheadle and in Chesterfield, in Staveley and Worksop, it is possible for the people to find any commodity they want within a mile or so of their homes.  Food, clothing, furniture, hardware, carpets, curtains, antiques, lighting, restaurants, pubs, social clubs.  I saw all of these on the same street, and not just one of each but a choice of several.  Not only supermarkets but butchers, greengrocers and bakers shops. And people using the shops, going from one to another like bees in a hive.  Even in the city, it’s only a short walk from the student village to a market in the centre to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from a choice of stalls.

At home I have to drive 3 miles to go to a small supermarket.  In the same town there is one greengrocer, one baker and one fishmonger (no butcher).  And an eccentric but rather expensive hardware store.  After that it’s about 8 miles to the next supermarket and greengrocer.  Or 10 miles in a different direction to a different town.  If I want a carpet, I know of three places within 10 miles, but all in different directions, or I can go to the city, 15 miles away, for a similar choice in a smaller area.

Sometimes I feel I’m writing like an explorer in a strange country!

Does living in towns make life easier, or does it just make being a consumer and a traveller easier?

Maybe being in the country is slower and harder, but more real, less materialistic? More minimalist?

But don’t human beings need variety, change, stimulation, to keep us from becoming stale, dull and boring (and bored)?  This is why I like to get away from home, but I don’t do it enough, stuck out in the sticks on the road to nowhere, every trip a major journey.

No Room For Secrets

By Joanna Lumley

A while ago I came across one of those things one is forever seeing on the internet; a suggestion that by listing the people (real or fictional) that you admire, you might gain some insight into what is important to you, and how you would like to be.

I was surprised at how many I could list, and among them was Joanna Lumley. As she is almost 10 years older than me, perhaps I could use her as a role model? I like how she is slim and well-kept, and yet not afraid to be seen without her make-up and hair-do. She is nicely spoken and polite, has enthusiasm and a sense of humour, believes strongly in certain things and is not afraid to stand up and be counted. Her TV programme about a trip to see the Northern Lights is excellent.

But beyond that, I wondered how much I really know about JL, and so I borrowed this book from the library. In it she uses a tour of her London home, with its many rooms full of art and memorabilia, to recount her background and life story, and to share her interests.

From a rather exotic background, with grandparents and parents moving around India and the far East, she went to boarding school in England from about 11. Travel is important to her, it seems to hold no fear or anxiety. Her tips on packing for a trip are something that everyone should know – quite minimalist! We learn a lot about her experiences at school, which she enjoyed, and her days as a penniless model and single parent, not through stories of hardship and woe, it was just the way things were.

I learned a lot about JL that I didn’t know before. Her home must be extremely cluttered; no hint of minimalism there. Every room is full of items handed down from her grandparents or parents, given by friends or relatives; things brought back from her extensive travels; pictures and photos of places she’s been; diaries from every stage of her life. The woman never seems to discard anything! Everywhere she looks she encounters memories.

DIY came as a bit of a surprise to me. Curtains she made herself, floorboards she mended, walls painted, tiles grouted. All highly imperfect (as described) but she doesn’t seem to mind. Second home in Scotland sounds idyllic too. And the garden, similarly haphazard and crammed with plants, including fruit and vegetables and a fishpond.

Diet – weight loss is touched on. Several old-style model diets are described, such as the toast diet! JL says one way is to eat only really bland food so you don’t particularly enjoy it and so you don’t eat so much. Sounds dull to me. She is a vegetarian, and is quite insistent on the evils of modern farming, but with several misunderstandings about the way agriculture works. For example, the price of outdoor-reared pork is too expensive, so no wonder people buy imported meat. No hint of understanding of the cost of rearing animals and the need for the farmer to make a living, nor of the possibility that the foreign farmers might be more heavily subsidised than we are. No discussion about the relative levels of animal welfare required by law in different countries. On balance I am not in agreement with her on food matters, but neither am I so slim and healthy-looking, so who is the winner?

On manners, she admits to being “old-fashioned”, preferring gently courtesy and good manners, and not liking modern ways, the way people always want to know such personal things about others. I’m with her on that.

On balance, I think I still admire Joanna Lumley. With her background, I could never be like her, and I’m not at all convinced by her vegetarianism and sentimentality about animals. But I suppose everyone is allowed a few blind spots here and there.

>Grown up kids

>4kool is home again! Back from 8 months in Australia, working and sightseeing.

It’s lovely to see her again. She has met so many people and had so many experiences, she hasn’t stopped talking about it for two days. And she used to be so quiet!

On the other hand, she hasn’t changed much. Already she has taken control of the spare room with The Sims on the computer and the TV to watch Friends and all her favourite programmes. Long sessions on Facebook, MSN and on the phone to all her friends. Not much to do because said friends are all either working, taking exams, still away at uni. Clothes and “stuff” all over the bedroom floor which has been so tidy for the last 8 months.

Before she arrived home, we spent last weekend with 3kool, who is working and living in her own tiny flat 250 miles from our home. She proudly cooked meals for us and entertained us with visits to local attractions and to the cinema (Star Trek!) Very grown up, and not just playing at it either.