Issue 119: 2017 09 07: Turning Left (Chin Chin)

07 September 2017

Turning Left

Choosing the way forward.

By Chin Chin

Just as an army consists mainly of infantry, so most of the people you meet in life are slightly pedestrian.  That isn’t to say that they don’t have their uses.  Hewers of wood and drawers of water are as essential to the 21st century as they were to the Middle Ages.  It is just that the nature of the repetitive tasks these people are fit for has changed, and one thing which they are certainly not fit for is deciding where to go on holiday.

“I know, I will go down to the travel agent” they say as if that itself was some sort of decision.  Once there they gape at the selection of brochures and then ask rather gormlessly “What do you recommend?”  The travel agent smiles in an ingratiating wolf-like way.  Here after all is the opportunity to unload one of the less popular packages, “Enjoy the sun drenched beaches of the north of England” for example.  That is not to say that the North hasn’t got wonderful beaches – the view of Bamburgh castle from the sea is as good as one could wish.  It is just that the wishing factor has got a bit out of control when they are described as sun-drenched.  On occasion yes, but if you acquire a pile of lilos and tubes of sun cream in expectation – well, you know what you will probably be giving as wedding presents for the next year or so.

No, that limp-wristed approach to holiday planning is definitely for life’s foot soldiers.  The cognoscenti like you and me are not the sotto voce, leave-it-to-the-agent, types.  Indeed no.  We arrange our travel with the decisiveness of the great.  Did Coeur de Lyon ask his travel agent to suggest a destination for the Third Crusade?  Of course not.  He said “Palestine via Sicily and make it snappy.”  Did he take the standard passage, the one available to members of the mediaeval equivalent of Saga?  No again: he booked the special excursion via the dungeons of Austria with the Blondel concert thrown in.  Exotic but only following precedent.  Alexander didn’t just order the cheapest available rover ticket around the known world?  No, he insisted on the special puzzle tour with a knotty problem to solve.

Of course things have moved on since then.  Modern marketing and communications have seen to that. Richard did not get a follow-up message from Trip Advisor asking him whether his welcome by Saladin had been entirely satisfactory.  Nor was he greeted, following his ransom and return to England, with a message from recommending hotels in Vienna for his next trip.  More to the point, though, for many holidays it is no longer necessary to involve travel agents at all.  You can roam across Europe, and no doubt a long way beyond it, picking accommodation as you go from airbnb and the hotels suggested by an Internet search.

That has a great advantage. It means that little has to be done in advance and that provided you book your ferries in good time you can drift between destinations, making it up as you go.  It also means you have a perfect answer to those in your family who ask “have you booked the accommodation yet?”

Still, it is possible to undercook things.  There you are, holiday-organiser supreme, coming out of the Channel Tunnel and reflecting on a job well done.  The crossing you booked went through without incident and you have the ticket for the return journey safely in your wallet.  You sit back in the passenger seat and close your eyes.  Time to look for a hotel in due course.

“Left or right?”  You wake up with a start.  Not having a fixed destination in mind you have not switched on the satnav.  You look desperately at the signs.  Dunkirk left, Paris right.  Which is it to be?  Er, the junction is getting closer.  Your knowledge of the geography of France is limited.  Didn’t someone say “always go left”?  You have forgotten the context but it seems as good a rule as any and it is important to appear decisive.

“The Dunkirk road,” you say confidently, before remembering that the “turn left” advice came from a patronising friend who always travels business class on an aeroplane.

Still, you can hardly go back on it now without looking a fool, so sit tight and hope for the best.  After a little time you pass Dunkirk and then you become uncomfortably aware that one of the children is studying the map in the back.  Oh why didn’t you send it to a religious school, one of the ones that the inspectors distrust so much?  Respect for God and filial obedience is what schools should teach.  None of this pointless geography stuff.

“I didn’t know that Holland was on the way to Italy” says the child.  “Google doesn’t seem to think it is.”

If only you had thought to ban mobile phones in the back of the car.  You could have given the excuse that you did not want them watching porn.  That would have put paid to seditious crap like Google maps.  Still, too late now.  A more imaginative approach is required.

“We are going to Italy by the northern route,” you reply.

“Why?” That is rather a poser.

“To see interesting things along the way.”

“What things?”

“Well, the towns of the Hanseatic league and Charlemagne’s empire”.

“What are they?”

It is while you are pondering a response to that, that the car comes to another division in the road.  Left or Right?  Quick now.

“Er, left”.

“Why are we going back to Calais?”



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