Our topic of journeys was such a hit that we could have chatted all day! We decided that we would meet again to carry on the conversation, so this blog post is the first of two on the same theme. In this one, our stories centre around journeys that especially stand out in our memories, including those in which we felt exhilaration when travelling that way for the first time, or under our own steam.
Come on our journeys with us, hear our laughter as we recall those adventures and thrills, and listen to our reflections on the past, and regrets about what might have been. If our stories trigger memories of your own, we’d love to hear them too.
A conversation with Nury Marvi by Joe Sykes
The most remarkable story which I’d like to focus on in my contribution to the blog is Nury’s story of getting flying lessons back in his home country, Iran. Thanks to his strong foreign language skills, he translated texts from English into Farsi for various purposes. The most exciting came when he was asked to translate some brochures and manuals for a flight club. Much of it was very technical but with the help of a good dictionary he managed to get the job done. When he was finished with the translations, instead of accepting a payment for the task, he asked if he could take a flying course, and the company agreed. Soon, he was up in the air.
The course involved 45 hours of tuition over a couple of months. He quickly developed his skills as a pilot, and when he took the final exam, which was 15 minutes of flight, he passed with flying colours. He had enjoyed the course so much that he wished he could continue with the lessons. The next course would have been 110 hours of tuition and led to an exam: the certificate for solo flight. Unfortunately, he would have had to pay for the next course and it was prohibitively expensive, so it wasn’t to be. Nevertheless, he continues to be fascinated by flight even today.
During this particularly lively session, I found that every experience which someone shared sparked several of my own memories, whether to do with recreational travel, commuting, or exercise. It was such a pleasure to hear about Margaret William’s skiing escapades over the years and her fascinating journey to the Soviet Union in 1957 as a newlywed and a participant in the World Festival of Youth and Students. My own stories are far less exciting by comparison, but joys to recall nonetheless!
The oldest memory I have relating to physical journeys is of my dad teaching first me and, three years later, my younger brother, how to ride a bike. His method involved threading a skipping rope through the handlebars of the bike – generously bequeathed by a next-door neighbour and since painstakingly de-rusted – and pulling us along. One flaw with this approach: I may have put off pedalling for a while after learning how to do it, just to get a free ride! I often thought somewhat longingly of those early bike rides last year, while cycling to and from university, though at least there are fewer hills in Manchester than Bath.
Margaret’s and my discussion soon shifted to our most harrowing, now most amusing, experiences. Mine is an ill-fated journey to Tallinn when fog in Amsterdam seemed set to determine that my partner and I would miss our connecting flight, making a mockery of my partner’s meticulous planning and deliberate arrival at Bristol airport several hours before our first flight was due to depart (yes, he’s one of those people). It was one of those times when the world seems to be conspiring against you: of course only one door was open to let people off the plane and we were at the very back of the queue; of course the departure gate allocated to our next flight was the furthest possible one from our arrival gate and we had to pass through immigration; of course I dropped my bag during our frantic sprint through the airport and its contents, including my passport, went skidding across the polished floor…
More than once, I suggested that we give up our race against time, but my partner staunchly refused the possibility of defeat and, amazingly, we made it on to our flight. Sadly, the same cannot be said of our luggage. Even so, when we were met by our friends in Tallinn, I marvelled that I could have considered abandoning the trip. We soon learned that the fog had got the better of everyone’s luggage but, fortunately, only some of us had been foolish enough to pack our wallets in the hold!
When younger and very fit my husband, Frank, and I loved to spend our summer holidays in walking high level routes in the Alps. On one occasion we flew to Milan and then took a train. Fortunately, we had reserved seats because the train was very crowded and hot. It became quite oppressive, but then we stopped in the station in Verona when there was an announcement that the train would remain for 10 minutes. That would be time enough for us to step out separately to stretch and have a drink. I went first and dashed to the tap on the platform to splash my face and hands. Imagine my horror when I realised that the train was moving and seemed to be picking up speed! I was in a panic. I was wearing a tee-shirt, a pair of shorts and sandals – everything else was in the train, rucksack, passport, money and Frank.
I ran after the train, calling out to the guard who was standing in the open doorway of the guard’s van, but he waved his arms at me shouting something I could neither hear, nor understand. Then, to my immense relief, the train stopped. Shortly after, two splendidly uniformed men (Italian men seem to love elaborate uniforms with many shiny buttons) marched on to the platform and into the train. By this time, I had reached the guard’s van and I followed them, walking along the corridor to our compartment where I found the two officials talking in voluble Italian to my husband.
After a certain amount of finger-waving and head shaking, they left and were to be seen marching smartly back along the platform. Perhaps they thought that this strange Brit had missed a chance to get rid of his wife. But happily, they must have decided not to make any charges. I learned that, thinking that I was being left at the station without any luggage, Frank had decided to pull the communication cord, never mind the consequences! He also said that he had always wanted to pull a communication cord – but he was careful to say this in English and after the men had left.
A conversation between Susan Baker and Jean Thompson
What a great session this was. I hardly knew where to start, so many memories came flooding back.
I shared the breakout room with Susan, but I fear I might have hogged the session. Susan had told us all earlier of a wonderful journey through Mexico she had had with her husband to visit their son and his then partner (now wife). They travelled to the South of the country away from the influence of America, where they experienced the more rural and traditional life of local people. Susan was obviously very impressed by the different culture and lives of the people they came across, and the much simpler houses, even though she was surprised to see most houses had access to a TV.
In the breakout room, Susan also told me of other flying experiences she had had with her husband. He had been an RAF pilot so usually gave her a blow by blow account of every flight and what the pilot would be doing at any given time. I am not sure Susan always wanted such detail but accepted her husband enjoyed telling her. Since the death of her husband she has not taken as many holidays but remembered one to New York to visit family when she decided that as she was on her own, she would fly first class. Good for her! The free champagne on board sounded tempting.
I’ve already said that I hardly knew where to start so I am very glad that Jolene has suggested we continue this theme the next time we meet. As much as I love being in my own home, I have always enjoyed the experience of travel, and the feeling of independence. My first experience of this was when I had my first bike, when I was probably 11 or 12. I was the only girl with three brothers and whereas my brothers were given much more free rein, my very traditional father thought girls should not be quite so free. He was very reluctant that I should have a bike, but I treasured it. I used to ride round the local streets feeling free and excited that at any given moment no-one would actually know where I was. Townies that we were, my friends and I used to pretend that the bikes were ponies and we were galloping across the countryside. In the summer holidays we used to go into the local primary school playground and cycle round an imaginary obstacle course (until the caretaker invariably chased us out).
But then … disaster. One day I was cycling along a reasonably busy road when I took it into my head to cross over. I was careless, I admit, and didn’t look exactly where I was going. A man got out of his car to tell me I had been very dangerous and I should be more careful. He was doing it for the best of motives but unfortunately for me my dad was just getting off the bus at that time and saw this brief ‘conversation’. He probably thought the worst and he was never a man to discuss the ins and out of any situation. That was the end of my biking days. I was forbidden to go out on it again and it was sold pretty quickly. The end of freedom for a while. I did get another bike but much later in life when I was married and had two children.
There are so many stories of much happier experiences in cars and boats and planes but they will have to wait until another time!
So many memories came flooding into my mind thinking about journeys. Remembering how I had progressed from my bike, to cars, boats, trains and planes. How my world opened up from the small community where I was born to being fortunate enough to travel the world.
As a child, most journeys were done on foot to school, church and to visit friends and relatives. It was a twenty-minute walk to the nearest bus stop, and the service was very infrequent to the nearest town. A very rare treat was if a relative we visited gave us a lift home in their car.
As a family, we greatly looked forward to the annual “Textile holiday weeks” at the end of July, when the local mills would shut down. We usually went to stay in a seaside boarding house for a week. I remember my mother thoughtfully packing one small suitcase for the five of us with all we would need for the week. She carefully prepared a shopping basket with a couple of flasks of tea and egg sandwiches to take with us. Such excitement getting on the coach to travel somewhere different each year, especially if it was my turn for a window seat.
When I started work at sixteen, my parents bought their first car, a racing green Ford Cortina. I can smell the newness of it now. My father loved looking at maps to plan the route of a journey and to find a different way back home. He enjoyed driving, but sadly my mother suffered from travel sickness so couldn’t wait to get to our destination.
At seventeen, my father taught me to drive, he was very patient. Firstly, along the very quiet moorland roads near our home. Then as I progressed and we both worked in Huddersfield he would drive to the outskirts each weekday, then let me drive up a very steep hill with a roundabout at the top, to give me the confidence to drive in traffic.
After I passed my test, I became an unpaid taxi driver being asked to ferry my mother, aunts and grandmother to the shops, or to pick up my twin brothers from their various activities. When I left to become a student in Manchester in 1966 the Barnsley bus ran through Holmfirth to Lower Mosley Street bus station once a day.
In May 1969, I had attended an interview at Crown Square for a teaching job. I went to the bus station to catch the bus home in my interview outfit. When the bus got to Greenfield there was a sudden snow storm, and the bus driver decided not to go any further in the dreadful weather.
I asked the bus driver to let me off the bus as I did not want to go back to Manchester for the Spring Bank holiday weekend. Two men in an estate car took pity on me when I put out my thumb to hitch a lift. We had a very tense journey over the moors, hardly able to see the road in the drifting, swirly snow and fog. When we finally reached the centre of Holmfirth, I thanked them very much for the lift. One of the fellows cheerfully said:
“Thank goodness we made it, we are on our way to blow up a mill chimney, and you were sitting on the dynamite!”
When I was about 4 or 5, my Dad bought Bessie, the first of several second-hand cars from his friend who owned a garage. “Blithering thing” I remember him saying as he turned the crank handle to start it in the cold, or sought help to push it downhill for a jump start. We all piled in, (no seat belts in those days), sometimes with grandparents too. Next came Trixie, an Austin Cambridge van, in which we travelled overnight to Torquay in 1962, my Mum following the route directions Dad had written on a concertina of postcards sellotaped together. Dad enjoyed retelling the story of being stopped by the police, who were checking the back of all vans travelling at that time of night. The policeman who shone his torch into the back was very surprised to find three little girls asleep lengthways on makeshift beds!
I took driving lessons when I finished at University and started work in Bradford. After weekends back at home, Dad would let me drive back for practice across the moors through Haworth. I became very proficient at hill starts, and some wild weather! My test was postponed twice because of snow, so I was relieved when I finally passed it the first time.
I didn’t buy my own car, a yellow VW Beetle, until three years later, when I’d moved to work in Manchester. I bought it just before setting off on a madcap holiday in Ireland with two friends. How we managed to fit three sleeping bags, a tent, food & all our luggage into that rear-engined Beetle I don’t know! I was the only one who could drive, the traffic in Dublin was busy & it would have helped if I’d known how to do parallel parking! I managed somehow, we drank draught Guinness, wandered the streets of Dublin singing Molly Malone, quoting James Joyce and Yeats (we’d all studied English Literature), and spent a day losing money at Leopardstown race course near to our campsite. Then I drove across Ireland on winding roads to the Riverstown Music Festival in Sligo which was brilliant, despite constant rain. Clannad and Donovan were headliners, and all the pubs had live music. Such a memorable trip, with the only mishap being a dent in the front wing of the Beetle (something to do with having a second glass of draught Guinness and misjudging a gateway, as I recall).
I kept that distinctive car for a further five years & was well known for it. At my leaving party from Manchester libraries, my colleagues wheeled in a cardboard yellow Beetle filled with presents!
Talking about journeys brought up so many vivid memories for the group, such as Margaret Kendall’s yellow VW Beetle reminding me of cruising along the seafront in Barmouth in my dad’s yellow Ford Cortina. This was the first car I remember my dad having and some other travelling firsts came up for me too.
The first time I travelled without any ‘responsible adults’ was in 1997 when I went to Ibiza for my 18th birthday. We arrived at Birmingham Airport and learnt our flight was delayed. What else do you do when stuck in an airport without your parents for the first time? Drink beer and eat birthday cake that your mum gave you! I was only 17 at the time and the slightly more lax rules back in the 90s meant that it was easy enough for the 18 year olds to get me a drink. The airport was packed and we sat tucked away in the corner hoping that nobody would ask to see my passport.
When I was younger I wanted to work as cabin crew. It seemed glamorous and exciting, but then I actually went on a plane and realised that the high life was not for me as I was petrified. In 2007 I went to Valencia with friends and I needed to return early for a friend’s wedding. I was considering cancelling due to my fear, but a friend suggested I see the GP, who prescribed Valium as I sat there crying at the prospect of flying ‘solo’. It helped me a lot along with the advice to wear my sunglasses where possible in the airport, be glamorous and nonplussed as if I was a frequent flyer. I actually prefer flying solo now, it’s so much more relaxing when you only have to think about what you need and want, which is normally a beer in departures looking calmly at the chaos ensuing around me.
The first time I had a night in Europe alone was about 10 years ago when I flew to Malaga a day earlier than my friend, which became unfortunately memorable as I had food poisoning and started being sick in Chorlton! I got to Manchester Airport with 45 minutes to spare before my flight. Thankfully, there was a 4-hour delay so I had plenty of time to be sick and sob in the departure lounge as I felt so ill. I can remember at one point sitting next to a pilot, who was working on her laptop, and I was just crying on the phone to my mum. Luckily, I stopped being sick in time board the flight and then when I got to Malaga, things got much better as they always do in the Spanish sunshine.
This week’s topic struck such a rich vein of memories that choosing which of the countless journeys in my life to write about proved very problematic. I finally settled on two which were significant for different reasons. The first of these involved memories of this bus stop on Barlow Moor Road opposite Cundiff Road. It was at this stop where my journey began which could also be described as a “rite of Passage” in that is my journey to my University in Cardiff, South Wales and my moving away from home for the first time. I remember it as quite a low-key moment with no tears or fanfare but my father seeing me off at the bus stop and slipping a £5 note in my hand as he bid me goodbye.
The second journey is one of several I made from Victoria Station to Ireland via the ferry from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire. Again, this proved to be a difficult choice. There was the trip I made with a school friend in which after arriving in Dublin (in the 1970’s) we rather unwisely decided to hitch hike our way to Cork. Then there was the journey I made to visit some friends in Dublin one St Patrick’s Day only a few months after giving up alcohol!!
The strongest memory though is of travelling over with my younger brother from Victoria Station, Manchester to Dublin (via the Holyhead/ Dun Laoghaire ferry) and continuing on by train to Castlerea, Co. Roscommon.
This trip is a special memory, for me, as it was one of the few, and perhaps the last, I made with my brother, John, who passed away in 1998.
Most of my memories of journeys are linked to train and bus stations and ferry ports as well as the trains buses and ferries themselves. Although I have made a smaller number of flights in airplanes these tend to be not so memorable, perhaps either because they are all much more recent or by their very nature are of a lot shorter duration. There is one exception, though, and that is the memory of my first “flight”. I was 39 or 40 and had not previously travelled by plane when an old friend who had a pilot’s license, offered to take me in a plane he part-owned on a trip from Barton Airfield. I used the word “flight” advisedly as in fact it was more of a “take-off and landing” as once we were airborne my friend informed me that due to the low cloud our flight had to be curtailed.
Tony’s Picture credits
1) The bus stop on Barlow Moor Road, taken by me on the 12th November, 2020.
2) Victoria Station booking office – 5th February 2018, Wikipedia by G 13114 licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 4.0 International license
3) Castlerea Main Street, 24th November, 2018, Wikipedia by Darren J. Prior licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 4.0 International license.
“Much have I travelled in realms of gold”. That line of Keats is about reading Homer for the first time, in the translation by John Chapman, but I have always thought of it as referring to reading anything – poetry or prose fiction. Anything that takes you into the world of the imagination, where you can travel to places you will never see, places that don’t even exist except in the imagination.
My mother was a reader. She used to say that she had thought that feeding me would be a time she could read and travel in other lands but that, if I heard the turn of a page, I would unlatch from her breast and turn my head to find out what it was, that rustle of paper so close to my ear. She told that story to suggest that, right from the start, I wanted to read; to me, it sounds as if I was a nuisance.
We shared books. For a long time, when she was fit and in her right mind, we shared travel too, setting off to Spain, Italy, the battlefields of the Somme and to India, where her family on her mother’s side comes from. She was alone, a widow for many years, and my partner, whom you would think I’d want as a companion, was not ideal. He liked wandering city streets, moving from bar to bar to try a pastry here, an amuse- bouche (yes, he called it that) there. A flaneur. He liked to drive in a high end car, in luxury, and to stay in hotels.
Mum and I liked to walk for hours into the countryside, to travel by train and coach, and to stay in hostels and small pensions, though we made an exception in India.
We could be silent and lost in our own imaginary journeys, or we could share a joke, discuss the books we were reading, plan our next day’s travel.
Now, of course, mum lies in a bed with metal sides, her legs unable to bear her weight; and her mind has left and is heading outwards on a journey she is making unaccompanied in spite of family around to change her bedding, to spoon-feed her meals. Her eyes are closed and she opens her mouth like a little bird for small mouthfuls of pureed stew or soup.
I had imagined that we would be travelling together for longer than we did. It must be fifteen years or more since we last went away together, and she is far away now, and vanishing into the distance, though still just within sight. I miss her.
This poem is about an imaginary journey, because I miss my mum:
Deep Space: on my mother’s dementia. Your goodnight began before I knew what it was and, in my dreams, away you travel, abducted by aliens. You are somewhere hidden, in a gleaming aluminium pod, moving away from the pull of the earth - as if in slow motion ever further off against a darkening sky, but swift as galaxies towards the event horizon. The man in my dream with his wife on a lead tells me it’s because the universe is moving away in all directions and, if she is not on a lead, then she may achieve escape velocity and vanish just like you, away, leaving only empty space where once you orbited. I had no time to say the vital words; send them now toward the stars, " I love you. Travel safe. So long. "