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Sunday, 22 July 2007

Journey of a Thousand Miles begins with an Upper Class Twit

Hull To LOndon:

The Hull Trains Pioneer Class 222 to London is almost full. Seats are reserved weeks in advance, online, but onboard, the only indicator that a particular seat may be reserved is a small badly printed ticket stuck in a slot at the top of each seat that says "Hll - Ldn Kings X. Rsvd" . Seats are numbered, so if you have your seat reserved, you alone are provided with the details of your reserved seat, for example, my ticket says "Coach D, Seat 40". I do not bother arriving early to claim seat 40, as I know that I hold the vital document which awards me sole ownership of said seat for this journey. Naturally, this system is designed to give tourists no chance of working out what is going on, and arguments/embarrassment is a common occurance as hoards of late arriving Brits proceed down the train moving foreigners out of reserved seats. It feels a lot like apartheid of the informed.

My seat is unoccupied, despite my late arrival, and I stow my pack, gratefully. Not so the seat behind me which two tired looking elderly people have claimed. They look Malaysian or East Asian, both still beautiful, but definitely not native English speakers, as I discover when I inquire whether I can pack my hand luggage in the rack above them.

The first stop past Hull, and a "gentleman" joins our coach, definitely English, accoutured in an unmistakably English upper class uniform - tweed flat cap, cotton shirt, closely checked, brown v-necked sweater. His lower garments - "pants" in Canadian, "kecks" in Scouse, "trousers" in Standard English and "casual slacks" in Burberryese, attract me. Whatever they are called, his pantaloons are definitely beige, and are exactly the right shade of bland that Nel has been suggesting we paint our Halifax house, in order to make it sellable. I consider asking him for a sample, for later reference.

Our fellow passenger stows his luggage, then paces the carriage, concentrating on his ticket and the numbers above each seat. He arrives at the seat behind me and confirms his identity with the type of "Oh!" that only the English upper crust can provide. "Excuse me," he continues, "You seem to have my seat. Do you by chance have reservations?". The beautiful people look at him without comprehension for a second then the man produces his tickets, perhaps thinking that 'Roger' is a ticket inspector. "Ah, yes, well, I have reservations for this seat - you see?". Roger thrusts his ticket at them and is still met with incomprehension, and some slight alarm. Roger, gets the gist of the situation rapidly, and resorts to the tactic that many people use when met with language difficulties. He repeats his claim to the precious seat, this time in a much louder voice, simultaneously gesturing at the seat wildly, as if he's re-enacting the last fifty yards of a particularly close race in the coxless fours, before miming that the older gentleman should hop out of his seat like a frog, whereupon, it seems, Roger will ski gratefully into place.

The penny drops, or maybe the older couple just want to escape this madman, and they start to get up. "OH, I SEE! YOU'RE TRAVELLING TOGETHER," Roger shouts, "TOGETHER" he repeats, miming a tug of war between the couple, "NEVER MIND. YOU.. " (Pointing).."STAY. STAY." He wanders off down the carriage past four unreserved seats, leaving total confusion behind him, elaborately examining all the stickers on the back of other reserved seats, and explaining loudly "Small misunderstanding, not to worry, should be able to find a seat, not a problem, not to worry" his tone suggesting that if his forefathers could conquer an Empire, then parking his arse on a train should be no problem for him. Roger's left no-one on the train in any doubt of their position in society.

Journey to NS, via Iceland

In London, I meet Davy Jones, Di, Alistair, Christine and Charlayan, none of whom, like most people living in England, are remotely close to the stereotype I've just observed. Actually, Dave and Dianne are part Australian, Christine is Welsh, Alistair is probably Scottish and Charlayan is Turkish. On board Icelandair flight 606 the next day, the stereotypes are out to play again, and I am, at first, taken for Icelandic by the cabin crew, who offer me something that sounds like "sjarbinkdo". I shake my head, and ask for "coffee" in English, but decide that I'll be Canadian on this flight, injecting as many "I'm good"s (for "No thanks"), and "Awesome"s (for "yes please"), and "Can I get?"s (for "May I please have?") into my conversation for as long as I can stay awake.

In Reykjavik (there, I've finally spelled it correctly), I bump into members of former-Beatle Pete Best's band, and immediately revert to Scouse. This automatically allows the Canadians next to us at the bar to assume we're all Icelandic, and they loudly inquire of us where the washroom is, miming Pontius Pilate ski-ing. We shrug, and direct them to the Security Checkpoint watching to see if their hilarious miming gets them into trouble.

In Canada, I meet a Lebanese taxi driver, who assumes I'm Southern Irish Catholic, and begins railing against the English. In the liquor store the same night, I'm taken for Australian, and I'm too tired to disabuse anyone. Later during my trip I meet up with my American, Canadian, Scottish and French Canadian friends and nearly sell my house to another taxi driver, this time a Mexican guy. Our realtor is, as they say, of Polish extraction, and our friends cats have their ancestral origins in the Fertile Crescent of Uruk, Babylon and ancient Lebanon, stopping off in Maine to become Polydactyl on the way.

I decide to become simply English on the return journey - I'm too tired to be anything else, particularly French, which I once pretended to be on an Air Canada flight, tutting loudly at the English version of the Safety Video and mumbling "Mais d'abord!" and shrugging Gallic -ly at the same info given in French. This charade rapidly unglued when the knowing cabin staff took me at face value and had great fun during the flight chatting to me in French. Which, given my typical British language skills, may as well have been Icelandic. All flights have been great, and travelling, any travelling, has, as usual been brilliant for watching people.

I return home to my Ontario barn cats, and God-knows-what-nationalty co-habitee, who immediately announces that we're going out for drinks with her Italian friends, then next day we will be visiting our friends Mike and Christine, who's combined background of Chinese, Irish, Burmese and English with New Zealand citizenship does'nt even register until I start writing this entry. All I've done is paint a house, but in the last ten days, I feel like I've been around the world.

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