Travel is a subject of universal interest. It is in the neighborhood of impossible to find anyone who doesn’t want to travel and in most cases more than they have had the opportunity, or more importantly, the cash to do so.
Many are the students at university who expect to make the obligatory pilgrimage to Europe, and maybe beyond, at some point in their student life. Sometimes before starting studies, sometimes upon graduation, sometimes as part of a study term abroad and for the truly blessed, all of the above. Ask anyone about to embark upon the retirement stage of life and travel is most often at the top of the wish list. Just getting away and having the chance to experience something unlike your home environment appears to be a necessary part of the human experience.
I too felt a constant obsession throughout a good part of my life to experience new places, new sights, new sounds, new smells, new tastes, new almost anything.
I think I can say that I come by the travel bug honestly. My zodiac sign is Sagittarius and by the Chinese calendar I am a horse. Both have wanderlust bred in the bone. In addition my sainted grandmother reinforced the travel urge. It would only take the smallest hint for her to plunk a hat on her head and pack a bag
I grew up from the age of six until I left home at seventeen for university with my maternal grandparents and my mother in Biggar, Saskatchewan, a town of 2,500 hardworking souls, depending upon the year and census taker. Not the location for a cosmopolitan life but no matter. It provided more, a core of independence and spirit of adventure, obligatory for anyone who wishes to journey far from the front doorstep.
My first journey happened in March 1954 when I accompanied my grandparents to England, land of their birth and my mother’s too. Contemporary tales to the present day will follow.
I have been selective rather than exhaustive in my choice of travel tales. My intent is to be descriptive, not confessional as I wander back through my memory. I mean to offer a fun and lighthearted recounting of events, not a baring of the soul.
I first ventured beyond the shores of our fair and pleasant land at the age of eleven in the company of my grandparents to the land of their birth and that of my mother too. My grandfather retired that year from doing his best to improve the bottom line of the CNR and at least on one occasion acting as a mid-wife to a First Nation’s woman on the once-a-week never pass a milk can express from Biggar to Battleford. He now wanted nothing more than to visit his family in England, especially his mother, 86 at the time and mostly bedridden. She was very much the matriarch of the family and ruled all before her with a tongue that sliced butter and steel with the same ease. Little more need be said to attest to her strength and stamina than she gave birth to eighteen offspring, sixteen who survived, including two sets of twins. My grandfather was the senior of the brood and my grandmother loved to tell the story that while at school he got the cane every Tuesday for missing school on Monday to look after the ever-growing horde of siblings so his mother could do the equally growing pile of laundry. Great Grandmother considered it a minor price to pay since family comes first and in the family she always came first.
I guess when you consider the time and circumstances it is no small wonder the families were so prodigious. Both of my grandparents were born in January 1889 of a humble background and in my grandfather’s case lived in a two bedroom flat. Modern forms of entertainment and the pill had not yet been invented so when the lights went out there was little to do but go to bed and guess what, the inevitable happened __ time and time and time again. I remember once hearing that what really reduced the birth rate among the backcountry Indian population of Columbia was the introduction of free transistor radios. I can’t confirm that story but always found it intriguing.
I could not believe how the gods had smiled upon me when I was told that I would be saved from the final four months of the rigors of Grade Six to join my grandparents on a train trip across Canada to Halifax and by ship to Liverpool and again by train to South Shields in Northeast England. I had just pulled the winning ticket on an all expenses paid trip and the bonus of missing the last four months of Grade 6 _ Merci petit Jesus.
To justify my absence from the classroom to my schoolteacher mother and my Grade 6 teacher I had to agree to pack along my textbooks and solemnly swear on my arithmetic book to crack each, once a day. I did negotiate a period of grace for the trip from Biggar to Liverpool on the grounds that the travel would be education enough for that short time. I packed the books away in a box and attached a ‘Not Wanted on Voyage’ notice. I really wanted to attach, ‘Not Wanted, At Anytime’. I have to admit I attached the notice in a rather loose fashion in hope against hope it might fall off and the box disappear into the never, never land of lost luggage. The gods did not shine upon me with favour. All came off the boat in Liverpool in good order.