Review 2010: The Opinion Engine: 25/31: "Home" and the farthest you've ever been from it (suggested by Kat Herzog)

RAF Bruggen

Travel One of the reason I’m probably such a fan of international cinema because I’m much less travelled than you might expect. Despite having seen much of the north of England and bits of the south, I’ve only been abroad twice (three times if you include Ireland) and only then for about two weeks altogether. Stick a compass in Liverpool and draw a circle, though Paris seems far away, the absolute farthest is Bruggan in Germany were my uncle was stationed before he retired from the RAF and were I spent a week at his base in the mid-80s.

In writing about the trip, we come up against the somewhat fractured nature of my memory. At the age of thirty-six, I still feel as though I should be able to remember more about myself at the age of nine than mere images, the odd smell. But as I type, all I have are pieces of something, disjointed echoes of what my subconscious has decided are the most important incidents, dumping the rest to history. A sign that I’m getting old, but I’d be interested to know if the memory of other people's childhood equally dimmed.

Having reached Dover by train then coach we discovered our overnight Townsend Torenson ferry to Zebrugger (yes, that route) had been cancelled and so spent the night sleeping on the floor of a Sealink France ferry to Dunkirk, my head resting underneath my Mother’s shoulder. The smell was horrible, a mix of booze and cigarettes, and I wasn’t old enough to know that this wasn’t just how ferrys smelt but something brought (and bought) on them. I was fascinated by the concept of Duty Free even though I didn’t really understand what it was.

I dozed through most of the rest of the journey to Bruggen, though I must have woken up briefly during disembarkation because I saw another set of passengers waiting to board the ferry who at the time I thought were refugees. I have an image from waking up early to see a classic landscape of fields full of tulips and windmills and of guards checking passports, which was the moment when the driver realised that he was taking us to the wrong destination, having reached one too many international borders.

Even at that young age I was fascinated by the continental differences. Visiting the NAFI supermarket in Reindalen was much the same as attending a Lidl now, familiar products, different company labels. Everyone seemed to drink Fanta Orange, far more than at home and chocolate treats were in the form of Milka in the violet-coloured packaging. There was also the sense of scale, giant supermarkets having not reached Speke in Liverpool yet, a couple of years even before the Asda in Hunts Cross opened.

Everything else is very vague. One day we took a bus into Elmpt in Holland, where I was excited to buy a Disney comic translated into Dutch at a department store, skipping over the Spiderman because it hadn’t been reprinted in the UK yet (even then I was avoiding spoilers). On another I was taken swimming at the base, which was oddly deserted. And there was a call home at an isolated phone box (my Dad didn’t travel due to work) when we discovered that we’d missed that last episode of the tv version of Fame.

None of which will get me an invite onto Radio 4’s Excess Baggage, no swapping tall tales with Sandy Toksvig. Mum says that when we reached London, because we had some time to wait, she took me on a promised visit to Hamleys but she couldn’t afford the left luggage and presents and so she nearly killed herself carrying our bags too and from the toy store. I feel guilty that I don’t remember that act of kindness either. Which rather suggests that in 2011, I do need to get out and travel more, finances permitting and luckily I already have a road map now.


Francis Irving said...

Two things...

Makes me want to drag you to somewhere properly extreme - Cambodia maybe, but not just to Angkor Wat, overland from there, north-east up and through to Laos.

Countries outside of Europe (and less so, the US) are just so different. You, or at least I anyway, can spend days, weeks just wondering about without going to any particular attractions, just sucking in Asian cities or rural African paths.

Secondly, I want to know what you did in Paris!

Stuart Ian Burns said...

Sorry, I meant to include a link. Paris, as featured on this very blog: