Monday 2 December 2013

The things you see when you haven't got your gun!

That was what my unreconstructed HOD back at Newent Community School said when he saw one of the ancillary staff heading off to the gym in her exercise gear, to a roar of laughter from the other men in the staffroom. Her name was Julie; I'm pleased to say it took me 3 days to remember his name was Bob. It was 1983 and male chauvinism was still rampant, especially amongst middle-aged, fat, bored English blokes like Bob: when you tut over how PC life has become, remember how uncomfortable it could be back then. But his comment came back to me the other day because I heard myself echo it with "The things you see when you haven't got your camera" - having just witnessed a duck flying right in front of me, quacking loudly, with another flapping behind it, the first bird's tail feathers clamped in its bill.

These days such sights are captured forever thanks to cell phone cameras, and if I had any pockets in my exercise clothes, I would have got that one too. Out walking is the only time I'm separated from my phone now: so different from my blasé attitude to my first little clockwork Nokia. Then, Nokia was #1 - now, it's stopped doing phones entirely. It was only when I met some Finns at Colleith Lodge in Tairua that I learned it was a Finnish company (that had previously made gumboots). That's the nice thing about staying in upper-end accommodation: you meet the other guests and often dine with them, which can be interesting and entertaining. That's what fabulous places like Treetops near Rotorua have in common with backpacker hostels, and it's a real plus.

Stay instead in a regular hotel, even top-range ones like the Fairmonts we recently enjoyed in Canada, or the Peninsula Hong Kong, or any other of the swanky places where I've been lucky to lay my head, and you never get to exchange a single word with the other guests. The Pen (as we old hands call it) makes a feature of it - we were checked in in our actual room, not even having to linger in public at the reception desk. And the really exclusive guests there helicopter onto the roof and go straight to their suite without having to slum it by walking through the lobby at all. Maybe that's important if you're a celebrity and tired of having the same conversation with everyone you meet: but for us ordinary people, whether travelling alone or as a couple, it's nice to have the chance to chat with different people from different places, to learn things, swap experiences, and hear new jokes.

You can also make observations, such as that Germans speaking English say 'actually' a lot as a kind of filler, giving them time to think of the word they want. Whereas English-speakers - speaking English of course: what else - say 'um'. And that's kind of satisfying, in terms of national stereotypes, don't you think?

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