Travel Broadens the Mind

A day in Rye in East Sussex does not sound every-man’s idea of excitement but it is change which is important to the psyche, not distance traveled.

Sameness can be a deadening influence in life, even if your days and the place you live happen to be pleasing.

Its always a tough call these days to get up and go, even if the destination is only an hour or so away. But the very making of the effort is in itself a novelty and thus beneficial. New roads, new vistas. New pubs and churches and coffee shops.

Not for me now, day long hikes in the mountains; or not very often anyway. But pleasure can just as easily be found on your own door step, without having to brave sniffer dogs and gender neutral concentration camp guards at what pass as airports.

As my son would say “CBA”. For those unfamiliar with the language of modern English youth, the acronym translates as “Can’t Be Arsed”. CBA to travel that is.

A chum invited me to go to the Caribbean recently, to the island of Bequia. Nice as it looked, the prospect became less inviting when I realized the length of the flight to Bermuda. Even less enticing was the additional short leg to Bequia. Probably much like travel in China 30 years ago, where your companions tended to be chickens and other livestock. I wonder if it is still like that on the short hop up to Canton? Or whatever they call the place these days.

In any event, real travel is just too utterly uncivilized for me, now that I have become a grumpy old man, broadening though I am sure it still is.

So I have become less adventurous and Rye seemed enough of a slog this cold and sunny winter’s day.

The effort was worth it though. The fine English church was just that – fine and English, with stained glass by Burne-Jones and Benson. A good organist to boot it seems, though I could find no opinion on the choir.

In the right mood these glorious old streets can soothe, elevate. What is it about the past that is so attractive to the imagination?

Certainty I suspect. I would disagree with LP Hartly – it is the future not the past which is a foreign country. It is in the future where people do things differently; in those old cobbled streets they have done their bit and so far as we know, the past is immutable.

Perhaps a comfort in antiquity is all part of the human quest for permanence in a universe where the only constant is change. The certainty is illusory of course, but part of the solace of visiting the ancient, is the pretense that it is not. The mental sleight of mind which allows us to deceive ourselves that all was and is right in this ancient town and that here safety is to be found. Refuge from the buzzing world of real people and all their fierce and urgent emotions.

I try these days to let go. Let go of annoyance, anger, ambition even. And the trip was interesting in that respect also. The journey was, to be frank, frightful. As is usual with GPS, we were taken on an eccentric and curious route. Down narrow country lanes fit for donkeys but where, nonetheless, The Man in the White Porsche still presumes to strut his stuff. The Man in the White Van also. And the Travelling Salesman and the Mother in a Hurry.

What I noticed, by and large, was anger, arrogance, impatience and aggression. All of which I let pass.

It’s odd when you decide to let the world pass you by. Curiously therapeutic but hard to believe that that was once you. The impatient and mindless younger man, convinced that the road was his and everything that therein is.

Is it part of enlightenment perhaps? The once important becomes absurdly irrelevant to you once you see through the veil of the blinkered lives that we have condemned ourselves to live.

Hence all the greater my joy in meeting the Contented Craftsman – who by his own admission has only just realized that Queen Victoria is no longer on the throne.


  1. Travel clearly does bestow numerous benefits when it goes well, and often, the struggles that may ensue, some of which you enumerated so well, often prove worthwhile ultimately, if not especially enjoyable at the time. I also have less fortitude for hiking, although it is what I most often do while travelling, and it does require a fair degree of keen interest in a location to get my system started in that direction. One of my most recent trips took me to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, and it was a marathon of walking in order to see it all, but the rewards were fully worthwhile.


    1. Hmm… Yes, it is usually worth the trouble once you make the effort. I lived for many years in the Swiss mountains which I loved. One of my best friends lives in Klosters (where I lived for 8 years). We walked and skiied and walked and skiied winter and summer. My wife and I are going to steel ourselves to get on an airplane and meet up with the old fellow in Zurich for dinner. Another one of those all too rare people who has never said a bad word about anyone. A true joy to be with. He is one of your fellow countrymen : born in Pocatello, Idaho but lived most of his adult life in Franfurt teaching maths to ungrateful kids at a US airforce base. Some people are simply worth making the effort for. Sniffer dogs notwithstanding….


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