Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Pisa, it's not Buxton (Moho zone magic)

Three weeks to the day after we trundled our way from Buxton Market Place to home, having survived the vicissitudes of the 199 Manchester Airport Skyline Express, it was the about-turn and back to Pisa moment. Excitingly however, we were heading back to the airport by train, a relatively rare experience for us. We are expert at depositing off-spring at Stoke-on-Trent station, and in fact made five trips there in the last three weeks, clocking-up well over 200 miles of parental taxi service in the process. We are infrequent train travellers ourselves, so the mundane journey from Buxton to Heald Green, via Manchester Piccadilly we regarded as a minor adventure. Dutifully we went through the usual pre-flight paranoia of double checking that the neighbours' cat was not accidentally locked in our garage, the boarding cards and passports were packed in the cabin bags, I had remembered my wallet, ("Yes, Pete, you have packed your wallet, that's the fourth time you've checked") and we enacted a familiar ritual stop a few hundred yards from home to pay necessary homage to Kleflethe, the goddess of mislaid ignition keys.


The trip started auspiciously; the chap in the Buxton ticket office enquired if we were over 60, then sold us a day rover ticket that was £4.00 cheaper than a single. On the one hand, it's good occasionally to experience some advantage in ageing - but does discount rail travel really compensate for arthritic knees, pills for hypertension, delayed pensions, and.. what was the other thing I was going to write, hmm, now I have quite forgotten, oh well... Though the cheap tickets were welcome, the fact that we both quite clearly looked over 60, when we regard ourselves as only barely in our 60s came as a bit of a blow.


I amused myself by taking photos of silly messages from Northern Trains, whose lame attempts to personalise their rolling stock typifies a current trend towards infantilising public spaces. Perhaps we have all been trapped in an endlessly repeating episode of Thomas the Tank Engine. There's a terrifying thought.

Victorian wrought iron - a thing of beauty and wonder
Without too much delay and only one platform change at Piccadily station announced in crackly Swahili, we were deposited a few yards from Heald Green Premier Inn. The Pisa flight departed next morning at 7.25., requiring a 4.50 am. rude awakening. The best thing you can say about a Premier Inn plus Beefeater experience is that it is unsurprising. The beds are comfortable and the restaurant serves food which if not exactly appetising, at least is edible. On the whole being a consumer in the UK is about being realistic, the chances are you are not going to be delighted, but mass commodification and standardised quality systems usually assure a tawdry, but inoffensive customer experience. The culture has become, to quote 'Pink Freud', 'comfortably numb'.

Gill, looking inexplicably delighted by the Beefeateer menu.
Our three weeks at home has not all been drab and dull. It was great to see our kids and catch-up on what they are up to, and our trip to the Northeast reassured us that Gill's Dad, now almost 92, is doing OK living independently, and the twice weekly care support is working well. 

Otherwise, the weather has been cold and wet mostly, so we ended up stuck indoors. I have spent far too much time on Facebook, though some of the discussions on Motorhome Adventures about the effect of long-term travel on ones sense of home have been interesting, One member with the striking name of Myles Davies, has recently started posting links to his blog. He is attempting a regular vlog, I will be interested to see how that works on the road. Up until now iffy wifi presents challenges to the would be vlogger, but cheap 3G Europe-wide coverage by firms like Three, make video more feasible as a medium. It is literally a question of 'watch this space'. Myles' partner has developed some tips for long term travel in a section of their blog. She seems to have done some work as a motivational trainer in the past, so some of it is written in the kind of goal-orientated guru-speak that you might expect from that line of work. However the points made are good ones, especially about long term travel not being a vacation, but a different way life. Another member described motorhome life and home life as living in parallel universes, which is true to a point.

The problem with the analogy is that although the universes may be parallel, they are imbalanced. The Moho-zone offers a changing perspective almost everyday, a pick-and-mix lifestyle that is varied and unpredictable. In comparison, the charms of home can seem drearily familiar and workaday. Furthermore, because you are a native speaker and the culture is familiar, you really do understand what is going on, and quite often that is infuriating. The blissful ignorance of being a foreigner, despite moments of confusion and bewilderment, offers a simpler existence. No wonder Buddhists see non-attachment as a necessary precursor to enlightenment, the emotional burden of belonging can be soul destroying . Leonard Cohen in 'Famous Blue Raincoat' pondered if his 'brother' ever 'got clear'. Do any of us? The only sense of belonging'that means anything to me is to the people I love - places and possessions, not so much. Maybe I do feel attachment to some of the stuff I have written, but in truth, what existence does the written word have other than in the mind of the reader?

In some ways it is nice to be part of an on-line group with a common interest. I suspect though, that Motorhome Adventures is more use to me, than I am to it. In fact having spent the last three weeks hanging out on the site I have decided that I have the potential to become an irritant, not exactly a fully blown troll, but a bit of an on-line pain in the arse. I really don't want to annoy people, so I have decided to limit my posts to motorhome widget talk, and sharing interesting places to visit. Once the talk goes beyond this, then my posts reveal a remarkable insensitivity to tone and register, as I weigh into unassuming chit-chat and banter hoping for lively debate. In the end, if you are graced with social ineptitude, then the best strategy is to hold your counsel. Face to face I manage OK, but on-line I misread the runes. I do find it really tricky to understand that my curiosity can be other peoples' tedium.

Enough! The itinerant life beckons once more. I've written most of the foregoing on the notes app on my iPhone as we are wafted southwards by Easyjet at 37,000 feet. Much of the time it has been cloudy, an ocean of cumulus with the odd snowy Alp glimpsed through gaps. Now we are descending through cloud, a grey fog, with a bit of turbulence, only a few minutes to landing. Soon, maybe, we will burst through the cover and find the Arno valley spread below. No, instead, we emerge to the west, flying a few thousand feet above a misty Ligurian sea. Up go the flaps. We bank above Livorno docks. They slip out of sight leaving a view of the grey rippled sea below. There is still snow on highest peaks of the Alpi Apuane to the north. Dropping now, slipping across Marina de Pisa's long sandy beaches, floating slowly over the littoral of umbrella pines, then skimming low across a chequerboard of fallow fields spread across the Arno's estuarial plain. Suddenly the runway - bumpity bumpity and we are down, now trundling towards the terminal, Maisy parked a couple of kilometres away. Goodbye, drab! Buongiorno Italia! A wall of heat greets us as we exit the terminal; next, a journey north though Spring on roads as yet untravelled. Moho zone magic!

Pisa airport - 10.45am -, 25 degrees - magic!
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