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Travel treats and rewards

Updated: Jun 13

I love travelling. I don't mean that I am one of those who collects countries and destinations, ticking them off a list of 'must see' places.

No; I like the people I meet along the way when passing through waiting rooms, airport gates, crowded trains, walking to and from the park. This week, during a 36 hour period I met a Taiwanese psychedelic musician who was reading 'The Way of Zen' by Alan W. Watts (1957) which led us to William H Burroughs and Vivien Westwood. He said he had met her son when doing some gigs in London. Small world. I was waiting for taxi to Da Nang airport - he was about to leave for Taiwan

27hours later, I am on a train from Manchester Airport to Leeds and a very handsome young Indian from Kerala sat next to me. He smelled deliciously of expensive cologne. He had a free day and decided to take a trip to discover York. He had a treat in store. His ambition is to be a cardiac consultant in the Middle East. He was footloose but I bet his mother is lining up suitable girls for an early marriage.

In a leafy neighbourhood of Leeds, I saw a display of red poppies at the local war memorial. I got chatting with an elderly lady who is obviously a pillar of the local community. She explained that it was the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings at Dunkirk so a special day of remembrance is being celebrated in Britain. She invited me to attend a pate and wine event at the local church institute on Sunday and also to speak at their winter programme of interesting people. I was flattered.

I have never enjoyed routine meet-ups that seem to be the bedrock of a social life for many people. Routine makes me feel a bit cornered. But, I am never shy to start a conversation with an interesting looking stranger. I wonder what Dr. Freud would have to say about that.

There is something very freeing about the conversation with a passing stranger. Both parties understand that this is a fleeting moment and each will often impart personal details by way of spicing up the exchange. If I were to talk about the philosophers of 1960s USA, most of my friends would change the subject to political scandals, what they were doing in the 60s or close me down with a corny quip but strangers don't do that - not if you get the measure of them by asking the right questions. Strangers know that you will soon be gone.

Give people the opportunity to tell you about some aspect of their lives and they will blossom. Suzanne, of Green Lane, Meanwood has lived in the same house all her married life and feels blessed to enjoy such an interesting and delightful valley in the heart of a big city. E.J., the Taiwanese musician is also a designer and maker of custom, gentlemen's shoes. Matthews, the Indian medical student is looking at a further 15 years of study and experience before becoming a cardiac consultant.

In his fascinating book Hello, Stranger, William Buckingham writes that there is “something freeing about strangers, about the possibilities they bring. Strangers are unentangled in our worlds and lives and this lack can lighten our own burden. This is why strangers can unexpectedly become confidants.” He quotes the sociologist Georg Simmel, who found in his research that strangers trade “the most surprising revelations and confidences, at times reminiscent of a confessional”. Catherine Carr in The Guardian. Nov 2023.

These chance encounters and the exchange of ideas, histories and intimate secrets are an ingredient that makes travelling so enjoyable for me whether I am reaching half way across the globe or simply taking a short bus ride into town. These are the rewards of public transport that will never be reaped by drivers in their cars who travel day after days without any surprise meetings.

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