There are times when we simply have to accept what has happened, shrug off the good or the bad feelings, and move on with our lives. Other times when we should simply take a step back, collect our thoughts and emotions, and consider what is happening: whether it is too fast; whether it is meaningful; whether this is what we want for ourselves. The first flush of anger, or joy, is not always the best feeling to follow: it is not for nothing that there is a wise piece of advice given out repeatedly to those who are prepared to listen, that we should sleep on things before making too rash or too fast decisions. That does not necessarily mean that the first decision is incorrect, but there are always little things floating about alongside it which could have been forgotten or overlooked in the heat of the moment, which we might regret later, and I don’t think there is anyone on this planet who has not been disappointed, let down, done over by someone else in an action which could have been avoidable. I also think there is not a sensible person on this planet who doesn’t know that taking your time is not a sign of weakness or indecision, but a good policy as much as a secure way forward. And anyone who wants an immediate decision from us, who isn’t prepared to wait and allow us time to think, to consider all the possibilities and ramifications, is hardly a serious prospect.
My travels have been somewhat limited in recent years, as I have attempted to concentrate on more mundane and day-to-day things in a settled, grown-up manner. The travels of my youth, when I still had the strength to simply walk from one place to the next, have been replaced by a desire to take my time, to enjoy what is there as far as possible, and to see more of the background, the hidden, than just the open and tourist aspects of a city or country. Admittedly, much of the travelling I did in my youth was slow and considered, hardly a tourist action, in that I often stayed in one place for several months. But there were cities and towns where I only managed a few days, and perhaps feel some regret that I did not see as much as I could have done, off-setting these feelings with the knowledge that I saw far more than most, and continued on elsewhere to further my experiences where some might have given up. Much of my travelling now has to do with my interests, with helping charitable concerns, attending meetings and exhibitions, and little to do with seeing a city, exploring an area, experiencing something new.
My idea of finding something new has taken me, recently, into the city of Bremen which, admittedly, is not far from my present abode, but filled with interesting nooks and crannies worthy of exploration. Quite by chance I came across an open rehearsal for a dance project at the Theater Bremen, and had the pleasure of watching a group of seven young dancers rehearsing for a theatre project outside of the public gaze. Not only watching, but also being allowed to comment, to interpret and to be a part of the whole. It is many years since I was backstage in a theatre, many years since I have stood on stage and recited my own lines, or directed others in their acting, but the same feeling of enjoyment, sitting as a member of the audience rather than active participant, was there, and have had the pleasure of meeting up with several of those involved in the production since, as well as attending the opening night. Bremen is easy enough for me to visit, being relatively close to my home, but not a place I would like to live unless – and here is a thought which often comes to my mind – I was able to live in one of the “villages” within the city. I do not like the compactness of the city, the hustle and stress of the city, the anonymity. I have lived within these communities for many years in the past, although it is hard to call them communities in the social sense of the word, merely in the fact that we lived close to one another as a form of community. I do like the cultural side, the coffee shop, theatre and museum side, but can find these just as easily without having t live at close quarters. Having been born and raised in a major city, the pleasures of living outside and being able to travel in come closer to my heart.
The trouble with living within one of the small communities within the city, one of these villages, is that we would be surrounded by the stress and strain, by the noise and bad air which flows, unfiltered and unchecked, regardless of local atmosphere into your own area. The small village I have in mind, because of course I have given it thought, has little or no parking space for even the smallest cars, is overwhelmed by tourists during the better seasons, and costs an absolute fortune. I compare the cost of buying the house I live in now to a small apartment there, adds the additional costs of travel to mine and parking facilities to there, and know I am better off here. An apartment in a quiet, village-like area of the city would be one-third the size I have now, but four times the price. So I travel into the city on the bus, when I am not staying late, or with my car which, because the city is crowded and expensive, I have to park on the outskirts and then take a tram or walk in, and am quite happy with the arrangement. On a lighter note, this arrangement negates the “Your place, or mine” question which is often posed, and saves a lot of personal embarrassment, as well as the wheat from the chaff (the married from the single) so to speak!
An advantage of living outside the city, quite aside from the peace and quiet which I enjoy, is that you cannot go to every single event on offer. People living outside, who have to travel in, tend to be more selective and pick out the better events to attend, thus promoting good work rather than mediocre. So I have a far better chance of finding something that I want to see, wish to experience, than some and, if there is nothing, I don’t just take second best, but pick up my book and settle down for a good read instead. Not that all the books I have, or which have crossed my desk, are inductive to good reading; I’ve made a few mistakes here too. Recently I grabbed hold of a book recommended by a certain Bill Gates – who has gone down in my intellectual estimation immeasurably since – and discovered it to be an arrogant, almost unreadable attempt to market thoughts through the innovations and discoveries of others. Thoughts which tended to be rather strange, such as the idea that the world has been made a better place since Homo sapiens exist, and would not have survived without us! I have taken a few ideas from this work which are worth considering, but which I tend to disagree with, and will probably write an essay or two based on their assumptions but, aside from that, I found the book unpalatable and laid it to one side unfinished; something I rarely do.
Travelling with little or no money? The tale of my youth, and a wonderful experience it was too. Admittedly I did not travel abroad at the time, sticking to an area that I knew reasonably well, but I did manage, as a teenager, to move about, sleeping rough and sticking out my thumb to get to the next town, for a while. In Germany we have an apprentice scheme whereby certain trades, predominantly in the building industry – roofers, carpenters and the like – complete their trade training, and are them expected to wander across the country, suitably attired, and work for their living without a home base. This wandering tends to be for three years, and there are many companies which survive merely because of these people and the fact that they do not require much, are not allowed to earn money, and need to produce good work. Whenever I see them beside the road, thumbing a lift in their old-fashioned clothing, I pull over and take them on to where they need to go, or as close as possible. Perhaps I wish the thought of that freedom for myself once again, but I am too old! I have reached the stage where a sleeping bag under the nearest bridge is not the sort of comfort or adventure that I desire, even when I abhor the idea of paying for a hotel room, and all it involves, when I am literally sleeping and nothing more than that.
My travels begin again this coming weekend (7 April), as I have to go down to Offenbach, near Frankfurt am Main, for a committee meeting. The meeting itself begins at nine in the morning on Sunday, which seems to be a strange time, but there is a twenty-five year anniversary celebration on the Saturday, with gala dinner and all that this entails, and putting the two together seemed like a good idea at the time. There my regrets over the cost of a hotel room really come out, since the function is taking place in a Sheraton hotel and, as I am sure you know, they are not exactly inexpensive. It is one of those suit and tie functions – and I also have to wear a few other special things because of my rank and position within the fraternity – which means lugging a heavy suitcase across Germany. I prefer travelling light, but I’m not travelling down to Offenbach and back in a suit and tie! And then, two weeks later, I have to go back down to the south of Germany, into Bavaria, for the annual general meeting – suit and tie, three nights, lots of formal things to do, very stuffy. Neither journey gives me much chance to see anything of the surrounding area, but I do have memories from my last visits there.
Last year I discovered that in Frankfurt am Main, where I was also visiting for a committee meeting, there are no public toilets in the city centre. Rather than spending my two or three free hours enjoying the sights and sounds, I spent them trying to find a public convenience for necessary relief. This reminds me of living in Belize, where the facilities were also not of the highest standard, but we did have a way out. I lived in a small room in Belize – well, two rooms, with a bed, a fan and a stove to cook on and, most important, a metal bucket – without any running water; so, no shower, no toilet. To shower each morning my partner had to go out to the stand pipe in the street – something men were not meant to do, women’s work and all that – and fill up the metal bucket for me. I would then go out into a small shed in the yard, and pour the cold water over my head, soap and lather, rinse with the bucket of water. Fascinating experience, and very refreshing indeed. As I mentioned, also no toilets, but we did have a metal bucket.
In the second town in Bavaria, where I am going at the end of the month, we stay in a massive hotel, consisting of four separate houses built like apartment blocks. For some reason it is called Sonnenhügel, which means Sunny Mount. I can safely say that it is high up on a hill, far above the surrounding area, but the sun hardly seems to have heard of the place. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had snow. If anyone is unlucky enough not t be in the main building, where all the facilities are, they have to either walk around the hotel to get to the main entrance, or take a series of tunnels under the buildings to get there. Getting to and from breakfast is an adventure all on its own. But I hardly call this all travelling, as it is work and I rarely get out to see any of the surroundings. One of the blessings of youth, the failings of old age.