On my welcome page is a potted or summary “About me”.
Here is a much longer rambling version which focuses on my travel background. Enjoy.
The age of innocence
At six o’clock on the evening on July 23, 1914 the parishes of Fermanagh and Tyrone faded back into the mists and squalls of Ireland, and a strange darkness fell upon the map of Europe. With the onset of World War I the problems of Ireland paled into insignificance for the foreseeable future. Long after World War I Fermanagh and Tyrone remained in the mists and squalls of Ireland.
It was thus always with great excitement when on the rare occasions the mist lifted long enough and my bedtime hour hadn’t passed that at a tender age I would go outside, stand by the dairy wall, and look across the valley at the moon – Sammy’s moon – as it came up from behind the distant hill.
Sammy used to come down from his moon once a year and visit us – bearing gifts of chocolates and bringing with him his wind-up gramophone and collection of 78s. I rarely saw, and even more rarely received, chocolates as a child and only the man in the moon had a gramophone which played, my then favourite, tune – Paddy McGinty’s Goat. I promised myself that some day I would visit Sammy, the man in the moon.
We didn’t just receive visitors from the moon. Two aunts of my father (my grand aunts) used to visit us every year – aunties May and Mona… our very own Dame Hilda Bracket and Dr Evadne Hinge who came from, I know not where. I will always remember the stir it caused in the village when the village’s only taxi driver picked them up from the Enniskillen bus depot some 15km away, for without doubt his biggest fare of the year. Again they brought me chocolates but alas, no gramophone accompanied them. If I wanted to see a gramophone I needed to go the moon.
It transpired that my aunts came all the way from Bangor, County Down – just outside Belfast and some 130 kms away, much further away than the moon. The moon, of course, I could see from home. After I had been to the moon I would go to Bangor.
It came as a great shock to me one day when Father announced that we would be going to Bangor that summer. I was probably around 7 or 8 at the time and Father announced that the trip would be somewhat longer than 130kms as we had to avoid Belfast – the infamous Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ had started a year or two earlier.
Much preparation ensued – Father, who fancied himself as a mechanic, took the car apart and rebuilt it. It was off the road for weeks but he finally got it together again with only a couple of previously required bits no longer required. The night before the big day Mother made sandwiches for the trip and packed the hamper. We were so excited. It took the whole of the next day to get to Bangor (preparations did not include getting a map!) though we finally made it. I felt sure that my upcoming trip to the moon would be a swifter affair – I would plan it myself.
My grand aunts, getting older, stopped coming to visit us so our trips to Bangor became more frequent and we got much better at it. Eventually the car just needed refueling and sandwiches were no longer required. We were getting good at this traveling thing. Other domestic trips were added, including to the seaside at Portrush, and we eventually became brave enough to visit Belfast. ‘International’ trips to Bundoran, Co Donegal and Dublin followed. There was no stopping me now.
From innocence to naughtiness
It was time to go overseas. Of course, living in Northern Ireland that included the UK mainland. As luck would have it, out of nowhere appeared an aunt and uncle who lived in London. The big issue in those days was the cost of getting there – this was pre Ryanair and similar low cost carriers – so when we (my brother and I – naturally I wasn’t allowed to go alone) finally persuaded Mother to let us go it was boat and train. Over the next 4-5 years I was to become quite at home on the Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead to Euston, London route as many schools holidays were spent in London (purely to see my dear beloved aunt, don’t you know? The trips into the city were just an aside, of course!). So began a custom – maintained to today – that I never pass through London without calling in.
My aunt lives close to Heathrow and one of my favourite activities in London was to visit the airport. I always headed for Terminal 3. Those into political correctness avert your eyes now and go to the next paragraph. Terminal 3 – in those days – had a monopoly of flights coming in from all sorts of exotic places – I would sit there for days and hours on end ogling at black people, brown people, yellow people, people dressed in what looked like curtains, table clothes and all sorts of other things and wearing headdresses I had never seen the like of. Television hadn’t arrived in The Rambling Wombat’s family home at this stage so this was all very novel to me and very, very exciting.
These visits to Heathrow were, I’m sure, what got me really interested in travel. I needed to fly but for now I had to be content looking at the planes on the ground or at the vapour trails as they crossed Northern Ireland en route the US.
While I don’t go to airports any more, especially Heathrow, for sightseeing purposes, wandering around airports remains a favourite thing.
Though while I like airports and don’t mind flying my preferred method of travel, by far, is by train. No doubt, those who know the London Underground – the Tube – will think me mad when I say I developed my love for train travel through travelling on the Tube. There is no other subway system like the Tube – that can be taken any way you like!
Notwithstanding that we went sightseeing, etc alone in London I was still under the supervision of family .. any misbehaviour would be reported back to Ireland. I needed some independent travel. Thus arrived time for a prelude to the Naughty Years.
While some adolescents run away from home to get away from family, my running away was done with the full intention of coming back and for what might now called a weekend city break, though mine was a midweek experience. One day my brother and I were home alone. It was about 9am and we decided (with no planning or pre-thought at all) we needed a holiday. Bags (including tent) were packed and a note prepared and left on the kitchen table. It read “Gone to Scotland – back soon”!
The plan was to hitch to Larne and take the boat to Stranraer. After that we had no plan – that was a problem for later. As we left the house a quick revision was made to the plan. We took a bus to Enniskillen, to avert the risk of a neighbour picking us up on the roadside and bringing us home! How embarrassing would that have been?
All went remarkably smoothly and we ended up in a camp site in Edinburgh before dark. It was here that guilt over took us and we rang home. It would be a major understatement to say that Mother was ‘displeased’ and, off course, I being the eldest got the full blame. Apologies were proffered and serious grovelling ensued. A truce was negotiated and we were given 72hrs to get home – this was more than we had anticipated. Perhaps, after all, mother was secretly proud of my planning and organisational abilities, my courage and resourcefulness. However, I wasn’t going to test this theory further – we were home by the appointed hour.
Ready, steady, fly – the naughty years!
The main course