Friday, January 25, 2008

Via Purgatory to Bliss

There was, I’m sure, a golden age of air travel. A seat which was less a stress position and more of an armchair from whose luxurious depths one might free oneself at will to saunter towards the bar for a leisurely whisky and soda and some euphemistic banter with the primly attired but nonetheless saucy BOAC air hostess. The flight was something of a mini-break, an opportunity to recuperate and receive a pampering until such a time as the wheels of the de Havilland Comet hit the runway in New York and normal life resumed. Indeed such was the glamour associated with air travel that I believe certain airports had observation decks from where children and whatever anoraks were called in the 1970s could enjoy a day out simply watching awestruck as the latest Boeings took to the skies.

Those days are, of course, long gone, and long haul travel is the closest thing one will experience to purgatory prior to one's eventual demise. That's because travel has become democratized or "opened up to the masses" and, consequently, one gets treated in the kind of brutish fashion that the plebeian class have come to understand is their lot in life. The whole ghastly enterprise has slipped from First Class to Steerage in less than a generation, with the airlines demanding nothing short of servile gratitude from their charges/customers, who really ought to be jolly grateful for the opportunity to transported to their destination more-or-less intact. I will spare you, dear reader, a detailed enumeration of the events that lead me to be pushing Ethan and his pram up Station Street in the freezing night some 29 hours after waking up in Portland, minus my underwear, my remaining clothes reeking of vomit and duty-free perfume, starving hungry to boot, my journey having involved every form of transport known to man excepting the hovercraft, helicopter, bicycle, space-hopper and trade-steamer. [Ethan, in case you were worried, was in a far better state of repair; though tired he remained steadfastly unfazed by the whole sorry adventure.]

What was remarkable in the circumstances was not my bonhomie - that had long since departed - but the strange contradictory sense of being somewhere both prosaically familiar and yet extraordinary and beautiful and even faintly exotic. It is banally true that much of the pleasure of travel is in returning home, not in the least part because the journey has changed you and enabled you to see something quite marvellous and singular in the ordinary, something previously hidden by the anaesthetic quotidian rhythms of mundane existence.

Which is a long way of saying that it was good to be back. And on the bright side, I suppose, the nadir of our little transatlantic adventure had been passed before our holiday had even begun in earnest.

And with that, here are some photos of creamy old Lewes, much cherished from afar...

Lewes Castle as seen from Bradford Road. Or "Bradford Road Nuclear Free Zone" as it was known in the Eighties.

Yes indeed, I grew up in a town with a castle in the middle of it. I paid no mind.

The bottleneck...

...and seen from the other direction

Keere Street, down which George IV drove a coach and four for a wager. Allegedly. More importantly, where Rachel and I first lived together as man and wife, and sweet Orange frolicked in the yard.

Ah, The Lewes Arms, where everybody knows your name (according to Facebook). "No Jukebox. No fruit machines. No Chavs (hurrah!)" (also according to Facebook). And if your family has lived in the town for six generations you might even get a seat in the front bar, plus one for the missus, who may or may not double-up as your cousin. Still, I miss it rather.