Prologue

 

I arrived in England armed with a few pearls of wisdom I'd picked up from my previous ten months of travel.

1. To understand a culture one has to meet its people.
2. To meet its people one must become adept at making small talk.
3. The acceptable subject for small talk varies from place to place and can be ascertained from the greeting.

In China people greet each other with a term that means, roughly, have you eaten rice yet. In Myanmar strangers greet each other with 'Sabibila' or have you eaten meat yet? The English have made it more difficult. Notorious for their cuisine, it comes as no surprise that they greet each other not with, 'have you enjoyed black pudding this morning?' or 'did you eat fish and chips yet?' but rather with an enigmatic 'Hello', While I immediately ascertained that this has nothing even tangentially to do with food, exactly what it did mean eluded me until finally, after extensive field study, I came to realise that it must have some meteorological connotation. The English greeting frequently leads to small talk about the current and soon-to-be weather. This was my 'in' with the English. Which is odd because it is often even less appetizing than English food.

The first moments of that first morning of my walk were played out against a dispiriting scene. I awoke to rain spitting at the window, the smell of the sardine can I'd left in the wastebasket pervading the room and the realization that I had no towel. I had come down on the train from London the day before and had been dissapointed that my seat was at the back of the car by itself. There would be no fellow passengers with whom to discuss the threatening clouds outside. This isolation was furthered when I was shown to the dormitory at the YMCA in Penzance. The only thing more gloomy than the prospect of sleeping in a room full of snorers and farters, is being alone in a spartan dormitory when all you want is someone to talk to.

Things did begin to brighten when, having just finished drying myself off with the pillowcase, the little cleaning lady came in with a bright hello and a
"Fog should clear up as the tide goes out. The weatherman said we can expect sunshine and showers today!" Though she said it with a straight face I mistook it for humor.

It is an amazing thing that weathermen in England are making forecasts like 'sunshine and showers' and still have jobs. There is no doubt that they can claim 100% accuracy but just imagine if other professionals attained it by behaving this way. Would you trust the doctor that told you,
"You're responding well to the treatment and you can expect a full recovery, or not." Would you pay your financial advisor to tell you,
"I recommend Ford Motor Company. The stock is going to rise, and fall."

To be fair, not every forecast covers all possibilites. The weathermen will sometimes go out on a limb and call for cool temperatures, gray skies and drizzle for the next six days. When they do, you'd be foolish to second guess the Doppler radar, satellite images or animal entrails these fellows are consulting. You'd be foolish to plan outdoor activities that week. I did both.

I could see nothing of the lanscape from the bus that took me from Penzance to Lands End. The windows streamed with water on the outside and fogged up on the inside because of the chill Cornish air. I was to spend that night back at the YMCA after the ten mile amble back from the westernmost point of England and told myself it was better this way. I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise of what the tip of the country looks like. I tried to cheer myself up still further as I put on the new pair of socks that would soon be my undoing. It's only mid-June, I thought, summer hasn't even started yet.

Nigel
10.11.02

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

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