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
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're responding well to the treatment and you can expect a full
recovery, or not." Would you pay your financial advisor to tell
"I recommend Ford Motor Company. The stock is going to rise, and
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.