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I will happily jump out of an aeroplane. Even climb sheer granite rock faces. I will trek across frozen tundra pulled by a team of white huskies. There are a hundred things I would rather do than fly from Melbourne to Manchester in a Qantas A380 via Dubai in economy class. It’s not that I…
I will happily jump out of an aeroplane. Even climb sheer granite rock faces. I will trek across frozen tundra pulled by a team of white huskies. There are a hundred things I would rather do than fly from Melbourne to Manchester in a Qantas A380 via Dubai in economy class.
It’s not that I am a snob, or anything. There are just some things that do not work for me. Like eating powdered glass, or drinking hemlock.
At my age money has no meaning except the joy of things that it can buy to guarantee my personal comfort. A Qantas Dreamliner in a business class seat is one of those things. Not that the A380 is a bad aircraft. It is perfectly good for service. It flies. The most serious problem is that it stops for a while in Dubai. Now, some people like Dubai. It is probably a perfectly reasonable destination if you like the idea of ostentatious wealth with steel and glass monoliths, and paying ten dollars for a lettuce sandwich.
My problem with Dubai is that it is not a destination on my bucket list. To disembark carrying all your hand luggage and be shepherded in a giant loop only to be subjected to humiliating and rude security measures is not my idea of the beginning of a fun holiday.
When Qantas announced that the new Dreamliner would be flying non-stop from Perth to London, a mere seventeen hours, now, that sounded appealing.
Checking in at Melbourne with our express pass was as easy as spelling Qantas without a U. All our checked in baggage was routed direct to Manchester. A pleasant stay in the brand-new lounge in Perth assured us that Qantas has really put some quality thought into the service it provides. However, this is not an advertisement for the Dreamliner or for Qantas and if Qantas want that, they’re going to have to pay me. That, is surely not an option that they would be happy about. It was fun though. Being pampered is always fun!
We arrived in Manchester well slept and raring to go.
The idea was to hire a car, visit friends and relatives, and take off around the highways and byways of the West Country. The rental car village at Manchester airport is easy to access, and all the major companies are represented. Our luck was arriving on ‘one of those days’. Budget, Avis, Hertz, and the panoply of rental car companies, bar one, had nothing available. Ah! We arrived at the Europa desk. There sat a delightful young man barely out of work experience, and now into his third week as a customer representative.
“Of course!” He said smiling at our enquiry as to whether they had a vehicle available. “what we are here for!”
Paperwork. A little more paperwork. Just a little more paperwork. Two drivers licences. Credit cards, insurance, charge for an extra driver. That sort of thing. Nothing unusual about that. At least they had a car!
Being seasoned travellers we have learned to travel without taking the dining room table and cutlery with us. Two standard size suitcases, one each, and a shared smaller suitcase brimming with toiletries, painkillers and quick change clothing items is all we need. Okay, even going the quick route, a mere twenty something hours, we were knackered. When one is knackered, one does not listen too carefully to every word spoken. Or even every third word! Overjoyed to have a vehicle for thirty days, we failed to ask the bleeding obvious! (There are some things a six foot two, seventy-year-old long-haired-hippie-lout cannot do. One of those things is to fold neatly into a Fiat 500 accompanied by three pieces of luggage and the passenger. Not if one also has a glass back!) Well, done is done. Best to just suck it up! The Fiat 500 is a popular car on British roads, (mainly because it is cheaper than the grippy little Mini.) Unlike the Mini however, the steering wheel communicates badly with the rubber on the road, and if you are not an ex-POM with an expert working knowledge of British country roads, the advice would be to grit your teeth and drive very slowly!) Fortunately, this ex-POM has an instinctive working knowledge of country lanes which purport to be genuine roads! British drivers have a propensity to smile and wave as you meet going in opposite directions with only millimetres to spare. Tractor drivers and 15 tonne delivery truck drivers look down on you with one hand on the wheel the other in the air and compassionate smiles on their faces. Even with Brexit, the British and the French still tolerate each other in spite of the things they may mutter about each other in their own language when they think the other does not understand! “Vous êtes un cochon!” to a Brit, translates as “would you like a cushion?”
Unfolding my six-foot two frame from the low seat of a Fiat 500 is a little like the Japanese art of origami. Just a little more painful. With just enough room in what purports to be the trunk (or the boot) for a large camera bag and a selection of lenses, the suitcases resided on what purports to be the rear passenger seat. This meant that the driver’s seat had to be in the full forward position leaving just enough room for the driver to be seated with chin resting on knees. A vision the passenger found funny until she had to break the rigor mortis. Anyway, enough about the vagaries of the Fiat 500, this was a holiday, and as with all holidays a little rain must fall! Talking about rain, it did. Of the thirty days, we enjoyed five delightful days of sunshine, and, two days aside when the temperature reached 29° C in London the weather turned out some positively balmy temperatures hovering around 12° C. It was obvious that we were tourists, rugged up in our quilted winter coats while the locals stripped off on the beaches, paddling in their bikinis or shorts and T-shirts.
A little bit of useless information. The green and pleasant land of Great Britain can fit into Australia thirty-one times. To drive 200 miles to experience the special joy of a certain cafes specialty hamburger is a mere bagatelle. To drive said distance in Britain brings forth protestations of ‘you can’t drive all that way!’ Manchester to Hull on the M 62 is a mere hop and a skip. (At least in a car not designed specifically for Noddy.)
Visiting old haunts in Cornwall, Devon, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Yorkshire was probably one of the best and most nostalgic trips we have made in many a year. Once outside of the cities the British countryside is as addictive as it was when, as a child, I would ride my trusty old Philips Fiesta, (blue and yellow, with three speed Sturmey Archer gears) out on the country roads picking bunches of daffodils and bluebells, collecting free range eggs from under the Hawthorne hedges, and returning late in the evening with lips blue from eating blackberries.
Pub accommodation and Bed & Breakfasts have adapted so beautifully to the casual tourist. As always the Brits are super friendly, courteous, and inquisitive. (Even though many think of Australia as Home and Away, and Neighbours.) The Brits love their country, they love their countryside and the seasons. Above all they love their relationship with Australians and New Zealanders.
Much as I would have preferred to be driving a Mini this was one of the best trips ever! Yeah! It is true that we cheat at cricket. It is true that we are a bit loud, and the only reason a lot of POMS have even heard of Australia is that they had relatives sent out here for stealing a loaf of bread. Britain is still the old homeland I left way back in 1972. Not much has changed with the horrible exception of giant Morrison’s barns, and Tesco’s, and Sainsbury’s, and Aldi, and Lidl. They occupy prime land on beautiful sea fronts, destroying the quaintness that Britain is famous for. That I do lament. Still, progress has to be made, and where would we be without Morrison’s ready meals?