Thursday, 28 July 2011

Twilight Travel

Lest anyone assume I am completely anti-travel following my last posting, in the wake of the Southern Cross care homes scandal among other elderly care scandals, I really hope the following urban legend is true. And if it is, why are Saga being so slow off the mark to add it as an extra service?

'About 2 years ago we were on a cruise through the western
Mediterranean aboard a Princess liner. At dinner we noticed an elderly
lady sitting alone along the rail of the grand stairway in the main dining
room. I also noticed that all the staff, ships' officers, waiters, busboys,
etc, all seemed very familiar with this lady. I asked our waiter whom the
lady was, expecting to be told she owned the line, but he said he only knew
that she had been on board for the last four cruises, back to back.
As we left the dining room one evening I caught her eye and stopped to
say hello. We chatted and I said, "I understand you've been on this ship
for the last four cruises". She replied, "Yes, that's true." I stated, "I
don't understand?"

She replied without a pause, "It's cheaper than a nursing home".

She wasn't wrong. Here's the proof; -

The average cost for a nursing home is $200 per day. I have checked on
reservations at Princess and I can get a long term discount and senior
discount price of $135 per day. That leaves $65 a day for:

1. Gratuities which will only be $10 per day.

2. I will have as many as 10 meals a day if I can waddle to the
restaurant, or I can have room service (which means I can have breakfast in bed
every day of the week).

3. Princess has as many as three swimming pools, a workout room and free
washers and dryers.

4. They have free toothpaste, razors, soap and shampoo.

5. They will treat you like a customer, not a patient. An extra $5
worth of tips will have the entire staff scrambling to help you.

6. I will get to meet new people every 7 or 14 days.

7. TV broken? Light bulb need changing? Need to have the mattress
replaced? No problem! They will fix everything and apologize for your

8. Clean sheets and towels every day, and you don't even have to ask for them. Regular cleaning services and rubbish disposal.

9. If you fall in the nursing home and break a hip you are on Medicare.
If you fall and break a hip on the Princess ship they will upgrade you to a
suite for the rest of your life.

10. Free live entertainment on tap.

Now hold on for the best! Do you want to see South America, the Panama
Canal, Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, the Fjords (insert location here)?
Princess will have a ship ready to go. So don't look for me in a nursing
home, just call shore to ship.

P. S. And don't forget, when you die, they just dump you over the side at minimal cost.

Talking of end-of-life care, recently I had the privilege of touring the local hospice where I marvelled at the facilities and the hospice's ethos that 'if a patients' last wish can be granted, we will.' Stable-wide doors enabled beds to be wheeled round the entire complex including into idyllic gardens or the chapel which was used for entertainment and events as well as multi-faith services. A recent resident, a keen horsewoman had had her horse visit her room to say goodbye! Deathbed weddings abounded. Music therapy rooms and art therapy rooms were on hand as was counselling. Paintings and poems by both patients and their loved ones adorned the walls. At night a drinks trolley did the rounds dispensing comforting nightcaps of patient choice. Palliative care ensured no one died in pain and un-uniformed staff, one with rainbow-coloured hair although she was a trained nurse, ensured no one died alone. Their families were also welcomed back for counselling, sometimes for years afterwards, though some came back to volunteer with the gardens or the hospice bus rota. An incredible sense of peace pervaded, even though it was located right next door to a main hospital. All in all, visiting the facility was a surprisingly uplifting experience, but for the thought; 'It's just a shame people have to be terminally ill to enjoy this level of care and comfort, and among the lucky ones to get in, even then.' All sick or elderly people should be treated with this level of care and respect. I have no doubt Dignitas would have fewer customers if more people had the choice of a dignified and painless end in such surroundings.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

An Englishwoman Not Abroad

It was a staple cartoonist's joke when I was a child that the neighbours who forced you to watch their foreign holiday slides were the neighbours from hell and were really doing it to rub people's noses in it that they were more affluent.

My parents were those neighbours!

Nowadays cheap flights make it fashionable, even de rigueur for everyone and their dog to travel and for travel nuts to bore the pants off their guests by making them watch footage of a Masai tribesman driving his herd of cattle onto a plain or their partner haggling over a garish rug in a Moroccan market, though in what way this is supposed to make the traveller a better person or a person of achievement is hard to fathom, not least when travel has become such a commonplace commercialised activity, open to anyone capable of putting a plane ticket on a credit card.
As the famous scene in the film 'The Truman Show' goes when Truman tells his teacher he wants to explore the world, she counters: 'It's all been explored!'
Sometimes it seems all that remains is to traverse Peru with a table-top freezer balancing on the tip of one finger; ie with a twist!

If anything, travel often makes people more tedious than they were in the first place (sic your average loudly-bragging gap-year student) and contrary to what some evidently assume, is no substitute for a personality, though I don't deny there is interest in travelling from the point of view that another culture might have a better way of doing something than we do, which we can potentially steal toward the rescue of our own failing country. And differing turns of phrase and outlook to our own are also not to be underestimated.

A cynical and unfashionable viewpoint, not in step with globalisation? Certainly. But then I am suspicious of escapism, be it drugs, drink, extreme sports or travel. In other words 'experience junkieism'. My first reaction is what are these people running away from as often as three times a year? Themselves? Their own country? Is all this travel a throwback to imperialism and the need to conquer, if only psychologically?
Are other cultures merely an idle curiosity to be gawked at, photographed, and in the worst cases patronised/exploited, or do travellers genuinely give a damn about them once they've left their shores?

Many gap years in particular have degenerated into little more than year-long round the world pub crawls rather than a genuine attempt to see and engage with the wider world, unless a youngster of lesser-endowed parents is forced to work their passage, in which case they probably taste more of the grass roots experience, leaving less time to indulge the mindless hedonism their compatriots are busily shaming our nation's reputation with. Still other youngsters are charged through the nose to 'volunteer' abroad for a year by cynical organisations out to profiteer from the few left who are interested in putting altruism before themselves.

A former graduate colleague of mine had a more noble reason than most to travel. He not only sought to interact with and learn from other cultures but to experience deprivation. He had always known a warm clean bed, plenty to eat, plenty to wear, central heating and a power shower and he wanted to know what life would be like when thrown back on his own resources. In short to know if he had any, having grown up as a pampered Westerner, and he planned to cycle round the world on a shoestring budget, risking adversity, relying on the kindness of strangers and getting to know what stuff he was made of, standing himself in good stead for any future national emergency. He set off with a neckful of St Christopher medals and a compass two months ago. We're keeping our fingers crossed!

Personally I have never felt the need to go without a shower for ten days to appreciate how wonderful a shower is - I grew up in a one-bath-a-week-with-my-sister household in the 70s/80s, (well my parents had to pay for all those foreign holidays somehow!)

As for knowing myself, I have made this often-painful journey the priority of my life, a journey too often deferred by the distractions of the world including travel (though as you will have gathered, I am not without some experience of world travel). Exploring myself and what I am capable of and pushing my own boundaries has hitherto been the greatest and most satisfying adventure of all and it's not over yet. Better still, the benefits of getting to know and like oneself and working through the after-effects of a difficult childhood last a lot longer than a holiday tan and don't break the bank or enlarge one's carbon footprint either.
And do we not also travel in our dreams? I regularly have fantastical flying dreams for which I need no passport, am not limited to a flight path and can't be charged for excess baggage or refused passage for forgetting to transfer a lipstick to a little plastic bag!

Environmentalists who jet around the world supposedly promoting environmentalism who come back prosleytising to the rest of us particularly make me laugh and I think they need to take a good look at themselves. I once caused consternation in an environmental meeting by opining that never mind the more limited benefits of all the minor measures we were discussing, where was the national roll of environmentalists willing to sign up to no more than one return flight a year and committing to remain child free, flying and pro-creating being the most environmentally-damaging activities of all?

There was a real sense of occasion about flights in my childhood, an occasion which only happened once every two years for us and each airport took a pride in its vast public viewing gallery (now often sadly absent), from which one could watch the majestic air liners take off and land, some children simply brought to watch the big 'silver birds' in action to celebrate their birthdays or for a treat. Airlines made a big fuss of we junior flyers with clubs, free sweets and goody bags on the flight and the odd trip to the cockpit to meet the pilot! Queues and security were virtually non-existent and commercially there'd be no more than a café, a newsagents and a duty-free shop, even in the largest airport. Airport parking was either free or about £2 a week. In Delhi we were even presented with garlands of orange sandalwood flowers when we landed and treated like minor royalty, uncomfortably imperialist as this now feels to my adult self. I retain my complimentary gold Pan-Am lapel badge to this day.

Flying these days has had all the fun extracted and is to be dreaded rather than excitedly anticipated, whatever one's motives.

As for émigrés, those émigrés who move to a country because they genuinely feel an affinity with that country and its culture and intend to integrate, learn the language, obey the laws and contribute to the economy of their adopted land. Well who can argue with that? I am sure that just as there are people who feel they have been born in the wrong body, there are people who feel they have been born in the wrong country and seek cross-border 'reassignment'.

You may assume from all of the above that I don't agree with leisure travel at all. Not so. I merely think we need to travel more carefully, judiciously and fully aware of our motives for so doing and mindful of our effects good and bad on the countries we inflict ourselves upon. Yes, many nations need our tourism pound, but do they need everything else that we bring, and even more importantly, take? And can't we at least reduce our number of flights per year and make travel special again, if for no other reason?