Staying Still To Move

It is easy to see travel as the journey between places we want to be; a step which needs to be taken to overcome the physical space but often not an end in itself. Even if we enjoy some travelling, the journey home is often rushed through in expectation of arriving back at our centre. And yet when we do arrive home, we often do not feel the release from disturbance we expected. This talk by travel writer Pico Iyer, raises questions over whether our understanding of both travel and home are at fault:

Many years ago I worked for a firm that, among other things, provided court agents; instead of a firm of solicitors attending proceedings themselves, they could hire an advocate to attend on their behalf. Although this was most often used by firms in one part of the United Kingdom who had cases in another, it was often cheaper for them to pay an advocate to travel for several hours rather than attend themselves. Because of a combination of plenty of work with relatively few advocates, I spent several years travelling to various parts of the country on a daily basis.

Unlike Iyer, I had lived in the same city for years, less than two hours drive from my childhood home. However, I was rarely there, at least in settled form; most weekdays would involve either catching a very early morning train and reaching home late afternoon or early evening or catching a train slightly later than nine and not arriving home until late evening; this left evenings mostly for preparing the next day’s clothes and sleeping, and weekends for the tasks that most people do in lunch-hours and evenings as well as all the tasks working people do on their weekends.

However, all that travelling was one of the stillest times in my life. I received a case on the evening before, or even occasionally at the station from a courier as I set off, and prepared it on the train to the hearing. Sometimes preparation took the whole of the journey, but for many hearings several hours away it did not. On the return journey I would write a full report of the hearing, but often this did not require the full journey either. In between going and returning I attended the hearing. But train schedules and court schedules are not synchronised, and the well-known slackness of the former is often counterpointed by the tightness of the latter; therefore I would deliberately seek to arrive early and would have time before I might leave again. Often I had nothing to do but travel.

Travel where the only action you take is to travel, opens up odd vistas and opportunities for unexpected beauty. I even began to gain an unconscious feeling for cities, arriving a courts in new places without need of map or directions. A train stopped next to fallow fields in dark of night can become a tedious experience, but being carried to and fro is often very relaxing. I did of course, also read many good books.

With the report already written on the train, it took minutes to print and add to the file, so my connection with each job usually ended the same day. Although I was not David Carradine, I had achieved a life of little attachment, wandering the country doing good works.

It is part of Iyer’s second point, about home not being a physical location, that renders what was quite a pleasant life unattractive now. Other cities than Bristol have vistas to explore, but no other place contains my wife (or my cats), so I have a place that gives me the release from disturbance we seek in home.

Do you enjoy travelling for its own sake? Do you set aside time to remain still?

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