This Antipodean traveller ...
International departures gate Sydney 9 August 2023
I must say there is both a sense of relief and trepidation as I leave the country. Relief, because I can stop all my micro-planning - my itinerary, my workshops, my lesson plans. Trepidation, because I am anxious about what is to come and how will I handle anything that doesn't go to plan. Even though I have ventured through this gate often enough I do know that everything beyond the gate is rather easy and straight forward ... even though I also know that what does go wrong is beyond my control. How does my family cope with me!? I have often been called an intrepid traveller, a label that doesn't quite sit right with me. I can tell you I am very fearful and often anxious though I appear calm most of the time!
This tour will see me visit the United Kingdom, Italy and Belgium where I shall mix with likeminded people or as some of us say in the field my tribe! I have already arrived at the University of Warwick in Coventry right in the heart of the UK. My flight from Australia was uneventful and I was delighted to have been upgraded from cattle-class to premium cattle-class where I was given a bubbles on arrival and every courtesy was offered by the Qantas staff. On the first nine hour leg I watched a couple of movies, ate too much junk, slept a bit ... slept a lot actually then after a strange layover of two hours in Singapore did some more of the same on the thirteen hour second leg. It is a physically draining trip.
I am bewildered however, by the two hour layover in Singapore. I left the plane along with all the other passengers. Once off I was told to come back to the same gate an hour later to start the security process again even though we couldn't leave the terminal. There were no shops open to browse ... actually there were no shops just gates and I couldn't find a lounge. All the seats were taken and people were strewn around the floor. Very strange indeed. When the time came I queued up to go through security even though I had already been through security to get on the plane I was getting back on to. The security man who I just happen to get by chance, told me to do up my cardigan as it was not acceptable to have only the top two buttons done up ... I had to have them all done up. Let me tell you I had a long sleeved, crew necked top on under my cardigan so this was not a case of the exposed bosom. It was the weirdest request and I am still perplexed. But, I know better than to argue with an airport security officer.
As I said the journey was uneventful, smooth and reasonably pleasant. I arrived at Heathrow and walked the ten minute journey to the Central Bus Station at 7am. My coach to Coventry wasn't until 10am. The place was packed. I decided to ask the ticket office if there were an earlier bus but they told me to come back in an hour because the National Express computer system was "down". Down where I thought. After a coffee and croissant - very nice - I observed the throng of travellers discovering that not only was the computer system "down" but so too the the automated ticket terminals. Travellers could not purchase tickets on the day. Lucky I micro-managed that one from home before leaving. Fortunately the coach interchange platform board was working and gave information on which bay to go to get your bus. The drivers were told to accept funds and allow people to board. It worked.
Leaving the confines of the airport precinct I sat back and relaxed to enjoy the two and a half hour journey. Ahhh, how pleasant. Our first - and last - stop was a mid-sized town not far from Heathrow called Hemel Hempstead. The coach had broken down. The driver said he knew something was wrong but continued to limp into the town rather than stopping on the motorway. If he had have stopped on the motorway not one passenger would have been allowed to get out of the bus - insurance policy condition. Good on the driver!!!!
Most passengers we very understanding and we were all glad the driver managed to get us into the town. The driver was superb in his handling of the situation. His manners and politeness were exemplary. After a few failed attempts and a two hour wait in Hempel Hempstead the National Express company booked several cabs so we could complete our onward journey. For me I was with two other passengers travelling to Coventry. It was a very pleasant hour and a half cab ride ... in the end.
Welcome to the University of Warwick. I am in the Radcliffe Conference Centre enjoying this beautiful university and its surroundings. I am here for CLASfest, a festival held by the Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society. I did a campus reconnoitre after breakfast looking for my favourite places to hang out the - co-op bookshop (all universities have them), stationary store and the Library. Having spent a good of time at University campuses in my life I was surprised to find there was no bookstore ... at all. No stationery store either. There are no longer enough students living and studying on campus these days that their stores had closed. They do have a beautiful Functions & Arts Centre with live performances, arts exhibitions and three cinemas showing six plus screening per day. I think the two cities Coventry and Warwick are heavily invested in the Arts Centre as it is rather grand.
But, the most fun part of my day - so far - was my on-campus supermarket experience this morning. I wandered in to this huge store just browsing my way around when I noticed a big burley bloke hanging about at the end of my aisle, he was trying not to look at me. I thought hmmm what's he up to then. I popped an item here and there into my bag slowly working my way through the aisles as I was in no hurry at all. Then I noticed two blokes keeping an eye on me. So I made my way to the electronic registers with the blokes in mind thinking they were thinking I was going to steal my little collection of goodies. When I got to the registers I asked the assistant if she knew where the campus pharmacy was, she sounded nervous and said she didn't but as I was talking with her the two blokes hovered close by ... ready to pounce. So I moved to a self serve register and started the scanning process. The lass came up to me and said "next time you come into the supermarket do pick up a trolley". I told her I knew something was wrong when I first noticed the blokes watching me then we all fell about laughing. One fellow told me a red flag went up the minute I walked into the store. Though shoplifting is not a laughing matter and obviously the Uni gets a lot of them, I thanked them all kindly for giving me something else fun to talk about with my students!
Day one ... all but done!