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Graeme Garvey celebrates an ordinary life

I went for a walk in the Yorkshire Dales with a couple of pseuds and I've only myself to blame. I shouldn't have agreed to go with such pretentious creeps in the first place but you know how it is. I regretted it before the first stile.

Fresh air, magnificent views, miles of open countryside were just not good enough for this pair. Oh, no. Within minutes, Walking Companion Number One had started banging on about what a sight Niagara Falls was (and presumably still is). I'm sure it is a sight, if not a sight and half. It better had be or it would be a waste of all that water. To join in the chat, Walking Companion Number Two, by way of boast, but in pretend apology said that although they had not had the extreme joy of seeing Niagara they had seen Victoria Falls. Nature's splendour could easily be discussed, then, by these two great travellers and I was left, I daresay, to regret not having seen water fall very far, ever.

Actually, I am not one bit regretful. Honestly. And here's why not. Apart from them being foolish for not taking in the beauty around them as they walked, they had also missed the other key point. It's not where you go that matters. Somebody with real sense (I can't remember who but I'm sure you can find him, somewhere, on the internet) said that though life might well be seen as being very short, it is made up of millions of fleeting sensations. In each day, each minute, so much is happening if we are truly alive that this experience called life is quite incredible. I suppose queuing in the rain for a bus and other such mind-numbing events do account for too much of our lives but allow me to at least make a case for celebrating the so-called ordinariness of everyday life, our daily, personal Niagaras. I offer you a travel guide to anywhere.

C.B. Mill in the Dales
No expensive flights are necessary, the journey starts by opening the front door and stepping on to the street. Next door to me, until recently, lived a bloke with stringy yellow hair. I'm told he is a lute player of international reputation but I shouldn't hold that against him. He's moved on now but I shouldn't hold that against him either. He's been replaced by a tiny Indian and his almost as tiny wife. They drive a tiny car that sounds like a tank. Across the road, deep in the night, an alcoholic Scot shouts things about the Pope that would have made Martin Luther blanche. The street hosts a trio of computing hotshots, a landscaper, stacks of interior designers, a teacher, an electrician. There are some who don't work, some who won't and some who can't. Children play, adults chat as they walk past. Swallows, back from Africa, soar overhead. Scheduled flights also wing by and cars frequently pass along the main road at streetís end. People, machines, atoms, all part of our fluid, evanescent existence.

Alongside that main road is a Bangladeshi hot food takeaway. Up the road, an amiable Pakistani runs the off-licence shop. Down it, newspapers are sold by a Sikh family from the Punjab. Why need I travel if the world comes to me?

If I want to see the awesomely distant past, I can look at any star on any clear night. If I want to see the recent past, I can look (carefully) at the sun and see what it was doing eight minutes ago. Apart from us completely spinning around every 24 hours, we orbit the sun at 66,672 miles per hour. Meanwhile, that busy old fool, unruly sun is moving around the spiral arm of the milky way at 150 miles a second. I haven't even mentioned yet all the myriad thoughts, memories, wishes whirring away, every split-second, in the heads of the people I have spoken of thus far. I haven't time, for my travelogue is now taking me up the road, early in the morning.

Just past a stone monument, which for some odd reason commemorates the hundredth anniversary of Oliver Cromwell doing something or other, is a sloping stretch of grassland. A bench overlooks this grass. Come rain or shine and it's frequently not shine, a chap is to be seen smoking and/or reading. His only concession to any rain is a woolly hat but he seems undeterred and undaunted, sitting calmly as we all rush past. He's unique and I don't even know him.

Returning eastwards you soon come to a small town/large village. A busy street heads northwards through it, escaping from the city towards the beckoning Yorkshire Dales (yes, those Yorkshire Dales). Vulgarly fringing the road is a shopping arcade. 'Mall' would be too grand a description yet it is still the very heartbeat of the township. In-between-college-course beggars vie for prime spots. Chicken fumes which would make a Kentuckian proud fill the air, at least as far as the dry-cleaners.
It is a seasonal Studentland and the whole pace of life seems geared to the second-rate needs students are encouraged to cultivate - in order to have had an 'experience'. Cashpoints flower from walls in glorious profusion. There are enough pubs, cafes, bars, fish and chip shops, pizza parlours and curry houses to sate the insatiable. But it is so much more than this. The mark of history is there for all to see if only we will look. Roads link people, allow trade. Buildings reflect how effectively we have elaborated on the prime need to provide shelter. Churches, the library, offices and shops : the product of an ordered society. Above, but mostly below ground, wires run everywhere. Drains and sewers, the unsung heroes, do their bit. As the spinning universe hurtles apart, this all works. Meanwhile, invisible, rays saturate us. Television, radio, telephone and goodness knows what have decided to throw in their lot with dear old infra-red and ultra-violet. Yes, it's all happening in my town. Time, perhaps, to meander home for a breather.

The walk home passes along leafy suburban roads bordered by an incredible array of houses. There are traditional stone-built dwellings, art-deco rectangles, red-bricked terraces, semi-detached curiosities, flats, bungalows. What is more, inside them reside hundreds if not thousands of homo sapiens. I reckon Niagara is perfectly happy going on doing what it does best but whether we go there or not, I am still me, you are still you.

© Graeme Garvey 2001

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