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September 20, 2004

The Travelling Habits of Modern Britons: a tale of pigs and sheep

Posted by Digby Anderson

Too much luggage, not enough drink and too late in getting up - Digby Anderson considers the strange travelling habits of Modern Britons and seeks to know what they have put in all those suitcases.

Modern Britons on the move by air, sea, car or train are frequently disgusting with their scruffy clothes, lack of manners and filthy language. Yet some of the things they do are not so much disgusting as bizarre. I have noted three such. Two of them are explicable but still rather odd. The first I don't understand at all. Perhaps you can help with the answer.

Suppose I, or any other sensible person I know, is flying to, say, Miami; the destination doesn't matter much but it has to have a sunny climate. And suppose I am going for a week or two. Then I will select three shirts, sets of underwear, two pairs of light trousers and one of shorts, one pair of leather shoes and one of 'canvas', four novels (all previously read and thus reliable), two swimming costumes and a wash bag with toothpaste etc and pills. I will wear some of these, take a sweater with me and two of the books. I will also take a full-five course lunch to eat on the plane but that too will not be in my case. In the case will be the rest. It will all fit in a small case about half what airlines allow as hand luggage. Obviously I will not have any hold luggage. Obviously some of the items will be laundered during my stay.

When I reach the check-in desk, I will find myself behind a couple with four huge suitcases piled on a trolley. They will also have four bulging carry-on bags. Why? Or perhaps the more fundamental question is what; what have they got in these cases? There are few clues. The cases are very heavy. I can see that from the way they have to heave them up to the side of the check-in counter. The couple have no children. Children are well-known for wanting to take with them their latest toy or status symbol however inappropriate - surf boards to Detroit. Whatever is in those cases is prized. The couple are willing to make a considerable effort to take it. They have lifted the four cases down the stairs at home and into the taxi, out of the taxi at the station and across the bridge to platform three at the local station, then onto the train, out again at Gatwick, to the shuttle and eventually the check-in desk. Similar trials await at the American end. What on earth can they have in there that is so important to them on holiday, in the sun?

No, I am not writing this to make fun of these people - though I am quite happy to do so when I find out what they are taking so far at such an effort. The question is not rhetorical. I want to know what they have packed, but I don't have a clue.

The second piece of behaviour is more explicable. Some people drink a lot of alcohol, some a moderate amount, some a little and some none. Twenty years ago when these assorted people got seated on an aeroplane, they were bombarded with drink. Up and down the aisles went the chariots and down the throats of the passengers went the little bottles of wine, gin and whisky. It was as if the airline was saying, 'This is what you do on an aeroplane' and the passengers abandoned their normal daily diet and all did what they were told.

Now for reasons best known to the airlines, the chariots hardly appear except at meal-times. One can get as much drink as one wishes at least on BA, but one has to ask for it. No-one except me does. I wander up and ask for four quarter bottles of champagne for Mrs A and myself. Hardly anyone else does. In a sense it's the same with the food. Whatever the airline offers, more especially, whenever the airline offers it, the passengers obediently consume it. Why? Nowadays some airlines even indicate when passengers should sleep and they obediently do so, or at least pretend to do so.

Third, and last, something I have noticed about road travel. I frequently return from a seaside town on the south-east coast to Buckinghamshire at any time between 6.00 and 11.30 on a Sunday morning. One only starts to see a high density of traffic heading coastwards after 11.00. This is confirmed by observing the beaches on the Saturday. People don't arrive until lunchtime. In August, the height of the summer season, the beach is empty till very late morning. Clearly modern Britons do not get up at weekends until nine or ten. Or perhaps their children don't and the whole family dances attendance on the laziest member. This late rising is presumably accompanied by late going to bed. If so it represents a real shift in the national routine. Why have they done this? I might add I'm not grumbling. The shift is a God send to those of us who hate modern mass culture. All we have to do to avoid 'Them' is to toddle off to bed at nine. We can then arise at five to a world where there is no noise, no swearing no scruffy people to see, where the beaches and sea are empty, where there are no jingles, no coloured lights, no muzak.

Of course, I suspect it is precisely because the morning offers few of these things, that modern Britons won't get up for it. When it does offer something they really value they will get up. The only time I see lots of cars very early on a Sunday is near a Boot sale. Both the revolving of their daily life around the trash that modern entertainment offers them and the 'obedience' on the aeroplane, suggests yet more of an ovine tendency. So when they are not being pigs, they are being sheep. But that does still not explain the huge suitcases.

Digby Anderson retired as Director of the Social Affairs Unit earlier this year.

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This confirms my own view of Britons, especially those with a superior view of themselves. They are so very, very dull.

Anderson's typical destination is 'Miami' - well we wouldn't want any culture to invade our thoughts, or have to struggle with a foreign language on holiday would we? And what about 'four novels - previously read'? How stimulating! And why the prudish swimming costume?

No wonder this man is angry - he needs a holiday!

Posted by: Danny DeVine at September 21, 2004 12:02 PM

Can you really not think of a reason for carrying lots of luggage? Not everybody has the same travelling habits as you. Maybe that couple are on a hiking holiday. Maybe they're photographers with tons of gear. Maybe they're not on holiday at all. Maybe they're terrorists with 30 kilos of shaving equipment so they can chop off the beard when they don't want people to know they're terrorists. Maybe they just enjoy taking more of their personal comforts around with them wherever they go. Maybe they're just lugging two suitcases full of bricks around for absolutely no reason whatsoever! Maybe next time you see people doing things you don't understand you should talk to them and let them explain themselves?

Posted by: James at September 26, 2004 03:56 PM


Posted by: amelia minuet at April 6, 2005 01:50 AM

Perhaps the couple with the suitcases are anti-environmentalists intent on putting as much co2 into the upper atmosphere as they can. And Digby might be one of those limp-wristed smock-wearing pinko terry nappy tree huggers trying to save the planet.

More likely he's so very smug at his 5-course meal, champagne quaffing, minimal underwear existence and thinks we'll be impressed with his light travelling. Well I'd much rather be out at 10am with the oiks than on holiday with a bloated pompous moron who washes his kecks in the sink.

Keep your minor victories to yourself next time.

Posted by: Jimbo at June 4, 2005 12:19 PM

Angels and Ministers of grace defend us. These comments to Digby's post quite confirms that he is essentially correct about modern Britions!

Posted by: Hellenic Peters at October 21, 2005 12:30 PM

When I travel I always carry an extra empty suitcase. Why? I like to shop, and the extra bag allows me to pack my purchases instead of paying shipping fees.

Posted by: William McNeill at October 31, 2005 02:52 AM
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