The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Opening Up A World Of Possibilities …
May 20, 2009, 6:04 am
Filed under: Comment

I travel overseas quite a lot.

And whilst sometimes I might moan about constantly being on a plane … I know I am incredibly fortunate.

I remember as a kid watching British Airways ads that featured businessmen getting on planes and wondering what sort of job they must do.

Of course the logical answer would be ‘pilot’ but I was too thick to realise that.

In all seriousness, I used to look at these commercials and think only the most important of person would have to fly as part of their job.

Fast forward 30 years and I realise that is all a crock of poo.

Last year I did over 170 flights and the year before that, around 180.

Sure some were Singapore-Malaysia … the equivalent of Nottingham to Derby … but there were quite a few that had DVT potential, ha.

The purpose of this post isn’t to say I am Mr International Man [especially as part of the reason I fly so much is that Jill and I have a ‘no more than 5 nights apart rule’ which means I have to come and go quite frequently, especially when talking about my US travels – sorry environment] it’s actually about the beauty of the passport.

I got my first passport when I was 6 months old.

Given kids grow up in no time, I’ve always wondered the sense of having a ‘baby passport’ but my parents wanted me to have one as they were taking me to see the family in Italy.

Since then, I’ve had a passport all my life.

Before I started cynic, the average 10 year passport would last me … oooooooh, about 10 years … however for the last 7-8 years, I’ve been going go through them in the space of every 18 months.

Again, some of this ‘speed’ is because there are countries that require a full page to be taken up with their particular visa … Australia, HK, China, India etc … however it’s fair to say I travel quite a bit.

The thing is, there is a magic moment when I get a new passport …

It’s at the point where the envelope has arrived holding my old and new document, and I can reach in and literally hold past and potential in my hands.

Looking through the pages of the old one – with its top right hand corner snipped off – takes me back. It lets me remember all I’ve done, seen and experienced.

You’d be amazed how many times I’m shocked about where I’ve been or how many times I’ve visited. It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but quite a few of the countries all blend into one another – especially when my duration is just 1 day and the only things I get to see are the drive from the airport to the meeting.

Then there’s the new passport.

Pristine. Untouched. The spine without a single crease.

You open it and flick through every page …


Nothing is there … except possibilities.

Sure you know you’re going to have to go through the rigmarole of getting all the VISA’s put back in … but for that moment its ‘pure’.

In 18 months how will it look?

Yep, a bit dog-eared and faded, but what about inside?

Where will I have been? What will I have seen, experienced, learnt?

A used passport is travel DNA … proof of the life you’ve lived or the life you haven’t … and whilst my working life in Asia has had moments of utter frustration, that has been punctuated by some astounding times of excitement, fulfilment and learning of which underpinning it all, is a little red book that has got me into all sorts of places and situations.

Wherever you are, whatever you do, however successful you are … I assure you of one thing … travel helps make sense of life and countries like Singapore should stop their National Service and mandate people to go on International [Travel] Service instead, because not only do I think it would help their societies and culture, but it might help make the World a better and more productive place as well.

38 Comments so far
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I applaud Jill for her services to humanity in realising what sort of habits you’d fall back into should you be away from her civilising influence for more than five days. Her sacrifice is our salvation.

Comment by John

happy birthday brown. did work get you some shed varnish?

in your pompous, self important and self indulgent post you ask “where will i have been? what will i have seen, experienced, learnt?”

well i can answer that for you.

youll of gone wherever lee fucking well wants to send you and youll of seen fuck all because you fall asleep the moment your heads hits the fucking seat.

and the thing you should learn but wont is you dont know youre fucking born.

blokes from nottingham shouldnt be allowed to leave their home never fucking mind their country. im still convinced the only reason they let you on a plane is because you wear birkies so on first glance they know youre the only nottingham thing who wont try to rob, murder, hijack or shoe bomb the poor bastards.

pity they still havent learnt about your personal wmd: the ability to talk for fucking hours about planning wank.

uk immigration. stop his passport and save the fucking world.

Comment by andy@cynic

“Travel helps make sense of life”

That’s one of the best reasons I’ve ever heard for visiting other countries but do you think a 2 week package tour on the Costa counts?

Comment by Bazza

And then you say your can’t “write with emotion”. bah! This was a great post and very timely! 😉

Comment by Age

What are you trying to say John?

My lawyer will be watching. And sadly, probably agreeing with you at the same time.

And Andy – are you feeling OK? I’m not asking because of the passion of your rant, but because you must have wasted so much time writing it, and quite frankly, I didn’t think I was worth that. It’s almost a compliment, ha!

Comment by Rob

i love looking at my passport (which is pretty pissweak compared to yours and frith’s) – i love looking back and remembering those little journeys and that awkward, slightly nerve-wracking moment in no-mans land, wondering if i get permission to land.

and as much as i love technology, i hate the fact that the new chips replace that stamp – i feel ripped off when i don’t get one and denied an opportunity to reminisce. heh.

Comment by lauren

This is a very nice post Robert. It warmed the cockles of my heart knowing how generous I am.

In the interests of continuing your orgy of travel, I believe it would be prudent to never show me your passport nor mention the speed in which you fill it.

It’s nearly remuneration review time. I can hardly wait.

Comment by Lee Hill

Sometimes I just wish I kept my bloody thoughts and opinions to myself. And I know quite a lot of you feel exactly the bloody same!

Comment by Rob

But you can also travel inwardly as well as outwardly, and “see the world in a grain of sand”. Just going to the next town or village (or borough if you live in London) can be as rewarding as going to the other side of the world and for “ad people” will tell you enormous amounts of information that you will find useful.

And when we do go abroad how much do we really see? An American coming to the United Kingdom, even if he/she came here 50 times, is only going to get a very superficial view of our society and what makes it work. The same is true when we go abroad.

Everyone who lives in London should have made a conscious effort to visit (and properly look at) every London borough (even Mill Hill) before gadding off on foreign tours.

I realise this makes me sound a crank.

Comment by andrew

interesting question: is it better to have a superficial view of someone else’s world than tunnel vision on your own?

andrew, are you australian by any chance?

Comment by lauren

You’re right Andrew – you can learn, experience and see huge amounts just by walking down a different street – however whilst that may help you absorb more from a personal perspective [that is if we are actually able to let our senses experience things without the inherent blinkers we all have coming up] the beauty of visiting another country is that you not only get to see/learn/experience a different culture and how they think/act/view “life”, but you get to re-see those everyday things we often ignore because more often than not, the way they use/think of them is very different to our own.

And with each country being made up of more and more cultures, I personally think having a greater sense of where others are coming from, not just yourself, is a good thing … but I appreciate I may sound a crank to you with this, ha!

Comment by Rob

And judging by Andrew’s blog, the answer to your question is “no” Lauren, but I do know why – even if it shows you are being unAustralian, haha!

Comment by Rob

Hi Rob and Lauren,

The reason I put forward inward exploration as an alternative is that it is coming whether we like it or not. Mass air transit is not sustainable (unless like George Bush you hope there is going to be a miracle technological solution). I am gently pointing out that exploring the next street can be just as satisfying as going to Singapore, Pimlico is just as fascinating as Paris.

But we are conditioned by marketing (we of all people!) to think that globalisation is the future. Hello foreigners (we say), we’ve come all this way to to get a greater sense of you, oh and by the way we’ve just dumped tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, and don’t mind us while we corrupt your culture with western materialism (having already corrupted our own).

Who knows what the future will make of us. Maybe they will regard mass air transport as a crime against the world (or maybe not, in which case you can dismiss me as a crank).

Can’t you do some of your journeys overland/sea Rob? – you would really get a sense of the places you were in.

Comment by andrew

andrew. if you knew campbell youd want the fucker as far away from you as possible, you wouldnt be encouraging him to just pop round the fucking corner.

and even though knowing hed be gone for months on end is appealing, hong kong to fucking nyc and frisco every 6 weeks isnt too practical by boat and bus when you have a business to run but ill put it forward at the next meeting because im sure the other partners might back your concept.

Comment by andy@cynic

Hi Andrew … thanks for the comments.

Whilst I agree that mass air travel under its current guise is unsustainable, the fact is the industry is too big for it not to seek viable alternatives and if my client [Virgin Atlantic] can work with organisations to identify viable, safe and ecologically positive alternatives, you can bet the oil industries have been doing it for longer and with more resources.

Only time will tell I guess – but a change will happen, I just don’t know if it will be as dramatic as you have painted.

I agree with you that exploring the next street can be just as satisfying as going to other countries but in my previous comment, I’ve also highlighted how quite often we are blinkered to what is around us and only really let our senses be turned on when we are engulfed in new lands, cultures and experiences. That’s a sad indicement on society but sadly true … and for the record, I do think an appreciation of other cultures – especially with the World getting smaller – is more valuable than simply knowing how your personal community ‘ticks’.

I would love to make some of my journeys overland and sea … and there have been occasions where I have been able to do that … but the majority of my travels are not ‘social’, they’re work and as such, travelling to and from continents means a plane is the most practical means for face-to-face interaction [and yes, we/I do huge amounts of video conferencing as well, we’re not really environment destroyers], though you’ll be happy to know that when we’re doing our cultural safari’s, it’s trains, busses and boats all the way.

Comment by Rob

hey andrew,

my position about the importance of travelling ‘elsewhere’ comes from the slightly wanky end of structuralism/language and the importance of not being understood.

it’s vital for us, as humans, to go to places where we struggle to be understood, where we have to learn another language, or communicate in a different way. kind of like vaccine for our very being.

and i’m not suggesting jetsetting, by any means (hell, pilgrims have been around way longer than AVGas).

but in popping down to pimlico, you’ll still be speaking english and reading english signs and eating awful english food (even though the tate is great in pimlico and you have have an amazing day out).

whereas in paris, you could be stuck in a hotel room and eating similarly awful english food, but you will forced to speak a language that isn’t yours, pay with currency that isn’t native, negotiate ettiquette and nuance that isn’t natural and comprehend signage/codes that aren’t ingrained. even on these very small details, you take stock of your assumptions about the world by stepping outside of your language group ‘clan’. and unfortunately even going to Willesden doesn’t get you that.

Comment by lauren

Hi Rob, OK you win, we’ll put our trust in the big corporations to sort the environment out. I know we can trust the oil companies.

Hi Lauren. I know you have been to the UK at least twice, but you seem to have the idea that England is a white monoculture where we all speak the same and think the same and eat the same bad food. This perhaps reinforces my argument about superficiality. I would guess that in Pimlico there are more different languages spoken than in the whole of the continent of Australia. Also we know statistically that at least 40% of the population of London was born outside the UK, and for inner areas like Willesden or Pimlico this ratio is going to be higher.

Plus last time I was in Paris (two years ago) everyone spoke to me in English. I was trying to practice my French, but even buying tickets at the Comedie Francais they were saying “have a nice day”.

Comment by andrew

That’s not what I’m saying Andrew – and you know that. Whilst I am not pretending the oil companies give the slightest shit about the environment, the reality is these profit hungry machines will be working overtime to find an equally profitable/viable longterm alternative because once the oil has gone – their business goes as well and there’s too many livlihoods relying on them to let it happen.

If that means their commercial greed could drive some environmentally beneficial change, then I can live with that because for all the talk and knowledge the World has about what’s going on, the situation is getting worse, not better – which shows that in many cases, what people say doesn’t match what they do.

Is it enough? Of course not.

Can we add pressure to make more change? Yep.

But at the end of the day, the World needs mass distribution to allow it to operate properly [often to counter our inherent laziness] and in that situation, as much as the oil companies are evil fuckers, they are the ones that possibly hold the key to inducing the biggest change.

I hate that fact, but it seems it is something we’ve created … possibly more than them.

To get back to your point on travel …

Maybe I’ve got this wrong, but it seems you’re saying it’s better simply ‘stay in your own locality’ because you get a big cross section of cultures anyway.

Sure London has more languages spoken than any city on Earth but that doesn’t mean it’s multicultural, it just means it has lots of cultures living in it [and quite often, only in a transitory/tourist phase] and if you think that is a fair representation of how those cultures live/think/act then I couldn’t disagree more.

I totally accept that to truly understand another culture requires more than just ‘visition’ of the country … but by the same token, it also takes a hell of a lot more than just getting to know some foreigners who happen to live down the street … because more often than not, they’ve had to ‘change’ to survive.

Even though I travel a lot and meet many people of many nationalities from many different backgrounds, I know I will never truly understand other cultures, especially like a local. I also know that if all you do are the ‘tourist tracks’ you’re doing more to harm your knowledge than if you stayed at home – because, like your experience in Paris, the cultural, social and economic situation results in the people changing/evolving … often as a byproduct to achieve the goal of getting as much cash from a visitor as possible.

It’s for these reasons we work so closely with Lonely Planet … and from my experience I can tell you that there’s not a chance in the World I’d ever of learnt/experienced so much without their direct help and influence … and that’s why I know there is nothing like going to a country to get a deeper and more powerful perspective of how they think/live and operate.

Saying that, I’ve enjoyed this and I do appreciate your view even if I don’t totally agree with it, but that’s OK, you don’t agree with mine either, ha!

Comment by Rob

andrew, you’re probably right. i’m naive, have a superficial grasp on london, a narrow-minded view of the world and come from a place which is white, white, white. and anyway, language is a silly place from which to assess the merits of travel.

Comment by lauren

where the fuck is your fight girl?

maybe you are fucking naive lauren, but so is a guy who thinks pimlico is a petri dish for understanding others cultures.

it doesnt mean shit if you travel to a fucking park or a fucking country, you need to talk and listen to learn, observation just tells you what people do and as campbell bangs on day after fucking day that aint insight.

andrew. have you ever lived or spent considerable time living in another country. not studying or travelling. living? thats not a loaded question, i know what youre saying and agree with some of it, i just want to know what youre perspective of other cultures really is.

no fucking rush to get back, ive got a load of yanks to abuse and with them youre right. theyre the same standard of annoying wherever the fuck they are

Comment by andy@cynic

Pedantic point of infomation – the non white population of the UK as defined by the last census still stands at below 10% – that includes people who define themselves as being of mixed race.

The UK is a very white, essentially monocultural country. We Londoners should not fool ouselves otherwise – even if as of Sept 2005, 25% (not 40%) of the population were born outside the UK.

Comment by John

That’s not a good thing or a bad thing per se, it’s just factual.

Comment by John

Hi Andy,

I lived and worked in Los Angeles for 6 months – and ever afterwards EVERY American I have met has told me LA is not the “real” America.

I lived and worked in Israel for 3 months.

I would never use this as an argument that I know what I am talking about.

I’m just saying that mass air transport is unsustainable and we need to consider alternatives and actually looking in your own back yard is a good alternative.

If anyone doesn’t believe me I am willing to lead a guided tour of Willesden for all interested parties.


Comment by andrew

everyone says la isnt real america but it is, its the fucking part called la. 6 months there is like 30 years anywhere else so congratulations of surviving the fucking jungle.

so youre argument is all stemmed on the fact air travel is not sustainable and so people should look in their own back yard?

thats 2 totally different fucking arguments.

i agree with your first point but like campbell said, theres no fucking way companies associated with the airlines are going to happily accept its demise and will be putting all sorts of resources behind finding a decent alternative.

maybe they will succeed, maybe they wont. maybe itll be environmentally friendly, maybe it wont. maybe people will turn their backs on it all. maybe they wont but if you think looking over your back fence is a decent way to understand other cultures then youre wrong and ill get campbell to take you on a guided tour of anywhere in asia to prove it.

youll be saying watching the discovery channel makes you an expert on documentary making next.

Comment by andy@cynic

I used to spend an inordinate amount of time in Leicester – one of the UK’s key Asian hubs – but having also spent quite a lot of time in India, I can tell you that whilst there’s some similarities in attitudes and culture, when you look under the superficial surface, you realise there’s a wealth of differences … and when you pass through different regions of that same country, you realise there’s even bigger differences in terms of attitudes, values, tastes and even religious beliefs.

I accept you can learn some stuff by looking around your personal World … I accept that many different cultures live in the UK … but to say this is enough to get an understanding of how other societies live and think is bordering on arrogance.

There’s way too much generalisation of other cultures … and often its bred on myth, legend and prejudice rather than fundamental facts … so I’ll happilly take your Willesden if you take my India, Pakistan, China, Vietnam, Australia – you name it.

As for the business of airline sustainability – I agree with you, in its current guise it stands no chance – but I also think if the World ends up staying in their own back yards, there’s not much chance sustaining a positive humanity either.

I still think your argument is transportation based – because if there was a environmentally beneficial way for people to explore, I would imagine you would accept the benefits of international exploration [accepting you can still learn/see lots by walking around your own community]… am I right or are we completely at odds?

Comment by Rob

Yes, broadly I am saying people should stay in their own backyards and be happy with what they have.

I’ve tried to do this gently and point out there are alternatives (which could be packaged properly and used as a marketing opportunity) but for some reason extraneous arguments like multiculturalism, immigration statistics from eight years ago and the location of the Tate gallery are creeping in.

Basically 170 flights a year is not only unsustainable it is totally irresponsible. You should be ashamed of this, not proud. You can justify it to me on the grounds that you have to make money somehow (we are all compromised by the clients we have had to handle – in my time I have handled a small part of Atlantic Richfield Corp which disgusts me now when I think of it). But you can’t present it as some kind of social good and not expect it to be challenged.

It’s mad idea anyway. It may be fine for a few Alan Whickers, but the mass air transit experienced in the West is already causing big problems. The idea that the rest of the world is going to have the same access to mass air transport as Europe and America is totally insane.

Have you any idea of the billions of flights it would involve to “mandate people to go on International [Travel] Service instead, because not only do I think it would help their societies and culture, but it might help make the World a better and more productive place as well.” Or are China and India and Russia and Brazil going to be excluded from this programme?

And if you are a resident of that part of the world currently (and temporarily I hope) called Australia, what is wrong with “stepping outside your language clan” by interacting with the many indigenous cultures of that continent? You don’t need to come to Europe to do that.

But I have said far more than I intended to, and will say no more. I have revealed more of myself than I intended to. And I always regret commenting.

Comment by andrew

Why would you regret commenting Andrew except for the fact you are very quick to judge people you don’t know and might not like having a spirited response.

Of course you are entitled to your opinion and believe it or not, I am glad you have expressed it – but then so am I, and I think you’re making quite a few accusations that are neither justified or accurate.

Am I proud of all the flying I do?

In all honesty, yes and no.

Of course I like the fact that as part of my job, I get to see, meet experience interesting things and people – things and people I would never get to do if I was still living in Nottingham [which I am not claiming is good for society, that was what I think mass cultural exploration could achieve – though I waSN’T advocating ‘plane use’, I wasn’t advocating any transport actually] … but I do also hate the fact I travel so much and so often.

Is this because of personal and selfish reasons?

Yes, because I don’t like being away from my wife … but it’s also because I know – and have always known – it has a terrible impact on the World I live in. And whilst I am sure I could never achieve the dizzy heights of your environmental conciousness [or guilt] I do try and counter the damage I am doing through a number of environmental programs, of which I won’t bore you with because no doubt you’ll find some fault with them as well.

I don’t live in Australia. I used to and I spent much time travelling the country and meeting various people but you probably think I could of met an Aboriginal tribe at Nottingham’s Victoria Centre so no doubt you’ll think this is another example of my blatant disregard for the planet.

I know I could do things that are better … I know I am not perfect … I know there are wonderful things on my doorstep, things I’ve never discovered … but you know what, I also know there is great joy in exploration and discovery. The sort of exploration and discovery that 10 years watching the National Geographic channel [another client of mine] could never achieve and something I don’t think should only be available to the privalidged or the Alan Whickers of this World.

I appreciate there has to be some balance in all this – and I appreciate that I can/should improve it, given all the flying I do with for work – but if your attitude to society and culture is representative of someone who only stays in their own street, then you’re in danger of encouraging me to get on a plane even sooner.

I would be happy to have a proper conversation with you about this, either via email or better still, Skype … it’s up to you.

Comment by Rob

maybe the reason andrew stays in his own fucking neighbourhood these days is because his arms still hurt from when he swam to la and his feet have blisters from nipping over to egypt.

you did swim and walk didnt you andrew or are you still thrashing your back with a belt buckle for your sins.

grow up.

Comment by andy@cynic

does everyone like the new mature me?

Comment by andy@cynic

Your wife might.

Comment by Rob

I’ve lived in Germany for well over 16 years now. That’s proper living and not “visiting regularly”. I have no English friends here, all my friends are German. With the exception of two companies I’ve always worked in German businesses. I married and divorced a German woman and my three daughters carry German passports (they do not carry UK passports). I speak German.

Now you would probably expect me to think of myself as somewhat of an expert on Germany and the Germans, and I suppose I know a thing or two, but you know what? I haven’t got a clue what makes them tick. 16 years of living in Germany has only really helped me to understand what it means to be English/British and why I probably will never live there again.

What I have also noticed about being a foreigner is that, when I visit another country, I spot the differences/similarities much quicker and I spot them in a different way. I may even be spotting different differences because I’m comparing them to other little things that I’ve noticed and picked up over the course of the last 16 years.

This was really helpful when I used to business travel.

Comment by Marcus

i used to watch starsky and hutch every fucking week when i was living in england and guess what. when i moved to the states it wasnt like the show at all. fucking lying tv bastards.

where are you campbell? we have a concall and you dont want to miss it or youll have to fly over and piss andrew off all over afuckinggain.

Comment by andy@cynic

Coming …

[that is not a euphamism]

Comment by Rob

Do the Amerian’s know that Hugh Laurie is English Andy? God, imagine if THAT got out?

Comment by Marcus

you think thats dangerous. what about arnie. the daft fuckers probably think hes got a speech impediment.

Comment by andy@cynic

you mean…. they don’t that Arnie is from from Luton?

Comment by Marcus

they dont even know he used to make vauxhall fucking novas

Comment by andy@cynic

thanks to steve my tech bitch i found andrews blog. hes a fucking wannabe civil servant who talks about being a historian.

now it all makes sense. the reason he doesnt want any fucker to travel in or out of the uk is so greasy little oiks like campbell, brown, aussie brown and me dont get ideas above our station and start trying to move “upstairs” or worse infect the fucking blue blood gene pool.

this hasnt got anything to do with the fucking environment its about maintaining the fucking class system. why didnt you just say that andrew.

Comment by andy@cynic

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