Trevor Travel takes a big trip
Sunday 13 December 1998
For the first 18 years, I would place Trevor deep in the English countryside and teach him nothing about the outside world. On his annual holidays, he would eat scones and clotted cream and go for crappy donkey rides on Brighton beach. He would be a pleasant enough little fellow, if a trifle pale and unhealthy. To cheer him up, by night, I would send him dreams of steaming weather and monkey gods.
Then on his eighteenth birthday I would give Trevor Travel a road map and a command: Go east young man!
What a shock he would get that first morning in Calais. People shrugging and pouting and speaking a funny foreign language. And wouldn't it be amazing how they could eat food cooked in butter and garlic without getting indigestion? But Trevor would shake people's hands from Paris to Lyons and he would begin to notice that they were not so different. The first lesson of travel would have been learnt.
He would make his way into Italy where the sight of crumbling tenement blocks and red stripes on policemen's trousers would initially startle him. But this would be nothing compared with his perplexity on seeing eastern Europe. That exotically formed alphabet. Those curiously domed houses of worship.
Arriving in Istanbul for the first time would almost be the end of him: never would Trevor have seen beards so black, or drunk coffee so fragrant, or heard calls to prayer so musical. Then he would shake more people's hands, and visit the church of St Sophia and vaguely remember reading about its construction, before taking the plunge and buying a carpet with my (or God's) credit card. He would soon begin to love the concept of novelty.
Trevor's growing adventurous streak would be stretched to the limit in the months to come. He would cross the Anatolian steppe in a state of constant incredulity. Why had people carved houses into pieces of soft rock shaped like witches hats? Why did they spread apricots on their door-tops?
By the time he reached Aleppo he would walk through the great bazaar, totally bemused by the smell of donkey droppings. Then he would take the long journey to Baghdad, asking himself what freak of climate caused deserts to form.
Trevor's suspicion that things continued to get more and more different the further away from home you travelled would again be confirmed upon arrival in the Indian subcontinent.
What about these monsoon rains? His palm would develop callouses from shaking so many people's hands. Only an intimate knowledge of classical philology would enable him to detect that the local language was still faintly related to English.
Once he reached Indo-China, this knowledge would cease to be of any use at all. Every time he inhaled the smoke from another burning joss stick, he would worry that he was approaching the end of the world. Down the long Malayan peninsula only dragonflies and frangipani trees would continue to lure him on.
Finally he would catch a boat from Singapore to Bali where, in pouring rain and surrounded by croaking frogs, he would find a wide-eyed monkey god staring out at him from the dripping shrubbery.
Something very, very deep would tell Trevor that he had finally reached the end of his journey.
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