David Beckham's move to Paris is a chance to reflect on the modern ease of international travel

Plus: Mamma Mia, La Lolla! Screen goddesses aren't what they were

Share

We forget what a complete palaver it used to be going abroad at all. Before Mrs Thatcher came to power, you were not permitted to take more than £500 out of the country at any one time. For years after that, the limits on technology meant that you had to arrange travellers’ cheques or bank transfers, or stash large amounts of cash on you. To book hotels, you had to track one down in a guidebook or similar, not really knowing whether it was any good or not, and book it over the telephone. Alternatively, you entrusted yourself to a travel company who packaged the whole deal.

That was for a week’s holiday. Anyone wanting to go and work abroad, or live there for any extended period, had to overcome all these barriers, and, even in Europe, there were all sorts of additional legal restrictions about travel, residency, police registration and so on.

David Beckham’s move to a Paris football club is a chance to think on how much things have changed in 30 or so years. His wife and children are going to stay in London; he  will commute and live in a hotel. Hardly anyone has the means of the Beckhams, but this way of life is not unusual these days. Large numbers of British citizens are being driven, or are choosing, to work abroad – 4.7 million British citizens live abroad, at the last count; 149,000 left in 2011 alone.

And these figures don’t include people like me, whose domestic circumstances require a commute with a plane. To spend the weekend with my husband, I need to get on the plane to Geneva, if he’s not coming to London. In the autumn, a nicely timed combination of a sabbatical for me and a secondment for him meant four months of moving between London and New York. These days, it’s easy, and not impossibly expensive. Flying to Geneva is often cheaper than going by train to Liverpool.

Travel between capital cities in Europe and even across continents has been transformed in the past 30 years. What hasn’t been transformed is the travel within Britain, especially train travel. The announcement of HS2 promises the sort of fast movement between regional capitals which would be routine in almost every other major European economy. It will cost a huge amount of money; it won’t happen for 20 years, at least; it should have happened 20 years ago.

No wonder the elite has turned its attention away from great provincial British cities, and towards Berlin, Paris and Amsterdam. It is just easier to get there. And provincial towns, too, are relatively isolated from each other. Try getting across the country, from Bangor to Hull, for instance.

If you want to go the 100 miles from Oxford to Cambridge by train, leaving today and coming back tomorrow, it is going to take two and a half to three hours each way, and cost you £100 in standard class. You might as well go to Paris. Not many of these challenges will be resolved by HS2.

The mentality of the capital has turned away from the country and towards the rest of  the world. We were supposed not to have to travel so much, in the new world of electronic communications. That hasn’t happened. What we have is an ease of transport, an ease of existence between different cultures compared to 30 or 40 years ago. On the other hand, going 100 miles by rail within England is probably exactly the same as it was when Dr Beeching left it, apart from, of course, costing a pound a mile.

Screen goddesses aren’t what they were

Twenty-two years ago, I was in Sicily when, all of a sudden, a cry went up from the street. “La Lolla! La Lolla!” Awestruck, thrilled Sicilian men of a certain age were acclaiming the appearance of that most characteristic of Italian sirens, Gina Lollobrigida.

She’s hardly been in a movie for 40 years. She still looks so magnificent there could hardly be any doubt about her appearance, still calling up fond memories of that glorious piece of biblical tat, Solomon and Sheba, with Yul Brynner (she played Sheba).

It appears, however, that not everyone is as familiar with La Lolla’s appearance as those 1990 Sicilian fans. She claims that her lover, Javier Rigau y Rafols, went through a marriage ceremony in Barcelona with a woman called Maria Pilar Guimera Gabilondo, who impersonated her. I have seen a picture of Senora Gabilondo. It is fair to say that she is never likely to stop traffic in the street in the same way.

This extraordinary story made me wonder about my long-standing difficulty in recognising Hollywood actors today. I must have seen Scarlett Johansson in half a dozen movies. Still, I have absolutely no idea what she looks like. She just looks like someone with regular features, very much like a number of other actors of the day. The problem isn’t limited to women actors. I wish I knew what Shia LaBeouf looked like, or Ryan Reynolds, who was, indeed, married to Scarlett Johansson during a confusing period. If Maria Pilar Guimera Gabilondo wants to make a profession out of her alleged impersonation, she would stand much more chance if she put on a straight blond wig, and aimed at the modern-day starlet. Nobody knows what they look like. On the other hand, there is only one Lollobrigida, and only ever will be.It’s amazing anyone could have thought for a second they could have impersonated her.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, 5 July 2015  

George Osborne says benefits should be capped at £20,000 to meet average earnings – but working families take home £31,500

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The BBC has agreed to fund the £650m annual cost of providing free television licences for the over-75s  

Osborne’s assault on the BBC is doing Murdoch’s dirty work

James Cusick James Cusick
Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend