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the joys of travel

I have always loved those places where travellers gather to start or continue their journeys; stations, airports and the like. Part of the charm is in people watching and part in the buzz and general excitement that these places bring.

This is being written whilst sitting in the American Airlines terminal at Miami, but my original encounters with centres of travel were somewhat more modest. My earliest memory is of sitting with my mother is a ‘bus station cafe and I would have been about four, maybe five, at the time so we are talking about 1956/57. We were waiting for the Thames Valley B service to take us home along the Great West Road. An elderly man came in and bought himself a cup of tea, but as he made his way rather erratically to a table he dropped his drink. The lady behind the counter made him another drink and brought it over as my young eyes took in this vignette. “Tipsy” whispered my mum, but I didn’t know what she meant.

That I can still recall that incident from more than fifty years ago perhaps shows the impact that travel centres have on me. I think that my fascination stems from the fact that my parents did not drive, not that that was unusual in those days, but because it meant that any outings involved a ‘bus, coach or, as a rare treat, a train.

London’s Victoria coach station became a regular port of call in the late 1950s and I would pass through there on many adventures over the next fifteen years orzo,culminating in the start and finish of my first trip abroad in 1973, perhaps fittingly my last visit there.

The boy who had had that ‘bus station encounter used to live under the turning point for airliners coming in to land at Heathrow from the west. Whilst the Comet had overcome its problems and would be one of the ‘planes I would see, in was at that time the only jet airliner still, and most of what I would see were Constellations, Stratocruisers, DC6s and Britannias.

I got to recognise most of the airlines, but whilst BOAC was our airline it was TWA and Pan-Am that would stir my thoughts, perhaps because their names were redolent of America, Holywood and the Wild West that I was coming to know from the movies (we had no TV at home then). My head may have been in the clouds with these big, four engined (albeit that sometimes only three were still working) aeroplanes, I had little thought then that one day I would fly on their successors.

Thirty more years would pass before I first flew, but that started a fairly frantic period of shuttling between Heathrow, Belfast, Glasgow and Edinburgh during which I got on first name terms with some of the cabin crew. By the time that Heathrow became a second home Pan-Am were still a fixture with their majestic 747s that I would often see landing or taking off as I left or returned my car to the business parking alongside the northern runway.

Pan-Am itself then became a casualty of Lockerbie and many of its former routes transferred to American Airlines which is the reason that I am here in Miami, the home hub of the old Pan-American, for AA will be flying me back to Heathrow overnight. Miami is perhaps one of my favourite travel centres with its Latin feel and vibrant multi-cultural buzz, but it also has, especially in the re-built AA terminal, a little of the glamour and style that was such a part of flying in the days when I would lie on our lawn and watch the transatlantic services come and go all those years ago.

TWA have also now been consigned to history and it is a long way and many years from Maidenhead ‘bus station to Miami airport, but the journey has been a fascinating one. Where next? Well after Heathrow’s terminal three tomorrow the next travel centre will probably be Swindon station. Perhaps a sharp contrast, but there will be people and things to watch and wonder at all the same, and that, for me, is the joy of it still.

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