24 JANUARY 1964, Page 29

Home and Away


ABROAD is unutterably bloody,' Miss Mitford's BROAD

Matthew thought, and only the other day Mr. Ian Fleming endearingly remarked about a journey round the world: 'What fun it all was! What fun "abroad" will always be!' The fron- tiers, though, are distinctly fading: where once the first nigger ingratiatingly awaited your arrival at Calais, today it is becoming increas- ingly difficult to feel abroad at all. The com- fortable old stereotypes of travel have been scoffed into oblivion: the Italian no longer has waxed moustaches, the German no longer clicks his heels, the American has abandoned horn- rimmed spectacles, and even the Englishman no longer habitually turns to the personal column of The Times, as he gingerly nibbles his crouton beside the boulevard. There is little in contem- porary travel that is altogether unfamiliar: partly because television has taken us everywhere already, but partly because the human race is, rather late in the day, discovering its own unity.

There is often something priggish to our present preoccupation with international good works (charity begins in Calcutta). From all the welter of sanctimonious initials, though, from the easy way out of the Oxfam Christmas card, from our lofty condemnation of racialists in far stickier positions than we are ever likely to endure—from our present mood of ostentatious holier-than-thou, there has incidentally emerged an altogether more agreeable approach to the techniques of travel. Sickly it may sometimes be, to pretend that ,we arc all brothers under the skin: but how much pleasanter it has made the world, how exhilarating it is to feel that no ineradicable old barriers of race, creed cr nationality divide us from the gendarme, the banana-sorter or even the wild fakir. We have been released! Travel for. our forebears, as any Victorian memoir will confirm, was girded about with wretched prejudices, restraining the free impulses even of the Kinglakes. the Bakers or the Richard Burtons. We are much luckier. We start from scratch. For us, a man can be a man again, and even the shadows of the heathens, wogs and natives have vanished into parody. -

In a way frontiers have always been most arti- ficial for the British, for wherever we go in the world we have a stake. When we wander across Europe, we are never really in foreign Parts; so cIose is the mesh of history, and so patent is it—pace de Gaulle and his fuzzy islanders—that we are Europeans too. When we go to the United States, we have to try hard to be foreigners, in a country where almost everything, from the Constitution to the current Broadway presentations, still has an English smack to it. In Egypt or India, Jamaica or Hong Kong, Australia or the Argentine—in all of them we may legitimately feel half at home, and know that were it not for earlier British travellers the face of the land would not be quite the same.

Within a hundred yards of the remotest kraal or most uncompromising pissoir, somebody is almost sure to speak at least a few words, of our language. The wandering scholars of the Middle Ages were never lonely, they say, be- cause as they staggered from Bologna to Oxford, and back to the philosophical disputations of the Sorbonne, everywhere they lived among men who Spoke Latin. Today, as it 'luckily happens, the

i ,auguage of tourism as of scholarship, of show business as of aviation, is pre-eminently English. We can still, like those learned vagrants, argue with foreign sages the composition of angelic substance: but more to our preset:11 point, wherever we go we can confidently order a scotch-and-soda in our own language, or even inquire after the political fortunes of President Nasser without taking a preliminary course in what diplomats still love to call 'the Arabic.' Indeed, it has often seemed to me, at convivial moments of a peripatetic life, that there cannot be more than four or five young people in the world whose ambition is not to perfect their English by practising their irregular verbs on me. There are those who deplore all this, who grumble about sameness, Americanisation and the impossibility of getting away from the tourists. I am not among them. It ,,eems to me that the abolition of unnecessary differences clears the deck for a merrier kind of melange: not the old chequer-board of black and white. Christian and pagan, Froggics and Wops, their lingo and ours, Us and Them, but the much happier hodge-podge of individual variety. Abroad is not so abroad as it used to be, but now that the categories of travel are dissolving, we can see all the better how marvellously mixed is mankind itself, how overwhelmingly the in- Iciest of travel lies in the particular rather than the general, in what you do rather than where you are.

The doctrines and snobberies of travel have lost their point, thank God, and it does not mean. much nowadays to boast that you are just back from Barcelona or Bangkok. We are travelling lighter, fresher, kindlier—and we are finding that familiarity does not kill surprise. For more than twenty years I loathed, with an ingrained spleen, the idea of Clovelly. HoW splodged and saccharine it used to look on the biscuit-tins--so stagy, so over-painted, so appallingly picturesque. Last autumn, however, I actually went there, for the first time in my life —and found it to be, of all the tourist marvels have ever visited, among the most genuinely astonishing. The moment I set eyes on the place, it sprang out of a pigeon-hole into a pleasure: and so, to our fortunate generation, can all the world around us, as the old structure of prejudices collapses, and we are left to make a fresh start.

'Going abroad this year?' they always ask. Certainly : abroad to Singapore or Aberystwyth. abroad down High Street or up to the Bronx, abroad on the Red Sea, the Volga or the Grand Union Canal—abroad wherever we go, among those blackguards, bores and charmer, the rest 'of us.