Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bath, UK

This week's photo theme is Travel.  If I had my druthers, I'd be a travellin' fool.  I haven't explored near as many places as I had thought I would do by this point in my life and I hope the my future will offer up the chance to.  I did have the wonderful fortune though to spend a week in England at the end of the summer.  The majority of my time was focused on attending the Greenbelt Festival.  The first two days, however, was spent ambling around the city of Bath, which I absolutely fell in love with. The history, the architecture, and the whole feel of it being the land of Jane Austen novels left me smitten to return for a much longer visit.

Above, was the view from my room at the YMCA hostel.  Wow.  I absolutely LOVED it!  It was interesting staying at a hostel again, though this time I chose to have my own room rather than sharing it with 20 others like i did when I backpacked across Europe in the 80's.  The room however had no amenities.  Nada.  But, it was clean and the bed was comfie and given that I hadn't slept on the plane over etc, I figured I was just going to crash anyways.

Well, that was the plan until the fire alarm woke me from a deep sleep at around 10 pm and I had to get dressed and get my butt down to the front courtyard.  Not many even left the building and in fact the cafeteria was FILLEd with Spanish students singing and playing a loud clapping/cheering game.  They were having a blast, but oblivious to the amount of noise they were making.

The only people outside were older folks, all off whom seemed disinterested in starting up a conversation with anyone else.  It was kind of strange.  I had expected a lot of interaction, but there was none.  Couples stayed within themselves.  Groups were focused on eachother.   Given that I was wide awake at that point, I took the risk of entering the cafeteria to make myself a cup of tea, and then went back outside to enjoy the warm summer night....... and to listen to the chattering cheering Spanish kids.

There was a man sitting beside me whom I presumed was another traveller staying at the Y.  I made some comment about the incessant cheering.......... a conversation starter little joke.  He volleyed a comment my way and before I knew it, I was into a chat with him.  Very quickly, he informed me that he wasn't staying at the Y.  Phil, in fact, was a homeless person who had slept on the same bench for the past 8 years.  Well, he got MY attention!! I was full of questions.!!   And once I told him that I used to work with people on social assistance in Canada, Phil too was full of questions.  Our conversation took off in many directions.

I learned about the welfare system, about his family travails, about his struggles with alcoholism.  Phil described his bench, how it was contoured to fit his body.   He talked about the animals that live in the area and how he had tamed them.  He described the whole area, and the other towns I had passed through from Gatwick to Bath and shared a few stories of growing up in Swindon, which looked so worse for wear when I travelled through it earlier in the day.

When I asked him about subsidized housing, he admitted that he couldn't live inside.  He felt too claustrophobic.... to closed in.  He had tried, but it never panned out.  Consequently, he had been living outside for most of his adult life.  Given that he is the same age as me, that means he's been homeless for over 25 years. 

It was a true two way conversation......... Phil was very curious about life in Canada and about why I was travelling alone, why I was in the UK.  When I told him I was going to the Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham, to meet up with friends I had met through the internet, he was ALARMED!  Once I elaborated a bit on the friendship connections and how long they had been nurtured, he shook his head and told me he thought I was a risk taker!  This from a man who lives hand to mouth every single day!!  It made me laugh...... and I pointed out that his life was risky on a daily basis.

I also described the vastness of the country and how cold it gets in the winter..... how there are a few homeless people in my city who somehow manage to find a place to sleep outside even in -20 degree weather.   I told him a little bit about my family, and about the beauty of it.   Phil then described his dream to me.  If he could, he would have his own cabin in the woods in Canada.  I wasn't surprised and told him so.  There is a sense of freedom and independence captured in a dream like Phil's.  No neighbours, no interuptions, no structured routine.  Surrounded by nature, and left to your own survival skills, a cabin in the woods would be the perfect dream place for Phil.

We talked for an hour or so...... long enough that the Spanish cheering squad had finally called it a night.  There was never a moment when I felt uneasy or in harm's way.  Phil was a true gentleman.  Polite, and just as interested in connecting with another human being as I was, he shared so much of his personal story with me, and when he asked, I shared some of mine.  It was an amazingly open and interesting conversation.... two people who from an outsider would appear to be so very different, found common ground within minutes of meeting.  Our lives have evolved in such different ways. Our experiences, stresses, struggles, opportunities were polar opposites.  Where we met was at a place of hopes and dreams and feelings...... we shared an interest in humanity.

When it was time for me to head back in to try to catch some sleep before a full day of sightseeing and then catching the train to meet up with Pip and Paul in Cheltenham, I stood up to say goodbye.  We hugged like friends do, and wished each other well.  He turned and walked towards the dark alley leading to the road and eventually to his bench, and I headed inside the YMCA hostel feeling very lucky to have met him......... feeling very lucky that my week travelling on my own was no doubt going to be interesting. 

Phil continues to linger in my thoughts.......... I wonder if he's found any comfort tonight?

For more photos on Travel............and maybe a couple of stories to go with them, check out Carmi's blog. 

The view I had while sitting on the other side of the Avon River having a picnic lunch.  Bath Abbey looms large over the centre of this absolutely beautiful city.


TheChicGeek said...

What a wonderful trip and what a view from the Y! Who knew?

I think one of the greatest things about traveling is, like you say, we are more interested in humanity, in learning about how people really live and what they do. Social and economic considerations do not constrain us. We meet people where they are and we don't let the trappings get in the way.
I really enjoyed your story and your pictures.
BTY, how was it meeting Pip and Paul???? Inquiring minds want to know...LOL
Hugs :)

Gypsy said...

Well Phil sounds like a very interesting and unique fellow and I'm sure he felt enriched by meeting you too Dana. I love hearing your day to day stories and hope one day I have the pleasure of your company for a little while.

PS I have now read all 17 posts I missed out on....phew.....

Awareness said...

Kelly.... You described my feelings perfectly here. I didn't write the second part of the story, which was a conversation I had the next morning over breakfast with a man/jerk who had been travelling on his own for about a month.... on a self discovery/ancestral trip, which took him to Italy (where his grandparents emigrated to America from). It turned out he was the complete opposite to Phil.... he was full of himself, disinterested in asking questions. On top of that, he was rudely opinionated, even had the audacity to say that "all the smart Italians had moved out of Italy"???!!!! He boasted about himself (how SMART he was!!??), dumped on the poor..... all within 5 minutes of meeting him. I truncated that one and got the heck out of there. I left wondering why he was even travelling.

ps. I had met Pip the year before, so it was a lovely, lovely BRILLIANT reunion. Paul and the other bloggers who were involved with the Festival?..... that was wonderful. They treated me like one of their own and introduced me to a magical place to learn and to explore. Through them, I met musicians, guest speakers, other frontline workers, and people from all over the UK and Northern Ireland.

Awareness said...

Gypsy...! THANK YOU for reading all of them! You're a doll. yes, I have been prolifically typing away. It seems like there's a bunch of stuff right now pouring out of me. :) I have been using my blog as an indirect way to "debrief" so to speak. This new job doesn't offer much of an outlet to do that because I'm the only counsellor onsite. Though I'm not directly writing about the students I'm meeting with on a daily basis because of confidentiality, by writing about other topics, I can shift my thinking and move away from the world of counselling and work.

Anonymous said...

Love the story, I too look for oppotunities or should I say like you the run into me whenever I travel.
People sense something in you Dana and as Martha would say "that's a good thing"