On my most recent return to the UK I saw the country in a new light; as a visitor, a tourist. This was largely down to my role as part-time tour-guide for my girlfriend and her parents. I’ve already talked about our apartment, Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, and our party-time with Henry VIII. There was also our delightful bus ride to some big rocks, a castle and some baths. Now it’s time to tell of the unavoidable stroll through my home-town of Weston.
I spent the majority of my formative years in a British seaside town called Weston-super-Mare. It’s probably fair to say that the place is a little past its prime. It’s now largely filled with Retirement Homes and Drug Rehab Clinics. It might also be fair to say that my opinion of my hometown was one of the key factors that motivated me to emigrate. Being that as it may, I still have many friends, family and fond memories residing in that burg, and it was fascinating to see the reactions of my Japanese companions.
We first stopped at the house where I muddled through my teens. The well-carpeted, three-story terrace house is fairly similar in design and layout to many British homes I know. It’s also very different to the Japanese ones I’ve experienced. For one thing, you’ll rarely see an entrance space with storage for innumerable pairs of shoes. Although the act of removing ones shoes at the front door is not uncommon in the UK, it is a much more serious consideration in Japan. There, every house, apartment and many public buildings such as schools, doctor’s clinics and even some hotels have dedicated areas where everyone takes off their shoes and dons slippers or other indoor footwear.
I gave the visitors a tour of the house, pausing a while to accept the barren state of my former bedroom; it had recently had it’s contents drastically redacted by my mother. It’s funny how much stuff one feels they need when they have a lot, yet how little they miss it when they don’t.
(Although I did hang on to my comic collection …)
Weston – the super-Sights in the super-Mare
As Weston is a seaside place the obvious choice for lunch was Fish and Chips. I also snagged me some mushy peas. After this my mum went back to work and my dad went back home. I led the fellowship through the drizzle and on to some key sights.
They mostly seemed quite impressed. The cobbled pedestrian High Street with it’s glittering array of mobile phone shops and clipboard-totting lingerers. The golden beach dotted with dog droppings that stretches off to a muddy horizon. The pubs across from pubs, next to pubs. However, through all the rough edges that distressed me as a youngster there is still a kind of friendly warmth to be found. I see many examples of this every time I glance at my Facebook Feed. Apparently this tenderness is more evident to visitors than to locals as I’ve heard many tales from people who’ve loved the town when visiting.
I’m mildly ashamed to say that apart from wondering aimlessly under grey skies, we largely spent our afternoon in Weston shopping in pound shops.
As in the plural.
Weston town centre has two pound shops (OK, OK, one of them is a 99p shop), within about a minute’s walk of each other, and we raided them both for all the one pound sweet bags we could get our hands on.
Later, when we got to the train station we learned that our train had been cancelled. The next train involved more than an hour’s wait. In the years I’ve lived in Japan the most delayed a train has ever been was about twenty minutes – and this was because of a large earthquake!
Waiting for the train at Weston station was pretty much the only difficult moment during our UK adventure. We spent the rest of our time pleasantly. I’ve often heard tourists to the UK speak of the kindness and warmth of British people, but I could never see quite what they were talking about. Until I became one of those tourists. We frequently encountered happy, smiling people who were willing to chat with us. There was the London Underground worker who started talking to us about the Japanese rugby team. There was the tour guide who looked after my girlfriend’s English-limited parents when they went off on a bus tour by themselves. There was the cashier at the Tesco Metro who nattered with us like we were old friends.
Since moving to Japan I have returned to the UK a number of times but this time felt different. I felt in control. I felt calm. I was no longer the aimless, insecure boy operating on minimal common sense. This time I knew what I had to do to get us where we wanted be. It was a feeling of completeness that I had yet to experience. Now, as I plunge into my thirties, I hope this feeling will continue to strengthen and help me face the perils of responsibility.
Thank you for reading! Plenty more travel tales up for perusing here, and many more to come!