Saturday, 22 August 2015

The trouble with tourism

I'm not a fan of summertime. It's too hot and there are far too many bugs around for my liking. The ants are out in force making it impossible to spend time outside without having the little bastards crawling up your leg in search of Christ-knows-what. If you ride a motorcycle you have to compete with clouds of greenfly that coat the front of the bike and your helmet visor, ensuring an hour's riding results in a further two hours getting all the splattered and dried corpses removed.
You can't even sit in the garden with a book because even if the ants don't get you, you'll spend the entire time itching from all the feckin' thunderflies wandering around on your skin - so much so that you end up feeling them even when they're not there.
For my part, when the sun puts its hat on and comes out to play, I disappear indoors until it has gone away behind a cloud.
I love the spring and autumn which are when you witness nature changing day by day, and usually it's not so hot that you want to take refuge in the fridge. Even winter has its benefits, because even if it is cold and wet with very little daylight, it's a lot easier to make yourself warm when the weather is cold than it is to get cool when the weather is hot. After all, there are only so many layers of clothing you can remove before you end up in front of the judge trying to explain why you were walking around the town wearing nothing apart from Crocs and a pair of RayBans.
Winter is also a time when you can go out in the world without having to face a great multitude of tourists (unless you live near a ski resort), and for me this is a wonderful thing. No matter how dull and depressing the weather may be, at least you're not going to get wedged  between two coach-loads of Chinese tourists all sporting identical pink rucksacks while you're trying to get to the bus station.

Now I realise that we're (nearly) all guilty of being tourists ourselves at some point, and that the tourism industry is a major income for some places who without it would be financially destitute, but for those going about their everyday lives, tourists can be a total pain in the arse.
I work in Cambridge, which along with Oxford is a major draw for tourists owing to its world renowned University. From roughly the end of March until winter gets its claws out, Cambridge sees a relentless stream of coaches disgorging their eager cargo, all clutching Nikon SLRs with big lenses and generally wearing the sort of clothing that screams "TOURIST!" and means they may as well be carrying a large placard displaying the words "Beware - I may suddenly stop dead in front of you to take a photo of my friends in front of Kings College".
One of the things that does amuse me is the number of people who in all innocence ask for directions to the University. To the uninitiated, Cambridge University is not situated in a single campus, but its immense collection of colleges and departments is spread in a fairly haphazzard manner across the entire city, with a few bits actually beyond the city boundary. To answer the above question with a simple "Which part of the University?" will result in a look of complete confusion and a certain amount of stammering.
If you're lucky enough to avoid these encounters, you still won't be able to steer clear of trouble in Cambridge because tourists are pack animals and will therefore at some point block your path completely. Some of them pretend to be oblivious of the problem they are causing, which means you have to point out the error of their ways with a well-braced shoulder. Get it right and they go flying with an effect not dissimilar to pins in a bowling alley. This is most commonly required when faced with groups of Spanish or French students who are noticeably ignorant.
Tourists here seem to deliberately make a point of finding the narrowest part of any given footpath or pedestrian area and amassing in a huge clump right there for an extended conference. I'm sure I've seen a catering trolley being wheeled into the midst of the most inconvenient and annoying groups with coffee and biscuits.
Probably worse than the groups blocking the footpaths are those that go en-masse to hire bicycles with the sole purpose of trying to commit suicide on the road. It's fortunate that locals can spot them from a mile away and fully expect a wobbly Asian with a dayglo rucksack to suddenly turn right, straight across the front of them without even bothering to look behind. Unsurprisingly there's usually one foreign tourist deleted permanently each year. The surprising thing is that there aren't more, but that is probably explained by the fact that anyone who drives in Cambridge regularly is used to cyclists jumping red traffic lights, and those who ride a black bike with no lights at night, wearing black clothes and with their hearing blotted out with full size headphones, believing that they're completely invincible.

Then we have the additional effects of tourism, such as the usual selection of quaint little shops in side streets selling all sorts of tasteless trinkets bearing the citys name.
The punting touts hang around near the river trying to drum up a bit of business offering the unwary a new and exciting way of finding themselves clinging to a long wooden pole in the middle of a river while a flat-bottomed boat full of drunk friends drifts away from them.
Honourable mention must go here to red telephone boxes which are a very rare sight these days, and as far as I can tell only serve the purpose of something for foreign tourists to have their photo taken beside, and a place for inebriated clubbers to urinate on the way home at 3AM.
Thankfully the summer is drawing to a close, and it won't be many weeks before the swarms of tourists diminish, and Cambridge can concentrate on its other infestation - students.

I may work for the University, but I was never a university student. Hell, I didn't even do A-levels.
I left school at 16 with a small handful of O-levels, the best of which was a 'B' in physics, and went straight into an apprenticeship to become an airframe fitter. I've never been much of a traveller either. Apart from a couple of day trips to France, the only time I've been out of the country was when the wife and I went to Austria for our honeymoon over 20 years ago.
All that may change soon though, as we're now considering exploring a few bits of the world outside England, and that means that I shall then become (occasionally) a tourist myself. All these years of negative experiences of tourists as a local means that I hope I shall try my hardest to avoid following this example and instead make every effort to blend in and not piss off the locals.

"Punting on the Cam, oh please do come, they say" - Marillion.

Photo stolen from the blog 'Comedy Travel Writing' by Adam Watts (the wife's nephew)
Please visit his blog - he's a fantastic writer!