Get out there and travel

22nd June 2001 at 01:00
I SUPPOSE that Miss Doig started it all. She looked 80 about 40 years ago and taught me in primary school. Hair drawn back in a bun, she was a lifelong Tory and extolled the virtues of Harold Macmillan to our class before the 1959 general election.

As 10-year-olds we were used to being marched across the playground to Sheildhall Road for any passing royalty (we lay on the direct route between Renfrew airport and the city centre) to cheer the limousines.

Memory plays strange tricks - but do I remember pupils drawing Union Jacks on the back of their dinner tickets and sticking their pencils through them for an improvised flag?

The pronouncement of Miss Doig that stuck in the mind was when she told us, "Children, don't ever smoke", and encouraged us towards this goal with tales of exotic holiday destinations attained via the money saved by being a non-smoker.

"This year I'm going to Spitzbergen," she announced.

I didn't know where it was then, but it sounded like Xanadu. Lots of pupils smoked - the penny single from Harris's General Store was commonplace - but a love of travel was initiated in primary 6.

Nowadays, of course, school-leavers want more than a hostelling holiday in Scotland or even an InterRail ticket. Fuelled by Friday night Channel Four programmes, grat swathes of seniors head to Majorca or Corfu for a rites of passage fortnight (sleep all day and drink all night), while the ubiquitous gap year is almost de rigueur.

E-mails from Nepal have replaced the postcard from Skye as the adolescent point of contact.

Whole generations of children who visited Europe courtesy of the Dunera or Nevasa or Uganda on educational cruises organised by Glasgow Corporation now are the parents of children who make their own arrangements and itineraries.

As a student I once set off for a walking holiday in Calabria, blissfully ignoring the fact that in high summer, carrying a rucksack, most of my walking would have to be between three and four o'clock in the morning. Instead, I crossed under the stars from Brindisi to Corfu and camped out on a semi-deserted beach, marvelling at the rosy-fingered dawn of my recent Greek classes in school.

A youth hostel I stayed in was full of Americans on the hippy trail to Afghanistan. Bottleneck guitar was played in the dormitory, a goat turned slowly on a spit for the evening meal.

Horizons today aren't as varied, but for me, whether it's seeking Stac Pollaidh or Salamanca, travel still brings a frisson of excitement that I trace back to that Drumoyne primary classroom all those years ago.

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