It seems to me, from my return to these English roads less travelled, that there are less and less places where you can meet travellers.
The charm for me, back in the day, was in being able to compare notes on a place, have a good conversation, and perhaps even hook up to go see a few things together.
If anything, we are ever more reliant on the Internet to discover who to go with, as much as where to go – however the often impersonal structure of the sites to do that, and the difference between the online and the actual persona of the people you meet on there, does not always guarantee a match-up to what and who you are seeking (but, hey, now we are getting into a discussion which ties in with my day job in challenging that – and ideally seeking to improve the experience of it).
It’s more than just use of the Internet that is putting a stop to travellers meeting and conversing in person though, as I discovered when I headed down to The Rochester Bar to watch the young locals mixing.
I was heading to The Rochester to get an idea of what the Royal Victoria and Bull would have been like, as mentioned in my previous blog post, as it is supposedly connected with it from the sign on the door of the old hotel.
The first thing that struck me, as I got in the door, was that the pub was playing current pop numbers too loud for anyone to speak, let alone be heard. This probably explains why there was a lot of people milling around, either texting on their Blackberries or iPhones – despite being amongst a group of people, or showing others what they had texted as a way of sharing something that could not otherwise be spoken.
It was also curious to note that, apart from the greeting when they recognise someone they know, there was hardly any chat going on at all anyway. It seems that it is more just a question of coming in and sitting down (or hanging around the bar), and hoping to be seen by somebody – with drinks being bought and passed around.
There was something about the way that the crowd behaved at this place that reminded me of a “Life on Earth” episode on TV where Sir David Attenborough observes the culture and behaviour of mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Indeed, in close approximation to that at one stage, an incident broke out where the security guys chased one guy out who had challenged the equivalent of the dominant silverback there with his ladies. The pack leader had pushed the guy away from foisting his attentions on one of the girls – and then the incident happened when the jilted guy took a swing at him, and was fended off, which eventually led to him pulling a knife to get back at him. It was at this point that the security guys got involved and succeeded in chasing the offender out of the club.
The interesting thing was that, when it quietened down later (as when they were about to close, they turned the music off), I remarked to the young twenty something door supervisor (aka “bouncer”) about the nature of the incident – and this led on to a discussion about the general lack of conversation I’d noted, as well as how a good chat – and hearing a good story – used to be a large part of what I liked about going into pubs around England. I also gave him an idea of some of the people I’d met through those chats, and where they had led me to in discovering the country and its culture – as well as now to an interest in writing about it.
The guy said he would like to see something said and written about how simply to get young guys to even chat at all nowadays, rather than fight – even if it is like how they now have rap contests in some places to fend off aggression rather than play it out.
We probably chatted for no more than 15 minutes or so, but the guy was nice enough to say that the conversation we had just had was really good – and the first decent one he had had like that in his four years working there. If his comment is genuine, then how sad is that?