Wednesday, 7 December 2011

How did I get here?

It's a bit odd really, where you find yourself sometimes. I am on a plane flying across the Atlantic. I have eaten a rather passable dinner and have watched "Cowboys and Aliens" which was a ripping good bunch-of-nonsense yarn, perfect for a long flight. Now I am settling down to appraise my situation objectively. Suddenly life seems very confusing.

Growing up in a tiny village in Gloucestershire, I was just "Our Pete": a proper scruffy urchin with a mop of unruly hair, the fringe of which covered my eyes and hid my default expression of cynical scepticism. I sneaked through woods, cutting sticks for bows and arrows, I pinched eggs from the hens in the old railway carriage henhouse a mile or so outside the village. Smelling faintly of wild garlic or cow parsley, I made dens in hedges and was generally a bit of a ragamuffin. It was a good life for a child but the horizon of my life was pretty much the extent to which I could walk from home, or where other villages' territories extended with their own ruffian kids who were generally not well disposed to interlopers.
Occasionally we would go to Bristol to visit the dentist or I would go to work with my dad on his milk tanker which took us all around the farms of North Somerset. I thought that was what life consisted of. School and our locality. Anything beyond was literally Terra Incognito and I only had the vaguest sense of what might exist beyond my everyday experience.

Well, I grew up, as one does, largely retaining the accent most beloved of those who play turnip-headed goggling yokels on telly and I got an education of sorts. It was not a terribly distinguished academic career, interfering as it did with the generally fascinating experience of being sentient. But amazingly I scraped sufficient qualifications to become employable (just) and somehow, yet again, I "got away with it".

Strange then that somehow I should be writing this at 37000 feet (as I began) over Greenland in a Boeing 777, seven hours in to my flight to Colorado. At home, my (missed!) dance class will just be starting on the intermediate section and it will be dark and cold.
Up here, we have experieced permanent daylight for an unfeasably long period as we have followed the day westward. Catapulted thousands of miles, in a few hours by almost inconceivable forces, it is light at nine o'clock home time. Implausibly, I am eating a double Gloucester sandwich (oh how far away Gloucester feels now!) several miles up over the North American Continent.

My juvenile self could not for a moment have contemplated himself up in an aeroplane. He might perhaps occasionally have glimpsed one high up on a summer's eve leaving golden jet trails in the sunset as it travelled towards places beyond his young imagination. But to fly? To Colorado?
Colorado was one of those places I saw in those glorious photos in National Geographic magazines. My grandfather used to bring them home from the childrens home where he was a gardener. They hinted at a world of exotic and enormous vistas, so different from the fields I was used to. They gave me strange feelings of atmospheres of places, how it might feel to be in them or smell them, or tread their rocky trails. To this day. when I hear the name "Colorado", I smell the smoke from a cowboy's campfire and see red sandstone buttresses and high snow capped mountains.

But I never thought I would actually go there. Why would I? I am "our Pete from Walkmill Lane" Who lived in isolated little Kingswood and was inseparable from his old parkha and wellies as he grubbed for fossils in the hills of Gloucestershire.

Looking down at Ice floes as we fly towards the northern coast of Canada, it seems odd to me that I should be here. My presence is required to discuss really, fairly mundane issues of technology with some engineers from a customer. I really cannot quite believe it necessitates this journey above the clouds to places I only saw on telly as a kid (and which were therefore in a way, no less mythical than Narnia or Middle Earth). Down there are people who speak like they do on films!
Outside the windows of the plane, the crystals of ice that form the clouds of those very exhaust trails whizz past the window, blurring my attempted photographs and possibly showing as long white lines in the sky for some (very cold) small boy to look up at and wonder.

It seems there is knowledge I possess that requires me to attend this meeting. But somehow, I can't quite believe it and it feels as if I might turn up to greet a roomful of people in Denver who will look up in puzzlement and say "What are you doing here?!"
And I will be rumbled.

They could, with seeming justification say "Didn't you used to be that kid who used to kick horse poo at the girl guides on their walks and shoot conkers at the cows' backsides with your catapult to see them raise their legs in the air? Why are you in our meeting?"
And I would say "Oh yes. So I am. I don't know what got into me. I will get my coat and go home. I don't know what I was thinking!"

Somehow, however, I will seem respectable and plausable. I will stand up in front of my customers and make pronouncements about this and that, and they will nod sagely in response with looks of considered concentration on their faces.
And me, I will be, in my mind, observing from a point ten feet to my right, looking at myself in disbelief, wondering if the words are coming at the bidding of some corporate demon who for that moment, is in possession of my vocal cords.
Will anyone guess, I wonder, what a fraud stands before them? Jargon and sincere opinion will spout forth from I know not where and these learned fellows with years of experience in engineering and technology will have no inkling of how implausible I feel. Surely, on my exit from the meeting, my boss will be there frowning, hand outstretched saying "Your pretense is uncovered! I have seen through your feeble disguise as a responsible employee! We demand all the money back!"

Well, perhaps somehow the knowledge has seeped into me unnoticed over the years. Maybe the conversations I have observed and the presentations I have sat through have actually sunk in and I do know my stuff. Could it be that all that I say will actually be correct and informative?
No, it can't be. I am "Our Pete" from Kingswood. All I know about is the best way to get to Hillesley Road from the Ash Path at Nind via Farmer Newman's fields. I can't possibly know what I am talking about.

And yet, somehow, I am here, sat on BA219 London Heathrow to Denver. I am looking down now at Lake Superior, en route to a meeting with customers, having left my Big-Grown-Up-House, my grown-up children and my wife back home in far-away England.
Sometimes, don't you just look at it all and hear the words of the song in your head?:
"And you may ask yourself 'How did I get here?'"

2 comments:

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello:
Well, we are in fact asking ourselves pretty much the same question of how have we managed to get here as for reasons best known to the likes of Blogger and Google and, certainly, for reasons completely unknown to us, your blog continues to come and go from our Google reader at random.

Still, we are here and have delighted in your tales at 37000feet. Local boy makes good we are sure that the Parish Magazine might have reported. Pete goes West could have been a less than friendly headline. It is all rather amazing, isn't it?

We are sure that the whole experience will not only be successful but will stay with you for ever as the memorable occasion that it surely is. And, as we are sure [because we see it in films]any self-respecting American would say....ENJOY!!!!

PerlNumquist said...

Thank you Jane and Lance. Yes, the feeds from blogger do seem a little erratic. It would be unlikely that the headline would have been about me going west as this, locally would mean Cornwall.
It was a gruelling couple of days and I note that the place has not changed all that much since I was last there 12 years ago. Indeed, the Fort Collins Marriott could do with a lick of paint.
But I note the Bible Superstore ("great gifts for Christmas!") and Foothills Mall are both still open despite this recession. Its lovely to see that in these austere times, Americans spend wisely.