Eleven years ago, I was in a state of recovery. My social world was already in place, I had gone through school and university (for the first time at least! All subsequent attempts where a little bit preordained as failures, but that didn’t mean it was wrong for me to have tried.
My old friend from high school, one Mike Reynolds (and I simply don’t identify him by that, there are indubitably thousands of Michael Reynoldses on our planet – Wikipedia, for example, identifies two separate actors, both born before the Second World War), rang me up and invited me on a trip to Rome. “Just us?”, I asked. “Yes”, he replied. “Just you and I, on a trip to Rome?” Again, the answer was in the affirmative, and we duly booked flights, and set off through the skies from John Lennon Airport. Or possibly from Manchester Airport, a massive domestic and international hub.
On arrival, I was struck at once by the thinness and warmth of the air. Foreign airports fit into two categories. There’s the smaller arrivals, dotted with dozens of people freely roaming around but with a sense of destination and a place to head to. And then there’s the massive, businesslike, endless corridors of places like Frankfurt Airport, truly impressive buildings like Schiphol.
As you might have already worked out, I have never been to Schiphol, but in 2007 I went to the Rome airport out of the city. “Cheap flights” have ever been this way – if you want to get close to the central districts, and pay a pittance and no more to get there, you’ll have to be prepared for a certain amount of ardour on the way. In practice, this involves getting up as soon as you go to bed, getting dressed in the pitch dark, stuffing the suitcases into somewhere and travelling either on a 6am flight or an 11pm flight. It’s the journey that matters, not the destination! That’s the whole point, isn’t it.
In Rome, we arrived at the central train station, easily identifiable on any map. We picked up a free one, and wandered around with our youthful, strong bodies, walking several kilometres with cheer until finding our youth hostel. What a location – how significant! Right next to the embassy district. Big buildings with huge significance, the embassies from the places of the world where trouble was boiling to beyond melting point, and we saw the uniformed, armed representatives of their respective nations standing guard, moving about, chatting in pairs, keeping guard over what is literally their own country.
We met a group of American students who had just been studying in Greece. They were just as confused as life as we were. The 6 of us ventured into a little, bland restaurant. A tourist trap, for sure, but I think that the staff were just as confused about the concept of “Italian food” as we were. Having journeyed in Sicily already, I had experienced that splendour already, and my pizza was utterly unremarkable, but the people were utterly unforgettable, as where the Coliseum and its gardens, and the massive open field for spectators at ancient chariot races.
At one point we had chariot racing on national British television. That disappeared. It’s Sunday today, a day for watching sport for all British men. Remember that, women, while you concentrate on the Sabbath.