The animated chart on the television screen by the cafeteria is a little disconcerting; according to the flickering arrow, the bow of our ferry will run aground on the north Brittany coast, somewhere around Plouguerneau. Watching for a moment, though, makes it clear that our actual path is a little way off from the ship’s heading, the Captain accurately following an imaginary line that will see us slide past Ushant and south into the Bay of Biscay and, ultimately, to Bilbao.
The discrepancy in our direction is, of course, to compensate for the motion of the wind and water, which have their own ideas about where we should be headed. Navigating on the sea is not like driving along a road. Were the engines to stop, we wouldn’t coast gently to a halt, but instead would be carried who-knows-where by the tides, winds and currents.
I’m sipping from a so-so cup of Brittany Ferries coffee and watching through the grubby starboard windows as we plough onwards and westwards through a drizzly late afternoon. Our ten days in Britain have been fabulous, largely due to the outrageous generosity of our families and friends, but also for having had the opportunity to catch up with people and events in our homeland. Sue and I have lived in Spain for seven or so years now, and the Britain we left has of course moved on; I’m sure Spain has too, though the change is less apparent when you experience it day to day. I’m occasionally asked (or ask myself) to compare or contrast some aspect of living in Spain against the UK, and I’m usually guilty of referring to my outdated memories rather than up-to-date fact. (That’s particularly true when I try to compare prices – the 2006 price list in my head doesn’t cut it, it turns out, in 2014 Britain). It’s good to have some new data.
The grimy and depressed industrial north that I left in my late teens is a worthy example. Some industry still remains, but now the air smells clean and the colour has returned. Busy bars and restaurants serve cosmopolitan dishes, good wines and well-kept real ales. The newly-regenerated sea defences sport bold art and sculpture, while in the sea itself the masters of the currently emerging technologies have erected turbines, shining white against the distant backdrop of abandoned ironworks and docks. Yes, the crisis is biting, as it is everywhere, but this area has seen worse. Much worse.
Back in Surrey, my adoptive home in more recent years, things have moved on too. Tight leggings, ballet pumps and the obligatory Fiat 500 (the pastel shades are the ones to go for) these days allow the bright young things to express their individuality and independence by doing the same thing as all of their peers. (My, how attitudes have changed in my absence. It used to be a Renault Clio). Eventually, of course, they’ll have kids, and replace these frivolous toys with more serious equipment; an oil-burning, chrome-and-enamel leviathan in the kitchen and another on the drive. One to destroy the quinoa pilaf, the other, the green opposite the school.
There are some Spanish and Portuguese passengers on the ferry too, as one would expect. I wonder how long they’ve been away from home, and how it’ll look to them when they arrive? Will their pueblos have been equally affected by such cultural and economic drift?
There’s a noticeable rumble and sway as we make a minor course change. Glancing back from my coffee to the chart, I see we’ve successfully reached the intended waypoint and turned a little south toward the islands off the tip of Finistère. Well done, skipper.
I just hope that next time, when somebody asks my opinion of my native land and how it compares to my current home, I’ll be equally sure of my position.