Iran, Islamic Republic of
Papua New Guinea
As a teenager in Liverpool in the early 80s, there was no prospect of me ever sating my incipient wanderlust, and I struggled to keep it in check. Through no fault of their own, my parents had neither the means nor the inclination to travel abroad. My Dad was a very inquisitive type, nose always in a book or eyes glued to a documentary. But holidays were taken in the Isle of Man, mostly, or sundry destinations in North Wales. The extent of my solo travels were the occasional trip to Chester, and a tumultuously exciting trip to London with the art class, led by the phenomenally busty Miss __. (It seemed somehow fitting that the only female teacher we ever had was a blonde version of Betty Page.)
In the days before the internet or the Travel Channel, I had recourse to the telephone directory to provide stimuli for my globetrotting fantasies. I would scan the page in the Useful Information section, entitled INTERNATIONAL DIALLING CODES, and run down the list of extraordinary places, the colossally important UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (all the city codes, too: New York, Boston, Los Angeles), the impossibly
exotic colonial outposts like HONG KONG, the FALKLAND ISLANDS, and the downright alien, such as UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, or NEPAL. And each entry helpfully told you the time difference from the UK, the deviation from GMT, and this would provide further day-dreaming fuel. Imagine. it's 8 o'clock in the morning in AUSTRALIA! They'll be just getting ready for school!
I would lie awake sometimes, overdosed on these solipsistic games, finally gloomy at the sheer enormity of the world and the impossibility of my exploring it. I had an image to focus the frustration, a mental picture of a cornfield in Argentina that stood for all the places I would never see.
The idea of calling random numbers in very remote places (CHILE, SOLOMON ISLANDS) was at times almost irresistible, until I was sobered by the thought of my Dad's face reading the phone bill. What if I just dialled, let the bell ring once, then hung up? I would have made something happen, I would have had an auditory impact, thousands of miles away. But no. They might pick up, Dad would be billed, and that would be that.
Then this week, and I find myself quietly ecstatic at the idea - the world has come to me. In all the countries named above, people have looked in at Bob Crusoe, thanks to the link in the BBC Magazine.
For a couple of days, visitors poured in from all over the planet.
I was beside myself.
And in my imagination, someone sitting in a cornfield in Argentina (do they even have cornfields?) cranked up their laptop, logged onto the BBC, and read my stupid little piece about the silly season. Yaaahoo!