All Aboard the Sloop John B


There comes a time, in every holiday, where there is a high-point every bit as evocative as the view from the Eiffel Tower or the sight of the Acropolis, or a dip in a lagoon in Bora Bora – and I am not talking bomb crater in Afghanistan here! I’m talking about that most pleasurable of moments when you say, “I’m going home.” It happens no matter how great the holiday has been, no matter how many “I don’t want this to end” moments you have had. It happens even as you sit by the side of the Road to the Isles, sipping a twelve year old malt from your hip-flask, cutting another wafer of Lanark Blue for your Carr’s Water Biscuit, and while looking over the Glenfinnan Memorial to Bonnie Prince Charlie, with a piper’s lament on the breeze! There is that realization, the end is nigh! 

No, it is not that moment when you count ‘how many more sleeps till we leave’, for we all do that on holidays, a bit like a hit parade countdown to day number one! It is probably not even when you sub-consciously start to hum in your head the old Beach Boys song, The Sloop John B, for even though you have long forgotten all the words, the chorus still comes crashing back to you like a surfing beach dumper;

I wanna go home, let me go home
Why don't you let me go home!

No, they are but steps on the journey. I’m talking about the way that a marathon runner sees the finish line, the way basketballers see the countdown clock, or the way that in Switzerland as the minute hand reaches the hour, you feel your train move. The moment that you know you are going home is an infinitely defining moment. Oh, there may be delays, or there may be detours, but a Rubicon has been crossed here people: we are going home.

Now I will admit that at school, maths was never my strong suit, but while there are fingers and toes, and a date on an airline booking, I can usually work out how many more days of the holiday we have left, well providing it’s no more than twenty days! I register that there are still fifteen days to go as we sit in a riverside bistro beside the Loire and order another “vin rouge Mon Cheri.” It is all so academic, in the manner in which you might look at long odds horses on a race card. “Scusi,” I call to a waiter in Orvietto, Umbria, while calculating we have ten more days of this luxury living left, stopping when and where we please, a time of abandon where news of floods and pestilence, bombings and stock market oscillation is as remote as the other side of the moon. Just she, me, and Jane, our thirty something companion with her waspish tongue, yet clear enunciation, who tells me “Go left at the roundabout, second exit” and who only mildly admonishes me, “Turn around when possible,” when I get it wrong. Indeed, the sharper tongue for my foolhardiness, is from my wife, “You took the wrong exit, silly.” Secretly I wish that she and Jane could switch stations so I could push the little “off” button and just jaunt along with Jane.

It is generally when I am about five days away from my departure date that my maths starts to distract me. I hear Brian Wilson tuning his guitar, Al Jardine warming his vocal chords, and I start picking up good vibrations. I am suddenly miles away, in Bahrain, in my own house, in shorts and a tee shirt, patting the dogs and looking fondly at my own bed, when through it all, I hear my wife growl, “Do you want another coffee?” Suddenly I am confronted by a bow-tied, waist-coated waiter, in a café in Bonn beside the Rhine. “Ein bitte,” I quickly mumble lest “We sailed on the Sloop John B” should inadvertently tumble out of my mouth instead, and I look through the mist and rain at yet another barge heading for Dusseldorf, Dortmund or Duisberg. “Five more nights” says my wife echoing my thoughts, “and then we will be in our own bed”. She’s getting those good vibrations too! I look across at her and smile. Oh, I love the clothes she wears, for very soon now, I will be able to pack them away, for good! Good, good, good vibrations indeed!

On travel and the joys of homecoming!

Thank goodness we travel lightly!

Now I have many faults, too many to mention, but one of my virtues, albeit I say so with all modesty cast asunder, I am such a terrific packer, that my wife calls me “Kerry!” Shoes first, to build a border, then ‘smalls’ to fill the middle bits and pack around delicate items (Okay you pedants among you, I concede, smalls can also be ‘delicate’!) Hardcover books to shield the delicates, etc, etc. And I don’t mind it at all! There are three ‘P’s in Peppinck, and they stand for Program, Planning, and Punctuality! And I plan from a long way out! So in Amsterdam, I first try my ‘going home gambit’, albeit a trifle early. “Darling, there are only four more nights, so do you think that I might pack all the clothes you won’t be wearing again, together with all the ones I won’t be wearing again, and we can live out of one suitcase?” Generally she is unmoved, despite the fact that her suitcase weighs 28 kilos, (“I just had to buy that kitchen-knife block in Spolletto, and those candlestick holders in DKW were an absolute bargain, as for the dog toys, they hardly weigh anything at all!”). 

Oh yes, I am the lugger too. Lug them to the car, lug them into the hotel. “Oh you don’t have a lift, quaint and old, yes I see! No, they didn’t make lifts in the seventeenth century, ha ha ha” very droll, you old turd, I hiss, and heave the cases up four flights, and on stairs which even Twiggy has to breast sideways. No wonder I look like I have sprung a leak by the time I reach the top, and I’m puffing like Stephenson’s Rocket. “Poor darling,” she says sympathetically, “I’ll take out Vogue and Marie Claire and make it easier for you.” I smile like someone who has just been crapped on by a seagull, and go down to get my own case. Up the four flights again!

No, by four nights out, I have already calculated that I don’t have to wash out any more socks and undies, or hang them up where I hope they will dry before morning. It is such an ignoble sight for the Polish cleaning staff if they are still there, cold and limp! My suitcase is a model of rational packing, stuff no longer needed at the bottom, medicine kit still reachable, clothes for the next days, plugs and cords easily accessible, brolly too, coat on top for the changeable weather. And always, a pair of undies, socks, and a clean shirt in the roll-on, oh yes, I am a good Boy Scout! Next to my tidy case, my wife’s looks as though it has been packed by a grab-crane, shoes strewn as though Imelda Marcos has been hurling them at the staff. “Shall I repack yours?” I offer, trying hard to keep my superciliousness in cheek, an offer which is usually accepted with alacrity. 

Only London to go, I think, and that is only for two nights. And usually, just then, she says “Why don’t we put all the things we won’t use in one case,” as though she suddenly thought of it! I grin, because I know the day is long, and I want it to be pleasant, and brightly say, “Good idea, dear,” and weep inwardly as I pull mine apart, and start the repacking. Hours later, when the porter grunts and strains to put our cases in the taxi, I roll up my Euro notes and hand them to him like a cigar, and just as I am about to close the door. I hope that we make a fast getaway and are well around the corner by the time he unrolls my few Euro, slight recompense for the chiropractor for his now bad back! Then again, I won’t see the bastard again, ever, and besides, I am still capable of lifting my own bag, Goodfella!

In London, at Paddington Station, I am the grunting, groaning, porter, cursing that I can’t get a trolley without a Pound, finally changing some Euro with a bored looking currency clerk. I mutter “Never again” as I head back to where my wife is guarding our suitcases, noticing a nearby fork lift driver eyeing them keenly, lest he can make a quick buck during his lunch break! The Beach Boys are pounding in my head, Oh how I wanna go home! Right now! 

But at last, we are in the taxi and heading for Hyde Park Corner and our hotel. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the top-hatted concierge look like he has taken a Mike Tyson punch as he tries to lift our suitcases, and I avoid all eye contact. After check-in, I suggest to my wife that we have a coffee first before going to our room, in the hope that the bags will be there by the time we come up, and I don’t have to see the porter! “Nonsense,” she declares and later I seek sanctuary in the loo when the knock on the door comes. I hear lots of straining and groaning, till at last there is that that magical silence; he has gone! My wife is non-plussed. “He was a little guy and the bags were heavy, so I tipped him well.” “What about me?” I feel like crying, “For a few quid, I’d have bunged them in the lift and dragged them!” 

She just looks, and gives me that “Oh dear” dreary look, that I know well. I don’t realize how well she tipped him till later I see him smiling and fawning in the lobby. And the bugger had a lift and a trolley so help him too! I quietly seethe at my wife’s philanthropy for I hate tipping for someone who is just ‘doing his job!” “Oh by the way, I need that head-band you stacked away in the packed suitcase, sorry darling!” and she gives me her sweetest smile. I almost bite through my tongue, but instead, just smile back.

I awaken smiling for today is my day. After a fabulous holiday with unforgettable sights, great rooms, wonderful ethnic foods, credit card working every time, we are ready to go home to the drab, dull, dun-coloured desert, the mayhem on the roads, the frustrations, and the mid-forties temperature! The bags are packed and despite the re-appearance of the smarmy porter, I am at peace, for we are going home! Frank Sinatra has been in my head all morning and I sang him too, in the shower. “It’s Nice to go Travelling,” like me, an oldie song, but a goodie! With heavy emphasis, I crooned his line, “No more packing…or unpacking.” Frankie, baby, I’m with you … and Mrs you know who – now all that is left, is to just shoot through! 

There is just the twinge of fear at the check-in, that the bags are over-weight, but nothing beats friendliness and brazen confidence at the check-in counter, and yes, there they go, with the right destination tags on them as well! We might be in seats 59A and B, on a full aircraft, but the moment the suitcases disappear down the big hole, there is an enormous feeling of lightness. We may not see them again, ever, but at least for a while, I won’t have to lug them. I can cope with security and body scans, opening this and that, and touch-ups, because I know I am going home to where things are familiar. I understand the ways of those ‘foreigners’ who occupy their own homeland, for I am a chameleon.

And many hours later, much heavier than when we checked in, for there is duty free booze to buy, we come out of the terminal and are assailed by the heat as we make our way to our car, which from its dust cover, has obviously competed in the Paris – Dakar rally in our absence. Our garden looks to have survived, the air-conditioning is working, friends have put bread and milk in the fridge, and there is just enough time to shower and unpack, before we get the dogs. Yes, when we ‘turned for home’ was a key highlight of our trip, although heaven forbid that we say so to our friends! They probably think that we never wanted to come home! Take it away, Frankie, you know exactly how we feel:

It’s very nice to go trav’lin to Paris London and Rome
It’s oh so nice to go trav’lin
But it’s so much nicer, yes it's so much nicer to come home.



Winfred Peppinck is the Tales of the Traveling Editor for Wandering Educators