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From Literature to Travel…and Back Again

February 21, 2017 Chris Relton No Comments

What do a character called Plop, Hannibal, and life as a Tour Manager, have in common? You’d wonder, wouldn’t you?

On a recent occasion with Tour Manager colleagues, chat and tales bouncing around between us, someone threw into the mix what proved to be a fascinating exercise: what is your earliest remembered book/piece of literature or, what piece of writing first made its impact on you and why? The follow-up to such a challenge could easily be, ‘what does it say about us?’

Given the variety of characters we are in the Tour Manager ensemble, you could guarantee a fascinating conversation sparking off on so many differing tangents. Any fly on the wall was going to get its money’s worth!

There were mentions of inspirational poetry – of place, of journeying; there were recollections of ‘light bulb’ moments with Latin or a piece of classical literature that would lead on to travel, doctoral studies, and passed on to students in the present; there were ‘Harry Potter’ moments and much more. It was a truly eclectic mix, fascinating in its breadth and depth; inspirational to hear what has inspired colleagues.

As for yours truly? For all the rush to contribute, I’ve always found there are moments that suggest there’s wisdom in silence, to wait for others to offer their thoughts – call me chicken if you’d like. I declared this to be one of them.

Why so? Maybe I’m simply a shy boy at heart. Maybe I didn’t quite appreciate the intent of the challenge. Maybe the impish side of my character felt now wasn’t the moment. But amidst the impressive offerings of others swirling amongst us all, my brain simply kept returning to two names: Plop and Hannibal. I rest my case!

But hang on, there may actually be something in this exercise. Against others contributions these may seem underpowered but for all that, they certainly remain my earliest recalled memories of ‘story’, so there must be something in them:

All Hail Hannibal

Hannibal? We’re talking of elephant fame, not of cannibal fame, I hasten to add – the tale from history of Hannibal marching his army and his elephants over the Alps to challenge the might of Rome.

At junior school we had a series of books, ‘Wide Range Readers’, full of stories to help us develop our reading and comprehension skills. Fascinating stories all of them. But of all, the tale of Hannibal and his elephants remain in my memory. I can still picture sitting at my desk eager to continue reading the story. Whether it was the description of this epic historical event or my vivid picturing of the story in my mind as I read, there was something there that triggered an urging for adventure!

Hannibal crossing the Alps during the Second Punic War

What must it have been like marching elephants across the Alps? How would you march elephants over mountains in the first place? Even, wouldn’t they get cold? What must it have been like to witness this incredible event? And, what adventure! These were the thoughts flashing through my imagination as I read the tale. Maybe, a seed was sown.

Travel. Journey. A sense of adventure. Tour Manager.
Somewhere, to greater or lesser extent, has the buzz always been there?

So that’s a QED!

Barn Owls r Us

As for Plop (I know, it’s all in a name!) he was a childhood inspiration. His tale my most favoured story for some time. You see, Plop was a baby Barn Owl but one for whom his nature as a Barn Owl, fearless in the night and when out hunting, didn’t figure. He was ‘The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark’. It was a wonderful children’s story, of young Plop and how he gradually faced down his fears, being coaxed into the world at large, finding his wings and his courage to become a true Barn Owl. The times that book found its way from the library to my bedroom!

And here’s the thing, every time I’m with a group, particularly with those traveling for the first time, the tale returns to me. As we, as Tour Managers, show you the world (our part of it anyway), to see wide eyes of discovery, excited chatter as you talk of the day, to see confidence grow in an individual away from their home environment for the first time, (if you can keep a straight face as I say this) it’s the tao of Plop. It’s wonderful to see.

plop the owlIt’s the same each time students connect with inspirational teaching at home and the place we are (‘it’s as you told us’ ‘I get it’); happiness etched on faces and decisions to aim for year abroad programmes after high school, train as a chef in France etc

This last summer, it was a pleasure to see strolling into our hotel in Paris, a student who had traveled on two previous trips, no prior travel experience. Now, off his own bat, here he was in Paris on a year abroad programme, feeling totally at home, quite the sophisticated traveler, spreading his wings. A proud moment for his teacher whom he’d come to visit and great to see a great student embracing the world for himself.

Such moments continue to take me back to a childhood eagerly turning the pages of Plop’s story. The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark, suddenly one day, wasn’t. He was at ease and flying free in the world at large.

It’s fascinating where a bit of banter between Tour Managers can lead at times! Maybe there is something in those stories we remember (even if we don’t ‘fess up to them in public!)

So now you know how Plop, Hannibal, and a Tour Manager can be linked (and for all your impressive poetry and your Petrarch, to colleagues and fellow travelers, I’m sticking with these two)!

What stories, characters or destinations resonate with you the most? Let us know in the comments section below!


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Chris Relton

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