It took the collapse of the travel company Thomas Cook – with the many reports of British tourists stranded abroad, sometimes in dire straits – to prompt me to look up the origins of this hitherto legendary firm. The original founder was a Victorian Baptist minister who sought to bring travel to the masses, in an era when it had previously been tailored to an elite.
And being a Victorian Baptist, Thomas Cook envisaged his travel company bringing the joys of sobriety – high-minded temperance – as well as improving cultural values to ordinary people.
Victorian society had more than its fair share of travellers – including missionaries like David Livingstone – who believed that our minds were broadened by coming in contact with other cultures. In the 18th century, the Grand Tour of Europe was routine for the scions of the aristocracy, when the treasures of the Vatican formed a high point of the cultural landscape. But with the development of the railroads and of steamships, travel opportunities expanded, just in time to facilitate the likes of Mr Cook.
But could that Baptist minister of old have foreseen the day when organised travel for the masses included getting blotto on the Costa Brava or getting zonked up on some mind-altering substance in Ibiza? Sun, sea, sand and sex on the Costa Brava was not quite what he had in mind…
Mass travel has changed out of all proportion, and as as we form part of some huge queue at, say, Stansted Airport, I guess some of us ask ourselves if it has expanded rather too much.
Even high-minded cultural tourism such as viewing a Rembrandt in Amsterdam – or indeed those Vatican treasures – now attract such colossal throngs of people that one can feel exhausted by the experience.
Thomas Cook’s travel company went into liquidation for a whole number of reasons, including changing travel arrangements via the internet, and, evidently, a management which had not successfully managed. But maybe Mr Thomas Cook himself, were he with us today, might suggest that this could be an opportunity to consider the uplifting experience of staying at home for a change (while practising temperance).
Dame Helena Morrissey, it is reported, is one of the possible candidates to become the next governor of the Bank of England. Dame Helena, aged 53, is a successful financier in the City of London, and a mother of nine children (and more recently a grandmother too). Her husband, Richard, chose to be a stay-at-home dad, and in the course of his vocation as a family man, became a Buddhist.
Because of her unusually large brood – ranging in age from 10 to 27 – it’s often assumed that Dame Helena is a Catholic, in line with the stereotype that Papists have large families. But she’s not. She’s just a fond mother who welcomes babies.
In the annals of feminism, motherhood has sometimes been regarded as an obstacle to women’s career success. Dame Helena is living proof that this does not have to be the case (though a supportive spouse is surely a helpful adjunct …)
Helena Morrissey is also a Brexiteer, which isn’t a common position in financial circles. But having raised nine children, she has a can-do attitude to Brexit: we’ll cope!
If she comes into contact with the new president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, they’ll certainly have plenty of shared ground: Frau von der Leyen, aged 60, has a brood of seven.
Visitors to Ireland’s annual National Ploughing Championships last week were asked to name their favourite prayer. The Hail Mary was No 1 in the hit parade. “Angel of God”, Our Father, the Memorare and “a decade of the rosary” followed in that order.
Ireland is becoming more secular, but rural Ireland – where the plough matters – still remembers its mothers’ (and grandmothers’) prayers.
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