I’m sitting on a train and we’ve just passed through Croydon station. This would be unexceptional if it wasn’t for the fact that this Croydon is surrounded by unfamiliar, darker green trees and bold pink blossoms. This is Croydon, New South Wales and I’m on the way to Newcastle, New South Wales, after a day in Sydney. That place is an incredible city. Clean and smart and cosmopolitan and cultured and lively and frankly, beautiful. I felt outclassed.
I have spent most of my life feeling poor. From growing up on a redbrick council estate to my married life spent in rented homes, I’ve never felt as if there was spare money. I’ve always been very aware of my place, having come from the poorest part of a relatively well-off town. As a consequence, never went to university (to be honest, nobody at my 6th Form College expected the pupils like me to go to university, regardless of our academic ability). And I have never travelled. Apart from a couple of childhood holidays to Paris and Scharnitz, Austria, and a fortnight to visit my sister Sinead when she was working in the States, I had never really been abroad. Until the last couple of years.
Because, since the recession kicked in, I’ve been to Belfast (twice), to Amsterdam and Rotterdam (twice), stayed in idiotic luxury in Stresa, Italy and am now in Australia for seven days.
I’m surrounded by the familiar (this train, having passed through Croydon and Ryde, will stop at Cardiff before arriving in Newcastle). But I couldn’t feel more like an Englishman abroad. Over the past few years, as well as travelling abroad, I have seen more of England than in the thirty five years before. I have come to feel at home in Coventry, Leeds, London, Rochdale and Margate – to have favourite cafes and shops I must visit when I’m in town – to be able to bump into friends in streets hundreds of miles from home. I am more in love with England, and proud of my country, than ever before.
So how do I get the privilege of travel? I could credit years of work as a community organiser, talk about the long hours that come with being self-employed, have to mention good friends and family who’ve supported my cunning plans. But really, it’s all thanks to one, simple service. Without Twitter, I wouldn’t be here. It’s built connection, collaborations and friendships. It’s broken down the barriers and meant a boy from a smalltown can be as loud as the metropolitan elite. It’s amplified good ideas and opened up new ways of working. It’s put me on trains and planes. Thank you, Twitter.