By the time this is posted, it’ll be a number of weeks out of date – a point that feels strangely satisfactory to me when i consider what inspired me to write it in the first place. The vast majority of my posts are prepared at least a couple of weeks in advance, which is great when it comes to those days i feel uninspired or i’m just too busy to do anything – at least i’ll have something in reserve to post. It does occasionally bite me in the bum though when circumstances change, leaving me with a redundant, or markedly out of date post… so it’s rather satisfying to put something together that’s already past it’s ‘best before’ even before anyone else gets to see it.
It’s at this point that i’ll take the opportunity to remind my compatriots in the UK that 29th and 30th September were your last chances to post Christmas surface mail to Africa, Asia Australia, Caribbean, Central and South America, New Zealand, the Far and Middle East, whilst 14th October curtailed posting to Canada and the USA. Sorry folks, you’ve missed the boat and your only options now are to shell out on airmail for those festive cards and greetings to friends and relatives on the other side of the world, or – for that matter – just over the pond.
It comes as something as a shock to us today, familiar as we are with instantaneous communication to every corner of the globe, (although i’ve always wondered how a globe can have corners), that something as common and simple as a letter can still take anything up to three months to make a journey that most of us would consider no more than a short inconvenience using common means of getting about that we take very much for granted. It’s a reminder that the world, in so many ways – despite what we might like to imagine – is still a very disconnected and sometimes inaccessible place: A letter making its way across several thousand miles by surface mail will likely suffer many indignities and difficulties that might never occur to us. Everything from floods, bad roads and intermittent transport services right through to civil unrest and warzones to impede its progress – in fact, in some cases it’s a miracle that it gets to its destination at all. Even with a fair wind and no problems, the sheer distances involved in travelling overland are not to be under-estimated – if you were to ask me to drive across a couple of continents to deliver a message, it’s certainly not something i’d take lightly, and it would definitely cost you more than a stamp!
The world of sl is very different: The very nature of the virtual world means that distance isn’t something we ever really consider in real terms. Messaging and teleporting are the order of the day, whilst physical travel of any sort only tends to fall within the interests of those for whom virtual driving, flying and sailing are active pursuits. Yet the Grid is a pretty big place, with an awful lot to be seen and experienced in between our starting points and final destinations – much of which we remain entirely oblivious to. There have been, over the years, intrepid souls who have attempted to walk, drive and even fly balloons across the vast land masses of sl, but for the majority of us, such old fashioned methods of getting from A to B never cross our minds.
Whether in rl or sl, travelling for me – when it’s not solely for utility – is just as much about the journey as it is about the destination; i’d rather take my time and enjoy the scenery on the route, than step on board at one end and off at the other a short time later. In doing so, i’ve found a wealth of interesting places in sl and rediscovered some of the seemingly forgotten modes of transport that were once the pride and joy of the virtual travel scene.
The mainland road network is something of a triumph, whether you’re driving, walking or – as i tend to do – following the highways from an altitude of a few feet above the roadway, (it’s quicker and it doesn’t wear out your shoes!) It strikes me that many of the most bizarre things to be seen in sl tend to be on the roadside, either by design or accident… sometimes quite literally – you’d be amazed how many vehicles you can find embedded in hillsides, or piled up in great heaps on the side of the road. Some of the engineering work is pretty impressive too – majestic bridges, cliff-hugging routes, tunnels and intersections all feature and – just as in the real world – no two are the same. Even the construction of the road fabric itself is pretty complex – the Linden Department of Public Works seems to work on the basis that there’s no such thing as over-engineering a solution!
However, by far my favourite method of getting about in sl is by rail. The largely neglected SLRR – Second Life Rail Road – is a real gem, allowing you to explore some of the more historic regions of sl in first-class comfort, or – if you’re feeling adventurous – from the footplate. If you’ve never checked it out, you should do! It’s fun, free and a great way to get out and about and pass some idle time. In fact, sl is stuffed full of railways of all gauges and types – most of them harking from the golden age of sl, when it seems people had for more time for such things. There are steam railways, diesel trains, quaint and quirky, grungy and dirty – i’ve travelled on trains that climb vertically into the sky, before trundling upside-down through the clouds, then loop-the-loop to return to the ground far below; sleek expresses that fly through space and tramways that trundle along forgotten routes deep into the past of sl.
Yet rarely have i ever shared a carriage with another passenger – it seems that few have the time or inclination to partake of this form of travel, which is a great pity – because i think they’re missing out on something that sl actually manages to do very well… and how often do you get to say that?
The clocks go back, railway track
Something blocks the line again
And the train runs late for the first time
Stereophonics – Local Boy In The Photograph