• At Home with the Titan Tour Guides : John England

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    John England

    It takes a certain type of person to be a tour guide. Travel has to be in your bones and it needs to have coloured your life in unexpected ways. Most importantly, it has to be what drives you to get up in the morning.

    So, who are these busy travel experts when they’re not on the road? Who are they when they’re at home?

    We’ve delved behind the scenes to give you a closer look at the lives of two of Titan’s best loved tour managers. We’ll be finding out who they are when they are not wielding clipboards and giving expert advice to travellers, and what inspired them to become tour guides in the first place.

    Up first is John England – lover of music, motorbikes and Americana.

    How did your love affair with travel begin?

    I’ve always had an inquisitive nature and been a keen learner. I’m fascinated by other countries and cultures, but also enjoy learning about the relevance and impact of my own country on the rest of the world.

    My love affair with travel could additionally be a subconscious reaction against the profession I trained in. I was a solicitor for 30 years and always felt restricted when it came to travel. The English legal system is peculiar; I could only practise in countries that were part of the old British Empire, which doesn’t leave much choice. I did look at practising in the States or Australia, but there was so much retraining involved I thought, nah, I’ve had enough of exams, cheers.

    When did you finally make the decision to change your career?

    The strange part was deciding to become a solicitor in the first place!  It was my headmaster that suggested it. I think he was being cruel! I qualified in 1980 and practised full time until 1993. From that point onwards I worked as a locum and an agent, which allowed me to be more mobile. I never liked the idea of working 9-5 in an office. Work as a solicitor is very stressful; I probably had seven or eight colleagues who died far too young (in their 40s and 50s). I remember thinking: life’s too short for this. Life is meant to be enjoyed, not endured.

    John England

    How did travel influence your early life?

    My father travelled his entire working life. He was in the RAF, then he worked in export sales, and then he got a job in Northern Ireland for a clothing company. He was jetting off to Australia, New York and Hong Kong. I guess I was inspired to do it myself by his travel.

    What about school, what are your memories there?

    I loved school because I loved learning. I particularly enjoyed the four years I spent at school in Dungannon, Co. Tyrone – I really believe the education system in Northern Ireland is of a very high standard.

    That’s interesting. There’s the notion that people who have the travel gene are either extremely keen learners and eager to pick up new things at school, or totally rebellious i.e. eager to move on and keep going. It seems you were the former?

    I think I got more rebellious the older I got to be honest; I took school quite seriously and felt it was very important to get as many qualifications as you can. When I was 16/17 I was quite boring compared to my friends.

    What was your first solo travel experience?

    I was just 20 and had planned to travel in France with a friend of mine, but he failed his exams and had to stay behind to do his resits. So I went by myself anyway. I flew into Beauvais outside of Paris, stayed there for a while, and met a lot of people from all over the world. I remember one person in particular – an Irish guy I met on Bastille Day in 1975. We got on really well and met a lot of people together.

    After that, I decided to go to the south of France and walked 25 miles out of Paris with a rucksack on my bag, before hitch-hiking the rest of the way. The first lift was with a lorry driver, and then I rode with two German boys. That was interesting because it was 30 years after the war and I don’t think I’d ever met a German before! It was one of those eye-opening experiences to understand that they were just like me. They dropped me off along the main drag in Cannes, and I spent the night and the following three weeks on the beach. I met lots of other students and had a great time.

    When I ran out of money, I hitchhiked back and worked as an ice cream man to get some money for the next term at university.

    John England

    Wasn’t it daunting to be on your own?

    No, never, that’s the great thing about travel; you’re never on your own. You are as alone as you want to be. If you’re open minded and free spirited you’re always going to meet people. I’ve always felt that way. When I go on a tour now, and I have a couple of hours of free time away from the rest of the group, I often meet people. For example, I could be getting something to eat at a bar in the middle of the USA and I’ll strike up a conversation with the barman or a stranger – it’s great! If you’re open and receptive, you’ll meet people.

    John England

    Have you ever felt homesick?

    I don’t get homesick, but travel makes me appreciate home even more. I love the British Isles. I’ve never taken where I live for granted. The more I travel, the more I appreciate it.

    Where is home?

    When I was 14 we moved to the Peak District in England, and that’s been my base on and off ever since.

    Have you ever called somewhere else home?

    I have an apartment in a remote part of Tenerife, but I believe home is where you feel most comfortable. If the people you are around are receptive then that’s good enough for me.  There are places I go and I think to myself, I could probably live here.

    If you never had to work again, what would you do?

    I couldn’t imagine not working because I need to challenge myself. I never want to vegetate. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I could not imagine doing nothing. It might be that I wouldn’t do tour work, but I’d do something. Maybe write my memoirs!

    What does a day off look like?

    I like to keep busy when I’m in the UK. I’m also an avid writer – in the past I’ve written short stories and poetry, and I keep a tour diary. I probably have enough material to write five books.

    What sorts of things do you write in your tour diary?

    It can be about the place, but it’s mostly about the people. I like to observe people. That’s one of the reasons I love the job so much, you can never stop learning from people.

    Do you have any hobbies?

    I love music; I think it provides a soundtrack to our lives. The Kinks, The Who, The Beach Boys, The Beatles.

    The Beatles were the most important band growing up (like anybody that grew up in the sixties); they made a huge impact on me. I was always waiting for the next Beatles song to be released.

    Do you find that the tours influence the music you listen to?

    My favourite tour is Southern Sights and Sounds, which goes through Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans – three of the most influential cities in the world when it comes to music. When I do those tours, I do a lot of research. I like to play stuff on the coach that’s relevant to our locations. For example, we might drive through a town where the lead guitarist of a band was born so I’ll play some of that band’s music.

    Have you always had that connection between music and travel?

    Oh yeah, music has always set the background to my travels. Steely Dan’s ‘Do it Again’ always brings me back to France in 1975. Another time, I was in South America and The Rolling Stones were playing the night we spent in Chile – unfortunately I couldn’t get a ticket!

    What do you listen to at home? Do you bring the music you find back with you?

    I’ve learned a hell of a lot.  I’ll be stood in a bar and someone will say, have you heard this piece of jazz – or some obscure song – and I’ll add it to my repertoire.

    I’ve also met some amazing musicians in the States, in places like BB Kings in Memphis. It’s at the very top of Beale Street, the main street for music in Memphis. It used to be a club for black musicians and then, when Elvis came along, it became a hub of musical integration between the races.

    There’s a fantastic band that I always take the tour groups to see too, called The Memphis Jones band. In between his songs, the lead singer will recount the history of music in Memphis. Music always manages to rise above racism, it transcends it. It can be the greatest expression of joy from a human being.

    Do you prefer solo travel or travelling with other people?

    Solo travel and group travel require different mind-sets. When you travel alone, or with one other person, you can add a bit of spontaneity. It’s something I try to bring to the tours.

    In what way?

    I’ve always seen the itinerary as more of a skeleton. It’s up to me, the driver and the other tour guides to flesh out the bones. Every tour manager will do it in a different way. We’re lucky that we have that freedom – it would be awful if we had to follow a script. A tour without deviation would be mindlessly boring.

    On one of my tours, someone commented to me at the start: I’ve done this tour before with a different TM and it was incredible, the best we’ve ever done. No pressure, then! At the end of the tour they said, you weren’t better but you were just as good, which shows that even if a tour manager’s approach differs, the quality and experience of the trips stays the same.

    Have you been on tour with another guide?

    I haven’t had the chance to, but Titan have the best standard of tour managers in the business and I’m very proud to be a part of that. I know that when I was interviewed in 97/98 I was one of several hundred people and they narrowed it down to just a few successful candidates.

    John England

    What’s the hardest part of touring?

    Some tours are harder than others. The most important part of my job is to manage expectations. I have to let travellers know that there will be a lot of early starts and a lot of stays in different hotels.

    A couple of times on tour someone has said, I didn’t realise it was going to be this hard; but when you look at the itinerary and a map of where you are going, then really it is pretty gruelling. It’s my job to make them aware and – in the nicest possible way – sometimes after a tour you need another holiday. If your tour manager does the job properly it is hard, but that’s part of the fun.

    Would you say your home is a shrine to your travels?

    Not especially. I do have a lot of things from the Middle East or South America, where poverty is a real problem. When I see a little kid selling trinkets I tend to buy something, just to give the kid a little money.

    Should a home be full of possessions, or keep things minimal?

    Full of life and possessions, but at the end of the day things are just things. The important things are the memories you carry in your mind.

    What is your most treasured possession?

    My motorbike, I do my best thinking on the bike. Solitude, a clear head, and the open road ahead are treasured for me.

    John England

    What’s your most magical moment with a member of the tour?

    Occasionally you’ll meet somebody who is disabled in some way, or even just somebody who has limited mobility because they have reached a certain age. I have tremendous admiration for that resilience. I believe you should never be beaten by anything – if you can fight back, you should.

    Thank you John, it’s been a pleasure chatting to you.

    If you’re as interested in music as John is, you might just love Titan’s Southern Sights and Sounds trip. Look out for our next interview with Eve Charlier on the blog.

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    Chloe Libby

    Chloe has been at Titan Travel since 2012 and has never looked back! She enjoys travelling the world and her favourite destination to date has to be Thailand, where she was lucky enough to spend 5 weeks. Chloe is hoping to see as much of the world as possible and is currently planning a trip to Australia and New Zealand.

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4 Responses to “At Home with the Titan Tour Guides : John England”

  1. Mrs. Barbara Robinson April 15, 2016

    It was so interesting to read John England’s article about being a tour guide with Titan. It must be so inspiring to be with a tour guide who puts so much more into a tour than just what he was given and has written on the information sheets that are supplied to him.
    We have not yet managed to book with Titan although we get the brochures, and read them with interest. We have not yet managed to find a tour that fitted in with our available dates, and also we are interested in doing some river cruises, and in particular the ones centred around France, perhaps Bordeaux, or Provence, or even Portugal – the Douro, and in particular Lisbon.
    We have done the Danube with another large river cruise company, and thoroughly enjoyed it, and found it excellent, adding on Prague at the end. They have their own boats (?ships?), and this is one of the main reasons we have not tried Titan, because they do not seem to have their own transport, but hire from someone else, and I wonder if the standard and comfort would be the same if they are not their own boats/ships? I would be interested to hear from you how this works, and if the standard and quality are as good.
    I was particularly interested in his final comment about disabled people/ or people with limited mobility. After many years of trying to see as much as possible, we have started to have problems with walking. My husband has always been very strong and mobile, very fit until nearly 3 years ago when he suddenly had some unexpected problems, which affect his walking, in as much as he can walk but is quite slow. Frustrating for him, as he has always been so fit. My problems have come on since 2010, and although I have had some problems in the past, my walking is now affected, but neither of us let these problems get us down, and we are going to keep going, and do as much as possible while we can, we do not want to give up yet. We hope to be able to book a few more things, particularly the river cruises at the moment as we enjoyed the last one so much. We have done a lot of cruises in the past, and seen quite a lot, we do not want to think it is time to give up, so I was interested to read John’s comments as to how he admires people’s resilience, and admires the fact that they try not to give ion. This was quite inspiring, because he must understand how people like us feel, that we do not wish to be an inconvenience to other people, and thank him for his understanding.
    This has been brought to my attention recently here in London. We go with a group, from our local professional theatre on visits to various places of interest, not only London, and for some of these we pick up a ‘Blue Badge Guide’, who then travels with us for the rest of the day. Our last journey with them was in London, and usually we know, more or less, what the plans are for the day, and whether there is much walking involved. On this one we knew that there was going to be a ‘coffee stop’,then a short walk around a couple of monument s, a drive to a ‘lunch stop’, then a short ride to the Museum of London for the history of police exhibition, where you were free to walk around at your leisure, not too much walking. We experienced difficulty at the point where we left our coffee stop, and instead of a brief walk around a couple of monuments, it turned out to be a good hours walk to get back to the coach, parked a long way away. This exhausted us, and and took longer than it should have done, and we felt awkward about it. If we had known about the final long walking part, being in London, we could easily have got a taxi back to our coach, had we been warned.
    We have been part of our theatre group for a good many years and want to continue. I have only just found out, from our leader, that the ‘London Blue Badge Guide’ commented to her that she was surprised that we came out on these coach trips, she felt that we should not, because it took a few extra minutes to reach places, and felt we were inconveniencing other people, which is not the case, even the people without disabilities were often back after we were. I was very hurt by these comments, but we feel we should be able to continue where we can.
    Am I right in thinking that your guides, and John England in particular , would be tolerant and helpful to people like ourselves, as it sounded as though he would encourage us to keep coming.
    The previous River Cruise we went on was very good, and were very helpful, without making us feel we were a nuisance. I would be interested to hear if you feel we should book your holidays. Would be grateful if you could advise us. You can see that this is close to our feelings about booking these holidays. Thank you. Barbara Robinson

    • Chelsea Roderick Chelsea Roderick April 19, 2016

      Hi Mrs Robinson, thanks for your comment and I’m glad you found this article interesting! It’s great to hear that you’re interested in doing some river cruises, we have a selection of river cruises that feature the different places you’ve mentioned, all which can be viewed online here. Alternatively, you can view our cruise brochure online or order one to be sent out to you by post by also visiting out site here. With regards to your concerns around the standard and comfort of the third party river cruise ships we use, we run quality reports on all our ships but of course quality does vary, so it’s worthwhile taking time to look at our cruise lines on site here to get more of a feel for each individual one. Each cruise and it’s excursions differ, and depending on yours and your husband’s level of mobility, some tours and ships might be more or less suitable than others, so we’d need to discuss your needs over the phone in order for one of our consultants to be able to advise you of the best suited tour. You’ll be able to contact one of our team here – 0800 988 5823. I hope this all helps, Mrs Robinson and do let me know if you need anything else.

  2. Helen Ball April 16, 2016

    Thanks for sharing your story John. A great read! We especially love the music bars in Nashville and Memphis having done our own road trip there last year. My husband was fortunate to play lead guitar and sing with the band in BB Kings bar one night…so now he can say he’s gigged on Beale St with the best of them!

  3. David & Helen McFedries July 24, 2017

    We had a brilliant trip doing the Southern States of America with John as our Tour Manager. He was so informative and knew exactly when to play the right music as we were going around the Southern States, you were really wonderful John. Can I also say our coach driver was also really lovely too, his name was D, Henry(or something like that) nothing was a bother to him. The two of them were a brilliant team and really made our holiday. We were on the Southern States of America tour on the 27th June and loved every minute of it. Please tell John we have never stopped talking about it since we came home. Oh and by the way John asked if anyone had a photograph with John and the driver, I have one but have lost his email address so if anyone has it I would be really happy to receive it. Thanks again John, it was absolutely brilliant.

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