Last week I was ambling alongside a canal in Gloucestershire when I stopped to watch a swing bridge being hand-cranked open to allow two barges through. Having watched the operator exchange familiar pleasantries with the boatmen, I wandered over to chat to him. Sounding rather like HM the Q, I asked if he enjoyed his job and the people he met. Unfortunately he didn't like his job of 13 years, but "it's all I can do now, of course" (I didn't pry), and agreed that the boat people were generally friendly and easy-going. Correctly identifying me as an Australian (and not from Middlesborough as others have supposed ;-) ), he then asked about my holiday. On hearing that I had been in Scotland for 2 weeks and was now in England for 2 weeks, he nodded politely, but then advised me in no uncertain terms that if I'd come for an extra week I could have gone to Austria, because it was really nice there.
Feeling there was nothing I could offer in defence of this frightful lapse in my travel plans, I agreed sadly that I had probably not given it enough thought, thanked him kindly for his advice, patted his scruffy dogs ("One's a Whippet/Bedlington terrier cross, y'know.") and went on my way.
Fortunately, he waved cheerily at me the following day when I passed again, and the dogs stopped shouting at the boat-bound dogs long enough to give me a quick wag, so I think my poor travel planning had been forgiven.
In the same village I met Peter, walking his two tired and blissfully muddy border collies. Like many elderly men, he had more than enough time to stop for a chat, so we talked about the hot-air balloon race we'd seen passing over the village that morning, and agreed that neither of us would ever be seen in "one of them things".
Talk turned, as usual, to my holiday, and when I explained that I'd been on a walking holiday in Scotland he smiled knowingly and said "I expect it rained all the time, didn't it?". I agreed that we seldom had a bright sunny day in the 2 weeks I was there, at which he nodded triumphantly, explaining that he'd been to Scotland once and it rained the whole day he was there!
"It might just as well have been Cheltenham", he said dismissively.