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A train ride...

Gordon Boyle

“A great city is not to be confounded with a populous one” – Aristotle

I’m on vacation. As I sip on a Pepsi max with two ice cubes and a twist, the Virgin train glides smoothly on its tracks headed for Manchester.

Departure time was 11.40, and as we left the station 34 seconds past, I was surprised that we were a few seconds late. Perhaps the clock was mistaken.

I’m surrounded by a deep culture framed with rigid rules and regulations and most things go as they are supposed to, which is certainly something I’m not exactly used to.

While I troll the pedicured city streets for hours, I allow my mind to wander as it glories the magnificence of London’s cities. Each building in the capital is an architectural work of art; meticulously designed and maintained with love

and care.

The streets are immaculate; albeit cold and gray like the weather. Last night I went for jog in Hyde Park at dusk and the weather was 2 degrees Celsius.

As I quietly jogged and the grey skies shifted from dreary to dark, the park slowly faded from existence and all I could focus on were my immediate surroundings. Perfectly groomed grass hosting all sorts of animals such as squirrels,

duck and geese each with a mission before bedtime. A pair of swans flew dangerously close to my head as they headed off to bed and I upped my pace. It was time to go home.

I wonder what makes a city great. Is it the people, the architecture and open spaces, the culture, or a combination of all of them?

Still using Great Britain as an example (for it truly is a Great Britain) I try breaking it down. For sure their architecture, museums, libraries, universities, and open spaces must aid in the development and progression of the populace. \

Just walking in such a huge open park such as Hyde Park gives me a feeling of inspiration and calmness. The way the park is immaculately preened reflects a sort of perfection that I start absorbing as a guest immediately. The same

feelings prevail when in a museum, square, of major road.

When speaking to the locals almost all of them are well-spoken, articulate, and highly educated. Many joke with a high level of sarcasm and witty humour.

When I catch snippets of their children speaking, I detect a high level of curiosity and intelligence. They come from a culture that encourages and promotes questions and answers. Long gone are the days of “children are meant to be

seen and not heard”.

More importantly, long gone are the days of being suppressed by a church, vicar, and pope.

The British bled deeply to wrest control of their fate back from a suppressive vindictive church a few centuries ago and have found a balanced ground of co-existence. I wonder how much of that victory still runs in the current

generation’s veins.

To break it down, I think a successful country must have a trial of blood, a few centuries of soul searching, unbreakable civil liberties, separation of church and state, as well as progressive educational and governmental systems. These

don’t come easy nor quickly.

Inevitably I look at our blossoming democracy and strides towards becoming the new hub of the Arab world and am frightened by what I see.

Can we have all that we want without the trial of fire? Have we separated Church from State? Did we search our souls yet? Do we have unbreakable civil liberties?

Are our educational and governmental systems on the right track? I leave the answers to you, the reader. In the meantime, I’m just going to enjoy the rest of my train ride and sip quietly on my Pepsi.

Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at

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