Sunday 6 Sep
Time to head for home.
I make a mid-morning stop in Stonehaven. Sit on a sunny café balcony overlooking the harbour, with a substandard coffee and an A+ traybake, and read about lighthouses.
Read about the prolific Stevenson family – how four generations of them built most of the lighthouses in and around Scotland and the Isle of Man.
About how one of these Stevensons – Thomas – was greatly disappointed when his son Robert Louis announced that he would be pursuing a career in writing instead of lighthouse engineering. Perhaps he forgave him after he wrote this:
“There is scarce a deep sea light from the Isle of Man to North Berwick, but one of my blood designed it.
The Bell Rock stands monument for my grandfather; the Skerryvhor for my uncle Alan;
and when the lights come out along the shores of Scotland, I am proud to think that they burn more brightly for the genius of my father.”
And, y’know, when he forged something of a successful career in writing.
This has been a great trip. I have not, generally, enjoyed solo holidays. When attempted in the past I have found myself longing to share the experiences with someone. But this time I was surprised by how rarely feelings of loneliness overtook me.
And in this I need to acknowledge the positive effect of social media. It helps with this. It really does. Sharing photos of places visited and sights seen via Instagram, and Facebook, and written experiences via this blog, and seeing people respond, help provide that sense of connection that otherwise is missing.
Strikes me now, fourteen years on, that this was probably the main driver for me starting this blog in the first place – keeping a record of my trip to Australia in 2006-7, a diary of my travels for posterity – of course – but also a means of staying connected with friends and, in a relatively non-immediate way, sharing those experiences with them.
Big shout out to Nicola and Disco, my virtual travelling companions on this trip.
But on the occasions when feelings of loneliness did catch up with me, I found the best way was to embrace them. Briefly. It’s perfectly normal to experience feelings of loneliness at times. No sense in pretending they’re not there. So I embraced them, and even dwelt in them, for as long as I needed to.
And no longer than I needed to. Any longer, and I get lost in a miasma of self-pity and spiralling thoughts that take me nowhere good.
I sometimes view families in a curiously detached way. It doesn’t escape my attention that the parents are my age or younger. I sometimes idly wonder what it’s like. I know, cognitively, what it’s like. I have enough friends who have told me. Told me of the sleepless nights. The constant demands for your attention. The tears and the tantrums. Balanced with the joy and the pride.
And I have experienced these things in a detached way, as an uncle and a friend of the parents. But I don’t really know.
Nor do I want to. Not at all. And yet there’s a fascination, which is similar to the detached fascination I experience when I see couples on the bus. Or in the street.
I wonder what it’s like. I know what it’s like. But I also don’t.
And so I walk the road less travelled. Viewing couples and families with detachment. Wondering how one decision can make life, ten years down the road, say, so different. So very different.
Sometimes I feel like Peter Pan. Like I’ve never grown up. Proper grown ups enter into committed, lifelong relationships. Get married. Have children. I haven’t. I go to the cinema a lot. Sometimes at antisocial hours on a school night. Frequently on my own. It’s ok, going on your own. It’s actually pretty good.
I invited my friend (married, with young children) to the cinema the other day (pre-COVID). He didn’t come. “Our lives are very different,” he said. It was a 9:30pm showing on a Sunday night.
The first times I ate out in restaurants alone, I was on training courses with work, far from home. It felt weird. I was in a strange town, far from everyone I knew, and it was just weird. Now, eating out alone is as normal as breathing.
I have great friends. I love hanging out with them, going to films, eating pizza, ice cream, meeting over coffee. I love these encounters. But at the end of the evening, we wave goodbye, and go our separate ways.
Sometimes I think it’d be nice to have someone who would still be there tomorrow.