Monday, 10 May 2010

Look, You Don't Know Me But...

I'm one of millions of people who travel to work each day on a crowded bus or train. I then spend most of my working day in a busy office filled with ringing phones and with people, lots of people, most of whom I know quite well and quite a number I'd count as friends. At lunchtime, I'll usually go shopping, dipping in and out of the crowds to buy food or a paper, or take yet another roll of my son's colour film in for processing.

And, when the working day is done, I clamber back onto my crowded bus or train and head for home, which for me is a modest house filled (in no particular order) with young adults, their friends, a particularly waggity-tailed dog who adores me, a wife who used to adore me and probably still does providing I don't forget to put my shoes away or leave my jacket over the back of the sofa, and with sundry rabbits and guinea pigs who don't adore anyone but are content to be treated as pets by anyone who is happy to feed them.

You see, there's always something going on. Questions to be answered, homework to be checked, issues of the day to be discussed and, inevitably, new 'things' to be costed and payments to be agreed. Tickets to order, bills to be paid, diaries to be coordinated. Frankly, there's hardly time to sleep...

But then this slightly mad end-to-end trip of mine comes along (in 4 days time, actually) and it all changes. Home will be the same, of course - a little quieter, perhaps, fewer shoes in the middle of the room - but I won't be. I'll be completely on my own, going where I want to go, eating what I want when I want, making my own decisions, and almost all of them decisions which will effect nobody else but me.

So I'll be alone. Independent, probably for the first time since I was a student. Utterly free. Free as a bird.

That's good, then...

Except - what happens when I see something truly amazing, a fabulously beautiful view perhaps, or an especially mad garden filled with fluorescent concrete gnomes and stuff, and I find myself turning around and involuntarily uttering those four little words "Cor, look at that!"... and there's nobody there to share it with?

When you are around people a lot (and in my house, that's pretty much a given) you can't help but get used to sharing things. Not just the customary viral infections and socks and under garments and stuff, but real things like thoughts and reactions, opinions and ideas, the sort of thing which can make even the simplest concept - like, exactly who's turn is it to clear the table - the subject of a long, explorative, detailed and frequently heated debate.

But its more than that. It's interaction, its chat, its contact and ultimately its the glue that holds us as a family together. It's mostly good-natured, and entirely natural.

Once I leave the family behind, though, and I head off alone for the furthest bus stops of Britain, it's all going to be very, very different.

To begin with, I doubt I will ever have spent so long without seeing someone I know. It occurred to me a while ago that I'm extremely unlikely to encounter anyone during my 29 day trip that I am presently or previously acquainted with, and that's just a little bit unsettling. Being constantly surrounded by strangers instead of friends will be a bizarre experience, and its not one I am especially looking forward to.

So, as a defence against that, I'm having to develop the skills - and quickly - of initiating conversation with complete strangers without alarming them or they immediately assuming that I am a dangerous sociopath. I think I'm basically fairly affable and approachable, and as a journalist I'm used to asking questions, so perhaps I'm making more of this than is strictly necessary. But its all ever-so-slightly outside of my comfort zone. I just hope I never have to ask a stranger where I can buy a sharp knife, or weed killer...

Will I tire of my own company? Well, possibly. Generally, I consider myself to be sufficiently eccentric to keep myself amused most of the time, so I can only hope that other people will find me equally amusing and I therefore don't have too much of my own company to tire of.

Or I could just listen to my iPod, of course.

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