Thursday, 22 October 2009

Solitude - a post script

Just to prove I am not occasionally averse to speaking to people... On Sunday we went for a walk up the Rock. It's always handy having a nature reserve with spectacular views five minutes walk away up the back streets. Being a Sunday it was pretty busy with tourists all gazing in fascination at the monkeys. On the way back down we bumped into some Spaniards, who it seemed had got the cable car to the top, and were now walking back down so they asked us if they were going the right way. We said yes, and started chatting with them about their day out and trip up the Rock. They had obviously enjoyed themselves - even though one woman was horrified at the height and the steepness of the Rock, plus the interminable steps on the way down from the top. We were laughing and joking as she said that she hadn't realised she was going on a hiking expedition and that she had lost at least 20 kilos - which she said she wanted to lose anyway. So we wandered down together in a loose group, sometimes talking together in Spanish, and sometimes we chatted on our own in English, while they spoke to each other in Spanish. There was no obligation to keep speaking to each other. And that's the advantage of meeting strangers, and walking in a group. You can talk when you want, and be quiet when you want too. Sort of like living in a city. Surrounded by people but so easy to keep your own sense of privacy.

Sunday, 11 October 2009


The other day I bumped into someone I know who lives nearby. I know them well enough to stand around chatting to. It turned out we were going in the same direction. My heart sank. I did not want to spend 20 minutes trying to think of some banal chitchat to pass the time while we walked together. I didn't say where I was going. I watched them disappear off, and promptly took a different route. Phew. I dragged my feet - but our paths almost coincided somewhat later when they came into view. I skipped off in yet another different direction. Another narrow escape from forced conversation. Some months ago, one of my partner's former workmates spotted me in the high street and started chattering away as though I was his long-lost best friend. FFS. I had only ever said hello to this guy once or twice before! I expected him to go about his business, but no, he accompanied me all the way up the street until he arrived at his destination. As he was such a chatterbox, it wasn't too difficult to mutter the appropriate grunts and monosyllabic responses in the right places. When I mentioned this strange encounter to my partner, he smiled and said; 'Oh, but he would just be trying to bum a tab.' I thought back, and indeed, the first topic of conversation after the initial greetings, was whether or not I smoked. Which I don't. But by then he was committed, and would have lost face to clear off into the crowd. So he tagged along merrily at my side, prattling about this and that. Five or ten minutes up the high street was just about tolerable. Any longer than that is not. When I am walking somewhere, I like to be alone. With my own thoughts, and to walk at my own pace, and to look around, and enjoy my surroundings - architecture, landscape, people-watching, noticing any changes happening in my local environment, whatever. I do not want to have to think of what to say next. I like my own space. And I enjoy walking on my own. Sometimes I think about how to solve problems, sometimes I think about what to cook for the next meal, and sometimes I just look around - appreciating life. A chance encounter is fine, and I'm happy to exchange a few words. And then resume my journey. Because that's life in a way. A journey that you make on your own, with, if you are lucky, a few fortunate encounters on the way.