Tag Archives: on the road

Check In: A tl;dr* special

The story so far
I set up this blog with the intention of writing about my New Exciting Life In Berlin, which was just sort of okay, and then Berlin fucked up and I started travelling instead. It is now a year since I left Berlin, a year of just me and my rucksack and whoever I met along the way. And there are quite a few things I want to address in this blog post. Therefore, here is today’s agenda:

I. Where I have been and what is going on
II. The importance of balance, which I will attempt to outline without sounding overly self-helpy
III. Stuff that is good

I
Listing all the countries I’ve been to since July 2010 feels like a pointless exercise, because who really cares besides me (there are a couple maps in the sidebar, anyway), but the new ones were Lithuania, Iraq, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. In addition to these I pinballed around quite a bit. It’s all about cheap flights and creative overland solutions and whatnot.

I think it’s about time I mentioned that I’m not actually a wreck any more, okay? I mean with regard to the whole break-up angst that prompted my departure from Berlin. That episode left me with a couple of issues, such as: reduced faith in humanity (oh, the melodrama!) and newfound fear of rejection, but those have faded somewhat with time. However, it’s hard not to tell my story without referencing it to some extent, since it was the impetus that caused me to begin travelling.

Berlin remains kind of a no-go zone for me for the foreseeable future, apart from its airports, which are handy for Leipzig purposes. But I’m okay with this. A big reason why I left Berlin was because I didn’t have a support network there to help me cope with the break-up. Some people opt to endure unpleasant situations to prove they can do it, in order to ‘win’. Whatever. I won by taking back a little control and getting the fuck out. Berlin still makes me feel kind of weird and uncomfortable to think about, which is why I don’t want to revisit it, rather than for fear of running into my ex or something. But that’s okay. Other people can have Berlin. I have the rest of the planet.

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Waiting room


Lucky, one of my charges in Llanidloes


My neighbourhood for two weeks


Please feed the duck

I spent the month of January in Llanidloes, Leigh-on-sea, London and Manchester. I stayed in a total of seven different homes. Although I moved around a lot, it felt like a waiting room month. By the end of it, I’d been back in the UK for nearly seven weeks, a period of time so short it was obnoxious to make a big song and dance about it, but still. I tried to be fully present in my day-to-day interactions, but I frequently caught myself zoning out. I was too numb to commit to the traditional January blues; I enjoyed the time I spent with friends and did my best to be engaging, but often I also felt uneasy, anxious, apprehensive, impatient. I translated it as anticipation. What I needed to do was get out of the country again. That way, uncertainty would have a legitimate position as something I could work through. I was counting down the days.

And sometimes, out in the streets or on the tube, I felt kind of invisible, but that was neither a bad thing or a good thing. It felt a little like camouflage; maybe it kept me out of trouble. I realised that although I’d done well in jettisoning a lot of the sadness since I’d left Berlin, there was still some left, and there was not a damn thing I could do about that. It was boring and I had to be patient.


Sky over Lambeth


Emli‘s dog, Tilly


Charley Stone and friend


Everything I travel with

And then I arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan and the above words felt already redundant.

Repurposed

January to March
The snow at the beginning of the year increasingly struck me as artificial, like it was really icing sugar, or maybe talcum powder. I went out and got drunk a lot, but I mostly abandoned weekends and saved my adventures for midweek instead. I was opportunistic, but frustrated. I frequently woke up with the hangover of the soul; it was like I was looking for something but not finding it. The previous night would come back to me in flashes and mainly it would look like a pointless exercise. I behaved badly. I was just waiting to leave. Correction: in order to leave I was waiting for term to end so I could get my money’s worth from the Polish classes that I got at a discount on account of my low income. Still, in between the many nights full of bad ideas I managed to make a couple of zines, do a couple of readings, DJ a few times.

I went to Anglesey with La Glitch for my mum’s birthday. We rented a cottage and I lit a candle in a church on the day. Hard to tell whether I’d just gotten used to her absence, or whether I hadn’t given myself sufficient time on this trip to reflect. Four and a half years, though, that was a fuck of a long time. By now it just got reduced to brief moments when I was lying in bed hungover and I’d find myself sobbing hard for five seconds and then I’d stop.

We drank in the pub next to the cottage and an old woman with Parkinson’s disease talked to us and somehow, something about her reminded me of my mother, even though the similarities were subtle. She told us about the time she took a bunch of kids to the zoo and one of them stole a penguin. I’d heard this story before, but without the excuse he provided: My mum won’t let me have a cat, he’d explained. When I got back to Edinburgh, I printed out the Snopes discussion and sent it with a card to the pub, addressed to The Nice Woman Who Drinks Whisky And Lemonade. She wrote back.

Mostly, I felt like my mind was never where I was. Penguin had been picking up on it, she said that it was like I wasn’t really there, wasn’t really focused. I didn’t mean anything bad by it, but it left me without much to say for myself.

Term ended. I got drunk one last time in the Wayside and felt mild regret that I would miss the Bon Jovi tribute band playing at the weekend. I went round to Penguin’s and we made badges together, and the next day I left Edinburgh and flew to Brussels, feeling not a whole lot other than numb.

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America, abridged

In rural Pennsylvania I drank cider by a bonfire while people yelled “Fire in the hole!” and launched flaming pumpkins from giant catapults and then boy scouts rushed to put them out with shovels.

In Washington, DC, I killed time in a Salvadoran bar, waiting for Jeremy to finish band practice. The waitress and I conversed in Spanish. She asked how I could travel so much and not miss my family. She couldn’t go home and see hers: it wasn’t just about money, it was about not having papers. She said that if I didn’t manage to contact my friend, I could stay with her and her aunt in Maryland.

I got a lift from Washington to Dayton with a woman who was on her way back to Manitoba. The journey took eight hours but she wouldn’t accept any money for petrol. It turned out she had grown up in the Mennonite town that Miriam Toews described in A Complicated Kindness. She said that she could speak Low German but that it was pretty useless. “I can speak backwards,” I offered. “At least you can communicate with someone.”

I had decided to try not kissing anyone for a year. I got as far as Ohio with that plan.

I walked into a bar in Indianapolis with my rucksack, and the owner sent over drinks on the house because a couple of bands I’d never heard of had cancelled their gig at the last minute. “John Dillinger used to come here,” said my host, a disarmingly cute conspiracy theorist. I nodded like I knew anything, and thought to myself: Four? Or Escape Plan? He drove me to a house on the outskirts of town, a work in progress that had been classified as uninhabitable. It was like the houses in the dreams I’ve had all my life, expanding: when he moved the boards and mattresses that were propped against the walls, they revealed doorways leading to more rooms. I slept on a couple chunks of foam in a cold, bare room; killed time in the morning by studying Polish until he came downstairs and apologised for waking up so late. “My bad,” he said. Outside, a mountain of bin bags filled with leaves awaited an ambitious composting project. He took me for brunch in a Mexican diner and then saw me off at the bus stop.

In Chicago I met up with a friend of a friend, an activist. Green tea turned into dinner and drinks in a pub till the small hours of the morning. We put the world to rights. “Hey,” I said, “we’ve spent several hours together but we’ve only just started using the word ‘dogmatic’ and I think we should throw it around some more.” She smiled shyly and then said, “My place is kind of a mess, but you’re welcome to come home with me if you’d like to.”

I went home with a girl in Somerville, Massachusetts. In the morning we lay in bed talking about ligers and the time she went to Canada for three hours. I wondered how long it would take before her bruises would fade. I wanted to see her again but I didn’t know if she was interested in a repeat performance. I cooked risotto for everyone and when she tried to summon me into an empty room I declined before I realised what that probably meant. But it was okay: my time in the States was ending, and it was what it was. My time with her, my time with everyone. I could be sad about leaving or I could be happy about all the experiences I had had, and I chose the latter.

What August looked like

A small selection of pictures:


Tous les jours. Murcia. I know, it’s kind of emotastic and everything, but I had to take a picture of it anyway. Another one (in different handwriting) proclaimed: Carmen, vuelve, eres mi vida.


Juaaaaan.


Backpackers’ washing machine, Republic of Užupis, Vilnius.

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Turbulence and missed connections

I sat at the gate at Tegel airport listening to The Golden Hour by Firewater while I waited to board my flight to Heathrow. I think I had bags under my eyes. I was breaking my own no-flying-into-London rule because I was too distraught to care. I was eating grapes for breakfast, lunch and dinner because I’d lost interest in food. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, I just knew that I was leaving, that it was the only good option available to me.

It doesn’t really start with the break-up. It starts a year and a half ago when I joined the redundancy club. I was no longer tied to a place. I could go anywhere at any time. I registered as self-employed and earned a third of my former salary. I struggled to deal with the instability of not knowing when I’d next get a well-paid project. I traded financial security for freedom, and decided it was worth it. I started drifting, taking off places. At first it was the trip to Hong Kong, Macau and Australia, which began six days after I said goodbye to my old job, while my colleagues were busy trying to find new ones. Later it was rural Wales, to recover from punishing my liver with free alcohol throughout the film festival, and because I got a couple of free lifts. In the autumn, frustrated by my sort-of girlfriend’s failed attempts to make it to Edinburgh, I found myself a cheap flight to Barcelona and was there the next day.

But now, with this whole Berlin thing … three and a half months there, living rent-free, being generally happy, and now I felt like I’d taken a holiday from reality. What was going on, really? I left, and few people were going to care that I’d left: not that that is a measurement worth looking at. The night before I flew to Heathrow, I raided the bathroom cabinet and gathered my findings together for a game of What The Fuck Is This. Pills labelled in Czech, Danish and Spanish. I wasn’t looking to do anything drastic, I was just desperate for something to help me sleep: the prospect of going through another night like the previous one filled me with dread. I fed the brand names into a search program, used an online translator. Nothing useful. My friends in Edinburgh and Belfast authorised me to have a glass of wine. Just one; okay, maybe two. And it really did take the edge off things, it calmed me down, I stopped crying and was able to sleep for more than two hours at a time.

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I just want to buy a sandwich: A Q&A

Q. Is it reasonable to ditch an entire city just because you got your heart broken?

A. Your mileage may vary, but I decided it was the best course of action under these particular circumstances. 95% of my associations with Berlin involved my ex. I could’ve stuck around and made a new life for myself outside of that, sure, but I didn’t see a pressing need to put myself through that kind of pain: when the relationship ended, my physical distance from any support network made it a lot harder to cope with what was happening. There is a danger of really getting fucked up by extensive moping if I stick around, so the smart thing to do is to remove myself from the situation.

I love Berlin and I do feel conflicted about leaving, but Berlin won’t go away. I can come back some time in the future when I’m ready. Meanwhile there are other places where I can actually work on being happy.

Q. Where have you been since mid-July?

A. London. Belfast. Edinburgh. Murcia. Valencia. Barcelona. Vilnius. Warsaw. And back to Berlin due to prior commitments. I took cheap flights and buses and trains and ferries, stayed with friends and strangers. I didn’t know when I left Berlin that I was going to embark on so many journeys. I had no idea I would go to Lithuania, for example, until a few days before I arrived there. I just kind of let things happen.

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