I have never liked loneliness. In fact, I’m the kind of person who is enhanced by the energy of others, whether it’s a table full of food, a group of friends, Christmas drinks. I enjoy a bit of downtime, but I’m rarely alone for long.
Travel on my own? I can’t think of anything more terrifying. It has always been very low on my “bucket list”, mainly due to maternal guilt at leaving my young family behind, but also out of genuine fear. Fear of being alone, of being unable to cope. I’d probably make it to Heathrow, enjoy a coffee in peace, and that would be enough for me. Home time.
However, last Sunday something special happened. Like thousands of others, I was drawn to London to pay my respects to Queen Elizabeth II. He had friends all lined up, eager to come too. However, the realities of parenthood (and a hangover or two) soon kicked in and they dropped like flies. But the urge to travel to London alone only intensified, even though the unknown practicalities felt genuinely daunting. Who would I ask to take my place if I needed to use the bathroom? Would I miss the last train home? My alarm went off. “Are you really going?” my husband asked, mildly surprised by my intent, as he was catapulted into a day of solo parenting. I took the train from Berkshire to London, the tube to Bermondsey and then to Southwark Park. unknown territory.
Queuing time was estimated at 14 hours. Green wristbands were handed out. There was no going back. Don’t give up on The Queue. But in 18 minutes I met Denise Basso, 50, a Venetian living in London. There can be a tendency among strangers to converse for too long, past the point of no return, after which you just can’t ask a person’s name. I bit the bullet and asked. “You know we’re going to be good friends at the end of this Denise, just tell me if you need anything,” I told her.
A little later, Bernadette Halford, 64, a nurse from Twickenham traveling with her son, daughter-in-law and five-month-old granddaughter, Wynnie, announced: “Well, we’ve found our Queue family; let’s stay.” together.” With slight trepidation we introduced ourselves. Through Tower Bridge we had created a WhatsApp group. Your name? God save the queue.
There were 12 of us gathered by the late Queen that day, ranging in age from five months to 69 years. Ten Britons and two Italians, including 29-year-old Marco, who had literally flown in from Milan alone to pay his respects. Together we prove that British friendliness and camaraderie (with a dose of Italian spirit) really do exist. Issy Rose, who was queuing with her seven-month-old son Otto, summed it up: “It’s so British to queue, but it’s also so British to ignore each other. The power of this shared experience transcended all discomfort and [forged] extremely close ties.”
For me, it was a boost I never knew I needed. I know I only traveled as far as London, but I felt a new determination to go further. I can be me, and only me, and that’s enough company, and I might make new friends along the way. The pandemic has separated many of us, wreaked havoc on our inner confidence. And so often we are caught up in the various roles of life: employee, parent, brother, friend, volunteer, neighbor, that we can forget the need to be ourselves, to try new things. Knowing that I can occasionally be alone (with the blessing of a patient husband), is a newfound freedom.
So I decided to challenge myself even more by booking a solo vacation. Three days and three nights near Nice. I started the NRG bar body lockdown training. In two years I have only participated through a screen, in classes led by the formidable founder and former dancer Nathalie Errandonea-Mewes. This is the first NRG retreat and it will test my new found confidence. But I feel reassured, rather than guilty, that time alone can be a positive experience.
Mornings at the retreat, which is based at the Le Mas de Pierre resort, will be filled with fitness classes, while afternoons will be spent reading, walking and at the spa. We will meet at lunchtime. This length of solo travel is doable as far as child care, location and transfers are manageable, flights are easy. One thing is for sure, I will be able to withstand any queue at airport security.