It's always nice to be reminded that one is getting older and slowly, but inevitably, becoming less cool. And it's especially nice to get a double hit of this delightful feeling.
Everyone knows that, when in a restaurant with a Specials board, it is someone's job to go and stand in front of it, memorise it (ideally in less than a minute) and then return to the table and reel-off said list, with all the customary guess-work, ad libs and mis-rememberings:
"I think it came with veggies or rice… or maybe something else. Oh and there was definitely a pasta thingy… and there was one more… which sounded quite good actually…"
Well no, if you are nodding sympathetically at that last paragraph, then I am sorry to be the one tell you – but you are old. That is not the thing to do at all. If you are a young hipster, you simply stand in front of the board and take a photo of it with your camera phone. Of course you do, obvious isn't it? (only, it would never have occurred to me to do that).
But even hipsters get out-hipped on occasion. "Oh no sir" said the waiter "there's really no need!" He placed reassuring fingertips on the young man's sleeve and with a Dickensian smile, that managed to be both cap-doffingly subservient and supremely condescending, he said: "It's really not necessary to do that! Not at all! The Specials are all online! Simply swipe the code" and he pointed, in turn, to several strategically placed squares, hidden discreetly amongst depressingly similar abstract art prints. "Just swipe the code and the entire menu, along with the Specials, is all there!"
The young hipster returned to his seat suitably chastised, and I made a mental note to never, ever stand up to look at a Specials board, ever again.
That moment: That moment when the pale, spotty youth, with his cap on sidewards, mostly lost in his mobile phone app, momentarily glances up and sees the tall, statuesque blonde with the waist-length hair and the thigh-length skirt, who looses her balance as the train pulls out of the station, stumbles on her tall shoes and lands roundly in his profoundly grateful lap.
May we all have at least one moment of unexpected joy, as good as that, this week.
"You shouldn't have ordered the eggs" she said, "the doctor says your cholesterol is already too high and they'll be dripping in oil" "But I like huevos rancheros" he said. "They're bad for your health." The man said nothing. His gaze, benign and unruffled, settled gently on the space just behind her (his wife, I had no doubt) left shoulder. "I'm having the gazpacho" she said, with a touch of defiance. "And I'm sure it will be delicious" he replied.
The food arrived quickly: her thin, pale soup decorated with five carefully placed croutons and his two golden-yolked, fried eggs covered with thick, oregano-scented, tomato sauce. "How are your eggs?" she asked solicitously. "Delicious" he said, smacking his lips "how is your soup?" "It's special" she said, "I think it has peach in it" "Mmmm"
They ate, he silent and focused, whilst she kept up a more-or-less continuous stream of chatter about the office, the street, their plans for the weekend. Then the woman broke off a small piece of bread, and casually, without pausing her conversation she reached over, broke one of the yolks and dipped her bread into it. He paused, his fork suspended just above her wrist, but said nothing. She dipped again and informed him that María-from-work has a new boyfriend. "You have something on your chin" he said. There was a drip of egg yolk. "Oh my goodness" she said, quickly covering half her face with her napkin, "how long has that been there? Why didn't you say something?" she wiped her face thoroughly and grumbled gently as they both continued to eat. She, delicately sipping her soup and reaching across now and then, to dip her bread and he, slowly but with relish, only pausing to watch her hand, each time it advanced and retreated.
He stopped eating, looked directly at her and pointedly rubbed his chin. She grabbed her napkin once more and thoroughly rubbed at her face. "It's all right for you" she said "your back's to the room" "What?" "I look ridiculous!" "Do you?" "With egg all over my face!" "There's nothing on your face" "You rubbed your chin!" "What? Did I?" "You know you did! You told me I had something on my chin" "I may have rubbed my chin. So what?" "You rubbed your chin!" "So?" "If that was a joke, it wasn't funny." She sulkily helped herself to a small piece of egg. "Can I try your soup?" "Of course…" he leant across, borrowed her spoon and took a generous spoonful. "You took a crouton!" she said. "You said I could try your soup! It comes with croutons!" "Yes, but not enough…" "Shall I ask the girl for more?" "No, they're too fattening" "Then it is good that you have one less to eat." They glowered mutually and she dipped a small piece of bread into the tomato sauce.
He also tore off a piece of bread and wiped it in the sauce, she recommenced her chatter and he listened carefully. Then she took the last piece of bread and dipped… "Of course I told her that wouldn't work, but she wouldn't listen to me… what?" "You have something on your chin – sauce I think" (There was nothing on her chin) She glared at him and considered the situation. He met her gaze calmly. "Stop it" she said. He shrugged. She quickly wiped her face with her napkin and looked around her to see if the congregation of the crowded café was smirking at her behind their hands, as she clearly believed them to be. They weren't. Or maybe they were just being extra subtle about it.
The waitress came and cleared the dishes. "What did you order next?" she asked. "The pork." "Oh, me too" she said, somewhat crestfallen. Personally, I thought it was for the best.
*Translated from the Spanish… and possibly embellished a little.
She was about 50, glamorous, stylishly but not expensively dressed; low heels, long hair. She got on the train about 2 stops after me and settled herself into the seat opposite with a loud sigh. She glanced out the window for a few seconds and then began rummaging in a voluminous leather handbag in search of her make-up. She applied darker eye liner, some sparkly eye shadow and glossy lipstick, all with intense concentration. Next she added some of that extra thickening, lash extending, pump-up, emulsion mascara (that, I personally, think looks terrible). After applying she attempted to brush most of it off with a tiny eyelash brush – jumping and grumbling every time the train bumped or took or corner. When she had finished, she stared into space for a moment and then looked disapprovingly down at the rest of her.
She took out her cosmetics once more and, with her compact mirror, she was making a show of looking at her eye make-up… but she wasn't looking at her eye make-up. I had to be careful, she was aware of me now and shooting occasional glares my way - some of which hit their mark. But with surreptitious observation I could see that what she was in fact doing, was considering how many buttons to un-do on her blouse. She first undid the top one, looked in her mirror, then undid a second… re-fastened the second, checked again… re-fastened the first… She bit her lip and furrowed her eye-brows… then she undid the first, left the second, put her compact away with a snap and shot a fierce stare at me to show she meant business.
Next she did something I haven't seen in 25 years – we all did this at school: she carefully folded over the waistband of her skirt (which is not easy to do discreetly, whilst seated) to make her skirt that little bit shorter. After completing this task, she looked around to see if she had an audience – I was caught red-handed. She stared me out and I looked away.
She looked at her watch, then at the próxima estación (next station) display. She closed her bag and hugged it to her as she edged forward in her seat and prepared to stand. She looked down at her shoes, flexed her feet, then looked at her hands… and she froze.
She started to bring her hands together, hesitated, then made her decision. After a quick glance around her, she quickly and carefully removed her wedding ring, stood up, straightened up and walked off the train into a warm, dusky evening.
Running down the stairs; taking them 2 by 2; dodging my compañeros de viaje; clutching my laptop bag and trying to avoid thinking about how much the contents actually cost... all because I can hear that tell-tale "shhhhiuuuuussh" of the train pulling in. I reach the bottom, swing and pivot on the railing, catching a glimpse of the monitor as I twirl and come skidding to a halt in a cloud of cartoon dust... because, dammit, it's not my train.
I look ostentatiously casual and do some gratuitous twirls to show that I fully meant throw myself down the stairs – it's the very bestest exercise, don't you know. And then I realise, to my horror, that actually it IS my train! On instinct I lunge at the doors just as they close, narrowly taking my nose out west. It required an extremely complex pantomime to recover from this one. #DavidMitchellPantomime
The smell of the city: diesel, dust and cheap perfume. A kaleidoscope of colours and characters. People strolling, traffic, smoke, the heat of the pavements, the time disconnection - it's never too late. And the food - my-oh-my the food! Barcelona. Here I am.
This time last year I was halfway through my Yoga Teacher Training and loving every minute of it. When I wasn’t doing yoga I was teaching rich honeymooners to dive – but not many of them, as Mexico was in the midst of the Swine Flu tourist-draught.
In May, the year before that, I was teaching diving in the Philippines. The year before that, I had only recently arrived.
The year before that I was back in London, saving hard and flipping coins as to where to go next. Two years before that I was meandering in Costa Rica, running out of money and coming to terms with the fact that I would soon be returning to the UK.
In May of the year before that, I was living in Honduras, diving, bartending and living by the beach. The year before that, in May, I had recently arrived in Guatemala and was falling in love with the same village that I left just a few months ago. The year before that I was in Canada, living in Victoria, taking great long walks along the sea front, with my state-of-the-art, only recently invented MP3 player (which had it’s own bag – it was too big and too heavy to fit in my pocket!)
In May of the year before that, I was living in London with two wonderful friends – good times. One of those lovely women is getting married this summer – I can’t wait!
Early May, of the year before that, I was in Indonesia. A much less travelled Indonesia than it is now. I was travelling with a man who was the most handsome of my previous boyfriends and also the tallest. We went to places where just being white and foreign was enough to make us celebrities. My boyfriend, at 6’4” was also a giant, from whom small children would run screaming. They would come back of course, but run screaming again if he took off his shirt – he had a hairy chest, which is unheard of amongst Asian men. I remember a young man of about 18, who was clearly sick with jealousy, politely asking if he could touch Andrew’s chest. Andrew, somewhat mollified, said yes. The boy touched the hair tentatively, and then nodded approvingly. “I am going to buy one like that” he said, “I can buy one in Lombok.” We told him we had been to Lombok and it was lovely, but we hadn’t seen any chest hair. “Really?” said the boy in surprise “but I have heard, that in Lombok, everybody is a rock star.”
The year before that I was on a fishing boat somewhere in the Gulf of Carpentaria. That year I worked a season on a prawn trawler out of Darwin. One night our nets were attacked by sharks, which didn’t happen often. We pulled the nets in at dawn and in the half-light, as the nets came to the surface, I saw the water churning and frothing with, maybe 60, sharks. It was one of the most extraordinary scenes I’ve ever witnessed. When the nets came out of the water, the few remaining fish fell out – the nets were full of holes. Our skipper was apoplectic with fury and launched into a tirade against sharks, holes, nets and his crew (rather unfairly, I thought). He said the boat was a "useless tub of shit" until those nets were fixed and back in the water, then he went to bed. We five, pulled in the outriggers and hung the nets off them like vast blue curtains. The biggest hole was a metre across. So we set about sewing up the holes – it took us 20 hours – then we got back to work. A few months later I got off that boat fitter, stronger, browner and blonder than I had ever been.
The year before that I was in London, feeling anxious: I was about to embark on my first long-term, solo trip and I was very concerned about having the right stuff. I had decided to buy a new backpack – a proper one. Cheap backpacks, as every traveller knows, are a false economy. The straps cut into your shoulders and then break. I spent most of this month choosing. My final choice was £85, making it the most expensive item I had ever purchased. When I handed over the money I remember thinking that that I would be wearing this bag for a whole year. That trip lasted 2½ years, and I’ve worn that backpack for many, many more.
The year before that I had just broken up with my first love and decided to start saving to go travelling. The year before that I had just moved to London, with my first love, I was learning graphic design and wondering if I would stick at it.
At this time, early May, of the year before that, I was I was doing my Finals at University. My friends were all worrying about jobs, but I did not apply for a single one. I knew what I was going to do – I was going to travel. A week after my exams ended I packed up my student digs and cleared out my bank account. I bought a one-way ticket to Athens and the cheapest backpack I could find. I left with the country with £60 in my pocket. My dad remembers me saying that I would be away for 3 years! My dad privately told my mum not to worry, that I would be back by Christmas! He was right – I was back in November.
During that summer, a fat man in a very expensive white suit approached me in a bar in Paxos. He had four bodyguards with him, all in matching black suits. I was told later, by the owner of the bar, that this man was a Godfather in the Greek Mafia. He offered me a job, on his private island: “Doing what?” I asked “I don’t know” he replied “what are you good at?” I politely declined his offer. “Don’t you have a sense of adventure?” he said “what are you going to do instead?” I shrugged. “I don’t know,” I said “but I’ll think of something.”
Habitual nomad finding a home. In more than 12 years of haphazard wandering I've visited 28 countries on five continents. I've climbed five volcanoes - they smell awful. I've dived with sharks - they're beautiful. I have never seen a badger. I've lived and worked in Australia, Canada, the US, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and the Philippines. I once spent four months at sea working on a fishing boat. I have successfully bribed a customs official. I can't sing in tune. I have witnessed an animal sacrifice. I have seen a bear shit in the woods. I am a stranger in my own country. I am an atheist. I don’t believe a civilised society should be tolerant of ignorance. I like people who can spell. Dark chocolate makes me weak. Crowds make me nervous. I have principles. I am a Graphic Designer. I am a Yoga Teacher. I am a Dive Instructor. I loiter without intent. I can, quite happily, watch paint dry.
"And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." — T. S. Eliot
"Don’t go off sightseeing. The real journey is right here. The great excursion starts from exactly where you are. You are the world. You have everything you need. You are the secret. You are the wide opened. Don’t look for the remedy for your troubles outside yourself. You are the medicine. You are the cure for your own sorrow." — Rumi
"It is to be remarked that a good many people are born curiously unfitted for the fate waiting them on this earth." — Joseph Conrad
"You don't get reformed - you just run out of wind." — Carlito's Way