After seven and a half weeks, my new passport has arrived. It was meant to take three. This, of course, has been a spanner to all my slap-dashedly laid plans. Or rather, it’s been yet another spanner in the very long sequence of spanners that have continually found their way betwixt the gears of my fragile optimism.
But hey ho!
My plans – if you could even call them that – were never any clearer than ‘leave London, travel somewhere nicer, live better’. Back at the start of the year my main idea was Malta. There wasn’t much reason for this; it simply occurred to me one day that I didn’t know where Malta was, so I Googled it and discovered they have pretty buildings and turquoise waters and it’s always sunny and they speak English as a national language and the country is absolutely tiny. In London if I wanted to visit my friends in North it was ten miles each way on public transport. Ten miles in Malta gets you from one coast to the other. That’s a two-thumbs up from me.
Malta was the ticket for a while, then, until I learned that my buddy Seth, who I met on the blueberry farm in Australia, has fixed up a van with his partner Blanche, and has been driving around the south of Portugal. Upon learning this, I scrapped my Malta plan and decided to begin my big aimless trip with a Portuguese reunion. What’s more, when I called Seth to plan this, I discovered my old friends Ben and Minh – also from the blueberry farm – were by chance going to be in Portugal at the same time. And what’s even more, Seth told me over the phone that he and Ben were planning a skydive for the 4th of April, and would I like to join?
Yes, I told him, yes, I would very much like to do a skydive on the 4th of April and then spend a week drinking on the beach with you and Ben and Blanche and Minh. Yes, I told him, that sounds like something I could see myself doing.
Well, God took a fat dump on that idea: my passport did not come in time. The 4th of April arrived and I passed the day not leaping out of aeroplanes with my best pals above a glittering blue sea, but rather sitting in the spare room at my mum’s house, hunched in front of my work laptop, spell-checking product descriptions for the Marks and Spencer range of women’s maternity pants.
In the quiet weeks that followed, I tried not to think of all the fun I was missing over on the continent, and occupied myself instead with reading, eating, and wandering aimlessly around the village, muttering to myself like the crazy old cat lady from The Simpsons.
This might not seem too bad to you. Few weeks in rural Yorkshire – lovely stuff. What I would like to emphasise, however, is that after moving to a strange, post-lockdown London in April 2021, I experienced isolation and depression the likes of which I hope I never experience again. It nearly did me in. 90% of my time in the city was spent alone in my darkened bedroom, lying in the fetal position on my bed, hugging a pillow, groaning with a sorrow that deepened with the howl of every passing ambulance and souped-up motorcycle. The loneliness burns like ice. It is an unforgiving place to live.
My escape from London was a last-ditch attempt to clear the sludge from my head, that the river of serotonin may once again flow. I had intended Yorkshire as a trampoline, one which I would land on momentarily and then bound elegantly away from into adventures unknown and the sunlit uplands of flawless mental health. Imagine my frustration, then, to summon every ounce of courage and take the leap of faith, then look down in mid-air to see not a trampoline below me but a great vat of treacle. I landed in it with a dull ‘splat’ and sank to my waist with the distant glow of Better Times on the horizon, with nothing else for it but to yell ‘ARSE’ and start wading.
My family in Leeds love me very much, of course, and I love them – and I write this as an important caveat, as I don’t want anybody to think me ungrateful. I’m just pining for company my own age; people to share ideas with and laugh with and explore with. I miss movement, and feeling like I was going somewhere. Been spinning my wheels for a year man – two, if you count the pandemic. It’s too long.
And then – and then. One fine morning, seven and a half weeks after I applied, I received an email:
Your passport is out for delivery today.
I guffawed with joy, and sat by the window all day to wait. In the early afternoon, a white van crunched to a halt outside, and before the woman had climbed out of the cabin, I was ready on the doorstep all a-quiver, eyes massive and glistening.
“Is it… for Dan?” I asked.
“Dunno love,” said the delivery lady. “Just says DH.”
“That’s me!” I wailed, hands on my cheeks, mouth hanging open like The Scream.
She took a confirmation photo of me with my package; a photo which almost certainly now hangs on the Post Office wall of fame above a description which reads ‘20th April 2022 – Gollum receives the Ring’. I stumbled upstairs and tore open the envelope, and there it was: my shiny new post-Brexit not-quite-blue-as-promised-but-really-more-of-a-black-lol passport. Halle-fucking-lujah.
My plans now are thus: fly out of Leeds on the 1st of May to southern Portugal, there to meet Seth and Blanche for an absolute wine-fest of a reunion. After a few nights of beachy goodness, head north on a train to Lisbon, for a week of whatever Lisbon has to offer. Then, around mid-May, fly to Berlin, to meet up with my old friend Dave (remember Dave? Of course you remember Dave), as well as my old colleagues Zoe, Michael and Alex, plus Ben and Minh, who moved there in late 2019. Right now it’s the place on earth with the biggest concentration my friends, and I would like to celebrate my twenty-ninth birthday there.
Aside: Twenty-nine! And thirty next year. I think I started this site when I was twenty-two. Isn’t that a thought?
After Berlin? I don’t know. I don’t want to know; I want to float along and let myself be surprised by life. I’ll still be working while I’m on the move – both freelance and full time, remote – so financially I should have plenty of options. I’ve always wanted to see the Pyramids.
That’s the point of all this saving and scheming, this trip, this big escape: I don’t want a plan anymore, and I don’t want to let one more second of my youth slip idly by. There’s a Jack London quote I always liked:
“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
Well, the last twelve months have seen plenty of dry rot, and all too much dust. It’s time to live again.