The Lost Passport

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a gadabout traveller in want of an adventure must be in possession of a passport. It’s a quaint old system. Most countries dig it as a means of controlling the movement of the population, entrenching cultural identities, shackling free-spirits to a culture of bureaucracy, keeping tabs on the sorts that in the 18th century would have been afeared pirates or elusive highwaymen, and, of course, squeezing us for quids. “Administrative costs.” Mostly I’m all for all those things in the name of a good jolly.

EXCEPT WHEN I’M SUPPOSED TO GO SOMEWHERE FOREIGN AND FIND I’VE BLOODY LOST IT.

You’ll forgive me I’m sure for being a bit sullen that I am here with you on a Monday morning in Essex. It’s just that I am supposed to be in Budapest – capital city of Hungary, jewel in the crown of the Danube, a ruddy big river in Europe, a place across the seas. I’m supposed to be in raptures over exotic stuff, sniffing paprika up each nostril at the suggestion of a sausage-wielding bohemian lurking on a beautiful neo-gothic street corner. I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE, BLIGHTY YOU BORE.

Wind back to last week when I was snug as a bug in bed, just about to turn out the light when I had one of those ‘bolt upright’ moments. Apropos of nothing I lurched forward like someone had socked me in the gut, reached across to the bedside drawer that normally stows my important stuff (emergency sewing kit, strange notes I write to myself that bear no meaning after five minutes, old theatre programmes, a lighter even thought I do not smoke, AND MY BLOODY PASSPORT), and was met by instant panic. Not there. Five minutes of rustling gleaned no results. Twenty drawers, two trunks, a wardrobe, multiple boxes/whicker cases, endless home surfaces later, and nada. No passport. No where.

I thought back to the last few times I’d had it, as ID in the post office when they’d taken 30 seconds to milk me for seven quid putting a verification stamp on a bit of paper. It was like the Queen hated me. I vaguely remembered a moment of wrestling Matt to the ground of our new flat when he plucked it up from the coffee table in the lounge and threatened to look at the picture. We tussled. I won. My chubby spam-head furrow-faced self of 2004 stayed safely sandwiched between Her Majesty’s maroon. And then what? Then where? WHAT THE FUCK DID I DO WITH IT? I have no idea. But it’s gone.

I don’t mind admitting that when Matt went out I had a little cry. I didn’t think he should have to behold snot and puffy eyes as well as missing out on spicy sausage and dancing ancient folk quadrilles in baroque boozers.

I beat myself up for a good few days. I was so cross. It pervaded everything I did and I kept thrusting my face into Matt’s nooks, apologising for my idiocy. He was stoically resolutely lovely. In truth, I think this made it worse.

And then came the natural juncture when I knew I had to let it go. Stop launching myself across the room into Matt’s lap pouting like a manic depressive duck. Accept it. Stop bitching about myself to myself. Just let it go. It gets harder as you get older to let a bad mood slide away, doesn’t it? Something to be worked on I guess.

I’m sure I’d find it easier to adopt zen-like acceptance if I hadn’t just realised I’ll have to GET NEW BLOODY PASSPORT PHOTOS DONE. THE UNBEARABLE AGONY OF THE UGLIFYING BOOTH.

But that in itself is a fresh new start of a kind. I can let 2004 face go. Finally.

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Terribly New York

There’s something about travel that cannot help but make even the biggest moron think of all the science involved. How does the plane stay up? Where does all our wee go when we flush; do the birds get wet? Why is this bread so hard? And so on.

There’s also something about being a visitor to new places which lends you an observational eye more inquisitive that usual. It’s like being a foreign speck placed in the Petri dish of a new culture, waiting to see if something will grow.

I felt a similar distance in some of my New York experiences. In the streets and in the theatre I felt like I was home, but in the bars I felt stilted. Though I knew some part of me wanted to ‘be’ a part of it, in the way I always want to live a place as though it is my life, perhaps because I prefer to write about it later from a perspective of inclusion, I did not feel like I belonged there. The speck rejected the Petri dish.

One night in particular I was in a bar full of post-work thirsty natives, and my gorgeous and slightly mad host Charlotte was explaining the travails and glories of their dating system to me. For the first five minutes I was enraptured by tales of liberation. I felt like I’d walked into a pop-up book of Sex & The City (my enduring passion for which I will never understand as I don’t do style, I hate Kim Cattrall, and I think the last ‘episode’ in the form of Sex & The City 2 was an insult to women and all of life everywhere. Go figure, as some yanks would say.)

We were with Charlotte’s yoga instructor Penny, a dazzling redhead in her 40s who introduced us to ‘some guys’. Somewhere in my story-head I imagined we were being introduced to New York society by a upper east side duchess who was weighing up our odds on the love market. Then a man proceeded to touch up my bum while going through the motions of small-talk, and I didn’t feel liberated or culturally curious. I wanted to punch him. Thinking he was a friend of Charlotte and Penny’s I politely kept shifting my derrière and spoke to someone nicer. I loathe myself now for not saying anything. I don’t know why I cared that it might ’cause a fuss’. (Practice run: “Hey, buddy, that’s my ass. Yours is the one behind you looking like an overfilled baloney sandwich.” How terribly New York of me that would have been. DAMMIT.)

Thus was my preconceived kaleidoscope of glamour shattered. I was not seeing women enjoying their freedom unjudged. I was seeing women who could date the same guy for a year caught in a constant round of small talk without ever getting anywhere, I was seeing women who could date four men at the same time without getting any satisfaction from it. I saw women playing cool, playing undercover detectives in their own cryptic games, playing phone tennis where the result is almost certainly never love-anything. I saw an awful lot of singles playing and it didn’t look a single bit like fun.

I’ve always wondered if I should have stayed single for longer after leaving my marriage, if I have fully explored the freedoms of the modern woman or have truly known independence for long enough, but seeing the dating scene in New York made me realise that freedom can be a sort of prison too, if you’re not exercising it in the right way.

I felt glad to come home to the fuzzy nook of my man. Where there’s no games, just truth.

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Love Sack, Baby

I’ve always been absolutely useless at saying goodbyes. Even the easy kind. Leaving friends at the pub will often be a fifteen minute hug-fest, then I’ll be halfway out the door when something in my heart will lurch. I’ll turn around with a false memory of having left a tissue strewn on the floor and go back, and instead of picking up my imaginary discarded snotrag, I will sneak another little squeeze in as I jostle through my friends. Or a loving punch. Just a bit more contact for the journey.

Although it sounds like I was left in my cot as a baby for hours without so much as a stale rusk lobbed at my head, I am actually very blessed love-wise; regularly serviced in the soul department by an extensive faculty of wonderful people. But I suppose even people with their emotional needs being tangibly met can still be needy. After all, not even the most adored people on the planet are likely to say one bright April morn “Do you know what? I think I’ve hit my cuddle limit. I’ll be gosh-darned if I haven’t got enough love in the sack til Michaelmas. I am replete. You just stop this shoulder massage right there and give it to Derek the curtain-twitching hermit over the road.” It’s never going to happen; it’s not how humans work.

Perhaps our lives grow to fit the love that comes our way. There is always enough room for more love for or from people, and, unless we’re trying to shake off an annoying ex or a mad stalker, it is always welcome. We don’t measure it out. “I’m sorry, Pleasing Acquaintance, I can’t go for lager-beer with you in case we hit it off and five months down the line, during an impassioned conversation about which Rocky film is the best (2. No discussion.) I get jousted in the heart by a bit of excess friend love and die.” The heart grows as big as we let it.

I came over all angst-ridden yesterday as I said a few goodbyes. I’m going on holiday for two weeks and in amongst all the excitement and faffing and packing (and staring at my passport expiry date trying to remember what year it is with that mania that the enforced bureaucracy of travel evokes), I felt a shadow edge into my heart. I would have to say some goodbyes.

Hot fudge, I suck at them.

Of course it’s probably some innate waily wah-wah stuff like fear of losing people, WAIL, or guilt, BOO, or a sense of leaving things ‘unready’ – “I’m going to crash into the Atlantic and you’re going to have to clear out my room. I have been scrap-booking everything since the age of 9 & you’re going to throw away my collection of funny German T-bags. You probably won’t even find them as hilarious as you should.” WAIL. Maybe it’s more textbook than that. Actual holiday anguish due to my cat, Monty ‘Mental’ Python, getting run over while I was getting quarter-engaged to a tonguey Turk named Erjan in 1996. WAIL. (But probably not, as I’ve only just remembered it.)

Do humans get pre-travel jitters because we know in the heart of our hearts that all this travelling is unnatural? We’re not supposed to fly over seas or traverse huge expanses of land. We’re supposed to do stuff on our feet; stop when we get out of breath and have a nap. We’re not really supposed to go beyond our patch, our cave, the plot marked out by the features that serve our basest needs; food, water, shelter, somewhere a bit private to take a dump. Man’s reach in his physical realm isn’t supposed to exceed his grasp; that is why we dream of heaven and space and the mysterious lands we’ll never get to. We might design ways of closing the gap between us and our curiosities; we’ll always try to harness the stars, push the boundaries of latitude and longitude and other dimensions. We constantly defy nature; our own design. But we are biologically designed for (driven, compelled and nourished by) love.

Maybe that’s why, despite whatever fun we have on our adventures, there’s nothing quite like a cuddle when you come home.

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