I’ve recently started using Periscope – a new app that allows you to broadcast live from your phone. Your followers are notified when you begin broadcasting and you can see them join you as you hold your phone camera at whatever it is you want to show them. They can comment and ‘heart’ your footage.
Today I went for a walk on Hampstead Heath and decided to broadcast from there, once I could get a good enough signal. I was taken aback by one follower, who asked me if I was really walking ‘all by myself’ and why did I not have friends with me for ‘talks’. Quite apart from the strange phrasing, I was surprised that this was even an issue. To me, doing things on my own is just a way of life – a freedom, rather than a sadness. I know I can call friends to join me but I choose to be alone sometimes, thinking my own thoughts, just taking things in on my own, without anyone else’s viewpoint to skew it.
Their comments reminded me of how far I’ve come. There was a time when, like lots of people, I would hardly do anything on my own. I wouldn’t dream of going to the cinema, to a lecture, or even a gallery on my own, let alone a pub or club, or a foreign country. Now I do all of them, all the time, and I feel liberated. I can do exactly what I want, when I want, without having to rely on someone else being available, or wanting to do the same thing. I love spending time with my friends, but they don’t have to always be there. Plus I always have social media if I fancy some ‘talks’.
Thinking about it, though, I’ve always gone on solo walks. As one could in the seventies, I roamed around on my own in the Welsh countryside from about the age of eleven. No one thought anything of it, then. I used to walk through field after field to get to the local church (St David’s in Pantasaph), roam around there for a bit, and walk back. I definitely met a few ‘wanderers’ on the way but we would just pass each other and not blink an eye. I’d play solo in a disused lime quarry which would probably be surrounded by a ‘keep out’ fence now. If another kid was around, fine, but I made my own entertainment.
As a teenager, I roamed the moors near our house with our Jack Russell terrier and pretended I was Cathy about to meet my Heathcliff. I had, and still have, a very romantic imagination and it is possible that other people would’ve reminded me that I was still in the real world. I used to love looking at a field disappearing over the horizon and wondering what was over the top. In a way, I didn’t want to know that there was just a hedge and another field. My mind filled in the blanks.
It’s only recently that I’ve started walking again, solo, building in walks in and out of London, depending on where I’m working. I even walked to a party in Soho last Friday, taking my nice shoes in my bag. Until today, I’d forgotten that this was what I used to do all the time in my youth. Walk, walk and walk.
Just me. No ‘talks’.
Sometimes I have a whole day, which I refer to as a ‘Wandering the Earth Day’, where I just walk and commune with myself, and look around me at everything that’s going on, often recording it on Instagram, Twitter, and now, Periscope. I see lots of couples, families, groups of friends, enjoying each other’s company, or not. I pick up snippets of conversation, and I observe all-but-hidden behaviour. For instance on Friday night, I noticed a lesbian couple dropping hands as they passed by a busy pub and I felt sad that they felt the need to do that. I’m not sure I’d notice that if I was with someone else.
There really is something special about just being on your own in the world. It can feel lonely sometimes, but that really is just a state of mind and I can always call someone if I don’t fancy a good wallow in it. I look at people that can’t do anything without someone else being by their side and think they’re the ones that are missing out. Again and again, I think of the therapist who once told me that freedom was the most important thing for me.
And again and again, he’s absolutely right.