The one thing about travelling on one’s own, or in my case, returning to places I once lived in or visited to catch up with old friends, is that one is very often by oneself, with too much time on one’s hands, waiting for the next bus, or train, or flight; for the lunch or dinner appointment; or for when your friend gets off work so you can get the keys to head back to the apartment.
In the meantime, you think of the best things to do to kill time. For me at least, that very often takes the form of a solitary walk.
Just this week I took a slow and leisurely (unanticipated) walk along the Thames because I grossly over-estimated the time it would take to arrive at the dinner venue. Telling myself “this is a chance to re-live my experience of one of my most favorite places in London” I walked all the way from London Bridge to South Bank and back. Two days later, I arrived too early in the morning to get into my friend’s apartment in Hackney so I thought I’d “take an opportunity to explore this neighborhood that I’d never been in.”
Though I try to convince myself that I’m doing something productive and delightful, in actual fact, these solitary walks to kill time often make me feel incredibly lonely; underscoring just how far away I am from having a place of my own that I can kill time in.
Sometimes I’m lucky, and I happen to be near a museum or some other indoor public space when I have time on my hands. And so then I sit in a corner somewhere in the building and read a book that I invariably bring with me wherever I go. Except for the hundreds of people milling around, it feels close enough to curling up on a sofa at home.
I also spend hours of my time in cafes, reading books or trying to write (like I’m doing now) – but one can’t count on cafes to provide the unconditional sanctuary one needs. They are, after all, commercial spaces and there is only so much coffee you can (or want to) drink at one sitting.
There are bars – which I have frequently taken recourse to, in an attempt to replace my loneliness with that warm, cheery glow that a glass or two of red wine can give you. Unfortunately, if I were to take a step back and observe myself, I would see a solitary person drinking wine by himself at the bar while self-consciously checking his mobile phone for non-existent text messages. That just seems too sad.
And so I take to the streets, because I have exhausted all indoor options, and because it is often too cold to stay still outside. I often wish there were heated outdoors pavilions with benches in them for such lonely, homeless wanderers like myself, searching for a place to go to for just a short moment. But I suppose the very reason why they don’t have such amenities is precisely to keep away the homeless, albeit of another variety.
Killing Time along the banks of the Thames, London