This is about travel. Except it’s not. It’s about staying where you are. People glamorise travel and talk
about the places they have been as if reading from a brochure. The town was charming, the windmill
quaint, the sky blue and the people friendly.
Travel’s best souvenir is false nostalgia. Travellers wax lyrical about how abroad people are so
approachable and outgoing, spontaneously striking up conversation with strangers, so openhearted
are they. The silent implication is that we don’t. No one talks to one another here. We are all
guarded and silent and cold.
Yet there are, I firmly believe, connections to be made with everyone. I’m not talking about a deep,
intimate, spiritual or particularly intellectual connection. But connections that flutter and may
prompt a mild smile. And really the content doesn’t matter. In fact, quite often it’s fabricated.
Attending a school you didn’t attend, agreeing with views you’d otherwise contest, fudging your
place of birth to include a whole region: ‘Yes, that is quite near Nottingham, oh your niece lives there
too, how funny… what a coincidence… small world’.
People talk to strangers all the time, though admittedly the frequency increases under various
environmental conditions. We are warmer when the sun is shining, more amenable when alone,
sitting still, bored of our book or eavesdropping. Small talk isn’t just for Americans. A shared
observation is all it takes and warmth spreads between the solitary coffee sippers. The sunshine
soaked Pretters. A garrulous seagull, litter-picking; a cute puppy: all break the fourth wall between
our private theatres.
While contemporaries peruse postcards in far-flung places something must be said for the stayer-
here. Gaps are bridged, faith restored and a feeling of general goodwill fostered without the
fireworks of exoticism or parenthesis of physical travel; the softly spoken pensioner is learning
German for a visit to his expat son. I should learn shorthand and calligraphy, he teases, and get a job
in an office.
His school friend, an ex-councillor, who ‘looks much older’, in an ongoing battle with the clutter of
the pavement explains in detail the licencing of seating areas. The aeronautics enthusiast clerks,
bunking off early on a Friday to discuss their latest trips and the changes to Dundee airport. The
Americans collaring a new puppy owner, interrogating him about its breed – a cock-a-poo – while his
wife orders a coffee – ‘they always over fill it. Like they have to prove they aren’t cheap’.
All watching, all basking, all joking it’s like the Costa del Sol, Biarritz, July. Can’t last. And it is like
those places. So friendly. Quaint, picturesque, charming, a postcard. It’s just like being on holiday,
but without the language gap.