One bear becomes two bears

For the last decade or so, I’ve been a solo traveller. It’s not a lifestyle choice, it’s just the way things worked out and I’ve got so used to it that I can’t imagine travelling with someone else.

This year I’ve done just that.

In May I went caravanning in France with my sister. That’s fine, that’s just years of family holidays without the parents. But last week I went to Edinburgh, to the Fringe, with my friend Tom (you may remember him from our day out in Swanage at Christmas).

I’ve tried writing this post four times so far and I need to start with a few important points.

  • There are very few people I’d rather spend five days with in this chaos than Tom
  • I was very sad to see him onto the train back to Liverpool
  • It is going to sound like I’m complaining about him being there. I’m not. I’m just not used to including other people in my plans.

So, first – planning.

I’m used to doing my own planning. I’m not used to trying to find an Airbnb for two adults who will not be sharing a room, let alone a bed. This combination does exist but it’s very expensive so eventually I abandoned it and went back to “we’ll each individually find suitable accommodation”. It turns out that a doctor has more expensive taste than a statistic researcher but the researcher has a more realistic view of prices in Edinburgh, so we both ended up at the same hostel. I’ll tell you about the hostel in Tuesday’s post.

A major part of the Fringe is going to see shows. I have a few that I need to go and see. Tom has a few favourites. Are we going to go to these together? Are we going to split up? Are we going to do a bit of each? In the end, we each planned our own timetable but left plenty of spare time to go and see things together a bit more spontaneously – by far the best of these was The Prophetic Life of Bethany Lewis (Underbelly Cowgate, 10.30pm) – go and see it, if you’re up there.

Keeping in touch. My phone is a bucket of bolts. It needs replacing with one that actually works. But it’s fine for checking Twitter or Instagram a couple of times a day. What it’s not fine for is relying on to keep in touch with Tom throughout the day. The battery can go from full to flat in under five hours without me even touching it and mobile data really eats up the battery. Plus, I’m just not in the habit of checking my messages (or indeed of replying to them). Tom, on the other hand, is not really used to companions who can be difficult to contact.

Then there’s the matter of food. Left to my own devices, I would buy picnicky bits from a supermarket and snack throughout the day. Turns out other people eat actual meals – and they eat them in restaurants and cafes and places like that. I’ve never been in a restaurant or cafe in Edinburgh, unless you count the Wetherspoons where I got some toast five minutes after I got off the sleeper train at the crack of dawn last time. I had brunch! I sat in an Italian restaurant! I had ice cream instead of real food in a Scottish-American-style diner! This is all new and weird and alien to me.

And then there’s drinks. I know that I tend to buy a bottle of something fruity or fizzy when I’m thirsty and I planned to not do that this year. I took collapsible bottles with me and bought a bottle of squash so I could make drinks in the morning to take with me. But Tom – and indeed, a lot of normal people – like to drink their drinks from actual glasses, in actual drinking establishments. Before a show, during a show, after a show, at the end of the evening. I don’t have the capacity for that much liquid and it took a while to realise that “No, I don’t want a drink but I’ll come and be sociable while you have one” is also an acceptable answer to “Shall we go and get a drink?” I attempted to be a bit good by having orange juice and lemonade instead of Coke and I feel like I drank half the orange juice supply of the whole of Edinburgh.

Last thing at night came “What time shall we meet up in the morning?” That was a difficult question. I’m not used to going to bed at 1am after “our bar” has closed. I’m not used to the noise in the hostel. I don’t know how much sleep I’m going to get and how early I’m going to feel like getting out of bed. Too early is too early. But much later than that and I start to feel like I’m going to have missed out on whatever’s going on in the city. Multiply all that by two people and making arrangements for the morning gets complicated.

I met up with another friend, who shall remain nameless, and said (more plaintively than I meant to) “I’m not used to having other people around!” and he laughed out loud.

But I’m not. I’m not used to including people in my plans and being included in their plans. I’m not used to grabbing someone off a station platform that’s not my local one. I’m not used to laughing hilariously with another person as we walk down a dark damp alley about the puppet show I wouldn’t have just seen if not for him. I’m not used to sprawling in a dark pub and playing with a candle at midnight. I’m not used to giggling at mad Scottish women while watching podcasts being recorded. I’m not used to being in other people’s selfies. I’m not used to exclaiming together at fighter jets suspended from scaffolding by slacklines. I’m not used to taking time to sit on a summer’s evening to watch buskers. I’m not used to walking home in the dark with someone else. I’m not used to messaging people in shocked glee that “The Pleasance has been evacuated again!” (The Pleasance was evacuated Saturday, Sunday and Monday and that’s just when one of us was around to witness it). I’m not used to people taking photos of me (this is not always a bad thing…). I’m not used to pleasant company.

There are a lot of good reasons to travel with another person and it’s worked quite easily and quite happily on my trips to France and Edinburgh. Let me leave you with a picture of me and Tom in a bar on Friday night. Or possibly Saturday. I lose track.

Me & Tom in a bar in Edinburgh