If you’re female, in your early-to-mid twenties, have a penchant for solo travel and work with half a dozen Good and Proper Married Women, you’re probably going to hear “you’re so brave!” any time you suggest going anywhere that’s not an all-inclusive family resort in Spain and France. That’s the politest way I can describe these ladies, who I mostly like. They’re married, their husbands have boring hobbies and they themselves have few interests beyond housework and ITV and no imagination whatsoever.
“You’re so brave!” has always irritated me, although I’ve never figured out exactly why. Is it the unspoken “you’re a freak!”in their tone? Is it the unspoken disapproving “I wouldn’t do that”? Is it the total misunderstanding of the concept of bravery? Is it that my idea of brave doesn’t match their idea of brave?
My Rangers regularly ask which Hogwarts house I’m in. I’ve never had an answer to this. My house allegiance, still, is to Kimmeridge’s purple, if I had to die on a hill for a school house. As a former teenager who awoke at dawn and read encyclopaedias (actual paper ones that weighed more than I did at the time), I can’t deny a leaning towards Ravenclaw. But if you take the Gryffindors we see, their house trait is more recklessness than courage. And I certainly do ridiculous impulsive things that might be described as reckless. I’m in Rīga right now, as you’re reading this. I booked that exactly ten days in advance, on a whim at work one lunchtime. Even I was surprised. I’m going to Latvia. Next week. I didn’t know that ten minutes ago and now I have flights and accommodation.
But that’s not courage. That’s reckless.
My mum says I’m not streetwise. I don’t know exactly what she means by that, unless she thinks that a little blonde pigtailed girl from the countryside can’t survive in the city. I can. And although London is the biggest, baddest city of them all, somehow I’m not afraid to walk its streets at night. I don’t think that’s courage either. Maybe it’s hopeless naivety.
The truth is, I’m the biggest chicken of them all. Sure, I’m the person you yell for when there’s a spider or a bee or a cow. But I’m petrified of fairground/theme park rides, I don’t like heights unless I’m very securely harnessed, the sea is terrifying and so are all small boats and a good number of large ones, needles, eyes, gore, tuna, horror films, Guide emails, high winds, cliff edges, ketchup, fires – where do I stop? If you knew me as a child or teenager (I was pretty much selectively mute at three or so – or possibly the most angry, petty, passive-aggressive toddler ever) you may be surprised that one thing I’m not frightened of that I should be is public speaking. A degree in modern languages will shake that one out of the shyest student.
The one thing that really, genuinely and predictably frightens the life out of me is – very specifically- getting lost on the way home from Gatwick. I drive an hour and a half or maybe a little less to the west end of the A272, follow it to Billingshurst and then follow the signs for the last twenty-odd miles. Easy. But on the way back – no signposts to Billingshurst from Gatwick! I have got lost on every single mile of this twenty-odd mile drive about ten times and… I panic. Really freak-out panic. I cannot be rational about it. I can’t get home and there’s nothing I can do about it. On the way home from Iceland recently I found myself battling with a broken phone that would not function as a satnav, in a Halfords car park at 11pm on a Sunday night. I very nearly camped overnight in the car, with the plan to buy a real satnav in the morning and use it to drive home in daylight. If you saw me frightened out of my wits, screaming and sobbing at the top of my voice because I was lost, you would never say “you’re so brave!” again.
And now I’m off to Latvia in the morning, so look forward to the posts on that.