Last summer I got on a train to Bournemouth and spent three days there on holiday. By myself.
‘You’re such a loner!’ Sadie told me.
‘Yes I am.’ I smiled back.
My beautiful best friend had meant it as an insult. She’d meant it in the same vein as ‘freak’, as ‘tragic’ as ‘poor Mara can’t get anyone to go away with her so she’s going by herself HOW HILARIOUS’.
First of all there was a mix up at the hotel I had booked. The reason I decided on Bournemouth was that it was the cheapest room I could find on the internet. It was £15 a night for a single room with one small window. On the first morning of my solitary summer trip I received a call from Giles, the hotel owner who said, ‘I’m so sorry (really so sorry) but that room doesn’t exist. I don’t know what that silly internet told you but there’s absolutely no way you can have that room.’ He explained that there was only one room left on site. It was a double room with a sea view and a corridor and a bath and he could offer it to me at the discounted price of £50 a night. I then explained to him my position as a poor student, with absolutely no money to spend and return train tickets already purchased.
‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Just this once. And don’t tell my wife.’
I spent my time walking, writing and watching the sea. I really love the sea – I always have – it’s awe, I think, of how constant it is, how effortless. For food, I hopped between budget supermarkets and budget cafes. I tried bubble tea for the first time – that was pretty great – I’d been wondering about that for ages and ages. On the last night I was feeling a bit rubbishy because I hadn’t had a hot meal or any vegetables for three days so I walked across the road to a very small Italian restaurant. I sat outside at a corner table for one and ate breadsticks and penne arrabbiata with fresh tomatoes and fresh pasta and fresh chilli under the orange patio heater. The restaurant manager must have taken pity on me eating alone because he brought me two free glasses of house white wine. It was honestly one of the best eating out experiences I have ever had (and not just because of the persuasive power of wine).
In the evenings I’d embark on the five minute downhill trail to the waterfront where I’d take my shoes off and walk along the line where the sea meets the beach. There were one or two late night dog walkers but other than that I had the whole place to myself. It was magical. The lack of social interaction and otherwise conversations with friends found an outlet in conversations with myself. Not out loud (I didn’t think I should give Sadie’s jibes any more ammunition) but in my head. In the same way you get to know someone through staying up all night in conversation – I was getting to know myself in a way that I never had. I was starting to like myself in a way that I never had. I liked my independence, I liked my motivation (the best writing I’ve ever done was on that trip), I liked the way that for the first time I had started to put myself first – because for those three days there was nobody else I needed to please.
I love my friends and I can’t tell you how much I value my family, but I wouldn’t change the company on my Bournemouth experience for anything. When I have the money and opportunity to do it again and when, once again, I hear, ‘loner!’ I will say ‘thank you so much’.
Because what a wonderful compliment – to be happy with yourself. People struggle for lifetimes with that and I’ll never not be grateful for those three days for making me the happiest loner in the world.