On tak­ing part

on tak­ing part

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

The other night a drunk­ard told me the world can be di­vided into those who pay their bills and those who don’t. He was a beer-breathy boor and I wanted him to go away so I agreed but I think peo­ple can be more use­fully pegged ac­cord­ing to those who par­tic­i­pate with­out ques­tion, will­ingly, gladly, joy­ful joiner-in­ners; and those who don’t, those who sit on the side­lines, mis­trust­ful, judgy, hop­ing it will be over soon in or­der that they may go home. It oc­curred to me re­cently that few sit­u­a­tions are more il­lus­tra­tive of this, that few sit­u­a­tions speak more to the hu­man con­di­tion, than group travel. Trapped to­gether in con­fined spa­ces for long pe­ri­ods of time; forced into ac­tiv­i­ties out­side your com­fort zone; food po­ten­tially for­eign, al­co­hol likely free-flow­ing, toi­lets of­ten in­ac­ces­si­ble; is it any won­der group travel will bring out the worst, and oc­ca­sion­ally the best, in your­self and oth­ers?

I’d al­ways thought of my­self as fairly out­go­ing, ap­proach­able, a peo­ple per­son but I have come to the con­clu­sion I’ve been kid­ding my­self. If I’d un­der­gone a My­ers-Briggs test 20 years ago I’d have con­fi­dently pre­dicted that the re­sults would have placed me squarely in the ex­tro­vert camp. Now though, if my be­hav­iour on my trav­els with oth­ers is any­thing to go by, I would have to con­cede that I am an in­tro­vert. Not an out-and-out loner, not an ut­ter wall­flower but skat­ing dan­ger­ously close to the edge of the psy­cho­log­i­cal def­i­ni­tion of one.

As I watch the an­tics of the group, it is as if a bat­tle wages in­side me. The part of me that wants to be­long, that sees the dif­fer­ent cliques and feels left-out, that even among the many feels so ter­ri­bly alone, ver­sus the voice in my head, the con­stant cry: “Get me outta here.” Save me from the con­ver­sa­tions. The re­peat ques­tions. Where are you from? When are you head­ing home? Sleep well? The search for com­mon ground. What do you do? Any kids? How old? Boys? Girls? The inani­ties. Hot enough for you? Cold enough for you? Save me from the en­forced fun. Save me from the wait­ing around for every­one to be in the same place at the same time. Save me from the set menus, the lack of choice. Save me from all the creepy weirdos.

Even if you are not trav­el­ling as part of a group, even if you are stay­ing as anony­mously as pos­si­ble in a large, flash ho­tel, you can­not help but get to know the in­ti­mate habits of per­fect strangers. The mor­bidly obese mother and son at the buf­fet, who both eat their way through the bet­ter part of a baguette ev­ery morn­ing, stock­pil­ing those lit­tle pats of but­ter. The man with the Kar­dashian bum who gets on the tread­mill in the gym and jives and bops his way through his work­out. The overly groomed woman who stakes out her lounger be­fore break­fast and spends the day tak­ing self­ies — in the pool, be­side the pool, hat on, hat off, her frozen mango daiquiri, her chicken Cae­sar salad.

The con­cept of a cruise has al­ways loomed large in my imag­i­na­tion, namely its in­her­ent hor­rors, along­side the odd flir­ta­tion with its par­tic­u­lar charms. To try it on for size, we com­mit­ted to a sin­gle night at sea on our last trip over­seas. Be­cause it was our first and, con­ceiv­ably, our last time cruis­ing, we stumped up for the best cabin we could af­ford. My hus­band threw open the doors and we ex­cit­edly stepped out on to the ter­race, as ro­man­tic as the brochure had promised. Cooee, we heard from the ter­race neigh­bour­ing ours. It was the mid­dle-aged cou­ple we’d spot­ted at lunch. The hus­band bang­ing on to the cou­ple at the ta­ble be­tween ours about how he was semi-re­tired but was still keep­ing a hand in things. Spare parts, was the name of his game. We beat a quick re­treat. Don’t, said my hus­band, what­ever you do, catch his eye. No, I agreed, we’re not here to make friends.

The next morn­ing, as the sun rose over the Gulf of Tonkin, we gath­ered on the up­per deck to do tai chi. We were an un­gainly bunch and as I at­tempted to Part The Wild Horse’s Mane I stum­bled. Easy does it, said a voice; a hand on my el­bow, gen­tly right­ing me. It was spare parts guy. And I felt a twinge of re­morse. That, per­haps, we had been too quick to con­demn.

Do write. megan­ni­col­reed@gmail.com

I think peo­ple can be pegged ac­cord­ing to those who par­tic­i­pate with­out ques­tion, and those who sit on the side­lines, judgy, hop­ing it will be over soon so they may go home.

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