On taking part
on taking part
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.
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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.