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Traveling Solo

Last weekend I went to Brighton to see Amanda Palmer play her music in a church. I’m no stranger to Brighton, really, but it’s the first time that I’ve been completely on my own. Usually I visit friends, or it’s Record Store Day when I’m there. It was strange to be in a different city without anyone to meet and no one else’s time schedule to keep to.

I stayed at Paskins Townhouse near Kemptown, a pretty little B&B nestled in a row of terraced houses which runs perpendicular to the sea. I was given my key, advised on breakfast timings and went to settle in (connect to the WiFi).

I had a couple of hours to spare before the gig started. I had originally planned to get chips and sit on the beach, but suddenly the miles of stony shoreline seemed vast and vulnerable. I didn’t want to just sit in my room and eat sandwiches, that seemed to defy the whole point of having a solo travel experience. So I took myself out to dinner.

After you get over the initial “do people think I’m weird?” panic, eating at a restaurant on your own isn’t actually that bad. I went to Zizzi (wasn’t quite confident enough to try somewhere completely new) with ideas of mushroom pasta and red wine. You notice so much more of your environment when you’re not absorbed in your own conversations.

I crammed in to the entrance with a family of 5 who were also waiting for a table. Mum had that look of stress that parents acquire when trying to project manage a scenario which is less than ideal, and dad was trying to maneuver a buggy into and out of the way in a very small space. It was hard not to watch them because I was almost stood on their toes, but I understood their anxious faces.

In the end, mum was clearly unhappy and decided that this particular restaurant wasn’t helping her stress levels, so they left and went to try Pizza Express over the road. I’d been watching their little boy clamber around on the floor between the legs of staff and customers and, as they turned to go out the door, he shot off into the main dining space. The parents left.

I thought I must have got it wrong and it wasn’t their little boy. But I knew it was. I thought they’d turn around. But they didn’t. They walked down the road without him. I watched him look wildly around the restaurant and then his face scrunched up in fear, the way toddlers do when they realise that things are scary and there’s no one familiar to help. I crouched to my knees and held out my hand to him. He came over to me as I was the only one he could comfortably make eye contact with amongst a sea of legs. “Have you lost mum and dad?” I said, and he nodded, bursting into tears.
Everyone tried to ignore him. The staff didn’t stop to ask and the other diners looked glad that someone else was helping the shrieking child. As I stood up to ask someone for help, his dad appeared at the door and I held it open so he could scoop up his little boy.

He said thank you about five times, breathlessly, and then tried to explain himself, saying that he could have sworn the little one was with them and I tried to say it didn’t matter, but he was obviously embarrassed. I wanted to say, I know. You’re not a bad person. You’re doing a great job. But the atmosphere was far too loud and he needed to comfort his little boy. I hope they managed to have a better ongoing evening.

After dinner I walked out to a church in Hove. A man stopped me in the street to compliment my skirt and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for navigating the city. I joined the queue for Amanda Palmer’s gig half an hour before the doors opened, listening to the chatting of the people around me.

Once we were inside and seated I spent two hours making a large glass of red wine last, stroking a cat that had wandered in without a ticket and listening to Amanda’s incredible voice bounce off the church walls. I’ve been inside Canterbury cathedral enough times but buildings like these carry a cold hush that I’ve never found anywhere else. It was a very surreal experience.

The next morning I sat by the sea reading until Tom came to get me (Southern Railway, you are a joke). I always feel at peace by the sea, and the hours I spent walking and reading recharged me. That feeling lasted until Wednesday, which is pretty good for me at the moment.

This is the second solo trip I’ve taken this year to see a person who has inspired me, the first being John Grant back in February. They’ve actually sung a song together, too, which is incredible.
Do you enjoy traveling on your own?

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