November 2010


I’m very glad to leave the place of my week-long solitary sojourn and return to the vibrant vivacity if M2’s house. Before that, M2, J and I have arranged to meet at Waterloo for a day out. We all know each other from uni. Planning to meet people from uni has none of the apprehension that meeting people from school does. At uni, I fitted in, joined in.

So I leave my suitcase at the left-luggage office, which is between platforms 11 and 12. (Sort of 11¾?)

I finally get my ploughman’s lunch, so I can tick that off on my list:

Eat shortbread
Drink cider
Eat ploughman’s lunch in pub
Eat fish and chips
Eat salt and vinegar crisps
Eat scones with jam and cream X
If summer, feel rain
Buy underwear in M&S X

Unfortunately, the food in the pub we choose is not wonderful – maybe that’s why it’s empty – but at least the company is good.

We visit a museum called “Enchanted Palace” at Kensington Palace. It’s a bit strange but interesting. Then we walk around the gardens and take tea in the Orangery, a very posh-looking place. And I finally get my scone with jam and cream. Mmm. So this is the final table:

Eat shortbread
Drink cider
Eat ploughman’s lunch in pub
Eat fish and chips
Eat salt and vinegar crisps
Eat scones with jam and cream
If summer, feel rain
Buy underwear in M&S X

The underwear isn’t essential; I bought some quite recently. Back in the gardens, someone is feeding squirrels:

In the evening, I finally give M2’s husband the answer to his question. It was day 22 when he asked me what I learned in my life that I wish I’d known earlier. I haven’t really been thinking about this question ever since, but I haven’t had the opportunity to answer – or that’s what I tell myself. This is the last opportunity, so I take it. “I wish I’d known before the age of five how children treat each other. That would have made all the difference.”

You see, on my first day at school, through no fault of my own, I missed the first part of the day. At the end of the day, the teacher gave out drawings to the children. One girl said to me, “You won’t get a drawing because you didn’t do one.” It’s a perfectly normal thing for one child to say to another, but the mocking tone of her voice made me think I was being singled out, that there was something wrong with me. That feeling stayed with me. I expected to be treated differently and the other children picked up on that and did as I expected.

The next post will be the penultimate one in this series.

You would expect two people who have got to know each other in an online forum to have plenty to say to each other. After all, they already know a lot about each other, and so they can continue to discuss actions, thoughts, feelings that they have written about on the forum. If they don’t happen to suffer from social anxiety.

Social anxiety sufferers, even those who are verbose in an online forum, can be very quiet in actual, face-to-face meetings. The pressure caused by the physical presence of another person causes them to forget what they wanted to say or worry so much about how and whether to express it that they end up keeping quiet. Well, not completely. They usually manage to talk, but their speech is often hesitant and sporadic.

I say “they”, but I can include myself in that, to varying degrees depending on external factors, and probably every other social anxiety sufferer to varying degrees depending on the person themself (is that a word, these days?) and on external factors.

So you can understand that when two social anxiety sufferers get together, the conversation doesn’t exactly flow. Each one struggles with inner thoughts and worries, and neither is able to make up for the lack of input from the other side.

S and I have met at least three times before. Each time, we spent a few hours together and struggled to keep the conversation going. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the experience. I did. But when it was over, I heaved a sigh of relief from the absence of pressure.

This time is different; we have more of an agenda. We’re at the boat show in Southampton, a most impressive array of yachts and other boats. The weather is glorious, and we spend our time seeing how the rich live, driving yachts,

(I wish), examining fish in a marine research boat:

and watching a freight ship (or whatever it’s called):

Conversation isn’t so necessary, and so it comes more naturally, mostly spawned by the things we see.

We have lunch under the sun in the dining area – fish and chips. And visit the tourist shops on the way out. In all, a very pleasant day.

In the evening, I see a TV programme about Vera Lynn. She’s 92 and seems very active and alert. Good for her! She is interviewed by David Frost, who doesn’t look all that young himself!

My UK-based Twitter followees are complaining about the current cold weather. It wasn’t like that when I was there….

***

It is particularly unpleasant to spend a festival alone. I was hoping it wouldn’t be so, but it is and I get through this, too.

I do enjoy my walk to Hengistbury Head and back, despite the weather, which goes: grey – rain – grey – rain – grey – rain – sun!

I also enjoy watching the last night of the Proms on TV. I haven’t seen that for many years.

For anyone who is still confused, I returned home from my holiday over two months ago. The present tense of this narrative is not supposed to imply that it takes place in the present time.

***

I have met several social anxiety sufferers over the years since discovering the disorder. Some are extremely quiet and reserved. Others are warm and bubbly; you wouldn’t know the problems that hide below the surface. P is somewhere in between. I meet him for the first time in his home town of Southampton and we spend most of the day together. He apologises for himself and for the town (which I’ve never visited before), but really he has nothing to apologise for and I enjoy my day out.

We visit an art gallery, which includes pictures of famous writers, and we walk along the remaining walls of the city. The walls are not quite as impressive as those of Jerusalem, or of Chester which I visited once, but, knowing nothing about the history of Southampton, I’m interested to see a little of it. We even spot the mayor of Southampton, by chance, talking in a shopping centre.

P is the only person I meet on my trip who thinks – or owns up to thinking – that I have a foreign accent. Crikey! I know I’ve been out of the country for a long time, but still….

I can do this. A week on my own is manageable. Any more and I’d go crazy. How do people do it?

I spend a whole day in and out of shops, first in Boscombe and then in Bournemouth. After finally finding two tops that I like, I don’t want to visit another shop. I’ll do without the other clothes I wanted. I buy a 99 and consume it in the Bournemouth Gardens, while watching the world go by. Then I walk back by the sea.

In the evening, I do some writing. It’s good to get back to it.

The trouble with blogs is that you can’t say everything in them, and there isn’t a lot I can tell you about the two-and-a-bit days I spent at Gill’s house. We had a lovely day out at Chatsworth House, and we spent a pleasant day just chatting.

I left full of admiration for Gill and Jane, who have been though tough times and handled them with discretion and confidence.

There was plenty for me to think about on the four-hour ride to Bournemouth, but not much of it was about school, despite the fact that this was the connection between all of us. On arrival, I collected the keys to my mother’s flat from the estate agent (is anyone looking for a flat in Bournemouth?) and prepared to spend a whole week on my own. Well, mostly on my own.

Even I have happy memories of my childhood and this is one of them:

This post was inspired by fairyhedgehog.

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow. Hopefully.

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