This is the eighth in a series of posts describing my recent trip to England, Ireland, the Netherlands and Wales, from writing course to school reunion and more.

Do you talk to strangers when you travel alone? I tend not to. I tend to assume they’re not interested in talking to me. And besides, I always have a book to read, and if I spend the time talking I won’t be getting on with my reading.

But sometimes people start conversations with me, and sometimes they turn out to be interesting. That’s how I met the English woman who lives in the Netherlands. I don’t know her name, so I’ll call her Nonstop.

Nonstop first talked to me at Schiphol Airport when she saw me playing Scrabble on my phone as we waited by the gate for our flight to Southampton.

“Do you like the new version of Scrabble?” she asked, stealing my attention from the game.

I shrugged my shoulders. “I used to like being able to see the meanings of words, but otherwise it’s all right.”

Nonstop had several issues with the new version, mostly because she played with strangers.

“I only play with people I know,” I told her.

I thought I’d seen the end of Nonstop when we went through security and boarded the plane, but she appeared again in the seat next to mine. For an hour and a half, she kept talking. She was very friendly and what she had to say was interesting – for an hour and a half. She told me about her family and her job and why she ended up living in the Netherlands until I started to feel a bit overwhelmed and wasn’t altogether surprised to hear that her marriage didn’t last.

And then she told me about an online conversation she’d had with one of the strangers she played Scrabble with. Instead of just saying, “Goodbye,” she said, “Must go, head count, lights out.”

I wouldn’t have understood this, but the stranger understood and believed that Nonstop was in prison and asked what she’d done.

Nonstop replied, “Murdered my husband,” not expecting the stranger to take her seriously.

“He must have deserved it,” the stranger wrote back and continued to play Scrabble.

Finally, we landed, taxied, waited, said our goodbyes.

As I was remonstrating with the ticket machine at the railway station, I heard a voice behind me. “There’s a queue here, you know.”

“Just a minute,” I called, anxiety rising.

“It’s me.”

I turned round to see Nonstop smiling.

We waited for the same train while Nonstop told me all about the people she was going to visit. When we got on the train, the luggage area was full, so I couldn’t sit next to Nonstop because I had to find a place for my suitcase.

Actually, I wasn’t sorry.

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….