I broke a record today.
My previous lifetime record for consecutive days spent in the UK was 1,095 days. With Mum and Dad, I sailed back from our holiday in the Faroe Islands to Shetland on 7th July 1986. I then didn’t leave the UK again until 6th July 1989, when I sailed from England to France with Mum, Dad and Malcolm. During that three-year period we did get on a lot of ferries – we were visiting my grandparents in Shetland a lot as my grandmother was poorly by then – but it wasn’t until that French trip in 1989 that we went abroad again.
Growing up in the 1990s I was lucky enough to travel a lot with the family. We went abroad almost every year, usually to continental Europe but sometimes to North America too. In my late teens I often went on holiday abroad with friends, and after I met Geth, while most of our travelling was UK-based, we typically ventured out to other countries once a year or so, usually to coincide with one of his academic conferences or work trips.
2018 was the last such trip to date. Geth was meeting international colleagues in Toronto, and we decided to combine that with a holiday as it was an opportunity to visit Malcolm and Steff. Mum and Dad were able to match the dates for their planned trip to Toronto too, and so it was a lovely get-together with the family. I flew back from Toronto and arrived in Edinburgh on the morning of 25th July 2018. That was 1,096 days ago – exactly three years. I haven’t left the UK since.
I had no idea it would be my last trip abroad for such a long time. Breaking this particular record was obviously not my plan! I passed on joining Geth on a work trip to Oslo in June 2019, as I was really busy with work and other things at the time, but I had a ticket to see Duran Duran in Dublin in June 2020, and we planned to go back to Toronto in summer 2020, and we wanted to have a couple of city breaks in Paris and Amsterdam in autumn 2020…
It’s funny how much I took travelling for granted before. There were lots of places in the world I wanted to see, and the only things stopping me from seeing them were time, money and the anxiety I always have around travelling due to mental issues with routine. It never occurred to me, pre-pandemic, that the world would ever be in a situation where I simply wouldn’t be allowed to go to these places (or that it would be so logistically difficult and/or risky that it wouldn’t be worth it). Nowadays, as I sit in the house watching cities like Sydney and Tokyo and New Orleans and Johannesburg and Barcelona and Rio de Janeiro fly by, in documentaries and films and videogames on my screens, and in the pages of the books I read, and the academic works I edit, and the stories I write myself… I always think the same old thing I always did. ‘I’ll go there someday!’ And then I feel sad, because I don’t know when that will be possible again in the same way that it was before. Years away, perhaps.
I had a ticket to see Duran Duran in Dublin in June 2020. Then I had a ticket to see Duran Duran in Dublin in June 2021. Now I have a ticket to see Duran Duran in Dublin in June 2022. I hope it happens. I hope the world won’t make me go a whole quarter of a decade or more without seeing my brother, whom I last saw in person on my birthday in January 2020. I hope I’ll be running parkruns in Paris and Amsterdam next year. But the last year and a half has taught me that I can’t be certain.
I can hope, though. I really, really hope that the world will go back to what we once thought of as normality.
Until then I will just keep patiently counting days. And hope that I am setting a record I will never break again!