Last night, parking up at the far end of the supermarket car park (one of my habits to avoid the unnecessary stress of trying to find that single space amidst all those cars parked closest to the entrance), I fixed my mask to my face, and stepped out into a space from my past – a wide open dark empty space filled with nothing but industrial noise, that background hum that gives off the feeling that something somewhere is happening and changing. It happens to me occasionally – a lot. It takes me back to waiting at harbours for trains to arrive, for ships to arrive, for the journey, temporarily at a halt, to start again, for the dark and the noise to take me further away from where I came from in the first place.
These are special places, special times, when life seems at its fullest most fruitful speed, despite the journey having paused, when the air is itself full of the potential of the future. I remember many days like this, and Oostende is for some reason the one place that grips my memory the most, when, in mid-winter, I got off the ferry from Dover, wandered through the monumental (or so it seemed to me) station and its platforms, and its customs sheds, listening to the thrumming of the ship engines, and to the idling of train engines, continental trains that always seemed much more massive than the English toy trains, the steps into the carriages almost ladders onto another level. Majesty is the word. And Oostende had a peculiar smell about it, too, as well as that soundscape that made me feel like a real traveller. There have been other stations, other ports, even airports, although there I only ever get that feeling when I have to walk across the tarmac late at night or before dawn to board a plane.
It’s a feeling of insatiable restlessness, a sense of being constantly on the move, of having unlimited freedom because no-one really knows where your destination is, and sometimes you don’t know that destination yourself. You might be going somewhere you’ve never been before, some place you’ve only ever seen in your mind’s eye, in a dream, in some distant part of your imagination. I miss that feeling, and staring across a car park in a supermarket might evoke it, but it doesn’t bring it to life. I, who often and still call myself a vagrant between emotions, wonder what the source is of this particular emotion, this urgent and constant need (because that’s what it really is). I think there is an urge in us all to be strangers again, to be unknown entities, to be somewhere we don’t know, and where we’re unfamiliar, to start there afresh, to leave everything and everyone we know behind, and to become something entirely different from what we are, what we have become. Because time does strange things to us, shapes us to its needs and wants, makes us compromise, mainly with ourselves and it, disillusions us, makes us too soft (as in lacking resilience), and makes us question ourselves too much.
And linked to this is that desire, that yearning, to drive through the night and never stop, be it in a car with me at the wheel, or be it in a bus or on a train, or on a plane. It’s almost a homesickness for nowhere, an addiction to travelling, to move without stopping, to never have to come to rest in any one place, to circumnavigate the world a thousand times and more forever, and still not find somewhere to call home. Because we found home the moment we started moving.