I’ve never relished solitude. In fact, I’m the kind of person who is bolstered by the energy of others, be it a packed lunch table, a group of friends, Christmas drinks. I enjoy a bit of downtime, but am rarely alone for long.
Travel on my own? I can think of nothing more terrifying. It has always been far down my “bucket list”, mainly due to maternal guilt at leaving my young family behind, but also because of genuine fear. Fear of being on my own, of being unable to cope. I would probably get as far as Heathrow, enjoy a coffee in peace, and that would be good enough for me. Home time.
Yet last Sunday something special happened. Like thousands of others, I was drawn to London to pay my respects to Queen Elizabeth II. I had friends all lined up, keen to come too. The realities of parenthood (and one or two hangovers) soon kicked in, however, and they dropped like flies. But the urge to travel to London alone only intensified, even though the unknown practicalities felt genuinely daunting. Who would I ask to hold my place if I needed to use the bathroom? Would I miss the last train home? My alarm went off. “You’re actually going?” asked my husband, mildly surprised at my intent, as he was catapulted into a day of solo parenting. I took the train from Berkshire to London, Tube to Bermondsey, and onto Southwark Park. Unfamiliar territory.
The queue time was estimated at 14 hours. Green wristbands were handed out. There was no turning back. You don’t give up on The Queue. But within 18 minutes, I had met Denise Basso, 50, a Venetian living in London. There can be a tendency between strangers to chat for too long, passing the point of no return, after which you simply can’t enquire after a person’s name. I bit the bullet and asked. “You know we are going to be firm friends by the end of this Denise – you just say if you need anything,” I told her.
A little later, Bernadette Halford, 64, a nurse from Twickenham travelling with her son, daughter-in-law and five-month-old granddaughter Wynnie, announced: “Well we’ve found our Queue Family now – we’d best stick together.” With mild trepidation we introduced ourselves. By Tower Bridge we’d created a WhatsApp group. Its name? God Save the Queue.
There were 12 of us brought together by the late Queen that day, aged from five months to 69 years. Ten Brits and two Italians, including Marco, 29, who had literally flown solo from Milan to pay his respects. Together we proved that hearty British grit and camaraderie (with a dose of Italian spirit) really does exist. Issy Rose, who was queuing with her seven-month-old son Otto, summed it up: “It’s so British to queue, but it’s also so British to ignore each other. The power of this shared experience transcended all awkwardness and [forged] extremely close bonds.”
For me, it was a boost I never knew I needed. I know I only travelled as far as London, but I felt a new determination to go further afield. I can be me, and just me, and that’s good enough company – and I might make new friends along the way. The pandemic closed so many of us off from one another, wreaked havoc with our inner confidence. And so often we are caught up in life’s various roles – employee, parent, sibling, friend, volunteer, neighbour – that we can forget the need to just be ourselves, to try new things. To know I can occasionally be on my own (with the blessing of a patient husband), is a newly found freedom.
And so I decided to challenge myself further, by booking a solo holiday. Three days and three nights near Nice. I started the NRG Barre Body workouts in lockdown. In two years I’ve only ever participated via a screen, in classes led by the formidable founder and former ballerina Nathalie Errandonea-Mewes. This is NRG’s first retreat and will test my new-found confidence. But I feel reassured, rather than guilty, that time on my own can be a positive experience.
Mornings at the retreat, which is based at Le Mas de Pierre resort, will be filled with fitness classes, while afternoons are spent reading, walking and in the spa. We’ll come together at mealtimes. This length of the solo trip is doable childcare-wise, the location and transfers manageable, flights easy. One thing’s for certain, I’ll be able to withstand any length of queue at airport security.