Well it’s July, and that means it’s my blog’s 8th birthday! Actually it was in May, but if you “follow” this blog, you know that one of the central themes is everything must be posted minimum two months after it happened. I might even be in Africa or South America right now. Probably you will find out through Instagram and then not read anything here anyway.
To be honest there is a box somewhere in the website settings that tells me some hundreds of people view this thing every month—who knows why—but in the interest of whoever they are, I thought I should put an update just so that they know I am in fact alive and that well thanks for reading all the nonsense.
So I came back to Scotland like four(?) months ago but it really feels like a couple of weeks, mainly because I still haven’t seen anyone during that time and my life has been a bit of a Groundhog Day except it’s been raining almost every day. Some things have quite obviously changed since I was gone but I’m not sure they are of interest to anybody. Probably the biggest change to me personally is seeing my family again for the first time in years, and that sadly all three of the grandparents I knew died while I was abroad—so things are a bit different. Proof that there are sacrifices when you travel and that the biggest of those is probably relationships. But the biggest change to all of us is of course that we now live in Covid-land and the old Scotland I left is gone forever. The fact it’s gone is actually a nice thought in a peculiar way because not only are we long overdue changes in society, but it kind of sums up travel and life in general—things change all the time, and you’ve got to make the most of what you’ve got. If I didn’t make the most of the old Scotland before it disappeared, too late.
With regards to Covid it was interesting to be part of its unfolding somehow—when I was in Thailand in late January, this new and mysterious virus was already there…I was in the second worst place in the world for infections and deaths after China. There were actually checks at the border between Myanmar and Thailand, though they were mainly checking Chinese travellers at the time. I also met someone from Wuhan a few days earlier in Myanmar, who couldn’t go home because of the lockdown restrictions already in place. This all seems rather trivial now given the huge, three-month warning to the UK. Asia was preparing itself for the worst in January. The figures clearly reflect this: the official death toll in Thailand stands at 58. In the UK it’s over 44,000.
When I left Thailand by boat, for about a month I was without internet and had no idea what was happening to the rest of the world. It was just me, the captain and a whole lot of sea. The first we heard anything was when we tried to disembark in the Maldives, and the doctor that came on the boat—fully masked and gloved—to check us for the virus told us Italy had become the new epicentre of the world. That was in March. Though it wasn’t long before the UK grabbed the global top spot for most incompetent government. I flew home from the Maldives, which was difficult and expensive to arrange, but I had very little choice. When the entire world becomes unpredictable and shuts down there’s only one place I want to be: home.
In a country where capitalist monoculture and media bombardment are so rampant, it’s so easy to get stuck in a bubble. I say this lightly. It’s all too obvious coming back to the UK. When you’re inside a bubble trying to look out, the world looks all cloudy and distorted. On the contrary, being abroad, you get a unique view of the UK, peering in, or as it were, increasingly like peering down a deep dark hole. Now I’m back in the hole it seems the way Bojo is handling the Coronacrisis has made concrete to at least some of the British population what the whole world already knows—that the UK is a political mess with some pretty deep cultural problems.
On another note I’ve come to remember all the things I forgot. Walking around a shop was pretty amusing—though only the first time—the radio presenter speaking a language I can finally understand, aisles crammed full of shiny bags all covered in English language, bags of air with a couple of crisps inside. In my pocket, money I don’t recognise, much like foreign money, worthless looking. The new pound coins at least look valuable but what I can actually buy for a pound has vastly diminished in only a few years. The things we eat in this country are quite disgusting anyway. I’ve lost my appetite. We should take as a given that all food was once alive—but when I look around all I see are chemicals wrapped in plastic. All fake. Even the way the cashiers speak is fake. Scripted. Robotics has entered the realm of human interaction. Here we are scared of technology taking over when in fact we have just become pieces of technology ourselves. To stop the machines we simply became them.
But the most emotionally disturbing concept to come back to are all the advertisements, the constant media and the commodification of everything. A world which makes you feel small, worthless, scared and skint. I knew and hated all this when I left. It was just so sweet to live for a while without it all.
Well here I am, back in my tiny hometown in Scotland, which has six million less people than the last city I lived in. And combined with lockdown, it feels like there is literally nobody here, the end of the Earth. Like I’m still on the Tibetan Plateau or in the middle of some vast desert, except there is a mystical entity called Amazon and whatever I want can appear in my hands the next day. Social interaction is maybe the only thing they don’t sell. Thankfully there are some easing of restrictions now, but it remains to be seen what kind of long term effects will be burnt into the collective psyche. Even before Covid, after visiting a lot of places I couldn’t help think what an insular society we live in—I’m not talking about far away places: the south of Europe is starkly more social than here; Turkey, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India et al just make a mockery of it. It’s a shame that it’s set to get worse, perhaps permanently. The only thing in our favour is that, at least in this part of the globe, we’re used to it.
It’s obviously not all bad. But I’ll admit it’s hard to remain optimistic in such a gloomy time. It’s not only Coronavirus, the whole world is radically changing with climate, technology, populism, social media etc. etc. There are more things to worry about than ever. I think we are all beginning to feel that now. My solution as always is to retreat to nature, come back and face the bullshit.
I’m working on my bicycle at the moment but it is going to be a while before it’s up and running. It’s so rusty from the boat trip like it’s been left outside in the rain for 200 years. In many ways I also think I’ve aged 200 years and come back to a place that, despite all the differences, is very much the same.
Maybe I’ll hit the road again.
Maybe you’ll get another update by the end of the year.