A wise, wise friend of mine has a saying that she likes to remind me of every time I express a wish to be on a beach, rather than cooped up in my urban shoebox. ‘Wherever you go,’ she says, ‘there you are.’ It reminds me that inside things are rarely made better by outside things, that if I am feeling low or restless, it probably isn’t going to be radically changed by starting a new life in the countryside.
I usually thank her for her wisdom, and count my blessings – that I have a roof over my head at all, wherever that roof happens to be, and that I am in a privileged enough position to even be thinking these thoughts in the first place.
But in lockdown, stripped of the ability to travel anywhere for more than a few hours, I have been absolutely desperate to ‘pull a geographical’, as it is known in recovery circles. For the first few weeks, I was grateful for the safety of my own home, and for the fact there is a park nearby. But after the 68th walk round said park, I began to dream of different scenery. Of big skies, great horizons, and blue sea. Of great vistas uninterrupted by bricks. Bloody bricks! A change is as good as a rest, some people say, but in lockdown none of us have been able to do either.
To amuse myself, I have spent a great amount of time I will never, ever get back perusing estate-agent apps, looking for places we could move to – the New Forest, Devon, Cornwall. Then I go on Airbnb, as if checking and rechecking whether it might suddenly have made the Government reconsider its restrictions on staying in another house overnight. When, earlier this month, exemptions were made for elite athletes, so they could travel and train, I wondered if all my marathon training qualified me for this category. No, no it did not. So I have carried on dreaming of, and longing for, the time when I will be able to go away and spend a night at my mum’s, or my in-laws’.
It’s made me realise that humans are naturally travellers. With all the awful things going on at the moment, I know that the desire to travel is a pretty privileged need. But it is also perhaps an understandable one. Escape – or even the possibility of it – helps us to get through the difficulties of our lives. It creates a glimmering goal that we can work towards.
With all this talk of air bridges and quarantine and regions of the UK experiencing coronavirus at different rates, it feels like we will all be staying put for a little while longer. But as soon as we are allowed, I will be on Airbnb booking the first available cottage by the sea. And I will do so knowing this: that as humans, we need to be able to roam in order to best appreciate home.