Yesterday night, a friend used one of the best expressions I have ever heard to have come out of lockdown.
The Tyranny Of Productivity.
By now, we’ve all probably come to terms with thinking this would be a time of personal growth and worthy pursuits, only to discover that really all we actually like doing is sitting on our arses as their size increases exponentially.
If you have found something to do that makes good use of your time, well done. Realistically though, if you’re reading this, it’s because like me, you’ve got nothing better to do.
This morning, Facebook decided to show me what I was doing a year ago.
A year ago, I was in Bordeaux halfway through my trip across Europe from Denmark to Spain. As I travelled, celebrating my freedom, and lamenting the attitude instigated by Brexit back home, it had seemed like a great idea to write as I went. The problem was blogging every day, felt kinda like, you know. A job. Fun became work. And again, it turned into what can so succinctly and accurately be described by my friend:
The Tyranny Of Productivity.
As the days in Europe went by, I became less and less prolific. Days between posts became weeks. And so productivity was replaced with guilt.
A thousand months ago, with Coronavirus looming, as it became clear we were all going to be at home for a while, I looked forward to having time to write again. No job to go to. No excuses. But again, the first week came, and I had done nothing. The second. The fifth. I knew there was no point forcing myself to write.
Instead, I drank and I watched things. Because that’s what I do.
And I really enjoyed it.
Over the past weekend however, lockdown weekend number eleventy-twelth, I decided I wanted to write again. Not that I had to, but I wanted to.
………And then Facebook reminded me my blog had got as far as Bordeaux, and the rest of Europe was waiting.
Bored in Bordeaux
Another element of that lamentable breakfast in Normandy that had made me want to scream till my head exploded was asking the dad for advice.
Kim had been concerned about my decision to stay in Bordeaux on the way to Catalunya. She felt there wasn’t much to do there.
The purpose of my trip was to revisit all the places in Europe I had worked or studied and Bordeaux was where I had spent a summer at a French language school during my Undergrad.
At 19, it was my first real opportunity to visit Europe alone, and my first time meeting real live Europeans in a consequence free and liberated environment.
In short, as you might imagine, it was a wonderful summer.
But if there’s anything I’ve learnt, the romantic nostalgia of a wonderful experience once upon a time has no bearing on the realities of the present day. Maybe Bordeaux would be terrible by myself. Maybe Kim was right.
And so, me and Kim asked the dad where he would stop off between Paris and Barcelona.
However, after he’d listed the virtues of every city in France between Normandy and Corsica, I was nowhere nearer to a useful answer, and decided to stick with the original plan.
Bordeaux would be my first opportunity to spend time alone, which, thanks to the party in Normandy, seemed like a wonderful proposition. It was the first time it began to dawn on me that constant travel and meeting new people is incredible, right up until when it isn’t.
So as the high speed train left Paris and headed south, with my accommodation all booked for one, I looked forward to drinking wine and dining all by myself for a couple of days.
It is peculiar dining by yourself. It’s amazing the conclusions we all jump to about people eating alone. But I was happy at the prospect. I wouldn’t have to spend hours agreeing on what to eat, or finding the compromise that suited everyone’s wine preferences at the table.
This is how I felt, right until I entered the first restaurant. It was Saturday night in Bordeaux and everywhere was booked. I finally found a Thai place with a table.
The unbearable bullshit of solitary dining combined with my neuroses began before I had even sat down.
Which way to face. Where do you position yourself on table with four seats and one lonely bottom. If you look into the restaurant, you end up probably staring awkwardly at the other dinners and feeling really conspicuous. Alternatively, as I chose, you face out the window with your back to the crowd. No intrusive and patron distressing eye contact, but it doesn’t matter, as you still feel really conspicuous.
I glued myself to my phone, for the most part to convince the other diners, who let’s face it, gave zero fucks, that I was incredibly popular and had loads of friends. I also did it because it’s actually pretty boring eating by yourself. Mercifully, meals do not take long though. It’s pretty much down to the speed at which the waiters can bring you the food.
Having finished dinner, it was time to do what I had been looking forward to since before I’d even left home, chiefly getting drunk by myself on fine wine.
Finding a wine bar in Bordeaux is very straight forward. Actually getting inside one on a Saturday night is virtually impossible. After trying three different places with no luck, I gave up on researching great wine bars and decided to find the next place that would serve me alcohol.
Of course that wasn’t before I had tried to exit the final wine bar, squishing the female owner between me and the door frame. I had just finished being told there was no seats. As I decided to leave, she decided to walk out the door on my blind side. The door frame was not big enough for both of us.
I will never really know the look she gave me as we both occupied the doorway, because she was scowling directly at the side of my head with no sight. But as we both wriggled free, I caught a glance off her that definitely told me to go fuck myself.
It’s weird being blind in one eye. I’m not disabled enough for people to go, ah fair enough, he’s special. They just assume I’m an idiot. They aren’t necessarily wrong.
And so escaping wine bars with angry, small servers is how I discovered the craft beer scene in Bordeaux. Bars filled with beards, tattoos and taps. I had found my people.
The next shock came in realising that after burning the candle at both ends for the past month I was ready for bed at a very civilized time. Again though, the beauty of this was that I was no longer at the mercy of anyone’s judgement. It didn’t matter that I was travelling through Europe and should be grabbing every opportunity to live my life to the fullest. Instead I could be in bed by midnight sleeping life to the fullest, no one would be any the wiser.
I woke the next day, feeling fresh and wondering what tedious middle aged adventures I could embark on. I began by not leaving bed until pangs of hunger made it impossible to stay there any longer.
I left my air bnb and marched into town, grabbed lunch and went to the tourist office to investigate wine tastings, discovering I would have to wait till the next day. I headed back the way I had came, and drank wine in a small sunny square. After passing a few hours in this fashion I decided to nap then head out for dinner. And so it was I enjoyed Bordeaux, alternating between eating, drinking and sleeping with no interference from others who had the intention of sharing annoying little things such as “opinions” or “ideas”.
After three days had passed, two things had become clear. Bordeaux was as pretty as I remembered. Kim was also right, it was a terribly boring place, and I am stuck with the realities of being an extroverted introvert – People are the worst, but I hate being by myself.
I booked my trains to Lleida to meet up with my old friend Dani.