Before I left, my best friend pointed out that my vanity while writing was infinitely more important to me than my writing.
Given my pre disposed notions of travel writing, half the fun, actually perhaps all of the fun, would be the posturing on sunlit balconies or in busy cafes, drinking fine wine with a laptop open for all to see. Of course, chain smoking cigarettes would be the only way to complete that over used and tired image.
Ernest Hemingway for a new age.
But I kicked the smoking habit a few years back and really wanted to keep it that way.
And so my first internal struggle of many has begun, and as she takes a long puff on her vape, she clearly has no intention of helping.
Pernille lives in the beautiful district of Osterbro near the lakes of Copenhagen. Her flat is remarkable. Her flat is where adults live. I have no business being here.
When I first met her six months ago in the miserable November rain of a Danish autumn, she claimed she was a nurse. Not untrue, but also, pretty fast and loose with all the info.
She is a nurse. She is also one of the leading researchers in ALS and Parkinson’s in Denmark.
In the world.
In November, I didn’t know this. In November, I just wanted to see if I could get a date in a foreign country.
But this is one of the greatest things about random meetings in random cities. You can meet anyone.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I entered the coffee shop, late, looking exactly like a guy who had been walking lost in Copenhagen in the rain.
As a Scot, I am no stranger to the rain. The rain, although not my friend, is a familiar foe I have a well worn tolerance for. There is Highlands rain. There is even Glasgow rain.
And then, there is Copenhagen rain. It doesn’t just soak your skin, your hair or even your bones. It cuts to your soul, swiping through any good humour along the way.
But I was determined to meet this blonde Viking, and I had the screenshot google maps to prove it.
She didn’t drink coffee, she drank chai. She didn’t muddle through English with a Danish accent. She spoke English with the upper class diction of a British aristocrat. And it became quite clear within a very short amount of time I was outmatched, outgunned and out charmed.
The first clue that she was one of the most prominent in her field came at the end of the date when, with all the charm and sophistication that a man who’d been sitting in wet clothes for two hours can muster, I clumsily tried my luck. Five minutes later I was walking back to my accommodation in the heavy rain alone. This was not the clue.
Life can really have a bizarre and coincidental nature if you allow it to. This was not the end for me and Pernille, this was just the beginning.
What defied belief, and should have made me understand a bit more about who I was talking to, is that she would be in my home town in only four days time. Her department was sending her, along with a group of delegates, to an international convention on motor neurone disease. In any other world, at any other time, I would have never seen this person again. But life came calling.
Now it was my turn to be difficult. When you’re in a full time bar job it’s pretty hard to get a free moment to meet anyone who works in more conventional careers. Their time off is my time to be neck deep in graft, even if, like me, you try to avoid graft at all costs. Thursday rolled around, and we couldn’t meet. Friday, she was tired. Saturday was the last chance and I was beginning to lose faith. But I met her and her friend half an hour before closing time in an over priced cocktail bar in the heart of Glasgow hipster heaven. From that point, we could safely say we were in each other’s lives. The next morning, we discussed my desire to travel Europe. Why not start in Copenhagen?
Me and Pernille messaged for months. Over those months, more and more came out. Pernille moaned about having to attend yet another conference dinner. This time it was an international conference for leading women in science. The good news was, at least for this one, she didn’t have to present, and give a speech like she had the previous year. The penny began to drop. This time, when I set off for Copenhagen, I wouldn’t be meeting up with a nurse. This time I was apparently meeting one of the top mental health researchers in the world.
I’ll actually be seeing her again during my trip, when she will arrive in Barcelona as one of her stops across Europe to present her findings to the rest of the world’s scientific community over the coming months. In spite of this, she still introduces herself to people as a nurse.