Saturday, 21 May 2016

The joy of doing a geographical

There's a saying that I've heard is popular among therapists: 'Doing a geographical'. It's a phrase that supposedly originated in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, and it describes something that's common among addicts. Essentially, to impulsively up sticks and move their lives from one place to somewhere completely new, in the belief that while they're on the first train to Timbuktu or wherever, their problems will be long gone. Of course, sadly, this hardly ever works. Blaming serious issues on circumstances or surroundings is a convenient way of avoiding the fact that the real problem is most likely staring you straight in the mirror. So yep, doing a geographical probably isn't the best idea for the addicts among us. But for everyone else...I'm inclined to think it can be EXACTLY what you need once in a while.

Sometimes, you just need to pack all your troubles into a big suitcase or maybe just an overnight bag and imagine yourself coming back to wherever you live refreshed and free from all the things that were stressing you out. Anyone who works in an office can vouch for the fact that when someone goes on holiday, they come back looking practically unrecognisable. They just have that distinctive 'I've spent a week away from the rat race and the grotty tube and the jolt of my horrendous alarm and the hassle of having to wash my clothes and squeeze in a trip to the gym and actually maintain some semblance of a social life AND get all my work done' healthy glow about them. You know the one I mean. There's nothing like a post-holiday colleague to remind you how haggard we all look most of the time.

When we book a holiday, we're not just thinking 'Where do I want to go?', it's also a case of 'Who do I want to be?' Do I want to be adventurous, independent, relaxed or maybe a bit of a romantic? Ticking off the bucket list is often another big consideration; few people can resist the pull of a new place. It's always brilliant to explore somewhere you've never been before, expanding your horizons and your mind and your memories as you go.

And the beauty of it is that you don't even have to be with anyone else to experience this. I read somewhere that the French have a saying that sums this up quite nicely, along the lines of: "It's better to travel alone than to be badly accompanied". And while I've never been brave enough to holiday alone, one of my friends took herself off to Japan for a couple of months last year and had what by all accounts sounds like (clichéd as I'm about to be), a life-affirming experience. Another recently told me that the solo trip she took to San Francisco was one of the best times of her life. There's something about being in an alien environment – with none of your usual routines and familiar faces around – that leads you to throw caution to the wind and set off on an adventure.

Luckily, pulling a geographical doesn't always have to mean venturing somewhere quite as far flung as San Francisco. And this weekend, mine was about as unglamorous as a geographical could get: Margate, to be precise. However much of a grotty reputation this little spot on the Kent coast might have, as the old tune goes, oh I do love to be beside the seaside. Yesterday, it was just as glorious as ever: the man boobs might have been out in force, but so was the sunshine, and the good cheer that comes with it (helped along by generous portions of ice cream and chips enjoyed on the beach).

Even in conditions that force you to unpack a mac, bundle up in fifteen layers and leave you with hair that’s less windswept, more wind-straggled, I still enjoy a trip to the seaside. I've ventured away from the Big Smoke to just about every location along the south coast: Whitstable, Dover, Broadstairs, Westgate, Deansgate, Dymchurch, Brighton and more. I've experienced the delights of the South West, during annual family holidays across Cornwall and Devon. I’ve even found myself sunbathing – or slow-cooking like a crackling pig at least – where such a thing is usually unimaginable: with Whitby Abbey looming in all its gothic splendour in the distance.

I know there are those who aren’t quite so convinced by the joys of the British seaside – with sand getting in places it shouldn’t, the murky seawater and tatty seaside towns being a poor substitute for the clear waters and four star luxury of the Caribbean – but for me, that’s all part of the charm. Where else but in Britain could you sail out to sea on a replica of Captain Cook’s ship, with the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack booming and a gruff voice of Northern wisdom to accompany your journey?
As my mother once wisely pointed out, the beach is also one of few places that can entertain anyone from the age of nought to 90. Whether you’re just watching the world go by from your sun lounger, engrossed in a book or building a sandcastle, there’s always something for everyone at the seaside.

And for those of you who somehow remain unconvinced by Sue's wisdom, just think: for your own getaway, there's always just visiting a park you haven't been to before, venturing into the countryside, or, as the legend that is Petula Clark once sang, the complete opposite, going 'Downtown, where all the lights are bright.' It might not be right for the members of AA, but if you're anything like me, doing a geographical might be just what the doctor ordered.