On the eve

Just over 24 hours to go. And, just like when I was waiting impatiently for my last big adventure to start, back in 2011, I can’t wait to get going – not so much because I’m excited, although I am, but because the waiting has become intolerable.

I won’t go into too much detail, because I’ve said it all before, and lived it all before, and because the detail is what’s driving me crazy. As I steadily march towards the end of my to do list (knowing that I’ll never manage to tick off every single item, and that it won’t matter), my mood swings with increasingly speed and infuriating predictability between excitement and dread. I know it will all be OK (because it always is, isn’t it?), but every now and then I find myself in a blind panic about something or other – currently whether or not they’ll let my large bulky bag of camping equipment on the flight, and where on earth my camera charger’s got to.

“You’ll be fine” I remind myself, again and again and again. But I know I won’t completely relax until I’m on the plane, and I’ve left it all behind, and the adventure has begun. And I can’t make that moment come any quicker, no matter how ready I feel.

Just now, I went and sat in my tiny urban back garden for a few minutes, smoking a cigarette someone gave me a few weeks ago and drinking a cup of tea, only realising as I felt my body sink into the chair and become still, that this was exactly what I had needed after a long day of bashing away at the laptop and racing around running last minute errands.

It’s another abnormally mild December – last year I wore short-fingered gloves all winter; this year I regret swapping to long-fingered ones, as my hands are usually slimy with sweat when I get off the bike. It could have been almost any season as I sat there, with the soft night air on my skin, no goosebumps, no shivering, no need to wear anything more than a thin jersey.

And London was curious quiet for once. It often surprises me just how close a city can come to silence, since I must realistically, be surrounded on all sides by thousands of conversations, arguments, televisions, radios, engines and sirens. In the West End, music must have been playing in hundreds of bars, and people hooting and shrieking with laughter as they totter tipsily down the street. Down the road in Kensington, the rich boys from Qatar and Dubai would be roaring and revving about in their million-dollar cars. Here and there, across the city, fights are breaking out, and police cars rushing noisily to break them up and arrest the participants. Windows are being smashed, and bins full of bottles emptied with a crash into skips.

But from my back garden I heard none of it – just the faintest murmur; a whispered roar; the tension in the air of the sounds that hadn’t quite reached me. No real sounds were discernible beyond the leaves of next door’s magnolia tree, lazily rearranging themselves in a breeze so slight it was really more of a breath, and a bird singing, somewhere, quite a long way off. None of the usual neighbourhood racket. No music. No conversations. No cars passing, and no doors slamming. Nothing to give any indication that any human beings were present, although I knew there must have been hundreds within shouting distance

And yet at the same time, the air was pregnant with everything in it, just as the sky itself was stained a bilious yellow by the city lights, so that the branches of the tree were silhouetted against it, rather than being swallowed up by the darkness. There are different kinds of silence, and I won’t be hearing London’s for quite a long time. I wondered, as I sat there, what the silence will be like in the middle of the Alaskan snow, and whether darkness will be equally elusive, since snow has a way of magnifying the slightest glimmer of light, be it from a star or the moon or a camper’s head torch.

And then I climbed the stairs back to my bright, untidy flat, the living room still strewn with half-packed bags and piles of clothes. I am nearly there. Nearly at the end of the waiting, nearly ready to go, nearly in Alaska. And I am ready to be somewhere else for a while.

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