© 2018 Kylie-Ann Homer.

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I usually had to convince people to get the bus with me, but Jetta was willing. The number 68 bus was the bus I took to work everyday. I hate the tube and the trains from South London can be unreliable. Sitting at the front we had a perfect view of Brockwell park in the sunshine, as we negotiated the early morning school traffic. She didn’t question why I would purposely take a long journey into work, although she was understandable reserved about getting up so early. She just wanted to come with me so we could postpone our good-bye. She lives in Germany having moved there from London, and I barely see her once a year, so every moment is precious.

The bus, we both appreciate, having had a fair amount of experience living on the Piccadilly line, is a pleasurable way to travel. It may be slow, but the views from the top deck are unrivalled. It may get busy, but it is barely noticed from the front seats. We were in our own little bubble, slowly taking in the sights of suburban south London through a sleepy haze, blissfully unaware of the growing crowd behind us.

The 68 bus has been a comfort to me. Getting the tube makes me anxious. I hate the loud noises and the claustrophobia. I feel trapped underground, jumpy at any sudden noise or a rowdy passenger. Jetta had almost cancelled her trip to London, after the horrors of London Bridge flooded the news, which had followed the attack on Westminster, just weeks before. A time when Britain was and very much still is, on high terrorist alert. I had reassured her that it was the safest time to visit London, the worst was over. Of course I didn’t believe it. Not for a second. I wasn’t in London when the attacks of 7/7 happened, but I think about them every time I am on a tube. I remember, I must have been 17, coming home from school, seeing the news. The people running, the thick smoke, the knowledge that the worst wasn’t being shown. 56 people dead, many more with life changing injuries. Every time I get on the tube, I think, I am putting myself at risk.

The bus is calm and you can get off whenever you please. Each morning I sit at the front, a girl about my age gets on the other front seat opposite, a Chihuahua tucked away in her fur-lined coat. On the same bus every day I often see the same people. We have become a little community.

The day Jetta came with me, however, that girl wasn’t on the bus. I had been disappointed, I had wanted to show her the puppy. Instead in that seat was a man I hadn’t seen before. He was middle-aged and dark-skinned, his eyes so dark I couldn’t see his pupils. I first noticed him because he had a bracelet in his hand, he was passing the beads through his fingers. They were pearlescent, a rich brown, similar to a bracelet I had when I was a child. I had wondered if Jetta had one too. He seemed anxious, sat poised on the edge of the aisle seat, as though he wasn’t keen on getting too comfortable. He was muttering underneath his breath, the words I couldn’t understand getting louder as we approached Elephant and Castle, a busy south London junction.

I became hyper-aware of him, the way he sat, the beads passing through his fingers, the foreign words muttered under his breath. Jetta was talking to me but her voice had become an echo, secondary in my attention to the man sat next to us. Her words were disembodied from her, like we were under water. I became frightened. My heart raced. My veins were filled with adrenalin. My body was urging me to run: fight or flight. I fumbled into my bag for my phone and typed a message, which I showed Jetta. We need to get off this bus. She was confused. I hadn’t been responding to her conversation. I could feel blood draining from my face. She nodded and without even looking at the man, she made her way downstairs, pressing the buzzer to get off like there was nothing strange about it.

Off the bus, I assured her we could get on any old bus from here. We wouldn’t be waiting out in the cold for long. My eyes followed the bus through the junction, around the one-way system. It didn’t blow up, there was no flames, or screaming. I felt silly. I felt ashamed. I felt cowardly. We stood awkwardly denying the strangeness of what had just happened. My shame amplified by the complicity of my witness.

I had judged a man by the colour of his skin and his ethnicity. I could blame the media; the constant reports of the state of red alert; the supposed imminence of a terror attack. I could blame the tension created by the culture of fear. But it is ignorance that causes fear and it is my ignorance that is to blame. I hadn’t understood the language he spoke so I immediately feared it. I hadn’t understood why he was talking to himself with beads in his hand, so I feared it. My ignorance fuelled my fear and fear fuelled my actions.

I did see that man again on the number 68. He took an early bus to work just like me. We both sat at the front and enjoyed the views. While I chose to read on the long, slow road to London, he chose to pray.

Leaving my suburban train, I arrive into London Waterloo to continue my journey into work. More often than not, my train pulls alongside the 08:32 service to Portsmouth Harbour.

Portsmouth Harbour has only been one place for me. It has only ever held one significance: the gateway to the Isle of Wight. But to me this means more than a ferry across the Solent. One July morning in 2016, I believe it was a Monday, I stepped onto that exact train. I travelled alone to begin what would be a soul-finding adventure.

Despite being July, my bag was packed with numerous pairs of thick socks and warm layers. I had come over-prepared with a month’s supply of hayfever tablets, Compeed plasters and a survival whistle. The whistle was suggested by my walking guide, a 50 page book, written by a man called Barry. Whatever Barry said, I did. I was on my own and I knew that if this trip did turn out to be a disaster, I had no one to blame but myself.

I was embarking on a solo-walk around the famous Isle of Wight coastal path. With the sea as my guide, it would be hard for me to get lost. But on Barry’s advice, an unused compass and crisp ordnance survey map lay at the bottom of my bag. I had not done anything like it before. A good friend of mine had walked around the island in 36 hours without any sleep, with her boyfriend, and it turned out, a badly injured ankle. She assured me it was perfect for beginners, and so one winter evening I booked the hotel (one with a bath, which I would later use to soothe my aching muscles) and set in motion my training.

The Isle of Wight’s coastal path is one of the best-maintained coastal paths in the UK, and I would argue one of the most beautiful. I rambled through tranquil harbours and shaded woodland. I skipped through meadows and I ran across frighteningly soft rock cliffs, which threatened to fall into the sea with every step. Potential falling debris or quickly rising tides were scary but the beauty of the island made up for it. Standing at the top of the hill looking down to the path I had spent the last few hours walking along was all the motivation I needed to keep going.

What I had learned from my practice walks was that I loved being on my own. I enjoyed that I had just my thoughts for company, whether I was up in the Chilterns or striding along the Thames Path. I settled into the rhythm of the Isle of Wight walk quickly. I talked cows and to butterflies, I talked to myself. I said hello to passers by, but I could often go for hours without seeing another human being. I took endless pictures. I wanted to share my experience with my colleagues and my friends. I felt if I didn’t have evidence, no one would believe that I had done it, or worse that no one would care. Taking pictures almost validated the experience. It made it real.

The route took me five full days, walking 15-18 miles a day. I went around the island clockwise, as Barry had suggested. This meant the two half days of walking around the very north point of the island, where there was no coast on the coastal path, fell towards the end of my trip. Morally depleted by Thursday, I struggled to find the will to carry on. My motivation of seeing the sea, and the gorgeous cliff edges of the island was lost. I walked for hours on A-roads, with cars travelling past dangerously fast, without seeing a single person. I realised I missed the hello’s and good mornings I received whilst I walked around the more populated part of the island. I missed the friendly faces – they must have encouraged me in some way. Without any scenery I had no pictures to take and therefore had no reason to connect with my digital friends. I was empty without my Instagram likes.

It was strange on the Friday evening when I had eventually finished the route. It is a full circle, so I took a picture of me at the point I had started just a few days before. The 70 miles around the island that I had walked over the last few days were evident only in my tired eyes and my sore feet. I regretted that no one was there to celebrate with me. There were no hi-fives or well-done hugs. The people that passed me on Ryde sea front as I collected souvenirs had no idea where I had been or what I had achieved.

I had undertaken this walk to be alone. I spend my life in an overcrowded city, loathing people on buses and trains for daring to take the same public transport as me. I was surprised, however, that by the time Friday had come, I missed people. This trip was missing the security in someone else doing the same thing as me. It lacked the warmth of the shared experience and the joy of endless, pointless chatter with friends. The memories of that week I hold, alone. The anecdotes I rarely tell, because no one else was there, and are being slowly forgotten. The evidence I have that it happened at all is a few Instagram likes and the knowledge I gained about my self. Whilst I know I can really enjoy being alone, this isn’t for me the most fulfilling experience. I need people more than I had previously thought.

How my Dad’s hoarding fuelled my love of reading

How to be a Little Sod,’ is a book I distinctively remember reading as a child. I’m not sure how old I was, perhaps around eight or nine; I’m sure I was still at primary school. It was a book about having your first child – a cynical view of parenting. As the title suggests it had plenty of rude words, which didn’t bother me, but I’m sure it wasn’t the best book for a little girl to be reading.

I wasn’t into Princess stories, or stories about cuddly rabbits or waddling ducks, like my school friends. Although in truth it wasn’t really about what I wanted. I read whatever I could get my hands on. Like Matilda, I was hungry for knowledge and eager to go wherever books would take me. Trouble was, growing up without much money; there wasn’t a lot of choice.

My Dad is a bit of a wheeler-dealer. When I was younger, he supplemented his income with favours for friends of friends. He would make good use of the trailer he built himself by clearing houses for a little extra cash. Usually, I gathered, it was someone who had died, but it was never anyone we knew. He would take a lot of the belongings to the tip, but he would fill his shed at the bottom of the garden with the rest. He would keep anything he felt was valuable in order to sell it later at a car-boot. He had boxes stacked high of bric-a-brac, trinkets, photo frames and old curtains that belonged in the seventies. Random objects that had held sentimental value to someone at some point, waited patiently in my Dad’s shed to find their new home.

I would trawl through the boxes to find, in amongst the bric-a-brac, the occasional book. It was like a treasure hunt. Usually they were coated in dust, with the imbedded fragrance of an old lady’s house. The familiar scent of rose or lavender blended with talcum powder would pop out in bursts as I turned each page of a discovered book.

The books were few and far between. When they came I devoured them whole. My Dad isn’t a great reader, so he had no idea what or who I was reading. He had no idea who Danielle Steele was let alone what sort of books she wrote. He probably had no real interest in what I was reading. Rather he was just impressed that I was reading at all.

He would introduce me to his friends as the “clever-one” of his children. He would say “she always has her head in a book”. Little did he know the books was filled with sexual anecdotes I barely understood, or gruesome crimes I wouldn’t get out of my head for years to come. The books never suited me, but that didn’t discourage me. For me reading was a delightful experience. Books could transport me to somewhere else. I could be someone else. Away from the house I shared with three younger, noisier siblings, I didn’t mind where they took me.

I discovered the local library at some point before my teens. I skipped the children’s books and headed straight to adult fiction. I had the freedom to read whatever I wanted. I’d arrive at the aisle and stand absorbing the covers. Their spines on show, they sold themselves to eleven year old me. I would pick a few and read the back. If I got the bubbling feeling inside my tummy, I knew I had to take it home. I often got weird looks from the librarians. I think back now and wonder how strange it was then. I know today it would be unusual to see a child in the library alone, but back then we were encouraged to do our own thing. I can’t have been the only one. Either that or they were passing judgement over what I was reading and how unsuitable it must be for a girl of my age. If the book wasn’t for me, I thought it even better. I wanted to learn about the world, I wanted to be challenged.

The library was, to me, just a larger pool of books similar to the ones in my Dad’s shed. The books smelled a little better and were in nicer condition with their plastic jackets sealed tight. The librarians weren’t to know that whichever book I picked up would be much more suitable than ‘How to be a Little Sod.