I was always a fairly solitary child. Despite having two elder siblings and a smattering of close friends, my preferred company was always my own. Once, at a birthday party, I retreated upstairs with the book I’d received as a present (Spiderman, if memory serves), leaving my friends downstairs to party on without me.
While my own room was my preferred bolt-hole, I was also, as I believe many are, drawn towards quiet, hidden, secret places. Within the house, these could be seldom-used rooms like the loft – for me always a place of musty mystery, full of abandoned toys and empty (or are they?) boxes. They could also be corners of normal rooms – behind the sofa, under the table, even a landing halfway down the stairs. Outside the house there were trees and bushes to hid in or behind. Even in a public space, there was often a nook or cranny to be found where I could sit and…what? Read, observe others, or just sit and enjoy being still and quiet and alone. Maybe I thought that if I sat still for long enough, I’d disappear completely.
Two things started this train of thought. Firstly, a recent movie featured the enduring post-apocalyptic image of an entirely abandoned city. Often intended to be horrific and spooky, I find these images strangely attractive, and have often fantasised about wandering alone in a ghost metropolis.
Secondly, I’ve read a few articles recently about “ghost villages”, where economics, demographics and geography combine to slowly kill a community – those few children born there leave as soon as they can, leaving a couple of seniors who’ve never known, or wanted to know, anywhere else. And then, eventually, no-one is left, and everything rots and crumbles in a very picturesque fashion.
What is it that attracts people to these places? It’s not just about wanting to get away from other people – deserts and the open ocean have always been good for that. It’s about the specific pleasure to be gained from being alone somewhere which is normally full of bustling life, but which, for a deliciously transitory moment, is all yours.