Isolation in the Bubble: a paradox?

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Photo: Lorelei Pfeffer

I went on a suitably jolly holiday with my friends to Wales this summer, and it was wonderful. Four girls, most with rather undeniable origins in the British Isles, being pasty and erratic and complaining about the heat for an entire week, watching Grey’s Anatomy when it rained and episodes of Friends when it was sunny. My parents in the cottage next door, my friends fighting with my brother as if he was their own, my dog being adored and fussed over constantly for doing basically nothing.

We spent days cycling around the Welsh countryside, occasionally finding ourselves mad-pedalling on terrifying A-Roads, canoeing down a scenic Wye river and catching chest infections from swimming in the cold water at the same time as burning ourselves deliciously salmon under a mild, British August sun. It was the stuff of dreams, and as the holiday drew to a close, we all wished that it didn’t have to end. How bittersweet – how dramatic was our nostalgia for something which had literally just happened. However, all good things come to an end, and I promise that this is the last hopeless cliche I will bring to the table in this article (sorry, I’m really done now).

When I think back upon that holiday (a mere three weeks since we departed – the dramatics apparently continue) I think mostly of the isolation. Isolation is abjectly terrible, and certainly, feeling the type of loneliness brought about by one’s first night alone in a foreign country, or when approaching the eighth miserable hour home alone, is indeed worthy of negative attribution. But there is definitely a weird short-term bliss in being isolated with the people you love, especially when there is only a limited crowd, largely made up of middle-class ramblers and dogs, to judge the decline in dignity which occurs when you are on holiday and your ‘social muscle’ relaxes into a blundering puddle only to begrudgingly, half-heartedly, partially re-solidify 10 days later. In such situations, the people around you must be the ones whom you trust without reticence.

My family has returned to that same holiday destination since 2008, in part, I feel, because it is a place which we trust without reticence. We have faith that, thanks to stringent UK building restrictions, alterations to that scarce village-town will occur in manageable increments. Additionally, it is so removed in every sense from where we normally reside that being there often feels like an isolation from reality. Considering the absence of Wi-Fi and the generally patchy 3G reception – and here I remember having to find a wall to clamber atop in order to make a call which failed six times – that little town in Wales is a sort of technologically stagnant haven in which to fully isolate yourself with those of your choosing.

St Andrews is a weird place when considering the topic of isolation. It’s such a singular town, so of itself as opposed to of the rest of the world. There is no train station, if you haven’t noticed, just a rather small, if flash, bus station, with a weirdly stylish little food cart. Nine thousand students – an exceptionally small student body, but exceptionally large in comparison to the place in which it is situated – find themselves here, all writhing at times comically, at times depressingly, in rather cramped circumstances.

It follows, therefore, that while St Andrews itself might be isolated in terms of its location in Fife, it is true that its toy-town feel negates traditional conceptions of isolation. Isolation is defined as ‘the state of being in a place or situation that is separate from others.’

If we were really isolated, we would have been banished to Albany – a moment of silence for those forsaken souls – you may argue. How can one feel isolated in a place with such an imbalanced abundance of students daily invading North, Market and South Street? As bizarre as that idea may be, as bizarre as it is to experience, it is possible. The fact that we feel alone but we technically have no reason to feel so leads to a tricky, underpinning, even more lonely feeling – made to feel all the more unwarranted by the seeming good cheer and bustling occupation of those around us. Essentially, being human predisposes us to feel isolated at times; we are each alone in our individual bodies, which is a terrifying thought when mused upon for too long.

Perhaps the feeling of isolation is a natural one, but when it happens upon us as opposed to choosing it as a form of respite, it can be muddling and unpleasant. Olivia Gavoyannis, my fellow section editor for features, wrote an article on mindfulness during the summer along a similar – perhaps less rambling – vein, in which she spoke of the importance of remaining mindful in any given situation. And I think there is no better advice to heed as we wander through this wonderful, strange little town by the sea: to be mindful that all feelings are ephemeral. This too shall pass!

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