Written by Kate Leaver


Life Critic: crossing borders

In her regular column, Kate Leaver reviews life’s banalities. This week, she got on a train and thought about human frailty… and she’s all outta stars to give.

gurning alpacaI’m on a train, right? From London Kings Cross to Edinburgh. The E carriage, in a seat by the window, to the left, to the left. My beautiful pregnant friend sits across the table from me, and my company during transit is great mothering practice for her.

She shows the nice man my tickets as I gape at the scenery whooshing by, gently confiscates the tea biscuits when necessary and tolerates my long line of castle-related enquiries (“How many castles do they have in Scotland? Do you think I might live in one? Are there castles you can live in? Not even one? Why don’t you know? Why do I love castles so much? Do you love castles? Why are they so great?”).

I’m happy, as I chew the ear off what must be my 17th Percy the Pig sweet and say, “Don’t you wish you could look out both windows at once!”

I’m happy, because if you squint into the sunshine and suspend your adulthood on this route, you can pretend to be on the Hogwarts Express.

I’m happy, knowing that my sister, her boyfriend, and two other gorgeous friends have choo-choo-chosen to come on an Edinburgh adventure.

But the happiness feels skin-deep. I can project it outward, but I can’t feel it.

There’s a sad little bird perched on my heart, and she’s making it hard to breathe. She’s making it hard to recognise the smile on my own lips, or the sound of my voice. This is not a new feeling; happy-sadness is my old companion. But there’s something about crossing borders that sets my soul a little off-kilter – it always has. Travel jumbles my sense of self and I have to recalibrate.

Fringe People by Richard Penn Flickr CC by 2.0 licence

Fringe People 9 by Richard Penn, www.flickr.com/photos/dickpenn/2731015351 (CC by 2.0 licence).

In four hours 26 minutes, we’re in Edinburgh, and the whole city smells like baked bread and popcorn-flavour beer. It’s grey and majestic, all of it. I love it instantly – this is where my sister studied law, this is where my funny friends perform, this is the land of castles. But I haven’t worked out what to do with my melancholy yet, and I feel like Alice in Wonderland changing sizes. I’m too big, I’m too fat, how am I even fitting in this black cab? I’m too small, I’m so small, will I fall between the grates in the gutter as we walk? I’m cold when I’m small, hot when I’m big, and awkward with my limbs at all sizes.

Here I am, a collection of body parts moving on auto-pilot, waiting for the heart to take its rightful place at the helm. It’ll happen, I know, but for now it’s just tiring. Till it does, I’ve got no stars to give.


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Written by Kate Leaver

Wandering Australian journalist, professional-level Harry Potter fan, occasional funny person, gelato enthusiast. Still worried about the state of Britney Spears' mental health.