Metro 89

Richard Herring: I yearn to be alone again

Friday 8 Nov 2013 
‘No man is an island,’ said the poet John Donne. ‘Except when he’s in the bath,’ added comedian Norman Lovett. Alas, Donne had been dead for more than 350 years by then and never got to hear the retort. It’s a shame because it might have shut him up, the metaphysical idiot.
Of course, Donne was being metaphorical (he loved being anything with meta at the start, which is why he spent a year of his life dressed up as the obscure foot bone, the metatarsal) and pointing out that no human can live their lives emotionally shut off and independent of others. Even idiotic saint Simeon Stylites, who made the unusual decision to live atop a pillar for 37 years so he could venerate God (I am sure God appreciated that), needed small shepherd boys to climb up and give him parcels of bread and milk.
Poetry, foot biology and medieval saints! We’re laughing and learning today. Mainly learning so far, to be fair.
I certainly wouldn’t want to be an island, either metaphorically or actually, but as much as I love the company of others, sometimes I yearn to escape and be alone on an island. Like a Robinson Crusoe who has told Man Friday to sod off and let him be. I once fleetingly experienced it and it’s one of my happiest memories.
In 2001, I went on holiday to Thailand with my then girlfriend (the one I shared an incompetent spirit guide with). We stayed in a beach hut on a comparatively isolated island in the Trat region. It was simple and idyllic and we were at the end of the beach but we were not totally alone.
One night as we staggered back from the bar, the full moon rising behind us, I looked out to sea and saw a small sandbank had been created 20 metres from the shore.
It hadn’t happened before but tonight, due to unusual currents and perhaps the gravitational pull of a full moon, a new island had emerged. My crapulous girlfriend went to bed, but I took a plastic chair from our room, waded out to sea and sat on that island – my island (I called it Chard Island: a pretentious shortening of my first name) – and watched the moon and stars slowly progress across the sky.
It appeared again the next night and I did the same. I was the king and all the citizens of this magical land and would sit there in silent (and drunken) contemplation, until the tide changed and my throne was swamped and my domain was lost beneath the waves. I was like some kind of massive Cnut (the correct spelling of Canute – laughing and learning).
Perhaps I liked the isolation because I wasn’t getting on so well with my girlfriend. I know I fantasised that the girl in the next hut along would notice me and come and join me as my queen (though that’s a polite way of putting what I had in mind). The laws of your society did not operate on Chard Island and it wouldn’t have counted as infidelity. Sadly, if she ever saw the weird, fat man, sitting on a chair in the sea staring at the moon, she didn’t fancy joining him for some reason.
After three nights Chard Island was gone, but I still think of it with fondness. Legend has it that it only appears once every 1,000 years. Admittedly, I made up that legend.
No man (or woman) is an island, but sometimes we all need the blessed release of solitude.
Richard is filming a new stand-up series, Richard Herring’s Meaning Of Life, at London’s Leicester Square Theatre on Nov 17 and various dates in 2014. For tickets, see