Going home

After spending several weeks on the road supporting Runrig Malachy starts the long journey home from

Having been in England touring for the past three weeks, it felt good to be on the way home again.

I took the nine o’clock train on Wednesday morning from London King’s Cross and gazed out of the window as we rolled northwards towards Edinburgh. The clutter and bustle of the city soon gave way to green, and the urban interventions grew increasingly infrequent the closer to Scotland we became.

A dense haze lay over much of the country, covering fields and towns, and cloaking Durham cathedral in a strange half-light which made that city seem hardly real at all. And when the sea finally appeared, just south of the border, the horizon too was disguised, so it was hard to discern where the water ended and the sky began. It was a relief though to have it there – the cold North Sea – alongside the train, and I felt somehow more relaxed to see it, and to feel the space open up beyond the shore.

From Edinburgh I took a second train, continuing onwards to Aberdeen. The route follows the east coast, passing small seaside towns and villages on its way, as well as the cities of Perth and Dundee. It is a pleasant journey, and one which I have taken dozens of times over the years. Here the air was clearer and the sky blue. The horizon was now sharp as a knife edge.

Getting to Shetland can be done quickly or slowly – by air or by land and sea. I prefer the slow route. For one thing it is more comfortable; the hours spent on the train from London were relaxing, if not exactly luxurious, and the ferry journey north from Aberdeen can be enjoyable if the weather behaves, as it did this night.

It is good, also, to be reminded of just how far away from things we really are – from the noise and the dirt and the chaos of London in particular. Seven hours on a train, then 12 on a ferry, are enough to give a real sense of distance and, I think, of perspective. Travelling by plane makes it all seem too easy, and too close.

The boat arrived in Lerwick at 7.30 on Thursday morning, just as light was beginning to descend on the town. A pale sky of pink and blue in the southeast was just fading towards daylight as I walked from the ferry terminal towards the town centre.

At this time of year there is no way of getting to Fair Isle on a Thursday, which meant I had a day’s wait in Lerwick before my Friday morning flight. Or, at least, that was the plan. But Friday dawned grey and dark, with a south-westerly gale still raging from the previous night, and all plans were suddenly worthless.

Phoning the airport at regular intervals during the day for updates on the weather situation, I could hear an infectious lack of optimism in the voice of the woman I spoke to. And though the wind did ease during the morning, the change was accompanied by clouds descending and rain increasing. So when I was finally told at three o’clock to get myself to the airport as quickly as possible, I could hardly believe we would be getting home after all.

I was right. We didn’t. The clouds lifted briefly, and then descended once again. The flight was cancelled.

So I’m sitting writing this in a friend’s living room in Lerwick, with the rain still battering the window. The next flight will be Monday morning; though, again, the weather doesn’t look promising. On days like these, distance can suddenly lose its appeal.

Malachy Tallack is 26 and lives in Fair Isle. He is a singer-songwriter, journalist, and editor of the magazine Shetland Life.
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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad