My bad trip – I met a handsome Scot with a crossword and thought it was true love. I was wrong
I didn’t travel until my late 20s, which meant I was also a latecomer to what many 18-year-olds discover in the hazy morning light on Kuta Beach or stumbling out of Berlin’s Berghain: nothing fans the fires of romance like a ticking clock. The knowledge that your plane leaves in 24 hours can take a vaguely promising flirtation and turn it into the love for the ages.
In 2013, 31 and living in Los Angeles for work, I travelled to London for a short course at Central Saint Martins. While celebrating our “graduation”, a handsome Scot bailed me up outside a pub and insisted I help him solve the cryptic crossword. My friends looked on with dismay as my eyes turned to cartoon love hearts.
Related: The moment I knew: his big toenail was hanging by a bloody thread, and so was our relationship
A few hours later, having pashed near the bins outside a supermarket, I stumbled towards my tube station certain I had met the love of my life. Upon my return to LA, we commenced a torrid internet affair of hours-long Skypes and never-ending playlists. Plans were made for me to return to London in autumn.
I chose to ignore my doubts around his mentioning friendly proximity to Pete Doherty, his diet of gruel, or his having to boil water in a wok because his drunk housemate had done a wee in the kettle. By October, these doubts had grown louder, but I put them down to nerves and got on the plane.
Once in London, texts to my internet lover went unanswered. I checked in at my Airbnb, a sharehouse that had been descended upon by the extended family of the host, who was about to marry his girlfriend. Each night, in the adjoining bedroom, the happy couple celebrated their impending nuptials in enthusiastic fashion. As I lay there, listening to the bed frame collide with the wall as both parties yelled in ecstasy, I wondered if perhaps I had been too quick to book my return to London.
He attempted to dry his beard with a tea towel and explained he’d had to sell his umbrella.
Eventually, the time came for my own romantic reunion. Waiting in an empty pub on a rainy afternoon, I barely blinked as a dishevelled and waterlogged figure scurried in the side door. It was only when the figure approached my table that I clocked it was, in fact, my internet boyfriend. He attempted to dry his beard with a tea towel and explained he’d had to sell his umbrella. As we chatted, I realised, with galaxy brain clarity, that whatever spark had existed between us should have been allowed to dissipate somewhere between the Waitrose bins and my tube station. Overcome with relief, I started laughing and could not stop. What a sight we must have been: a hysterical Australian and a Scottish drowned rat.
He had to return to work, so I agreed to walk him back. As we strolled, I spotted a Starbucks. Making a snap decision, I brightly announced, “Well, this is me!” and sprinted to the back to hide behind a rack of mugs. He didn’t come looking.
In the intervening years we’ve swapped the occasional email, and I really hope he’s well (and no longer making tea in a wok). But I am thankful for his role in a late but essential life lesson: if you find yourself single and on holiday, sitting in a gutter outside a pub, beware of Scots bearing crosswords.