NO man is an island.
Aye, well spotted. An island's usually covered in sheep muck, for a start. But John Donne's adage wasn't meant to be taken literally. That would be stupid. He was trying to say we can't live without other people.
This is obviously correct, in the sense you need other people to butcher animals and put the meat in pleasant wee Cellophane-wrapped containers, or to deliver your Amazon packets, and maybe to fix your car. But that's about it really.
Loading article content
The question is: can you live without other people in proximity? You know, breathing in your face and, more importantly these days, making a racket.
Avoiding same is the stuff that dreams are made on. Hell, as Garcin says in Sartre's Huis Clos, is other people. But where to avoid them?
Well, Inchcolm – up to a point – is a possibility. The island in the Firth of Forth has a vacancy for a manager and, while there will be one other member of staff getting on your wick, apart from that you're on your own. For eight months of the year. For a salary of 20 grand.
But the more I read the Historic Scotland advert, the less lonesome became the spec. Boats arrive regularly, disgorging tourists that they might waddle blithely round the ruins of a 12th-century abbey.
I've been on the boat to Inchcolm, and visitors to such a place are usually of the decent sort. But there's one yahoo in every human group, from the evening class to the bus and, given half a chance, they'll blunder all over your idyll. Give them an Inchcolm and they'll take a mile.
Other boats pass by, occasionally spoiling your television reception. Oh yes, there's a telly. However solitary you want to be, you'll still need stories, written and performed by other people.
Other facilities include a shower, washing machine and cooking equipment. Yup: whoop-de-doo. Go, as it were, mad. And you might just do that.
You need to bring your food and drinking water over by boat. But, worst of all, the internet connection is "limited". What! You're having a laugh, right? The internet connects us to our loneliness. You can't feel properly lonely without knowing there are other people out there.
Face-to-face contact is for you and your mirror. Even for the more sociable, face-to-face is only for friends. The rest of humanity is best kept at arm's length: the length from your arm to the keyboard.
We need to know what the sods are up to, to read their crackpot opinions and marvel at their latest crimes. For that we need the internet on all the time. As someone said a couple of weeks ago: only hyper-connect.
So I ain't so convinced by Inchcolm's isolation. Too many co-workers (one), too many yahoos (say, one a day), and a limited connection to the lonely online world.
But I'm sure there'll be plenty of applicants competing dog-eat-dog to escape the rat race and secure the post. Recently, The Herald reported that 14 folk had applied to run a restaurant on Canna: population 12.
It's not that the doughty dozen eat a lot. There are 9000 visitors a year, so you need never feel lonely. Until nightfall.
The truth is you've probably got more chance of finding solitude in the city. Islands, in the usual sense of substantial offshore places with populations, are the last places you'd go for solitude and social peace. They're more like one big party and certainly not for the sociophobic.
Back on terra firma, meanwhile, the way forward is a lonely road: the world's most advanced and happy countries – Sweden, Denmark and Norway – also have the most single- occupancy households.
These are countries towards which Scotland aspires, and which we could have become if only the authorities had adopted my referendum question: "Do you want Scotland to become independent or are you a nutter?"
In lieu of that, we make the best with what we have. Thus, if you want to find peace and solitude, look inside your own heart. Not at other countries, moated castles, or islands.