I’ve arrived at the door of a bar that my friend is celebrating her birthday in and I admit I’m feeling pretty great. The predicted hail-storm hasn’t materialised, the evening is hot, after a scorching day, and a gorgeous velvety-dark night sky had me captivated on the drive here, my hair is big, shiny and bouncy (thanks to Jack!), and I don’t have any pesky and inconvenient deadlines looming. All in all, this has the makings of a lovely evening and I’m excited.
I’m digging in my bag for my phone – I need a flashlight to see the names on the placard that tells you what tables belong to each party – when I hear a familiar voice. “Oi Sweaty Sock!” It’s a friend of a friend of a friend. He is an artist called Mikey, whose nickname is ‘The Mouth’ because that’s where his foot belongs. He’s backed up as ever by a trusty but ever changing posse of pale, thin, pretty girls, like a private Greek chorus.
I steel myself. “I’m just looking for…”.
“Your sock because you’re a jock!?” The Greek chorus teeter obligingly and Mikey The Mouth gives a smirk. “Aren’t Scots a bit tight for this joint?”.
I smile but I’m sure it doesn’t meet his eyes.
He’s not listening. “Are you…” he pauses incredulously – “are you ALONE?!”.
I want to slay him with some James K Baxter – ‘Alone we are born, and die alone’ – but my nerve falters. I say lamely, “I know about a hundred people upstairs.” Which is an exaggeration as I probably know 7 people who are upstairs.
“But you came – ALONE?” He stares at me, his aghast expression jolts me into discomfort. He stares as if I’m a lunatic and the Greek chorus gaggle stares too, in pale imitation, literally and figuratively speaking.
“That’s correct.” The fire rises within me. “I do believe that millions of people travel alone daily and live to tell the tale. My friend, L, even goes on holiday alone every year. And guess who I’m going on holiday with?” I slam my hand on the torchlight of my phone and try to find my party and simultaneously answer my own question, with, “MYSELF!” Because I’ve recently seen the marvellous Joan Armatrading, subconsciously I’ll blurt out. “ME, MYSELF AND I!”
I didn’t think this line sounded at all ridiculous when Joan sang it; I guess context and musically accompaniment make a significant difference…. Who would have thought?
Luckily right at that moment the door to the lounge is swung open and an acquaintance in Isabel Marant emerges so I’m saved.
I accost her and storm inside and up the stairs without looking back at my tormentor. “You idiot!” I think. “Now you have to go on holiday alone!” Because I know he’s going to have told everyone he knows by the morning, so now I have to own it.
But mainly because the challenge wasn’t really to Mikey The Big Mouth. It was to myself.
The following afternoon I’m relaxing in my living room wondering where abouts, except from a yoga retreat (and I’m allergic to yoga), a woman might not feel like an absolute weirdo travelling on her lonesome.
Across the hallway from me, my friends boyfriend Is prepping for an afternoon at the pub. Once his magnificent model hair is Instagram picture perfect, he’ll sashay down to our local pub and take his place in a row of single men googling on iPhones or reading newspapers or chatting to each other. No one will consider them loners, weirdos or freaks. No one will think anything of it. Their presence will only register if one of the girls in groups think one of them is hot. I am certain that not a soul will consider asking them in a (faux or genuine) horrified voice, “surely you aren’t…. alone?”.
I know we have come a long way, but we undoubtedly have miles and miles to go.
Sprawled on the couch in summery afternoon light I brood over the fact that most men I know feel fine about going to pubs or bars by themselves, but my girlfriends wouldn’t dream of it. This thought leads me back to my memory of a woman I saw recently dining alone in an Italian restaurant who turned out to be unwell – pouring wine on her pasta and chatting incoherently to herself – while all around her there were single men tucking into spaghetti and pizza, unselfconsciously. I’m not saying that all women who go out and dine alone are crazy or unwell, of course not, they are the normal ones, who know there’s a lot to be said for it. But it is interesting that I had noticed the lady and hadn’t taken in any of the men individually, more as a collective.
I think back to what I told Mikey Mouth about my friend going on holiday alone every year. She does, and has done for ten years. I’ve always loved and admired that about it. It’s so refreshing. She’s a gorgeous, funny, firecracker and she was secure enough in her own skin to go on solo fortnight holidays even as a teenager. She’s amazing!
I realise that, although I travelled to New Zealand alone, and have done work trip alone in the past, the prospect of boarding a plane solo for a weeks beach holiday makes me feel quite nauseous. But why?
I force myself to think of the aforementioned and quoted Joan Armatrading, and of others like Vivienne Westwood, Lena Dunham, Virginia Woolf, Lady Gaga, Caitlin Moran, Lorde: talented, brilliant, fabulous women who have all been considered weird at times (primarily by men, but also, shamefully I’d say, by women) but who have carried on regardless and owned their quirks, talents and gifts and who inspire millions more girls and women to do the same.
With these women in mind, I go down to the local bar and I order a mocktail. The barman glances over my shoulder, which is to be expected, when you consider that in the four years he’s known and served me (intermittently – I haven’t lived here the full four years but I’ve been back and forth) he’s never seen me alone. “Meeting the girls?” he smiles broadly.
“Not tonight.” I try not to look too self-conscious. I passed the first hurdle: of not pretending I was meeting someone and then saying there was a change of plan. I start to relax as I sip my strawberry drink and then begin a leisurely googling spree of Spanish resorts. It’s difficult, alright, I admit it. But with every passing minute it gets a touch more bearable.
Throw in some Spanish sun, some nice drinks and an infinity pool and I’m confident I’ll be a pro in no time. I’d ask you to join me if it wouldn’t ruin the spirit of the solo-adventure.
But do let me know if you’ve ever went on a solo holiday and what your experience was like… I’d love to hear!
And of course, when I do to on the solo holiday, you’ll be the first to hear every detail…