When we were in our youth, deep in the last millenium, it was the greatest thrill to walk across the road from our student digs and indulge in a proper cooked meal at the Avenue Hotel – usually the occasional Sunday lunch. When it was “on”, roast beef and Yorkshire Pud, chased down by a couple of pints of bitter. This luxurious repast was only afforded by living the rest of the week on burnt toast smeared with cheap margarine and black tea. Quite what this style of living did to the body’s systems wasn’t going to become clear till some decades later.
As this week we have to judge a school’s public speaking competition in the evenings, a stretch of four nights eating dinner alone in restaurants stretches ahead. But it no longer holds any thrill. At 18 the whole exercise seemed impossibly grown up, and having the venerable Charlie weaving his way towards us between the tables bearing a plate of real food was genuinely exciting. Now it’s just a chore.
No one to pore over the drinks menu with. No one to swap war stories from the day. And as a middle aged man eating alone, it is telepathically obvious what the other diners think.
That young brash gay couple over there consider in passing whether I’m a tired old queen they should befriend but decide against it.
The family group with the noisy kids just think I look lonely and smile indulgently.
And the courting couple – her with the cutest pony tail, him with a very cool leather jacket – glance at me and dismiss me utterly, before sharing a giggle over a Facebook post.
The waitress is already looking impatient at how long is being spent tapping these few thoughts out on the iPhone, even though the restaurant is far from full and they hardly need the table back.
There is no cure for it, this eating alone syndrome. Especially if one has forgotten that day’s newspaper to hide behind. Buried in that, one can at least ignore the pity.
Heigh-Ho. Drive through MacDonalds and the radio tomorrow, perhaps. Or eat lunch at my desk instead. At least no one can see you through the plate glass windows there. Alone and pathetic.
Neddy No Friends and his Taiwanese fried chicken bento box. No one even to question “Since when did the Taiwanese have bento boxes?”
Except you, of course, Dear Reader. So, thank you. Another lemon tea?