Table for one, and two miracles

Eating alone in a restaurant takes guts, I’ll admit. I’m reasonably used to it by now, although there are still situations that throw me, such as waiters who treat me with disbelief or overt pity. 

But here’s a happy story about eating alone. While I was on my solo road trip, I stayed down the road from a winery that has an up-market restaurant. A friend had recommended it, so one day, feeling brave and in the mood for indulging, off I trotted. 

I walked there, a distance of a couple of kilometres, which turned out to be a good thing because it meant I had to walk home. And I needed that walk. It was an astonishingly good meal, amazing flavours, beautifully served and presented. It was expensive and worth every cent. 

The other memorable thing about it was the experience. I fronted up to the woman on the reception desk and asked if they had a table for one. Absolutely, she replied, and successfully avoided looking me over to see what was wrong with me that I was dining alone. 

And then … Miracle 1: she led me into the dining room and sat me at a prime table next to the window looking out over the pond and deck to the vines. No dark corner table by the staff toilet for solo diners here. 

Then, the waiter brought the menu, water etc and I embarked on my food journey. And this was Miracle 2: I was not rushed, not even slightly. The pacing of the meal was leisurely and, unlike almost every other time I’ve eaten alone in a restaurant, I didn’t feel like I was being hurried out.

So I decided to really indulge, and ordered a spectacular dessert which had everyone else in the restaurant turning round and craning their necks to see it. The dessert is why I needed the walk home. 

Dessert was followed by coffee, brought after I’d finished the dessert. How civilised. No rush, no pressure to hurry up and finish. 

I was completely smitten. I think it’s the first time I’ve eaten out in a “proper” restaurant on my own and felt like I was just another valued guest. Not a freak, not an object of pity or slightly condescending friendliness, not a single diner to be hurried through and replaced with the economically-superior unit of two. No, I got treated as if dining alone was completely normal. And that, let me tell you, is a rare and beautiful thing. 

Elephant Hill Winery, you are the bestest. 

Here’s my meal:  

Prawns, whitefish, squid ink sauce of some kind, a totally mysterious Heston Blumenthal-type explosion of lighter-than-air deliciousness; and a glass of Pinot Gris. *swoon*

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The solo traveller returns

I got home from my recent holiday road trip on Wednesday evening. The last day was a long drive, about 8 hours in the end. I listened to podcasts for much of it and the kilometres flew by. Not literally: I was very careful about the speed limit and relied on cruise control because I am very bad at doing two things at once and knew that if I got engrossed in the podcasts I’d cease paying attention to my speed. I’d either speed up or slow right down, but either way, I’d be a menace. 

I had a grand old time at the second cottage I rented. It was a real throwback to the 1970s and I kept laughing out loud as I discovered long forgotten reminders of what was cool and groovy when I was a kid. 

And because this trip was all about new adventures, I did something I have never done before: I invited a friend to spend the weekend at the cottage with me. Non-aloners probably cannot begin to imagine how risky this felt. 

The friend I invited is a woman I’ve been friends with since we were 9, so it was, in the scheme of things, low risk. However it did occur to me that the last time we’d been on holiday together was when we were about 12 and we got conned by her father into spending our holiday cooking for the shearers on her father’s farm. I still feel sorry for those shearers. 

It turned out to be a wonderful time. Although we are quite different in our need for company and distraction, she was able to play tour guide as she knew the local area, and I got to sit in the car and admire the scenery while she drove. A perfect blend: she had something to keep her busy (driving) and I got to stare out the window and think my thoughts. 

We went swimming several times, ate fish and chips on the beach, watched the surfers, browsed the local market, and hung out in cafes. She loved the quirky cottage too and it gave us an excuse to reminisce about our childhoods, and commiserate over the appalling parenting we received. I had the opportunity, over a bottle of wine enjoyed on the deck as the sun went down, to talk freely about my sister and her death and what it all meant for me. 

At the end of the weekend she returned to her home and job and getting her teenage son ready to leave for university, and I had three days on my own where I got to swim, eat fish and chips on the beach, hang out in cafes, and read, all in blissful solitude. 

I realised two things: friends, particularly old and good friends, are fabulous creatures and I like spending time with mine; and solitude is essential and fabulous and I like it every bit as much as I like my friends. 

It’s all in the ratio and balance, which for me tilts heavily — but not exclusively –in favour of solitude. I think I got the balance just right this trip. 

How to spend Valentine’s Day alone

A lot of virtual ink gets spilled at this time of year over The Problem Of Valentine’s Day. If it’s not agonising over the tone and value of the gift to buy (is a diamond bracelet too much for a relationship that’s only 6 weeks old? Probably, but it depends on how desperate you both are to be Not Alone), it’s dealing with the Spouse Who Forgets Valentine’s  Day, or the Partner Who Forgot To Make Reservations, or listicles of 30 Ways To Have A Romantic Valentine’s Day On Less Than $10. But supreme among the articles is the one on how to survive V-Day without a Significant Other in your life. 

As a more or less professional aloner, my advice is: the same way you “survive” every other day. Better yet, decide to live it rather than merely survive it. In other words, ignore it and spend the day or evening doing something you actually enjoy instead. 

Fundamentally, I dislike the whole idea of V Day anyway. Years ago now, I had a boyfriend who thought buying me a bunch of roses and a box of chocolates and having them delivered to my work was a supremely romantic gesture that was sure to win me over (to what I’m not sure). It did not work. I found the gesture embarrassingly cliched and it was excruciating to have my private life intruded into my work life without my consent (not sure if you can intrude something into something but you get the gist). 

I am willing to believe, if the Internet bears any relation to reality, that there are hundreds of women who would have found this behaviour utterly swoon-inducing and who quite likely think I’m an ungrateful sour old biddy who deserves to be alone with an attitude like that. Fair enough. May your day be filled with cliches. 

I view V Day gestures with deep suspicion because they are so scripted, and because the very public display of them suggests they are more about winning performance points from bystanders than they are about a personally-motivated expression of feeling, as in an expression motivated by this particular person and what they like/ appreciate/ enjoy. 

That’s why I hated the flower-and-chocolate delivery from the ex boyfriend: it had absolutely nothing to do with me and everything to do with him showing the world (in this case, my colleagues) what a Perfect Boyfriend he was. If he had paid attention to who I actually was and what I liked, and had done something FOR me instead of TO me, who knows what might have come of it.  

Gross miscalculations aside, if V Day is about showing love then why not show yourself some love and do what makes you happy. 

That may or may not involve chocolates and flowers.

A solo road trip

While it may appear that I am constantly taking holidays, this isn’t quite true. In my defence, it is summer here and summer requires a holiday. It’s obligatory. 

I avoided going away over the “stats” (i.e.  the statutory holidays over Christmas and new year) and opted for February instead. In the past I always headed off down south to the beach house but that is no more, so this year I have opted for a road trip, staying in rented cottages and exploring new locations. 

My first stop has proved delightful. A perfect set up for a single traveller, a one room cottage with a small courtyard for sitting in the sun, right across the road from the beach. I went to sleep last night listening to the sound of the waves on the beach, and slept very soundly in the dark that only exists in the country away from streetlights. I went for a run along the cycle trail this morning then had breakfast outside, and enjoyed a cup of coffee with the owner before she left for work. 

There’s nothing particularly difficult or peculiar about holidaying alone in these circumstances. Not for me, at least. But others struggle to grasp the pleasure of it, and express concern for my welfare. 

For example, when I arrived, my host asked when my partner was arriving (I’d booked as 1 adult) and then having determined I was alone, was delicately enquiringly was I recovering from a break up or similar. All of which is fine, except that she lives alone herself so the idea of a woman on her own shouldn’t really be so surprising to her of all people. 

Before I left, a few people asked what I had planned before helpfully reeling off a long list of all the possible sights, attractions and activities I could cram into my days away. When I responded that all I was planning on doing was spending time by myself reading, sketching, walking, and maybe hitting a few golf balls, I was met with a look of disbelief. 

It seems that living alone is one thing, but choosing to be alone is quite another. The first is a circumstance that others  understand but believe can (and should) be rectified; the second, however, is perverse wilfulness. 

For people who can’t imagine a worse fate than spending time alone, it is next to impossible to understand why I would choose to spend my holiday on my own. So I don’t try to explain, and let them suggest diversions, none of which I will do but I feign interest for the sake of manners. 

When I return, they will no doubt be concerned that I didn’t follow their suggestions, and worry that I’m depressed because I chose to travel alone. 

So I’d like to state, for the record, that choosing to travel and holiday alone is not a mental illness.