Last night, I did something that a lot of people have told me they would never, ever consider doing. It is actually something that I find myself doing more and more often, due to one thing and another. Initially, when I first started doing it, it was purely through necessity, and the lack of any other choice. But now, I’m doing it purely because it’s quite often the way that I prefer it.
Last night, I went out to a comedy gig. On my own. All on my lonesome. I asked a couple of people to come with me, but they were otherwise engaged, and so I wandered in to the show on my own. Last weekend, I went to the cinema on my own. On that occasion, I didn’t ask anyone to come with me.
Going out on your own, to any kind of event, is often seen as being quite a daunting prospect, and something that a lot of my friends – particularly my female friends – say that they would never dream of doing. If they can’t talk someone into going with them, they say, they just don’t go. But I have found that, through repeated exposure, it can actually be a much richer experience than you would first think.
I started going to comedy gigs on my own roughly about a year and a half ago, in the course of my job as a comedy reviewer for the local newspaper. I was to review some comedian or other, but I couldn’t for the life of me persuade anyone to come along. This was partially my own fault, for not warning people of the danger that quite often the acts that I get sent to review are absolute joyless rubbish. Obviously, it’s not a particularly strong selling point – please come with me, it’s going to be awful – but because nearly all of my friends had been exposed to some very bad comedy thanks to me and my lies, nobody trusts me any more. So I had to go on my own.
And, surprisingly, I quite enjoyed it. The thing is, I like to people watch. I like to stand quietly in a corner, and watch the mini soap operas that unfold around me. It’s something a lot of people do, I know, because we tend to find each other in a room. Whenever you look around, there is almost at least one other person per table
looking around too. There’s a secret code among people watchers, in that you must never acknowledge one another’s presence, but at the same time there is something of a camaraderie between us all. But God forbid you might catch someone else’s eye – that leads to immediate checking of the mobile phone, or fixing your shoe, or (if you’re that way inclined) lighting another cigarette.
When you’ve done it a couple of times, walked into a club, a theatre or a cinema and picked up your single ticket with your single booking, it just gets easier each time. Some people do give the occasional glance in your direction – the first time it happened, I wanted to make it damn clear that I hadn’t been stood up and that this was my choice, but wasn’t sure quite what facial expression conveys that. Of course, I get to cheat slightly, given that I do usually have a purpose for my presence, and if the staring and glances get a bit more than just occasional, I do tend to wave my pen and notebook around more than is strictly necessary.
Something I have yet to do is dine out alone. Obviously, everyone has picked up a fast food meal or a sandwich, and hung about in the restaurant long enough to eat the meal and run back out the door, but I’ve never gone the whole hog and booked a table for one. Stephen Fry has described that particular experience as “one of the most exquisite pleasures the world has to offer”, but I’m yet to be convinced on that front. It’s one thing to have the occasional odd glance in your direction – but I think sitting in a restaurant would be pushing it a bit, don’t you? I don’t want to be taken for a nutter.