Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Dining alone

This is a photo of a common situation for me. A lack of dinner companions can make eating a solitary affair. Dining alone is still uncomfortable to me even after all these years, such is the social nature of eating a meal.

I have calculated that I spend between 25 and 30 days a year eating and sleeping alone in foreign hotels. Every year for nearly the last twenty, I have travelled on approximately fifty aeroplanes a year. My conscience is relatively clear as most of my other journeys when I am home are by bicycle. I probably travel of 5000 miles a year on my bike.

But a month a year of solitary eating and sleeping! I had never looked at it in those terms before.
I like my job. It is an interesting job with just the right amount of technical content and the chance to meet and work with people all over the world. Some would see it as a nice little number and indeed, I do realise how fortunate I am to even have a job, let alone one which I generally enjoy.

But I do get tired of the business travel. It really is not exciting. Oh, I make time to see the places I visit, though some are rather too familiar to me to hold any allure after all this time.
My solution to the loneliness used to be to go to the bar and get drunk. But its not a healthy way to spend a month a year. And talking to people in hotel bars when on business seems not to be the Done Thing. Indeed, I have got myself in some very unexpected scrapes in hotel bars from a seeming overfamiliarity. Having unsolicited feels of one's biceps by a small hopeful chap resembling Zebedee from the magic roundabout, in response to what I perceived to be just normal sociable conversation, is not an experience I would describe as comfortable. I explained his mistake and he looked rather crestfallen and lessons were learned by both of us.No, I keep myself to myself these days and rarely make eye contact or conversation.

And so one diverts one's attention: I write letters sometimes. Actual letters. With paper. And a pen. But I never send them. Perhaps I should.
One memorable letter I wrote to myself described an evening in Cork where the bar initially only contained two solemn looking catholic priests in deep discussion of matters scriptural. As the evening wore on, more arrived until the whole bar was full of serious priestly fellows and ecumenical matters. At about ten, the whisky and Guinness kicked in. Then very suddenly there was much cackling, back-slapping and telling of dirty jokes. It really was all rather surreal. So, there are lighter moments.

But it is a soulless, lonely existence and despite the stimulus provided by new landscapes, it does make you a bit tired of travel. Holidays therefore do not seem particularly appealing, especially if air travel is involved. I am far happier in old clothes, driving my post-industrial van to the sea and sitting looking at the waves, or driving up to Dartmoor and hearing the murmur of the wind through the granite of the Tors.And indeed, when I close my eyes in my hotel room, this is where I go to. Then, the phone rings and it's a customer in reception come to take me to a meeting. And so, into character, straighten my tie, and off I go into the Real World to be respectable, credible, assimmilated.


Jenny Woolf said...

I don't know what your job is, and whether you need to entertain clients at the hotel. If not, I'd be inclined to give it a go staying in a hostel, perhaps an IYHA one as they are usually well regulated. There is usually someone to talk to not many of them over 30 but so what? they're usually more fun than businessmen. And you can go out to a supermarket and buy some food and cook it there.

Mind you, clients might suspect you're on your beam ends if they find out, and hostels arent the place to go if you have expensive technical equipment. So please don't do it and blame me if you lose a £1,000,000 contract or whatever. :)

The loneliest trip of my life was when I had to cover a story on Hawaiian hotels. Hotel after hotel the only conversations being about spa facilities or staffing levels. One place had a luau in which absolutely everyone was with at least one, and usually many, other people, at long tables. I must have looked absolutely forlorn because I was "adopted" by a friendly family from Texas which cheered me up for that evening at least.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Pete:
Gosh we obviously were way off the mark in thinking you of a non-traveller! This is indeed a considerable time which you spend away from the comforts of home and alone at the dining table.

Sharing a meal with good companions is definitely one of life's greatest pleasures for us, so we are completely with you about the rather depressing nature of eating alone. And, the food never lasts very long either so those lonely evenings stretch ahead....

Oh, definitely post those letters and keep copies. They will surely make for an entertaining book for weary travellers one day.

PerlNumquist said...

Jenny: No, I can't really do the YH thing, interesting as it sounds. Working for one of the worlds biggest technology companies, it "just would not do". However, sometimes in obscure places, i can stay in small guest houses which can be nice. But mostly its big international hotels. Thank goodness for iPlayer and BBC radio4.
Jane and Lance: I am a home-loving GLoucestershire lad at heart, I just find myself in some strange places sometimes. A little too often in fact. The letters often contain my impressions of people in the bar. Hopefully if I ever published them, people would not recognise themselves...

Librarian said...

Quite the opposite for me when I am on business travels - I long for an evening on my own then, when I am not expected to either entertain customers or be entertained by suppliers... Last night, for instance, was rather horrible, spent at a typical tourist trap in Duesseldorf in the company of about 300 others in town for the same reason, drinking competitions on full swing and the food half cold and not very good at all.
So I was really glad when my boss said he would not stay late, and left me the choice of going back to the hotel in his car or staying on and go back later by taxi or with someone else. Well, we were the first ones to leave but I doubt anyone noticed...
I will never understand why for so many people, fun equals being drunk and making total fools of themselves when the next day you are supposed to be working again, and doing business with those who saw you in maybe one or two rather undignified situations the night before.

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