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.