Thursday, 23 October 2008

'They call us lonely when we're really just alone'

A few years ago, if you'd asked me, I'd never have believed I'd become a fan of Mariella Frostrup. Yet now, every time I remember to read any Sunday newspapers, I always find myself nodding, serious-eyebrowed, in agreement with her words of advice – and never more so than this week, when she was extolling the importance of learning to love your own company. I'm a big advocate of this. In fact, I'm a borderline hermit. I like to think that this is congenital, and not a result of singledom or a serious lack of options (although we are all in the business of spinning these elaborate webs of self-deception, just to get along). I have shame-faced memories of making Mrs Jones tell kids from the other end of the street that her 6-year-old daughter wasn't coming out to play with them, and understanding, even at that young age, how social convention prevented her from elaborating that I preferred to stay in doing colouring and listening to my brother's Disney record on my own.

At the weekend, I went to see Glen Campbell at the Royal Festival Hall. On my own. No one I knew was as excited as I was about him, or willing to pay £30 for a cheap seat. And my thinking in this situation is always: Go on your own = slightly tragic. Miss out completely as a result of cultural ignorance of your friends and relations = full-blown tragedy. So there I was, with a booking for one. 

The Festival Hall, however, is very single-friendly. It's easy to sit on your own in your individually allocated seat, reading a newspaper while you wait for the lights to go down, browsing the bookshop during the interval, buying a flapjack (I enjoyed the fact that the queue for tea at a Glen Campbell concert is every bit as long as the queue for the bar. I finally felt I was among people who understood me) without eliciting a single pitying glance. I imagine it to be a very different experience standing in the middle of Brixton Academy nursing a Jack Daniels and Coke to your lonely self and pretending that, really, you're absolutely fine with it and you just feel so much closer to the music if you don't have to make smalltalk with someone about whether it's worth getting trebles at the bar because the queues are an absolute farce. (I developed a fleeting girl-crush on someone I once saw on her own reading a book in the bar of the Astoria, in the interval between I forget which support band and headline act. I thought she was both braver and better-dressed than I. I'm good, but I'm not that good.)

But still, as normal and well-adjusted as I am, radiating boldness and serene independence as I do, there are some people who go to concerts alone who are – let's just get it out there – freaks (although, of course, no more than you find in any medium-sized gathering of humanity). One of them was sitting a couple of rows in front of me and Mrs Jones (not the song etc) when we went to see Brian Wilson at the same venue a year or so ago. Every time he stood up to applaud, which was about four times throughout the set, his trousers fell down, exposing his withered, milky-white bare buttocks to the rows behind. I do, and I must, cleave rigidly to the belief I have nothing in common with this kind of music fan. 

There was a similar specimen (although buttoned and belted, as far as I could see) sitting in my seat, Balcony N9, on Sunday night. I couldn't put my finger on why, but something about him was sending my brain the clear instruction 'Do not approach, Do not initiate discussion. Kindred Spirit not detected'.  As a result, I chose not to remonstrate with him. And as luck would have it, the balcony was so sparsely booked that I could sit in virtually any seat apart from the one I was actually meant to be using. I found another one, and sat in my deliciously dark corner, totally rapt for two hours. I have to say that it was an early night. Glen had stepped off stage and into his satin slippers by 9.30. But let's give him a break, he is 72. And he gave us this, which was worth the ticket price alone.

(It was a toss-up whether to post this or By The Time I Get To Phoenix. They were equally sublime. But I cried real tears at The Wichita Lineman.)


Marbury said...

Lucky you. I think that TWL has to be a candidate for the Greatest Song Ever. No scratch that, it is the Greatest Song Ever. Pop poetry.

Do I get a point for spotting the Aztec Camera reference in your headline?

Miss Jones said...

More than that, Marbury. You win a badge saying 'I correctly identified some Aztec Camera lyrics on'. It's a pretty big badge.