Women know that being alone is not the same thing as being lonely - Christa Ackroyd
There is nothing wrong in grabbing a little ‘me time’ and something rather decadent in our busy lives about taking time out to enjoy one’s own company. And I don’t mean while doing the supermarket shopping.
This week I have whiled away more than a few hours by myself from enjoying a walk in the woods near Bingley which I haven’t visited since teenage years, followed by a lunch for one in the sunshine, to even having dinner by myself before meeting a friend for a concert in Bradford.
I also got in my car and visited one of my favourite haunts, a salvage and reclamation fair at Ripley in North Yorkshire, where I wandered at my leisure chatting to anyone and everyone along the way. And guess what? I was by myself.
So did I feel lonely in my own company? Not at all. As for flying to New York to be with family by myself last month it was more than fine. It was actually a pleasure. And that’s from someone who relishes company and who says yes to anything that resembles a good time with good people.
I first lived alone aged 18 and being in a business of unsocial hours have often eaten at a table for one in cafes and restaurants or taken myself off for a few hours in between shifts. I have travelled the length and breadth of the county and indeed the country on my way to jobs by myself and under my own steam. And I like it.
Give me a newspaper, a magazine or even my phone and I will happily spend a few hours doing nothing and saying nothing and simply and rather deliciously take time to think and switch off from the noise of daily life. I believe it is good for the soul. There is after all a huge difference between being alone and being lonely.
So why do I tell you this? Because this week I was incensed at a headline in a newspaper which seemed to suggest a woman alone is somewhat of a sad sight. “Poor Vanessa,” it screamed as it popped up on my social media feed showing Vanessa Feltz travelling by herself on the tube after the National Television Awards. Poor Vanessa, my foot.
She looked amazing and glowing that night in her flowing bejewelled pink gown. I presume, because she looks like fun, she threw herself into the celebrations with her usual gusto and had a thoroughly good time. That she chose to travel home on the tube because it’s nearer and probably quicker to where she lives strikes me as a pretty sensible decision from someone who has no need to be seen in a stretch limo and certainly nothing to prove.
Of course it is obvious where the headline came from. Her decision to kick out a cheating partner, her open devastation at the end of a 16- year relationship and the assumption that every woman needs a man to make her complete. Well of course, having company is wonderful. Of course a happy relationship adds value and sparkle to your life.
But just because a loud, proud and feisty woman who has learned her own value over the years chooses to get home quickly after what is always a long night, does not mean she will be weeping into her cocoa the second she steps foot inside her front door. We women are so much tougher than that. And every picture does not necessarily tell the true story.
It is 25 years ago this week that my father died suddenly leaving us bereft. I think about him every day and particularly when I am alone. He was and always will be my role model. A good man who made a difference in the world with his work in community relations in Bradford for the police. It was he who taught me everything I live by. That truth will out. That it is wrong to judge a book by its cover and that everyone has a story to tell. More importantly to be proud of who you are and where you come from.
But when he died I honestly did not know how my mum would cope. Or me. He was, as my husband often says, the only man I have ever really listened to. And the only man who could make me cry with a single disapproving glance. He was quiet, strong and principled. And everyone who ever met described him as a good man and a gentle man. He was irreplaceable in our world.
It was he who had chosen the name Christa when I was adopted and he who told me to always carry it proudly. He was also the reason I kept the name of Ackroyd even when I married because the day they took me in was the luckiest day of my life. I didn’t know what I would do without him. I certainly didn’t know how my mum would manage.
They had been together for almost 50 years, mum and dad. They had lived in the same house for most of them where dad had his chair and mum had hers. They were the traditional couple of the era where dad has his career and mum worked part-time and in the house making sure there were always cakes in the cake tin and food on the table. I only ever saw them as being one.
In fact I only ever saw them argue over one thing and that was my father’s inability to get the coal fire going which meant mum had to rake it out and start all over again. He drove everywhere while she went on the bus rather than get the car out. He talked politics and moral dilemmas while she made shopping lists and kept a drawer full of birthday cards to ensure they never missed a celebration.
For 20 odd years after he died my mum threw herself into living without the love of her life. She drove everywhere. She went on holidays with friends. She joined groups and organisations with gusto, invited and entertained the same as they always had, whilst still baking for us instead of him. And it was an eye opener. She was terribly sad, of course she was, but far from going under she just got on with it.
It took my father’s death for me to realise that as well as being part of a well established couple, my mum was actually a clever, funny and strong woman in her own right who instead of going under was determined to live the rest of her life to the full. Because she had no alternative. “Moping around won’t bring him back,” she once told me. “ You just have to get on with it”.. and that is what women do so well.
I am ashamed to say that until my father died I never really knew mum’s strengths. I had never talked to her about politics or emotions or 101 other issues because I had always presumed she was more interested in making the tea and looking after her family.
I am eternally grateful for having 20 odd years just the two of us in her witty, intelligent company for her to prove me wrong. And to prove that women are often tougher than they look and always smarter than we are given credit for. We may not want to be alone, but if we have to we can make a pretty good job of it.