The Age of Loneliness

age of loneliness

When I was first asked if I would consent to being featured in a documentary about loneliness, I was pretty nonplussed.

Although my wife and I had just split up and I was spending at least part of the week living on my own, I still hadn’t come to terms with my own feelings, let alone being ready to talk about them on camera.

Could I really go on the telly and tell people how bereft I felt?

Who would want to hear my tales of woe anyway?

What would my kids say?

What would my mates think?

Come to think of it, I knew the answer to that last question.

Eventually, after some back and forth with the producer about how my story would be handled, I agreed to mull their suggestion over.

That night, I talked to my boys about the documentary.

‘Are you really lonely?’ Joe asked.

‘Will I be on the telly?’ William wanted to know.

I explained to the boys that, since their mum and I separated, I hadn’t had anyone to share life’s trials and tribulations with, to snuggle up with on the sofa, to cook for.

‘I don’t know about the snuggle bit, but you can cook for us any time you want,’ William reassured me.

‘And you can share life’s trials and tribuwotsits with us too if you like,’ Joe chipped in.

Ah, bless.

The truth is, I needed to talk to someone about my loneliness. I’m not one of those men that find it hard to talk about their emotions. In my case, I am quite prepared to open up when I feel it would help.

My problem was that I didn’t have anyone to open up to. The kids are great but when all’s said and done, they’re teenagers. Their capacity for listening is pretty minimal at the best of times, but it’s non-existent when what they are being asked to absorb is an outpouring of their father’s innermost feelings.

My wife was now my ex so I wasn’t about to confide in her. My mates would have been embarrassed to be forced into having such a conversation and my mother would have told me a few home truths that I wasn’t ready to hear.

So that left me with two options. Either talk to myself or confide in a cool Scottish woman with a camera.

Thinking what the hell. I made the call.

me interview

And I haven’t regretted my decision for one second since.

Sue Bourne is a fantastic documentary-maker. Known for programmes such as Fabulous Fashionistas, My Street and Wink, Meet, Delete, Sue handled the subject matter sensitively.

We had a fantastic time filming my story – a process this blog describes.

celebrity chef

The process even helped me come to terms with my loneliness. Sue got me to open up about how hard I had found the whole break-up thing. She made me realise how much my life had changed over the previous few months.

‘I don’t want to come across as a sad sap,’ I told her.

‘What are you doing about addressing your loneliness?’ She asked me.

Er, good question.

In truth, the answer at that point was not a lot.

Instead of going out, making new connections and meeting new people, I had been hiding away in my study for the previous few months writing Six Months to Get a Life, my not autobiographical at all novel about a man learning to live again after his divorce, and Six Lies, my second rom-com with a twist.

Bennewdoubleposter

Sue’s question made me realise that I would indeed look like a wet blanket if I hadn’t started enacting a plan to rebuild my life by the time the camera crew turned up on my doorstep.

Gradually, over the summer, I forced myself to start thinking more positively. Because I had been able to talk about my recent past, I began to stop blaming myself for my marriage ‘failing’. I learnt to look myself in the mirror without cringing. I grew to like myself again.

Once I felt ready, I signed up with an internet dating site. ‘Half-blind sad lonely middle-aged man with two teenage boys seeks Swedish super model,’ my profile read. Or something like that…

Remarkably enough, by the time Sue and her fantastic entourage turned up armed with expensive recording equipment and almost as expensive sandwiches, I had recovered somewhat from the low point I was at when I agreed to be featured in the documentary. I had met someone new. Sue, you may yet turn out to be my Cilla.

dating couple

Looking back on that difficult time in my life, talking about my loneliness, even to a film crew, certainly helped me in my recovery. As did writing novels that did their best to give people hope that a mid-life crisis is sometimes no bad thing in the long run.

Being in the documentary has raised my awareness of loneliness in its different forms. 19-year-old Isabel who is spending her first year at university, and Emily, a stay-at-home mum in her thirties, will, like me, hopefully find that their loneliness is temporary.

But Bob, a 93-year-old widower, and Olive, who will have received her telegram from the Queen by now, expect to have to live with their loneliness for the rest of their lives.

I have seen the final cut of the film, which is being broadcast tonight at 10.35 on BBC1. It features people of all ages, from a variety of backgrounds. It is beautifully shot and expertly edited, with the various vignettes woven into a moving account of loneliness in twenty-first century Britain.

Although I admit to feeling a bit sheepish about how my friends are going to react to The Age of Loneliness, one thing is for sure. I don’t regret being involved in the project. Loneliness is something that will affect most if not all of us at some point in our lives.

Being lonely is nothing to be ashamed of.

Ben

Graham Hope’s dirty world cup weekend

This week I have decided to post a topical extract from ‘Six months to get a life’. I would love to know what you think. PS. the book is still with my editor!

Well, we are now back from our dirty weekend.

I was quite nervous about the weekend. Other than a few evenings drinking and a few afternoons dog walking, Amy and I hadn’t spent much time together before this weekend. We had only kissed each other a couple of times in parting. I haven’t even been to her house. She hasn’t been to my flat either but I don’t mind that because it’s a dive. Maybe it’s a bit soon to be going on a dirty weekend? Would we get on? Would we have enough to say to each other? Ok, maybe those things weren’t at the forefront of my mind. Would the sex be any good? Could I keep going for more than a minute? Would I manage more than once a day?

All these questions were going through my mind as we travelled up to the Lake District in Amy’s Porsche. We had the roof down for some of the way but my contact lense blew out on the A3 so we had to settle for roof up and Amy driving. Not exactly the best start to the weekend. And things got worse as the M something or other was an effing nightmare. We were aiming to find a nice country pub somewhere a fair way north of Birmingham to have lunch. In the end we had to settle for a service station Cornish pasty.

When we eventually arrived at the bed and breakfast, our first impressions were good. The view was spectacular. But that is about the best that can be said for the B&B. The worst that can be said for it is that the room only had twin beds. And they creaked, even when you just sat on them. “Do you want me to moan?” Amy asked. Yes, yes, yes. It took me a while to work out that Amy meant complain to the manager about the twin beds.

In any event, by this point I wasn’t feeling exactly horny. In fact I was feeling decidedly dodgy. Was it nerves? I don’t think so. Nerves imply butterflies in your stomach. What I had in my stomach felt more like flesh-eating reptiles. I blame the pasty. Maybe they should tax them more?

My first night with Amy should have been a thing of beauty. Instead I spent most of it trying to be discreet whilst throwing up or worse in the toilet. Amy was almost certainly glad of the twin beds in the end.

I was still feeling fragile in the morning and we were a bit late going down to breakfast. We were somewhat surprised to be given a standing ovation by a group of blokes sitting in the corner of the small dining room when we walked in. A tad self-consciously we waved to them and got on with choosing our fruit juices – actually water for me on account of my dodgy stomach.

The establishment’s proprietor, a buxom old goat with a mischievous grin on her face, wandered over and asked us for our breakfast order. Once we had put in our requests she surprised us. “Do you know what,” she announced, “I haven’t seen the chandelier wobble like that since the vicar and his wife came to stay in 1985.” “What are you talking about?” I asked. “Say no more, say no more,” she said with a nod and a wink. A few minutes later a clinically obese couple waddled in for breakfast looking rather red-faced but contented. I pushed my solitary piece of toast aside and gave up on breakfast as a bad job.

Amy made a decent job of hiding her irritation at being called on to be a nursemaid rather than a lover for the first day of our trip. Instead of tackling Helvellyn and Striding Edge we ended up sitting in tea rooms and mopping my brow. As the day progressed I did recover enough to walk to Troutbeck. Our kids and dogs would have loved the walk but I confess that I was happy without them. I was glad to have some time alone with Amy, even if it wasn’t going quite as I had planned.

We had a very pleasant early pub dinner – I ordered a jacket spud, the blandest thing I could find on the menu. As the bill arrived Amy went off for a loo break. Convenient timing. Anyway, whilst I got my credit card out I took the opportunity to give myself another pep-talk. “Come on Graham, pull yourself together. Get a grip and start showing your kahunas, metaphorically speaking at least. Think Ben Affleck not Benny Hill; Billy Crystal not Billy no mates; George Clooney not George and Zippy. At the moment you are Hugh Grant without the charm or the looks – i.e. nothing. Come on, man up.” Churchillian stuff, even if I do say so myself.

“Darling, I am feeling much better now,” I announced as Amy returned from the ladies, “how’s about I whisk you back to the B&B and we see if we can make the chandelier shake more than that fat couple did?” “Sorry Graham,” Amy replied looking somewhat disappointed, “my period has just started. It must be all that walking.”

I can’t remember that happening to Harry when he met Sally. Still, we at least ‘enjoyed each other’s company’ on Saturday night.

Yesterday was world cup final day. We spent it strolling around quaint little villages with the million other tourists. We must now be famous in Asia, having appeared the background of hundreds of Japanese tourists’ photos.

We spent the evening watching the final with a bunch of drunk German students. Great banter.

All in all it was a great weekend but if I told my mates about it they would probably take the piss. Only I could end up going on a dirty weekend and not get my leg over.