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

Book extract: living with your parents…

My book is finished, except for a final professional readthrough from a professional proof-reader. Those of you that have been following my journey from the start (you deserve a reward!) will appreciate what a long journey this has been. It took me a few months to write what I thought was a decent book. It took my editor a month to compile her comments and it has just taken me a month to respond to them.

I am now really proud of the (virtually) final manuscript.

What happens next? Well, I will no doubt have to wait a while to get the final proofed version back. I am also doing some work on my author website. I am paying someone to develop and work with me on implementing a marketing strategy. We shall see whether this is value for money or not in due course.

The ultimate aim is to publish the book early in the new year.

I thought I would share another extract from the book with you all. Feel free to tell me what you think.

Living with my parents isn’t easy. Having your old bedroom back more than twenty years after you left home and sharing the house with your parents is a big change from having your own kids, house, garden, telly and wife (yes, in that order). This significant step backwards in my life has taken some getting used to. I have to remind myself to abide by my parents’ rules while in their house. Rules like washing up straight after a meal rather than when there aren’t any clean dishes left in the cupboard and cutting my toenails in the bathroom not in front of the telly. Talking of the telly, I also have to make sure that the next time I watch playboy tv when everyone else has gone to bed, I turn the channel back to BBC before I turn the tv off. Mum is still getting over the embarrassment of having her women’s institute friends thinking she watches porn.

Having me as a lodger isn’t easy for my parents either, especially at their age. They are both approaching their seventies. They are physically fit but my dad had a hip replacement last year and needs the other one doing too so he is temporarily less mobile than he would want to be. Mum could probably still climb a mountain faster than me and both of them can drink faster than me.

Before I moved in, they were very set in their ways. They had a routine for what rooms in the house they would sit in at different times of the day (kitchen in the morning, conservatory in the afternoon, front room in the evening). Meals were served at 1 o’clock and 6 o’clock and after dinner they would listen to The Archers then move from the radio to the telly in time to watch the soaps. They would go to bed straight after the 10 o’clock news.

Except for a short but explosive teenage stroppy period, I have always got on with my parents. We don’t do cuddles and all that stuff, but pre divorce, I used to go round there once a week with the family, have dinner, play board games and generally drink too much London Pride. I made another of my vows when I moved in with them. I wouldn’t just use their house as a hotel. I would make the effort to continue spending quality time with them. This isn’t proving easy.

‘Quality time’ these days seems to mean sitting around a kitchen table littered with empty London Pride cans and Prosecco bottles, picking my life apart. Now anyone over the age of two would probably be capable of picking my life apart. But my mum and dad consider themselves uniquely qualified to do the job with a forensic precision. They were both social workers in their former lives. My mum used to do something worthy with the parents of children with disabilities and my dad used to manage a ‘family services unit’, whatever that means.

There is only so much frowning over my previous life choices or suggestions about future life choices that a man can take. I reached my limit today. Mum cooked a traditional Sunday roast, beef and all the trimmings. We washed it down with our usual beverages. Our plates were empty, our stomachs full and our tongues alcoholically lubricated when mum asked me where it all went wrong.

‘What do you mean ‘where did it all go wrong’?’ I asked.

‘With your life, Graham. How did it come to this?’ She even did that palms up, arms outstretched hand gesture thing when she said ‘my life’, presumably meaning everything. Where did everything go wrong? Thanks mum, build me up, bolster my confidence.

I thought about going for a glib response but the earnest look on mum’s face made me change track.

‘I don’t know mum, I guess my marriage just wasn’t meant to last.’ Ok so it wasn’t exactly an insightful answer but it was the best I could do.

‘That’s nonsense and you know it Graham.’ mum continued. ‘Marriages need to be worked at. It wasn’t as if either of you had an affair or anything that drastic. Surely you could have worked through your differences?’

‘You didn’t even see a marriage guidance counsellor.’ dad chimed in. We did actually but I hadn’t told them about it because they would have had a go at me for walking out in the middle of a session.

And so it went on, two against one, tag-team wrestling. My parents still seem to think the sun shines out of my ex’s backside. They act as if she is their daughter rather than me their son. They still hold out a hope that my perfect ex will have me back. I wouldn’t go back even if she would have me back. Which she wouldn’t.

I have told my parents time and again that my ex and I split up because of our terminal irritability with each other, our mutual intolerance of each other, our irreconcilable tv viewing schedules. We just didn’t like each other. I tried to explain that to my parents but, to them, not liking your other half doesn’t constitute grounds for divorce.

‘You should have paid more attention to her when you had her.’ dad advised. Why didn’t I think of that?

‘Those poor children.’ mum offered. Why didn’t I think of them too? I was on the ropes by this point, being seriously double-teamed by my parents, but wasn’t about to submit.

‘Bloody hell, will the two of you just leave me alone. I have had it with your sniping at me. You might have been married for ever but all you ever do is sit on your arses watching crap on the telly. I’d prefer to be single and living than married and dead.’ The ‘atomic drop’, the ‘full nelson’ and the ‘gorilla press’ all combined in to one move. That told them.

‘Happy mother’s day.’ mum muttered as I was heading for the door. Shit.

At this point, I think I should make a confession. Being divorced, separated from my kids and my marital home (not to mention my ex) is quite stressful. It is quite a large upheaval in my life and may just have caused a slight emotional imbalance in my otherwise rock-solid equilibrium. In other words, I may be a bit self-centered at the moment, even a bit emotionally unstable. Not to the extent that I am about to charge around Morden with a lethal weapon killing random strangers, but enough that I may snap at my parents from time to time.

I need to put an end to alcohol-influenced conversations about my life.

Book cover – which do you prefer?

Choosing a book cover is so important. As a reader I will shy away from tacky-looking covers or covers that suggest to my subconscious that the book is a bit too girly or paranormal or whatever for my tastes. A glance is all it takes to put me off a book.

The trouble is, a cover that might put me off might at the same time attract others to at least read the book’s blurb.

I have just received the attached two cover designs for my first book, ‘Six Months to Get a Life’. I would love to know what you think of them.

six months to get a life02 street sign

six months to get a life03-02 fat bloke cover

I wait with baited breath!
Ben

Six months to get a life: my divorce landed on my doormat today

My decree absolute landed on my doorstep today.  I am officially divorced.  I used to have a wife but haven’t got one now.  I had a great house in south west London but I haven’t got that now either.

What do people do when their divorce comes through?  I didn’t know whether to celebrate or cry.  In the end I just changed my facebook status to single and went to work.

Despite my divorce, the world seems to be proceeding as usual. It is raining, the Russians and Ukrainians are arguing, the northern line was packed and my fellow commuters were determined to get to work before me.  Most managed it too.

Work was a bit of a blur.  I spent most of the day staring at my monitor whilst contemplating life.  What will life look like for a 42 year old newly divorced man with two kids?  Am I destined to grow old alone, bitter and twisted with only the telly for company?

I could just about cope with my own introspection but when I got back to my parents’ house after work (yes I’m living with my parents, and in Morden – a double whammy if ever there was one), they weighed in too. Suggestions such as ‘you should have paid more attention to her whilst you had her’ and ‘you need to pull yourself together for the sake of your children’ weren’t easy to stomach, especially after a few beers.

Now anyone over the age of two would probably be capable of picking my life apart but my parents were social workers in a former life so they consider themselves uniquely qualified to do the job with a forensic precision. They say things like “we are really worried about the children,” and “oh, those poor boys”.

Missing Jack and Sean, my children, is the hardest part of all of this for me.  On the days they aren’t with me, i.e. most days, the first thing I think of when I wake up is what are they up to? Are they out of bed yet? What are they watching on the telly? What are they having for breakfast? Particularly at weekends I wonder whether they are out with their mates having fun or sitting at home bored and thinking about their dad.

Like most parents divorcing, I had my fair share of heart-breaking conversations with the kids about how things were going to be different going forward. Their concerns ranged from anger at both their parents to frustration that their mum and dad weren’t both going to be there to put them to bed at night.

Sean in particular was worried that I would take the fact that he and his brother were spending more time with their mum than with me as an indication that they loved her more than they loved me.  And to be honest I do struggle with this. I try not to keep score but it is hard.

People say that children naturally need their mother more than their father. In my family’s case, their mother is certainly better at touchy-feely things like being sympathetic when the kids are ill or giving them a cuddle when things don’t go their way.  But Jack and Sean need their dad. Although not tonight as it turns out. They weren’t bothered about talking to me on the phone.  When my ex did manage to get Jack to talk to me, all I got from him was a sarcastic comment about me being a 42 year old man living with my parents.

On my first night as a divorced man, I went to bed feeling quite sorry for myself.

 

 

Graham Hope a work of fiction – the lead character in my forthcoming book ‘Six Months To Get A Life’.  Over the coming months this blog will follow Graham as he strives to forge a new life for himself and his children. He will be grappling with a variety of issues familiar to all divorced couples, as well as a few a bit less familiar.  Next week’s blog will look at the impact of divorce upon Graham’s social life.

If you have any comments on this blog, or want to share your experiences, I would love to hear from you.