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

Will my children like my girlfriend?

dating couple

I’m going to deviate from my normal blogging about my writing journey. Everyone needs to play from time to time, right?

I’m not one to brag, but allow me to gloat for a while. I went on a date the other night. It was with Eliza from Adelaide. Eliza is my age, but she’s lively, chatty, wears cool clothes and loves ‘hip’ music. If anything serious comes of our dates, Eliza may well party me into an early grave.

But we need to negotiate a few big hurdles before we get anywhere near that far. According to Eliza, there’s my taste in music, my dress sense, my dancing and my inability to be coherent after two glasses of wine. To be fair to Eliza, sometimes I struggle to be coherent before wine.

According to me, there’s Eliza’s use of her bragging rights whenever the cricket’s on.

None of those hurdles, except for maybe the last one, is insurmountable.

The bit I will spend more time worrying about is whether Eliza will get on with my children. Would they like her? Would she like them? What would she say when I inevitably phone her and tell her I can’t come out to play because Boy One is ill, or because I’ve got to take Boy Two to football?

You see, I’m a single dad.

Or to put it another way, I’m a dad with significant childcare responsibilities who would very much like not to be single for ever.

I separated from my wife just over a year ago. She has some issues which, from time to time, prevent her from being the mother that she would otherwise be. Our two teenage boys spend much of their time with me.

I love my boys to bits. I love them being with me, but I also miss adult conversation. In fact, with my boys being teenagers, I miss any conversation that doesn’t sound like a grunt.

My days are filled with domestic chores, from explaining the point of soap through to washing school uniform. As an added bonus I even iron it sometimes. I supervise homework and I break-up the fights. I probably start some too.

Occasionally, when I fancy a break from the routine and can find a respite carer (the boys won’t tolerate ‘baby-sitter’), I engineer myself a night out.

To start with, I wasn’t very active on the dating scene during these occasional nights out. All too often I would end up drinking with my married mates. But gradually my need for the odd bit of intimacy, rather than just hearing about my mates’ intimacy with their respective wives, pushed me to reconsider my stance.

It took me a while to convince myself that I was allowed to date again. I didn’t want my boys to think I was betraying their mother. Or, worse still, trying to replace her.

Being someone who likes to build a consensus before I act, I canvassed the views of the people who mattered most to me before I started dating.

‘You shouldn’t be dating yet,’ my mother offered, ‘it’s far too soon.’

‘You haven’t been dating yet?’ my friends asked, ‘has it fallen off?’

‘You shouldn’t bother,’ my sons mocked, ‘no woman will want you.’ Thanks boys.

In the end, a few months ago I chose to ignore my family’s advice and braved my first date. It was with Sue from Essex. She was attractive, intelligent and sophisticated. Probably too sophisticated for me.

We went out a few times together. We got on well. I was thinking of inviting her round to dinner with my boys, but I suddenly had a vision of awkward silences at the dinner table. Sue was a womanly woman, into make-up, fake eyelashes, enhancements and nail polish. My sporty boys would have been petrified of having to talk to her.

After a good deal of agonising, I opted not to continue seeing Sue from Essex. My mates called me an idiot.

Dating after kids is a different world from dating before kids. No longer does my date have to impress my mother over Sunday lunch before the relationship becomes serious. Now, I care more about whether she impresses my children.

What are the implications of this for me going forward? I will probably end up dating a young-sounding cool woman who doesn’t do rules and discipline. Someone who likes ‘alternative’, whatever that means. Someone from a cool place.

Someone like Eliza from Adelaide.

Update on my writing…

Six Months to Get a Life is my not autobiographical at all tale of a man’s struggle to come to terms with life after divorce. Will Graham Hope get over his ex? Will he continue to be a great dad to his kids? More importantly, will he ever have sex again?

The book continues to receive great reviews. I was interviewed on local radio a few days ago. The audio will be added to my website in the next couple of days.

Now that I am a full-time author, my second book, Six Lies, is progressing well. It would be no exaggeration to say that I am really excited about it. The aim is to finish a first draft by the end of June.

What have JK Rowling and I got in common?

We are both published authors.

As of today, I am as much an author as JK Rowling. ‘Six Months to Get a Life’ is now just as much of a book as War and Peace, Jane Eyre and No-one Ever has Sex on a Tuesday (yes, that is a real book – I haven’t read it yet but I want to).

How do I feel? In a word, proud. The months of plotting and re-plotting, of furious typing, of shunning social events and my children in favour of spending time with my leading characters and their shenanigans were all worth it, just to experience this feeling of pride. ‘Six Months to Get a Life’ is immortal. The e version will exist forever. That is quite a humbling thought.

I also feel hugely excited. Not at the prospect of the money pouring in as people queue up around the block to buy the book (!) but because they will be investing their precious time in my book. It might sound a bit conceited, but I know most of them will enjoy it. I am excited that I will be making people I have never met before smile and maybe even laugh out loud on their way to work, while they are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room or wherever they happen to be.

To ‘proud’ and ‘excited’. I must also add ‘grateful’. Without wishing to appear like I am rehearsing for my Man Booker prize-accepting speech, I do want to say a huge thank you to the many truly inspirational people I have met during the course of my ‘author journey’ (have I ever told you how much I hate that phrase. I just can’t think of a better one). Wendy Clarke and T.O.Weller have both offered me advice along the way, as well as providing me with some much needed exposure via their excellent blogs. Wendy, I am still smiling now after dropping in to your Facebook chat the other morning!

Yvonne, Nicki, Gareth and Dana are all people I have never met before but would now willingly buy lunch for if I ever did meet them. I am sure there have been others too who I will have just offended because I haven’t mentioned them by name.

My boys don’t read this blog (it doesn’t mention Fifa 15 enough for their liking) so I won’t bother droning on about them except to say that they have inspired me in the way they have coped with our real-life changing circumstances. They were a major influence behind the feel-good factor in ‘Six Months…’ Perhaps somewhat fittingly, my eldest is off school, ill, today. We all cope with these situations somehow, don’t we? Essentially, without getting too deep and meaningful, that’s what ‘Six Months…’ is about. Well, that and a bit of a love interest…

Proud, excited, grateful… And apprehensive. I am now the ‘star’ of a US podcast on dating. The word star is in inverted commas for a reason. Billed as a ‘podcast for men’, the ‘chick whisperer’ (oh my God, I can’t believe I am mentioning it by name) is, without doubt, the most ridiculous interview I have done to date. I am so British and reserved. Talking about dating to a raw steak-eating US podcast host isn’t something I do every day. That’ll teach me for writing a HuffPost blog. I just hope they are right when they say that no publicity is bad publicity. If you listen to it, please feel my pain…

Other book promotion I have undertaken has been much more satisfying. I think I will get a mention in the Sunday Express Magazine this coming Sunday. That one will be good for me, although it takes a more serious angle to the angles I normally use to promote my book.

You may also find me on a few more blogs over the next week or two. Get me, I’m banging on about myself again…

I am also having a party on Friday night. I am feeding and watering my friends, and then not letting them out of the house until they have bought at least fifteen copies of my book each, for their mother, their neighbours, their friend whose birthday is coming up in March, that woman over the road who is feeding their cats while they are on holiday etc. etc. I might even make them write reviews while they are there! Ah, reviews… Hopefully they will come flooding in over the next few days.

What’s next for me? Who knows? The book is on sale now. It hasn’t by any means jumped to Number 1 on Amazon. It did reach number 7 in some obscure sub-category for a while. There are a number of ways things could go from here. I am not going to do pessimism today. Being optimistic, people who read the book will love it, share it with their friends who, in turn, will love and share. Sales will go up gradually over a period of weeks and months and by the summer Six Months… will be selling nicely although not spectacularly.

Being even more optimistic, my publicist will find me some more significant exposure and, so long as I don’t mess it up, things might start happening at an accelerated rate. But please, no more American dating shows…

My brush with celebrity status

I was going to blog about new year’s resolutions, but as someone who had a few pints in The Ramblers Rest in Chipstead about 36 hours into ‘dry January’, I am probably best to steer clear of resolutions. That topic is so last year anyway, don’t you agree?

Instead, I thought I would bang on about my progress in promoting my book, ‘Six Months to Get a Life’ and my brush with celebrity status.

In the run-up to Christmas, I was frantically working through my list of potential reviewers for the book, emailing this devoted group of people, trying to convince them one by one to read and review my book rather than ‘Having Sex with Vampires’ by D Ranged or ‘Community of Death’ by Di Stopian. Shortly before midnight on 23rd December, after sending my one hundred and eightieth review request email, I turned off my computer and re-joined my family in Christmas land.

My festivities were fantastic, except for some not particularly community-spirited hackers who stopped my boys from going online to kill people and steal their cars. How inconsiderate of the hackers.

I returned to ‘author world’ the day after Boxing Day. As I sat down at my computer, I was pleasantly surprised that a) my backside still fit on the computer chair despite the recent over-indulgences, b) two top 100 Amazon reviewers had agreed to review ‘Six Months…’ and, c) my publicist had arranged for a journalist from an internationally renowned website to interview me. There was even talk of a television interview too.

Every author dreams about a big break. Could this have been mine?

Over the next few days I locked the kids in the front room with the dog, the Xbox and a couple of tins of chocolates while I marshalled my thoughts in advance of the interview. What unique insights and killer lines could I share? I prepared as I would have done for a job interview. Anticipate the questions, think of some examples and get some good one-liners in (I wouldn’t advise going overboard on the one-liners in a job interview but one or two show personality, don’t they?).

The day of the interview came. I tried to avoid mentally dreaming about my newfound fame (is an interview in a national paper enough to get me a place on I’m A Celebrity?) and instead concentrated on rehearsing a few pre-prepared lines.  It was only a phone interview but I dressed up for the occasion, using the rationale that if I looked good, I would feel good and therefore sound good too.

The phone rang at the appointed hour.  After introductions were made, the journalist broke the ice with a nice easy one. ‘Can I ask why you split up with your ex?’

She rapidly followed that up with ‘Are you dating again,’ and ‘What do you think it will be like having sex with someone different after being married for, like, ever?’

‘Six Months to Get a Life’ is about a dad who seeks to sort his life out following his divorce. There are some similarities between the book and my life, but essentially the former is fiction whereas the latter is fact. I repeatedly explained this distinction to the persistent hack, but my answers seemed to be falling on deaf ears.

‘What’s the best chat-up line you have used in the past few months,’ she tried.

‘I haven’t used any chat-up lines.’ My frown must have been visible down the phone line.

‘OK,’ she sighed, ‘what’s your attitude to internet dating?’

By this point, I thought I had better up my game slightly so I at least tried to give her an answer. ‘Well, before I met my wife I thought about trying it, but I chickened out in the end.’

‘Why?’

‘Because internet dating is for extroverts and perverts,’ I told her, ‘I am only one of those things so I gave it a miss’.

‘I met my husband through the internet,’ my ticket to national celebrity told me before hanging up. There goes my celebrity status.

Let’s end this blog on a positive and admittedly slightly self-congratulatory note though. Fanfare please. My book is available to pre-order on Amazon and other book sites. I felt very proud when I first saw the ‘buy’ page.

The early reviews, or at least the ones I have had sight of, are extremely positive.

And I read a tweet today from someone I have never met nor even communicated with before, who told me that she had pre-ordered the book and was thoroughly looking forward to reading it. Maybe my early marketing is having some success.

Happy new year to you all.

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.

Introducing ‘Six Months to Get a Life’

I have always been a writer but recent life events have convinced me that the time is now right for me to become an author.

Meet Graham Hope, the principal character in my first book.  Graham is a newly divorced dad of two. On the day Graham’s divorce is confirmed, Graham sets himself six goals that can collectively be summarised as ‘getting a life’. ‘Six Months to Get a Life’ charts Graham’s progress in achieving his goals.  How does he come to terms with being a ‘part-time dad’? How will his kids cope? Can he get over his ex? Will he get back on the property ladder this side of the third millennium? Will he learn to trust another woman? Will he ever even meet another woman? Basically, will he ever have sex again?

Despite those who know me probably disagreeing, this book is not my autobiography. It does draw upon personal experiences, feelings and anxieties. But other than that, it is a work of fiction.

Over the coming months I will use this blog to test out some ideas. There will no doubt be some shameless self-promotion but I also really hope that others will read this, maybe empathise or even disagree with how the characters are developing or the emotions they are showing.  Silence is boring so please, if you are reading this, give me a shout.