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

My fifteen minutes of fame… as a TV Chef

celebrity chef

As the burgers browned, the film crew filmed. As the sausages sizzled, the sound man dribbled. He played with his fluffy thing too.

When I posted this picture on Facebook, someone had the audacity to ask me why I had a film crew videoing my burgers. ‘Isn’t it obvious,’ I replied, ‘they’re bloody good burgers.’

And they were too. My mate Kev turned up trumps with the recipe – lamb mince, onion, mango chutney, chopped green chilli and a sprinkling of bread crumbs. I forgot the coriander but no one seemed to notice.

Had they been there, John Torrode and Gregg Wallace would have been salivating appreciatively as the burgers were removed from the BBQ bang on time. They were actually removed about five times so Dan the cameraman could get shots of them from every angle.

John and Gregg would have loved the presentation too, with the perfectly roundish patties, together with a fistful of coloured detritus more commonly known as salad placed jauntily into supermarket economy buns.

‘These are the best burgers you’ve ever made, Dad,’ my eldest son pronounced on camera. He’s a clever boy, I only made him rehearse those lines for three days.

I’m now waiting for a call from Saturday Kitchen. But just in case that call doesn’t come, I thought I would try my hand at cycling. How hard can it be? After fifty seven different angles, lenses, planes flying overhead and someone banging next door, I had probably ridden the entire Tour de France distance before they would let me get off my bike.

cycling

And then there was the international ‘hang your washing on the line’ world championships. In all my life I have never put so much washing out as I did the other day. They really hung  me out to dry. I wonder what Gogglebox will have to say about how well hung my underwear is. For obvious reasons, I’m not sharing that photo.

The South West London dog show was a classic too. Albus didn’t show any respect for the media luvvies, causing them to change their plans and film him in the park with a long lens rather than in my back garden at close quarters.

‘Why are they filming you doing all that stuff, Dad,’ my youngest asked me, ‘aren’t you a writer?’

Good point, well-made son.

writing through blinds

They had me write in Graham Hope’s voice, as per my debut novel, Six months to Get a Life. ‘Day 36 of being divorced. I joined a dating site today and wrote my profile. Forty-two year old bloke with two kids, a big nose and an even bigger… Etc.’ They got me reading it to camera too.

To cut to the chase, I have had a film crew invading my house this week, filming for a documentary to go out on the BBC. They are coming back next week too, with a drone of all things, hopefully not the sort that takes out international terrorists.

The documentary’s working title is ‘Up and Coming Superstar Authors Called Ben’. Oh no, they scrapped that title. ‘Good looking eligible middle-aged bachelors’. Sorry, that was last month’s.

‘A Life Less Lonely’ is the actual working title for the programme. They were talking to me about what it is like to be a single dad after being a husband in a nuclear family; about what it is like to be a writer, working from home all day as opposed to co-existing with others in a busy office environment, and about dating once your hair has started going grey.

The programme will feature a variety of people, of all ages, and from different walks of life. It was fun to be part of it, and I can’t wait to peek at it from behind the sofa. If you want to follow developments, look up #alifelesslonely on Twitter.

I’m not going to tell my Mum about it though. I noticed after they had filmed me typing my second novel, which I sent off to my editor this week, that I had ink under my thumbnail.

More about my second novel next time…

Ben