Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Company of Strangers

It's been another funny old week. Not straightforward. Ups and downs. It culminated with the realisation that our theatre visit on Friday night was to be scuppered. 

Several months ago Mr K and I booked to see a variety of performances at different theatres. Now classical performances are not usually at the top of our list, but when we found out that Nicola Benedetti would be performing Vivaldi we had to book. It was only the night before that Mr K reminded me that he would be in London that day and wouldn't be back until late. Stony silence. What to do? Little Sis was to be out for the evening. I face booked friends. No replies. So with a deep breath and a little trepidation I decided to go it alone. Radio Four have reported on solo diners recently, and also those who have gone to the cinema unaccompanied. I've listened with interest at both the positive and negatives sides of their experiences. It seems it is becoming more common and the stigma of being the pitiful loner is diminishing.

So off I went.

Stafford Gatehouse Theatre

At the box office I collected my tickets. I informed them that my husband could not attend so if anyone needed a free seat they would be very welcome to it. The foyer of the theatre steadily filled up. Friends met, smiled, embraced. I was on the edge looking in. But instead of feeling nervous or lonely I felt quite liberated. Instead of being socially involved I was now in the role of observer. I chatted to a couple of strangers who were waiting nearby and gradually relaxed into the bustling anticipation that precedes a performance. 

Once seated I took solace in the fact that I had a free chair next to me. The auditorium was packed but at least I didn't have to sit with my coat and bag on my knee. 

The lady to the my left offered me a mint and told me about her chest condition. We got into a discussion about Question Time and how she had heard that both the presenter and two of the panel were delayed on a train - chuckling as to what might happen with a studio full of people but no presenter. As we settled I was aware of a man hovering at the edge of the row. He was quite elderly but scrupulously smart in a navy blazer with brass buttons. 

He had my husbands ticket. 

As we moved aside to allow him to his seat it occurred to me that he too was on his own. A few niceties elapsed. He asked if I had seen Benedetti before. It turned out he was a regular visitor to the theatre and had enjoyed their classical seasons for many years. We began talking about our musical preferences. Did I play an instrument? What about my family? He had four daughters who had all gone different ways in the world. A banker, a brand designer, a photographer and a ballet dancer. One had recently recovered from cancer and was celebrating a year in remission with a trip on a private yacht. In turn I told him about my girls. Chalk and cheese I said. Wonderful in their own ways but still to find their own direction. He told me about his childhood at a boarding school in Dorset. About the time he saved some bantams from a fox.

Benedetti played and I was transported. Each of the Four Seasons was introduced by the relevant sonnet that Vivaldi had penned to accompany them. The conductor was Gabor Takacs-Nagy and his enthusiasm and spirit added an extra dimension. There was a sense of awe. The bond of a group of people experiencing the same emotive flow.

At the interval I went to stretch my legs. I no longer felt alone. I was part of a shared understanding.

On return to my seat I continued conversing with my new found friend. Why was it that more children wanted to play guitar than violin nowadays? And about the terrible local tragedy of a teenager recently killed at a level crossing.

The concert continued with Mozart. 

After much applause it was over. The lady on my left wished me well and said goodnight. I turned to the man on my right and did the same. I also wished his daughter well and hoped that her remission would continue. He thanked me kindly. And then we parted.

On leaving the theatre I had a wonderful surprise. Mr K had managed to get an earlier train and had hot footed it over to try and catch the end of the concert. The steward had kindly allowed him in but as there was no seat he had watched the last movement at the entrance to the auditorium. 

He was full of apologies, hoped it hadn't been too bad, had bought some wine and chocolates and so forth. 

He was surprised to find me so buoyant. I hadn't been lonely at all. Not only had I enjoyed the concert immensely but I had also been at liberty to enjoy a whole new experience - the company of strangers.

I'll probably never meet that elderly man again. I'm sure our paths would veer in very different directions and on a daily level we would probably have highly opposing views. But for those three hours I was allowed an insight into his life, and he mine. An insight that would never have occurred had I been swept up in conversation with someone more familiar. 

But already a treasured memory.



  1. Sounds like a perfect interlude and you picked the strings of the evening's events like a master! Brava !

  2. How lovely! I'm sure he enjoyed your company too. I've considered going to the cinema on my own as I often want to see things others aren't interested in but usually chicken out. Your post has made me think again.

  3. Hi Jane, just catching up now that I am back, I have been reading, just not commenting! What a wonderful evening you had. I am so glad for you that you went alone and made a friend for the evening, I expect that the gentleman was pleased too! Perhaps you will have some more on your own experiences now you have tried this. The flowers in your last post are so lovely. xx

  4. It sounds like you had a wonderful evening.

    I quite often go it alone as the mister and I have quite different tastes in some respects, and you're right, there are always others doing the same, and interesting people to talk to.

  5. Hello Jane,
    I really enjoyed reading that post. It was not only a lovely story but very inspiring.

  6. Wonderful story. I don't mind doing things alone now if I have to. Strange, because I would never have been able to when I was younger. I think I just want to do the things I want to do. I'm glad you went and enjoyed the evening. Bravo!

  7. Dear Jane
    I went to a concert at Lincoln Cathedral of 'The Sixteen' on my own and just as happened with you, enjoyed a nice conversation with a gentleman sitting next to me. It turned out that he used to work at the Cathedral and had lots of stories about the place. I am sure if I had gone with Chris, I wouldn't have chatted to the gentleman at all. The concert was amazing and I'm so glad I went. Like you, it wouldn't bother me to go somewhere on my own now - good to know! Your concert sounded fantastic too.
    Best wishes

  8. Such a lovely post Jane, I was quite transfixed reading it, it will be an evening that you remember for a very long time for lots of different reasons.
    Kate x

  9. well done to you for going alone...I am in awe ! one day I will aspire to do the same .
    We all live in a very small world these days.
    For instance we have lived in our house for 10 years but still just say the odd hello to the surrounding neighbours, without bothering to have real conversations. I loved this post and that old man bless him....
    bestest d x

  10. Not only were you not lonely but you made the night better for those lovely people too.

  11. What a fantastic night Jane and I loved how you described it. So glad you enjoyed your evening in the end...Nicola Benedetti is amazing isn't she?
    Marianne x

  12. Well done Jane,I have trouble going places on my own,so I don't go!! Isn't it odd how we find seemingly simple things like just going to a concert/cinema/swimming pool (Yes on holiday our pool is just a few feet from our apartment but I have great difficulty in summoning up the courage to walk over and get in!!) So you did well to go and chat and feel comfortable enough to enjoy yourself.Kind Regards Pam.

  13. What a lovely story Jane, well done you for going it alone. Have a great week.
    Jane x

  14. Such a special post, really lovely... I'm a person that has to chat and make friends too....and I do believe you made it special too, for those who met you !
    LOVED the music...Haunting and beautiful..
    Thinking of you with your dear pooch..It's jolly hard to let go of a faithful friend...
    thank you for kindest words...I could feel the understanding in your writing...
    ( Miss Olivia came down with shingles , the week before ) Don't half worry you , don't they just !!
    hurry up and be on IG , lovely you ...hehe!
    Maria x

  15. Brilliant story Jane. I travelled across India for three weeks completely on my own and I loved it, made me feel like a proper grown up. I bet you made that gentleman's night.


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