For a very long time - over seven years - if I'm home on Tuesday evenings and have nothing else to do, I've been driving into Brighton and having a drink from about 5.30pm with the people who gather at The Marlborough, the theatre pub I mentioned in connection with Germaine Greer's visit to the city a few posts back. It's a recognised place to drop into, to see who's there, to stay a while, and then perhaps push off somewhere else to have a pizza. Or just go home.
At one time, especially if the Brighton Fringe Festival were on, it would be the gathering-place for friends to meet up and then go off to watch an event somewhere else. For some it still is. But I decided years ago that such things as...
# stand-up, aggressive, in-your-face, gaping-vagina comedy;
# open-air, tattooed fire-swallowers;
# super-loud, mike-busting, post-punk tattooed musicians;
# stand-up, staccato, contemporary poetry about how awful and unfair life is;
# informal skits upstairs in pubs on why life as an unemployed tenant on the verge of eviction is 'true' and 'amazing' and 'better' than any other existence, despite all the booze and the vomiting;
# vaginal monologues on Being a Woman;
# penile monologues on Being a Man;
# sour monologues on Being a Tenant with no job, no money, nothing to smoke, and rent to pay;
# sly and knowing performances on what's fun about smoking spliffs and Not Trying To Succeed;
# potty-mouthed contemporary plays about tattooed, lesbian/gay/bisexual depressives and addicts with bizarre body piercings, and babies on the way;
# bitter diatribes not about Male Privilege, nor about Female Privilege, nor any gender-based privilege whatever, but about the Privilege Granted In Life To Those Who Don't Have To Live On Benefits; and
# the Ladyboys of Bangkok
...just weren't my thing - however cheap the tickets.
There must be something seriously wrong with me not to embrace all that. But most of the time - as indeed with many modern Hollywood films - I don't share nor understand the assumed knowledge base and culture. So the allusions pass me by. I don't have the necessary wry, streetwise sense of humour. And an awful lot - way too much - of the cool-sounding streetwise language just whizzes straight over my head. In short, I completely miss the message and the joke, can't laugh, can't see what there is to applause, and quickly end up feeling odd and embarrassed.
And none of this twaddle has ever chimed well with my own cheerful, middle-class, well-organised, home-owning, caravanning-holiday persona - even though I too have a vagina.
At one time, those weekly visits to the pub (and where they might lead) represented almost my entire social life. Its one major regular focus. That was of course years ago, when life was different and was undergoing a forced reconstruction. I was so glad to have such a friendly spot to visit. But my life moved on. Gradually the world I was building for myself took shape, and began to edge away. I still liked to meet up with some of the Brighton people I'd see there, but my weekly visits to The Marlborough became less essential; and now, in early 2017, they have become only a small part of my social life.
There's plenty of other things going on nowadays. Here's a screenshot (off my phone) of how my diary has looked over the eight days ending yesterday, and it's only low-key stuff:
The blue colour coding means 'at my house, or 'starts at my house'. Red means 'away from home'. Green means 'significant travel time'. Purple means 'something unmissable to see on TV or hear on the radio'. I don't show the time allocated to routine household chores, gardening, food shopping, and personal care. But of course it's all there, in the blank parts of my diary. Sleeping, too.
What I'm attempting to convey is that the last eight days have been pretty busy. I'm not complaining about the quality and variety of my social life, not one bit. But, my goodness, I have been somewhat pushed for quiet moments for photo work, and blogging, and general chilling.
And although there's nothing on today, this is how the next eight days look, at least at the moment (details can change rapidly!):
That's right, I go off to the West Country in only a week's time. And all the preparatory work for a three-week jaunt has to be fitted in, with only today (Wednesday) and next Sunday as completely uncommitted. Yikes! There's so much to do, to get ready for the off. It's not simply about flinging a few clothes in the caravan, and checking tyre pressures. And all the ordinary household stuff still has to be done.
In theory I can walk it. In practice - and I do know myself in this respect - I will be breathless and panicky. So I am now refusing any more social engagements. Point blank.
I feel squeezed. Where are all those quiet hours for me? I need an awful lot of them. I always have. Deprive me of serene, no-pressure, no-commitment, no-time-limit moments of solitude, and I start to come apart. As much as I can revel in the company of my like-minded friends, I need my own space like a drug, and can be ruthless if need be to reserve enough of it. The first half of my holiday, the seeing-nobody half, mostly in Cornwall, will be a very necessary restorative. But then the gregarious side of me will reassert itself, and I'll want some company again. That's how it goes, in cycles.
I shouldn't moan, nor even imply that I'm moaning. There are plenty of mid-sixties women living on their own who have achingly lonely or humdrum lives; who find it very, very hard to make friends; who may well have heavy caring responsibilities, and not a lot of money. They might be very wistful, if told how I fill up my days and evenings. I am really very lucky; and I'm tempting the gods by making out that sometimes I find my life a bit too crowded for comfort.
Back to that regular Tuesday-evening visit to The Marlborough, just for a drink, and whatever company might turn up. This week it felt like something I would rather not do. I wanted an evening by myself, with the leisure to read a book, or to get on with some ironing because I wanted to, and not because I was pushed for time and had to. And to cook and eat early, not late.
But habit took over. I got ready and went out. Perhaps I felt that, as I wasn't going to be around for the next three weeks, I ought to make the effort. But that's not really the best reason for going anywhere. And, as it turned out, the company wasn't as lively as usual. I go chiefly for the company, not the opportunity to have a drink. I had one glass of wine, then left. I had used up two and a half hours of my evening for not much of a return. I wondered why I had bothered. It certainly wasn't because I'd been nowhere else that week!
On occasion, I'd felt like this for the last three or four years. And yet had rarely tried to break the old routine. But the time had come to kill the habit off, to let it die.
I'm still not going to entirely abandon my visits to Brighton on Tuesday evenings. But I will, for the future, try not to go simply because it's a long-standing habit. These visits are a hangover from a different phase of my life, from conditions that applied years ago but not now. There are friends who come to that pub whom I enjoy seeing, but can see at other times. I don't need to say farewell to them, just because I might not make it to the pub. My absences may be noticed, but will hurt nobody. And I certainly don't need to have a drink.
Besides, with my mower man gone, I might have to make each Tuesday evening my mowing and clipping evening!