It’s a drizzly Wednesday afternoon and I’m cycling home from work. I’ve been in the office on my own all day and, fearing mental insanity if I’m obliged to spend the evening alone as well, I’m whizzing along, wondering whether a friend with a recently broken ankle will be mobile enough to meet for a coffee.
(Of course, I won’t be completely alone; the small human will be with me. But, as entertaining as he is, his 7pm bedtime leaves a whole chunk of evening for me to twiddle my thumbs.)
Lost in thought, I overtake an older gentleman on a mountain bike. As is often the case when I overtake members of the opposite sex, he sharpens his posture … and quickens his pace. Since I don’t want to be stuck in the middle of the road, I accelerate again so that I can get past him and back to the kerb. But he accelerates too.
Struck by how farcical this is, I turn and catch his eye. He grins, and accelerates again. I burst out laughing but, stubborn mule that I am, I match him metre for metre … then pull ahead just a little. Purely in the interests of ending the race, of course.
By now we’re tearing along down the narrow side street and I’m grateful there are no pedestrians who might be about to risk their necks at this inopportune moment. The road is a patchwork of bumpy asphalt and I’m laughing so hard I can barely ride in a straight line.
Perhaps sensing that I’m not about to quit any time soon, my rival ducks his head as he passes an imaginary finishing line, and says, “Yesss! Made it! You have to take me out to dinner now!”
A small voice in my head says, “Made it? I thrashed you!” but I laugh and make my excuses, give a cheery wave and say, “Nice racing with you!” before I zip off to collect the wee one.
But speaking to a human, a real-life human – albeit in a ridiculous context – has cheered me up … and also made me aware of how little human interaction I sometimes get. Which, for a born chatterbox, is a very sad state of affairs.
Of course, I’m not on my own in this. There are probably single parents up and down the land lamenting the days when they went out every night and had scores of mates on speed dial, ready for a coffee and a chinwag. (There may be lots of married parents thinking the very same thing, but I can’t speak for them.)
The trouble with having a full-time job, a distant family and an absent parent on an ever-diminishing visiting schedule is that opportunities to hang out with other grownups are few and far between. And although I pick my son’s playdates carefully to allow me to mingle with the very highest calibre of bright, funny mummies (and daddies), it’s hard to have a proper conversation when you’re interrupted every two minutes to wipe a nose, administer a snack or kiss a scraped knee.
Even trying to invite said mummies round to our place is fraught with difficulty. Between work, family commitments and feeding schedules it’s hard enough to pick a date, never mind stick to it once it’s pencilled in the diary. Forgotten commitments rise up like a phoenix from the flames, people get ill and, sometimes, you just don’t have the energy.
Anyway, in the interests of staving off solitude for the evening, I decide to call the limping friend. I tell her about my high-speed cycle race.
“You mean,” she says carefully, enunciating every word, “you turned down a dinner date with a fellow cyclist?”
“What?!” I splutter. “You’re joking?! It was a throwaway comment!”
“You don’t know that,” she says, with a slightly smug air.
“I don’t need to know,” I retort. “Anyway, he was firmly in the niche.”
Ah, yes. The niche: my inherent attraction to gentlemen under 25 and over 55 – and total lack of attraction to those in between.
I can almost hear her roll her eyes at the other end of the phone.
“You’ll never get anywhere with that attitude.”
“Wait… what?!” I snort in indignation. “Never mind elderly gentlemen on bicycles! Can you come out or not?”
She can’t. She already has plans. Of course she does; she doesn’t have kids.
It’s getting late, so I collect the young gentleman and we treat ourselves to a bag of chips on a park bench. Because that’s the kind of rock’n’roll lifestyle we lead.
“Mummy,” he says, nuzzling up to me with one greasy paw clutching a bunch of chips. “This is nice, isn’t it?”
And you know what? It is. It really is.