"Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your own presence rather than of the absence of others." - Alice Koller
I'm back from the blogging wilderness. There is no real reason for the radio silence; sometimes you just need to stop, switch off, escape and reflect.
As a natural chatterbox, it has taken me years to appreciate these fleeting moments of solitude; only recently have I started to realise how much I value time spent by myself. Years of playground politics have conditioned us to feel conspicuous and paranoid without the comforting presence of others.
But you can't be lonely if you like the person you're alone with. Start enjoying your own company and you realise that a little bit of time to yourself is actually one of life's great pleasures, especially in London. There are so many amazing sights and sounds you can routinely miss, amidst daily distractions of city crowds, phone calls, emails, chatter, headphones and crying babies in the flat upstairs.
As Marilyn Monroe once said, "I restore myself when I'm alone." And let's face it, she was no loser.
"Do you want that to eat-in?"
If your automatic reaction to this question is to scuttle away with your lunch and eat it at your desk, this blog post is for you, my friend.
Lots of us are happy as Larry to eat alone when we're abroad, serenely soaking up the atmosphere in a beach bar or continental square while we watch an unfamiliar world go by - but eating or drinking by yourself in London seems more unnatural.
But you know what? Right now, I'm drinking a Frappucino in Starbucks on Kensington High Street (by myself) and no-one is staring! I don't know why that should be surprising; I certainly don't stare at people drinking coffee by themselves or shout 'Billy no mates!' at them - and if I did, quite frankly, I'd be the one freaking people out, not the poor bloke just trying to enjoy his muffin.
I'm also enjoying indulging in some top notch people-watching. So far, I've witnessed an awkward first date between a born-again Buddhist and a French guy who arrived on a skateboard and I've overheard little gems like "George, stop spitting in my hair!" (That wasn't from the dating couple, thank goodness).
London is full of wonderful lunching spots best enjoyed alone. The ritual of a solo visit to a street food market like Kerb in King's Cross, or Exmouth Market, allows you to fully appreciate the food in its own right. You can indulgently browse each stall without anyone getting impatient while you flip a coin to decide between Moroccan meatballs or a Kimchi burger, before taking your little box to the nearest al-fresco spot for an indulgent picnic for one.
Not all who wander are lost
I'm a big fan of spontaneous, aimless wandering. A recent stroll with a friend took us to Holland Park for the first time, where we spotted the first cherry blossom of the year in the Japanese Garden and witnessed an alarming stand-off between a peacock and a squirrel. I made a mental note to go there by myself with a book or a notepad next time I just need to escape.
When you're exploring London solo, there's all the time in the world to appreciate the little things, watch buskers, pop into bookshops, stop when you see something cool and take 'arty' photos as you go along.
It doesn't really matter where; just choose an area with a name that's intriguing or fun to say (I like Chalk Farm, Little Venice, Primrose Hill, West India Quays, Pudding Mill Lane, Eel Pie Island...), jump on the tube and then pop out like a rabbit emerging from a warren, finding yourself in the middle of a brand new place. By venturing out of my usual haunts, I've started to piece together my geographical knowledge of London and discovered lots of hidden gems to subsequently share with my friends.
Cinema: the final frontier
So I've mastered eating and wandering alone, but the last taboo is the humble cinema. No-one can say how or why this is any less socially acceptable than watching a film at home - but somehow it just is.
I have not actually done it myself, but I'd say I've mastered worse (albeit not through choice): the theatre. I had agreed to watch the notoriously terrifying play 'Ghost Stories' with two friends, but their train broke down and, as I stood outside the theatre at 7:27pm, I had two options; sacrifice my £30 ticket, or go through the whole horrific two-hour ordeal by myself. I chose the latter. Thankfully, the middle-aged couple to my left didn't seem to mind me screaming into their shoulders. I was never quite the same after I emerged from that theatre - but I felt brave.
Clearly I'm not completely immune to the shame of the 'Billy No Mates' label. Even as I write this post, I feel compelled to assure you that I am a socially functioning person with plenty of friends (really!), and I love nothing more than to spend time in their company.
But having been busy and sociable all week, I woke up to a gloriously springlike Sunday afternoon and I have filled it doing exactly what I feel like doing. Writing, wandering, window shopping and drinking coffee. London is my very own oyster and just for today, I'm not sharing it.