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Why I have an appetite for dining by myself

By Samuel Muston

When, in the course of Brideshead Revisited, Charles Ryder returns to his family's house in Bayswater, his mandarin-like father does not flatter his son with a great deal of attention. Short of ready money, Ryder spends the long days at home. And meal times become the battle ground of their relationship.

After bestowing a brief burst of attention on his son, pere Ryder picks up his book and ignores his son for several more pages.

From this, we are presumably supposed to infer a lack of filial love, a disregard for the niceties of civilised society - and an overwhelming desire to drive Charles out of the house, in the same way that he saw off his "kindly" sister. I think, however, Mr Ryder's reputation needs to be revised - upwards.

Sometimes, in fact quite often, I long to sit alone in a restaurant with a book propped against the pepper mill, ignoring the world. And in this, I cannot be alone.

Dining is a great social occasion, that hardly needs saying. Bereft of dinner, most of us would hardly see our friends. It is so much more civilised than the drink in the bar, with all the drunkenness and chair-searching that calls for; and so much better than the theatre or the cinema for those of us who want to chat. And yet, sometimes, as Greta Garbo blurted: "I want to be alone."

We have fallen victim to all those olive oil adverts and American sitcoms that show gormless families all sitting around a table, smiling and general implying that to be alone at meal times is a stain on the moral character.

The thing is, no one wants to spend every single meal time alone, flicking idly through the pages of a newspaper, looking for a face to stare at while we eat our ham salad. But equally, do we have to be surrounded by a constant clamour of voices to be happy?

Often, I feel like a person without skin, at the mercy of all the various intruding information that a person with Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and various news apps is heir to, and the fact is, I often don't remove myself from their reach. They are ever-present companions.

The only time when I am away from them is when I eat. So what better time to be alone?

What better time to be disconnected not just from world of email and tweets, but to be disconnected from all humanity's din?

Sometimes, it's best to sit down, switch off and stay deliciously silent.

Belfast Telegraph


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