I was born in September 1952, married in October 1999. That means that for the first 47 years of my life I was single. That is quite a long time in any one's life. Yes, back in the early 1970s I suffered three broken engagements while I was still living at home. Then in 1976, at a grand old age of 23, I flew the nest and settled in a bachelor's bedsit, where I turned the prospective long-term singleness from a relationship failure to something of an adventure and tutor of daily living.
I have met and associated with people who seemed to see singleness as a personal failure. I have read scores of newspaper articles of suicide among the jilted and other sob stories of broken relationships. The pop music industry have capitalised on this and made billions selling records of songs narrating fear of singleness, loneliness or broken or failed relationships. For example, the late Roy Orbison had made his mark with Oh Pretty Woman, Running Scared and It's Over; while The Carpenters had their best known classic, Goodbye To Love, all indicating that singleness is living with hopelessness and something to be dreaded.
Of course I would be deceiving only myself I was to say otherwise. Living alone in my bachelor bedsit from 1976 to 1999 brought its share of loneliness and sheer boredom. Saturday evenings were often the worst for this. Living in a provincial town without a driving licence meant that traveling thirty miles to London for a bit of social fun was a waste of time and money. Leaving the venue at 10.30 pm to catch the last train home could hardly be classed as an evening out, would it? By eleven at night, people were still queuing at the till for admission to the dance hall.
But overall, being single brought quite a number of golden moments to my life which would have been impossible had I been married. Traveling was some of them. Cycling with my close friends, not only did we take the challenge of the hilly Isle of Wight and South Wales, but cycled across Holland, Belgium, Germany and West France. As a small group of five single men, we laughed and joked, shared the camaderie which made riding in the rain a pleasant experience. And with it came hostelling. There is something about a room full of men, always a loud snorer among them, and learning to sleep with both my ears plugged with a ball of toilet tissue soaked in water.
Traveling on my own was something I did as early as 1973 when I backpacked Italy. In 1976 I watched a sheep skinned alive at a yard in front of an Arab house during a wedding reception while staying in a neighbour's home in East Jerusalem. In 1977 I refused to give up when the USA Embassy in London at first refused to issue a visa. But I managed to make them happy and after a three month visa was granted, I stood at the edge of the Niagara Falls in Canada, stood at the viewing gallery of the Sears Building in Chicago, swam with the tiny shrimps which populated Salt Lake in Utah, and rode the Space Mountain roller coaster at the Californian resort of Disneyland. The following year, I was back in the States to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and spend the night there.
In 1994 I found myself within the thick of an Israeli demonstration centered on the Ron Hotel in West Jerusalem. The protest was about their Government allowing the Palestinians to set up their headquarters in East Jerusalem. Thousands of Jews crammed the streets, shouting, chanting, burning Palestinian flags and cheering, all in the presence of several TV cameras. Earlier, these same Jews formed a massive crowd pressing against the Western Wall in prayer. It was a spectacular sight from where I was standing - an ocean of white shirts, black hats and trousers. Every Jewish man was identically dressed. Then to have such experiences, it is better to be an independent traveler and single.
Then being single allowed me to snorkel the corals at Green Island, Low Isles and Heron Island at the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, as well as walk through mangrove boardwalks and the streets of London's younger sister, Sydney.
Then, at home, staying up till two in the morning trying to master computer programming using BASIC. Or writing a story, or even reading a book. Being single I was not accountable to anybody. Or the times I just made off to the sauna, or there and then make off to the coast, even finding a room for the night. Or spending two weeks cycling from one end of the country to the other. Or hiking across the hills of the Lake District. There are so many things one can do, places to go, experiences to be had as a single person, much more difficult to achieve as a married man, even more difficult with children.
Yet on that day my first daughter was born, and I held the sleeping baby in my arms and as I watched her chest rise and fall with her breathing, I remembered those days as a single person, both good and bad, and I must say that those days are looked upon without a single regret.