Friday 20 October 2017

'Living alone has brought out the weirdo in me' - Claudia Carroll

Living alone is a growing trend among Irish women. But, says writer Claudia Carroll, it can turn you into a bit of an order-obsessed eccentric. Think Kathy Bates in 'Misery' ...

Nothing as queer as folk: Claudia Carroll pictured at home, where she lives alone. Photo: Ronan Lang
Nothing as queer as folk: Claudia Carroll pictured at home, where she lives alone. Photo: Ronan Lang
Kathy Bates and James Caan in Misery

Claudia Carroll

Did you ever see the movie 'Misery'? there's a bit in it where James Caan, who's been imprisoned by a dangerously obsessive fan after a car crash, is slowly and painstakingly teaching himself to walk again.

So when his captor (Kathy Bates in an Oscar-winning performance) is out of the house, he goes on a little wander into her living room and accidentally knocks over an old-fashioned bokkity coffee table, laden down with the kind of props only a Hollywood set designer would imagine single women adorn their homes with.

One being a cheap little plastic penguin.

Cue Kathy Bates' return to the house, then busting into his bedroom with a lump hammer in one hand, uttering the immortal line, "the penguin always faces due south".

Kathy Bates and James Caan in Misery
Kathy Bates and James Caan in Misery

And that's before (spoiler alert) she smashes his two legs to smithereens, thus ensuring the poor guy would never walk again. Well, not straight, anyway.

Terrifying. There were actual screams in the cinema at that bit when I went to see it, all those years ago.

And now, that's what I've slowly turned into.

Does living on your own make you go a bit odd? A bit obsessive/compulsive about everything going into its right place, facing in the perfect direction?

In my own case, I'd have to say yes. A very definite yes.

One minute there I was, ambling along through life and then I went and ruined it all by asking pals to stay with me when they were visiting Dublin. Which is when I realised the awful truth.

I'm officially suffering from 'the penguin always faces due south' syndrome.

Allow me to elaborate.

If you ever find yourself having a clearly set down way in which the dishwasher gets stacked, literally on a mug by mug basis, each mug - naturally! - pointing towards a certain angle, then you'll get it.

If you fill a giant serving bowl with salad, then eat it directly out of the bowl to save you the bother of washing up, you'll know what I mean.

Ditto if your ironing board also doubles up as a convenient desk.

Similarly, if you find yourself blasting out Beyoncé at 7am and singing loudly and incessantly, day and night, chances are you live alone. Whole days often go by where I don't even bother getting dressed - because who's looking at me?

If you find yourself slightly freaked out at the thoughts that everything isn't quite in its right and perfect place at the right time, then welcome to my world.

So does living alone make you go a bit - let's just say, 'quirky?'

"I eat weird when I'm home alone," one pal told me. "I've been known to microwave a Mars Bar and eat it on top of an entire tub of Haagen-Daz. For my main meal of the day."

"Even though I live alone, I still have to sit in the exact same chair at the kitchen table. If a visitor sat there, I'd freak," said another.

"I love that I never ever have to close my bathroom door… ever!" is another recurring theme around living alone.

"No, no, it's okay, I'll do it…." I actually heard myself saying to my incredibly patient houseguests recently, rather than God forbid, have them stick their faces into the fridge and start rearranging things on me. (The bottles in the fridge always have to face label out. Always.)

Don't get me wrong, there are vast and untold advantages to living on your own.

For a start, everything is exactly where you left it. Which is not to be underestimated when for the life of you, you can't find the remote control or the Sunday supplements anywhere.

Then there's the blissful fact that living alone enables you to do exactly what you want, when you want. Once you bang that hall door behind you at the end of the day, you're your own boss and there's absolutely no one to tell you what to do. You're answerable to no one.

You can take a duvet day and feel absolutely zero guilt about it whatsoever - because who's going to judge you?

You can eat exactly what you want, when you want it without ever feeling the need to stick dinner on, just because the clock dictates it. Fancy the remains of an Indian take-away for breakfast? Go for it.

A good pal summed it up for me, as I whinged onto her about - surprise - being single and despairing of ever meeting anyone.

"But just think of all the lovely, long nights when you got to sit in front of 'Orange is the New Black' with a fat glass of sauvignon blanc in your hand!"

"Your point being?" I asked, doing just that as we chatted on the phone.

"For every self-indulgent night in you've enjoyed, I've had to devote 50pc of my time to Him Indoors. I've had to listen to him spill out all his work stresses and nod sympathetically when he gripes on about Bernie from head office who has it in for him - I've had to actually work on a relationship.

"Whereas you get to do what the hell you like all the time. Living alone rocks, if you ask me."

And living alone is on the rise. By over 10pc alone in the last five years. You only have to head for the Marks & Spencer 'dinner for one' aisle to see the rugby scrum melee clutching their shopping baskets, elbowing each other out of the way to get at the last of the pulled pork and spuds. All conveniently packed in a compartmentalised plastic tray you can eat directly out of, as I reckon they figure if you're the type to buy a saddo meal for one, you're hardly likely to go to the bother of washing up after.

Of course, the disadvantages of living alone are well documented, particularly among elderly people. One Christmas Day, myself and a pal volunteered to do Meals on Wheels - one of the most humbling experiences I've ever had.

I was gutted by the sheer number of elderly people who seemed to have little or no interest in the turkey and ham we delivered; what they really seemed to crave was the chat. The bit of company, even if it wasn't for very long. Another heartbeat in the house. God, it was heart-breaking.

If you're younger and live in a 'single-person dwelling' as the Census form so coldly puts it, then you're still not immune from loneliness - after all, who among us is?

Even if you're surrounded by people in work all day. After all, we're social animals and it's lovely to have someone relate all the minutiae of your day to, even if it's not exactly earth-shattering stuff. More like "then your woman in the queue in front of me insisted on paying with bloody coupons… coupons! What is this, rationing in World War Two?"

If you still have your health and a bit of energy, living alone forces you to reach out, to make contact with family and pals, to be active. I now programme out weekends, so I know there's something social happening of a Saturday evening, rather than another night home in front of 'Celebrity Big Brother'.

Bank holidays are a particular challenge because you're on your own, the prospect of a three-day weekend can be dauntingly lonely if you've nothing planned.

I know of one woman who gets a cleaner in every weekend.

"But your house is always spotless!" I said.

"I know, but it's someone in the house I can chat to."

So are we happier sharing our lives and homes with someone? Even if it's not necessarily a partner, more of a flatmate instead?

Does sharing a home batter all the oddness out of you and force you into more social behaviour? Or to hell with it, are we better off living alone, in spite of all the eccentricities it can engender?

So far today, I've eaten baked beans straight from the can, rearranged all the labels in the food cupboard and lost count of the number of times I've been talking to myself. Out loud. I'm actually writing this in my knickers.

Maybe it's time to finally get a flatmate. But then who'd put up with me?

Irish Independent

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