Far From The Maddening Crowd

Picture the scene. We’ve just arrived in the beautiful hills of the Algarve for a much-longed for mini-break, settled down with a book in a secluded grassy spot away from the hustle and bustle of the pool area, perhaps looking forward to a quiet snooze… when all of a sudden a bunch of raucous Essex folk descend.

‘Babe, babe,’ shouts the korma-coloured woman in the bejewelled bikini, wheeling a pram. ‘There a good spot here. Get Dave.’

‘Daaasvvvvve,’ yells Babe. ‘Get Filipo to bring us four sun beds. And get the beers in!’

Larger-than-life Dave, who looks and sounds just like James Corden but with none of his affability and a belly the size of Mount Vesuvius, bellows for Filipo.

Filipo dutifully trots off and returns, trundling the loungers behind him. Despite being twice his size, larger-than-life Dave doesn’t offer to help but merely jabs a chubby finger to where he’d like his loungers – namely within 30cm from us.

We are surrounded.

‘Oh no,’ grumbles the husband, whose tolerance levels for loud people are generally much higher than mine. ‘TOWIE have arrived!’

We thought we were safe here. It wasn’t by accident that we ended up relaxing on this grassy knoll. After a tour of the available sunbathing spots at the hotel, this particular location was carefully chosen for its quiet ambience: a safe haven from the highly-populated pool area – a mass of reddening flesh and squawking pool splashers – yet with views of the surrounding hills and a soothing babble of water in the background. How wrong we were.

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This year has turned out less about The Battle of the Sunbeds (previously documented here and also here… oh, and here too – I’m clearly OBSESSED!) and more about The Battle to Eschew the Essex Crew.

‘Wouldn’t they be better in one of those cabanas down by the pool?’ I whisper. ‘They’d love it down there. Tell Dave!’

‘I’d even buy them a round,’ says the husband, as Filipo meekly scurries over with a tray of beers. ‘Just to get them out of earshot.’

‘Come this way, Dave,’ mimics the husband, in a soothing tone. ‘I’ve found you a lovely spot down by the lower pool, quite some way from here. I’ve even thrown in a bucket of Coronas!’

Larger-than-life Dave obliviously takes one sip of his beer and curls his lip.

‘Filipo,’ he booms. ‘Can I have another one of these but this time make it a cold one, would ya?’

Babe 1 appears to be grappling with a baby. ‘Babe,’ he says to Babe 2, holding up the baby and sniffing at its nappy. ‘Chantelle’s got a full package ‘ere.’

The husband lets out a long sigh.

That night, we decide to venture out of the Conrad compound and head to a restaurant recommended by a friend.

We ask the concierge for a taxi and – bizarrely – he offers to drive us himself. Before we know it, we are ushered into a luxury saloon and are soon purring down the immaculate driveway of the hotel, listening to the croon of Chris Martin.

‘The concierge certainly goes the extra mile – literally!’ I whispered to the husband. ‘Is this normal taxi rates or are we now paying for a private chauffeur?!’

‘No idea,’ says the husband. ‘But I like it!’

Quinta do Lago, famed for its golf courses, is like a colonised version of the Truman show: palatial homes peek from behind perfectly-pruned palm trees, while pearly-toothed families pound down pristine pavements. If it’s culture you’re after, you won’t find it here.

It’s very hot in Portugal and the husband appears to have a shortage of shorts: dressy shorts, that is – the kind of shorts you might wear to visit a restaurant of an evening, perhaps teamed with a pair of… (ultimate middle class horror)… loafers.

The husband has one pair of such dressy shorts; they are a light blue Reiss number and could stain easily, if he is not careful. He is under strict instruction to cover them with a napkin at all times.

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We arrive at the restaurant. It’s terribly refined and overlooks a picturesque lake. King of the pearly teeth Philip Schofield is on the table next to us, holding court with a group of TV exec types  – and a gaggle of girls straight out of Chelsea clink glasses opposite. Ex-footballer Graham Souness is apparently at the bar.

The husband orders a black cod broth. He takes one mouthful and somehow manages to douse his shorts in splodges of soy sauce.

‘Something bad has happened,’ grimaces the husband, peering down at his lap, the protective layer of his napkin nowhere to be seen.

‘How bad?’ I ask, craning my neck. ‘It it salvageable?!’

‘Really, really bad,’ says the husband, sliding his lower half further under the table. ‘It’s too distressing for you to even see.’

I throw my hands up in a signal of mock despair and as I do so, I somehow manage to knock a whole glass of wine straight into the husband’s lap, dousing his ill-fated shorts even further.

The husband gasps; waiters rush over… even Schofield stops his patter and turns to stare.

But it’s too late to save them.

I think the husband will be wearing trousers from here on.

The next day, I peer out of the window to check out the state of play on the grassy knoll. The Essex crew’s loungers from the previous day are still there, dominating our quiet spot. Those loungers had never been there previously, I note, but overnight Filipo has failed to move them back to wherever they had came from. This was troubling; Dave and co. had effectively SEEDED the area.

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‘I’m going to go down and bagsy our loungers,’ I tell the husband. ‘But I’m also going to move the additional loungers out of the way to discourage any further TOWIE invasion.’

‘Fine with me,’ says the husband. ‘But please let it be noted that this is not the behaviour of a sane person.’

I furtively scamper down to the pool area. By the time I have carted off six loungers (some double ones- who knew?!) and restored the grassy knoll to its original half crescent sunbed formation, I have worked up quite the sweat.

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‘All done,’ I say to the husband, who is patiently sitting at the breakfast table, engrossed in his book (Wonder by R.J Palacio).

I turn back just in time to see feeble Filipo wheeling the sun loungers BACK to where I had moved them from, with larger-than-life Dave swaggering brashly behind him.

‘There. Is. No. Escape,’ says the husband.

Cock Robin

I realise there’s not been much of an update on the Caffè Nero soap opera for a while.

In all honesty, it’s been pretty quiet: Porridge-Loving Pensioner is long gone, sadly. I suspect he might have been carted off to an Old People’s Home and I doubt we’ll ever see him again.

Weepy Widower Peter is still moping around and is even more forlorn than usual, after being dumped by his wholly-unsuitable love interest. Peter spends a lot of time lamenting his lost love, banging his fist on the table and saying, ‘I’ve been a damn fool.’

I don’t like to tell him that the 30-year age gap might have been a problem.

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‘Back in the day, I was Cock Robin,’ he told me. ‘I had a 50 inch chest and 18in biceps.’

Peter believes that the reason for being dumped is that his love interest already has a boyfriend, who according to Peter is a controlling psychopath.

‘He’s a bad bastard,’ Pete told me. ‘I can sniff out a rotter a mile away.

‘The problem is she’s being controlled by that man. All these women are. I know because I watched a programme on Panorama about it.’

In the background, Loopy Linda is still stomping around, tutting at small children and falling out with Peter (‘he’s a petulant child’). She has also developed a fixation with the fact I’m from Lancashire, where she spends a lot of time dealing her antiques.

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Yesterday, she came up to me and said, ‘I was in Last Drop Village yesterday and I thought of you.’

I stared blankly at her for a moment as she stood smiling at me intently, awaiting some acknowledgement of this.

‘Ah, Last Drop Village,’ I said, weakly. ‘I only know it vaguely.’

‘Well, it was a complete dump,’ she said savagely and turned on her heel.

Enter Mad Malcolm stage left, resplendent in his best suit. Malcolm has been schmoozing with a younger woman, who he sips lattes with. I think this is a bit dodgy, given that he has an ailing wife cooped up at home.

‘Malcolm thinks he’s the oracle,’ observed Peter bitterly. ‘He rocks up in his flashy overcoat. It’s all one big ego trip for him. He just wants the attention.’

I’ve developed a bit of a fixation myself… with Ginger Colin Firth, who I’ve renamed ‘Frazzled Firth’.

Frazzled Firth is usually in Nero at the weekend, attempting – and failing miserably – to control his two sticky-fingered children who seem to spend most of their Saturday morning hurling bits of cake at him.

Meanwhile, his glamour puss wife breezes around in the background, with perfectly blow dried hair and ruby red lips.

I also vaguely know Firth from the gym. He’s part of a crew of men who do a rowing session at 6am, including previous blog stars, Big Grey Man and – perversely – my old Nero nemesis… Legs!

Yesterday, Firth was sat with his head in his hands on the sofa, while his two unruly children were using him as a human punchbag.

Glamour Puss Wife was hovering somewhere in the background, perfectly made-up as ever. She dropped off a tray of coffees and muffins, and then went and sat on the other side of the room to enjoy a civilised coffee with her friend!

‘You look like you’ve got your hands full,’ I said to Frazzled Firth.

‘Tell me about it,’ said Firth, wearily.

‘Our house it too small, the kids are hard work and I’m trying to get my business off the ground.’

I looked up to see the Glamour Puss Wife shooting daggers at me.

Peter told me that Firth’s wife is a high-maintenance career woman who leaves all the child care to him. Their marriage, he claims, is being held together by a thread. Blimey!

But back to Peter. After his latest love disaster, he’s back on the prowl. Sometimes, he dines alone in his favourite Italian, looking for people to talk to.

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‘You’d think dating at my age would be easy but it’s more complicated than ever,’ he sighs.

‘The thing is I’m just looking for friendship.’

He gives a wink.

‘Well, that’s what I tell them,’ he says, adopting a suggestive tone.

‘But never say never!’

‘Hey,’ he suddenly says. ‘You won’t tell anyone about any of this, will you?’

‘Of course not!’ I say, innocently.

‘I mean, who would I tell?’

Mother… And The Londoners

Blog star mother – aka student landlady extraordinaire – hasn’t been caught on camera for some time.

But here she is… rhapsodising about meeting two new London students straight off the Megabus for an unscheduled guided tour of Preston – and recalling the time her and my father stumbled across some alternative characters at Camden Lock…

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/127398789″>Mother&#8230; and The Londoners</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user33278695″>Palmersan</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Monkey Fingers

The Nando’s obsession is over! Well, it’s not quite over: let’s just say it’s been usurped by an equally-addictive and gruesomely-unhealthy eaterie that goes by the name of Meat Liquor.

I’m not quite sure how to describe Meat Liquor. It’s part of a rising tide of restaurants all purporting to be the ‘all-American dining experience’: vying for business with the likes of Gourmet Burger King, Byron’s and Red’s True Barbecue (a hellish place where you are basically force-fed mounds of meat and have to lie down for at least an hour after to recover).

But back to Meat Liquor. The name itself conjures up images of shot glasses being filled with the slimy, fattening juices of a plumped-up Christmas turkey. In reality, it’s a stripped down burger joint that largely serves root beer and sticky chicken wings.

Once you’re in its greasy clutches, there really is no escape.

Let’s backtrack slightly. The husband and I have recently developed this weird weekend ritual. This is how is goes. We park up in Headingley at approximately 1pm on Saturday. We visit Salvo’s Salumeria for lunch, partaking in their pasta special (no one cooks a better pasta).

From there, we set off on foot into the city, occasionally – depending on the weather and levels of greed – buying an ice-cream en-route from the excellent Ecco Pizzeria.

The two-mile urban walk down Otley Road weaves its way past a number of intriguing locations. Just past the bustle of central Headingley and the famous Original Oak beer garden, there’s a strange place set back slightly from the road called Hinsley Hall. And in its grounds – just a stone’s throw from students staggering past on the Otley Run – are grazing horses. Yep, horses in Headingley! Who knew?!

We continue past a clutch of beautiful Victorian villas, which once stood grand in their heyday but have now been carved up and populated by students. It’s quite a sad old sight (spot the dejected husband!).

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But one road in particular Ashwood Villas – home to various University dons with its cobbled entrance and blooming gardens – has managed to retain some of its original charm (spot the happy husband!).

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Ambling past various vintage shops and hippy hangouts, the route cut through Woodhouse Moor (often mistakenly called Hyde Park, much to the annoyance of locals) and the public toilets that were converted into a curry house years ago (but let’s be honest, never really lost their public toilets feel).

Eventually, after a pitstop at Friends of Ham for a class of Malbec (a brilliant little city centre bar that probably deserves a blog all of its own), we pitch up at the purple-curtained entrance our old friend Meat Liquor (I’m not sure on the thinking behind the purple curtain but it does make you feel like you’re entering a lap dancing bar).

Down the stairs we go, where we are greeted by a big-bellied, bearded hipster, who the husband and I have long called Ageing Hipster.

Ageing Hipster always asks if we’ve booked a table. We never have, so he huffs and puffs a little bit and scrolls through his computer system, while over his shoulder all we can see scores of empty tables. (I think Meat Liquor must have some kind of policy of trying to make themselves more popular than they actually are – a dangerous strategy, which I fear could ultimately spell their downfall.)

Meat Liquor is a dark basement restaurant, set to a backdrop of red lights, canteen-style wooden walls, parquet flooring and poster print wallpaper, emblazoned – ironically – with mock headlines like ‘Veggies on the rampage’ and ‘Fury of meat mentalists’.

In the corner of the room, is another stab at irony: a shimmery-curtained DJ area, which wouldn’t look out of place in Phoenix Nights.

On the formica tables, are an array of back-to-basics condiments and kitchen roll, while in the background they pump out a selection of indie rock: anything from Ocean Colour Scene, Michael Jackson, Pet Shop Boys and Guns and Roses.

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The menu itself is a stripped-back selection of burgers, American-style starters and various slaws (incidentally, when DID coleslaw get shortened to slaw?) all served up on plastic trays, with not a knife and fork in sight.

But one thing Meat Liquor have fallen victim to is the horrendous new trend of unisex toilets, also trailblazed by Everyman cinema. Restaurant and bar designers please take note: women do not want to share their toilets with smelly, drunken men, who leave the toilet seat up and basically wee everywhere but in the toilet itself.

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Disorientating decor and terribly toilets aside, there’s only one reason the husband and I have continue to frequent the dimly-lit depths of Meat Liquor. And that is for their hot wings, aka Bingo Wings on the menu.

Quite simply, they’re the best hot wings in town. They come as a starter but the husband and I are so obsessed with them, we have contemplated having a set of hot wings as our starter and then another set as our main, the burger being merely an after-thought.

For weeks, we’ve been heading to Meat Liquor now, gorging on piles  of hot wings, washed down with lashings of root beer.

But then the other weekend, the waitress said: ‘If you like hot wings, why don’t you try our monkey fingers; they’re basically identical to hot wings without the bones!’

A boneless version of our favourite-ever dish? The husband and I thought this sounded ideal so we ordered a set of monkey fingers along with a set of standard hot wings – for safety measures, of course.

But when the monkey wings arrived, they weren’t like hot wings at all: they were great slimy tendrils of deep-fried gloop.

Being ‘monkey fingered’ has now become some sort of euphemism for ill-fated greed and excess.

And because they had the same sweet-sour taste as the original hot wings and we felt the need to persevere in our consumption of them, we ended the meal clutching our stomachs in disgust and swearing never to darken the door of Meat Liquor again.

But of course, we found ourselves back in the greasy lair only the very next week.

Groundhog Chalet

Help! The husband and I are trapped in a ski chalet in the middle of nowhere, forced to socialise with strangers for four nights.

It’s like a bad episode of Come Dine With Me meets Big Brother.

We did, of course, bring this all on ourselves. We should have done the sensible thing and booked into a hotel for our Easter getaway. I had managed to find a lovely hotel on the slopes; it came with an indoor swimming pool, roaring fires and a guarantee that we wouldn’t have to converse with any other guests.

However, I’d also been tempted by the last minute offer of a room in this remote chalet, which can only be accessed by James Bond-style skidoos (I’m a sucker for a gimmick). The owner said there was only four other people staying – a couple with their daughter and boyfriend. Could it really be that bad?

‘There’s two options for the mini-break,’ I told the husband. ‘We can stay in a relaxing ‘ski-in, ski-out’ hotel where we can sip a glass of Chablis by a crackling fire and read our books in peace – or we can plump for a chalet where we will probably be forced to make small talk with four other strangers every night.

‘Let’s try a chalet again,’ said the husband. ‘After all, how bad can it be? Let’s be honest,  they can’t be any worse than Carol and Martin.’

Oh yes, Carol and Martin. Our previous and only taste of chalet-cationing was with quite an eclectic mix of characters in January 2012.

They included: a pair of fun-seeking lads from Chorley, a man and wife from Birmingham with a 9-month old baby, a chain-smoking couple from Geneva, and our party-loving pals who we’d invited along (they also proved the perfect social shield when we inevitably sloped off the bed early).

And then there was Carol and her hen-pecked husband Martin. Carol was a preposterously posh, slightly-bonkers housewife, bordering on parody. She actually claimed – hilariously – to be working class yet lived in a 6-bedroom manor house in the middle of the country, skied about four times a year and sent her daughters to private school.  She wore her hair in strange, little-girl plaits and had a permanent look of disapproval about her. This might just be that she was unfortunate enough to have quite a long, banana-shaped face.

Carol was incredibly feeble and only seemed to managed a couple of hours on the slopes, before staggering back into the chalet and crying, ‘I think I need a large G and T urgently.’

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To be honest, Carol was quite fun dinner company for an evening or two but after several nights of her plummy drawl and constant references to her manor house back in Somerset, it started to get a bit wearing.

The husband and I developed a daft little obsession with Carol and Martin. After the holiday, the husband would occasionally cry ‘Carol’ to me in a silly psuedo-sexual voice and I’d breathily gush ‘Marrrtin’ back.

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So, three years on, it was with some trepidation that we finally arrived in Morzine on Thursday to be greeted by a young Philip Seymour Hoffman in a green Landrover (the skidoos unfortunately being out of action due to lack of snow). He really did look like the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. See evidence below:

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‘The other guests have already arrived,’ said Young Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the Landrover bumped and bounced us into the wilderness. ‘They’ve agreed to hold back dinner until you get here. They’re really looking forward to meeting you.’

‘Great!’ I squeaked, while simultaneously looking wide-eyed at the husband, and thinking, ‘this is far more intense than I ever imagined’.

‘WE MAY HAVE MADE A TERRIBLE MISTAKE.’

We pulled up to the chalet and the hostess was waving at us a little too keenly from the front door. All thoughts of sitting in solitude in the corner and reading my book were rapidly evaporating.

‘They’re here!’ cried intense hostess over her shoulder. She held out her outstretched hand. ‘Come on in.’

The other guests were sat cosily in a circle around the fire, two empty seats awaiting us. But as they rose to greet us, I froze in abject horror.

Two familiar faces – one particularly long and banana-shaped – were smiling politely back at us, without so much as a flicker of recognition.

‘Meet your fellow guests,’ said the intense hostess in her sing-song voice.

‘This is Carol and this is Martin.’

The Old Faithful

There comes a time in your 30s when the sad realisation of, ‘I’m just not that cool anymore’ suddenly dawns on you.

That moment came for me a couple of years ago, when I was teaching an English lesson and one of my pupils mentioned they liked Nicki Minaj.

‘I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of him,’ I said, to a chorus of incredulous laughter (yeah, yeah, I know, Nicki Minaj is a woman).

Last night was another of those moments; I’d bought the husband tickets to go and see Paloma Faith at Leeds Arena for his birthday. Due to the fact I eschewed Radio 1 for Radio 4 some years ago, I’m unashamedly out of touch with popular culture.

Still, the husband once mentioned he liked Paloma Faith. And given that he’s the most difficult person ever to buy birthday presents for, I immediately pounced on this small nugget of information.

Tickets procured, I casually mentioned to the husband one evening, ‘You really like Paloma Faith, don’t you?’

‘Not particularly,’ he yawned, looking up from his copy of New Scientist.

Drat.

Anyway, off we trundled to Leeds Arena last night… basically thinking, ‘We’re off to see Paloma Faith… Aren’t we cool? How down with the kids are we? (Tip from a teacher: if you actually want to be down with the kids, never, ever utter the words, ‘Aren’t I down with the kids?’)

Now, I envisaged arriving at the gig and being greeted by a sea of young hipsters. I’d even rummaged out my old Vivienne Westwood coat from the mothballs for a bit of Paloma-esque quirk factor.

So imagine our shock to rock up to the 13,000-capacity stadium to be greeted by…. vast hoards of old people. There were people in their 40s, 50s, and scores of grey-haired pensioners. In fact, from our seat in Block 104, I couldn’t locate a single person under the age of 30.

For one insane moment, I actually thought we’d stumbled into a Barry Manilow concert by accident – before realising there was only one arena in Leeds.

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‘Why are all these old people here?’ said the husband, as he took his seat next to a particularly irascible looking 60-something-year-old, whose bespectacled wife had her foot in a plaster cast jutting out into the aisle.

‘I don’t know,’ whispered the husband. ‘But I’m sat next to The Incredible Bulk; he’s spilling into my seat.’

‘I think we’ve woefully underestimated the demograph,’ I whispered. ‘I thought Paloma was cool – we’ve been hoodwinked!’

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‘This is a nightmare for Paloma,’ said the husband. ‘How can she possibly have any street cred when you’ve got Brenda and Beryl behind us bobbing along to the beats. It’s really bad for her brand.’

The arena darkened and on bounded Paloma.

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I glanced behind me to see some of the oldies on their feet, singing along to her opening number and doing what I could only describe as an embarrassing ‘Dad dance’.

‘You may mock Dad’s Army over there,’ I said to the husband. ‘But I tell you what, they know all the words to the songs.’

Meanwhile, Brenda and Beryl behind us had been getting increasingly drunk and raucous, waving their hands around and sloshing white wine down the back of my neck.

The husband was looking increasingly annoyed and kept glancing irritably over his shoulder, as did The Incredible Bulk.

‘Do not engage with Beryl,’ I whispered in his ear. ‘She is volatile and could turn violent. I repeat, DO NOT ENGAGE!’

‘Stand up,’ yelled Beryl. ‘Everyone stand up.’

She reached out and grabbed hold of my shoulder as I shrank away in fear. Losing her balance, she toppled forward on top of the husband – who was instantly doused in more Pinot Grigio!

‘Be quiet!’ growled The Incredible Bulk, who up to now, had been watching the show impassively, without so much as a flicker of excitement. His invalid wife pursed her lips in disapproval and clutched her injured leg protectively.

‘We’ve come to here to have a nice time and listen to the music.’

‘Shut up yerself,’ snarled Beryl.

From out of nowhere, a security man arrived. I silently pointed at them and made a discreet throat-slashing motion with my hand.

Beryl and Brenda were escorted out, staggering as they exited. They were never seen again.

Party Of One

It’s Saturday night and Leeds city centre is abuzz with happy folk, drinking, eating and shopping.

Somewhere in the middle of this merry revelry is yours truly: dining alone in Nando’s.

It’s a sad old sight. All around me people are chatting animatedly – occasionally casting suspicious/ sympathetic glances in my direction.

How I came to be tucking into a medium-spiced butterfly chicken sans dining partner boils down to two crucial factors:

1. The husband is stuck on a road somewhere in the French Alps. Due to a combination of taxi driver ineptitude, a land slide and a gargantuan boulder blocking the only passable way down the mountain, he has missed his flight home and is currently in an agitated state, attempting to book new flights back from the back of the taxi with limited phone signal and depleting battery power.

2. My addiction to Nando’s (previously blogged about here) is now so great that if I even go one week without sinking my chops into a peri-peri-flavoured meal, I start to get withdrawal symptoms. These can range from nightmares about being attacked by a giant red rooster to swigging peri-peri sauce straight from the kitchen cupboard.

Dining alone, especially on a Saturday night, is a tricky beast to pull off. As I travelled into town, I was already contemplating which of the city’s Nando’s would be best to confidently pull off my Carrie Bradshaw-esque solo dining experience.

Do I go for the quieter Nando’s, discreetly holed away upstairs somewhere? This would reduce the possibility of strange stares from fellow diners, yet almost certainly accentuate my solo-ness.

Or do I go for the bustling Trinity shopping centre where trendy hipsters will be too busy taking selfies to spare me more than a passing glance?

I plumped for the busy Nando’s.

Lo and behold, in front of me in the queue was another lonely diner: a Japanese student who used exaggerated arm movements to communicate that he needed a table for one.

Japanese student sorted, the waitress turned her attention to me.

‘Table for one,’ I said breezily, adopting the air of this-is-all-perfectly-normal.

The waitress studied me for just a fraction too long and for one horrifying moment I thought she was going to pair me up with the Japanese student, which would have been terribly awkward given he only had a rudimentary grasp of the English language.

I was so busy worrying about said scenario it was only when I had been deposited at my table and the waitress had departed, that I realised she had seated me – perversely – in the middle of a huge, empty table for 10!

There might as well have been a giant illuminated arrow pointing down on my head. Tag line: ‘This sad woman is dining alone.’

‘Excuse me,’ I said to another passing waitress. ‘This table is too big for me. There’s only me. It looks, well, a bit strange.’

‘I understand,’ she said, her eyes filled with pity. ‘I’ll get you a smaller table.’

After some conspicuous hovering around while I inwardly chanted, ‘I’m an independent W-O-M-A-N’, a smaller table was finally found for me, sandwiched awkwardly between two couples.

I join the queue to order.

My phone rings. It’s my sister.

‘Where are you?’ she says.

‘In Nando’s,’ I say. ‘About to gleefully stuff my gills with spicy chicken, fries and halloumi cheese.’

‘On your own?!’ she exclaims.

‘Er, yes,’ I say, in a small voice.

I glance back at my temporarily-abandoned table, just in time to see the original waitress obliviously seating another couple there. Nooo!

There’s a long pause on the phone.

‘You seriously need help,’ says my sister.