So how’s the new John Lewis Christmas advert working out for you?
It’s not my fave but still had me reaching for the tissues and signing up to volunteer as a ‘befriender’ with my local branch of Age UK.
I’ve always been a sucker for loneliness, especially in the older generation. It just feels like a terrible, needless symptom of our fragmented society.
I see it play out in the John-Lewis-owned branch of my local Waitrose all the time. There’s the white-haired lady who wanders the aisles making conversation with anyone who’ll listen. She’s never been married or had children, she once told me at the cheese counter. All her friends and family are dead. Sometimes the only people she speaks to all day are those she speaks to at Waitrose.
And then there’s the old man who seems to eat all his meals in the cafe. The staff know his name, his butter/ spread preferences and how he takes his tea by heart.
‘Do you mind if he shares your table?’ they sometimes ask me. ‘Don’t worry about your two-year-old – he likes the company.’
Of course I’m happy to pass the time of day. I try to make conversation and keep the food missiles to a minimum. We’re all regulars, after all. (What can I say? Waitrose give good coffee. For free. And I’m middle class so it’s practically a calling.)
Thing is, it doesn’t always cut both ways. And today I’m feeling like I’ve been abused in my Happy Place.
Picture the scene: I’m in the cafe with my Small, ploughing through a kids lunch bag and a pot of tea, as per usual. The Small is chirping, hooting with laugher and generally living life to the full with her tube of squeegee yogurt. Zoom, zoom, zoom! It’s a rocket flying to the moon!
Oops, it’s crash-landed next to an old lady sitting on the next table. The parallels with the little girl in the John Lewis advert and her paper aeroplanes don’t escape me. I catch the old lady’s eye a few times and shrug my shoulders conspiratorially.
Yes, the Small is loud, but she’s having fun and I WISH my jaded heart could get so excited about yogurt. Doesn’t she?
‘Is she always this loud?’ she finally asks.
At first I assume she’s being nice.
‘Yep!’ I trill. ‘You should hear her when she’s fed up!’ I face-palm my forehead to illustrate the point.
Cue total face freeze. The old lady’s expression is cold as stone. She mutters something about ‘staying at home’ to her husband. I’m not a fan of Frozen but suddenly I’m channelling Elsa and turning the old lady to ice by merely existing.
My blood runs cold. She isn’t on our side. She isn’t sharing a sympathetic eye roll with a fellow regular. She’s judging us. Judging my child. For having fun!
Immediately I feel totally stupid for trying to joke with her, for reaching out and assuming my bursting-with-life daughter might brighten her day. That she might indulge me a moment of solidarity with another adult.
What would she have me do? Stay at home? Little did she know, we’d had a rough morning. Full-on terrible twos. Getting out to play group and to the cafe for lunch was a big deal. And you know what? Until we encountered her, things felt like they might be turning round.
What would I have her do? Stay at home? Hide from the noise of normal life if she can’t handle it? No, wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I’ll happily put up with her fumbling for coins in the queue and dithering in the carpark if she’ll put up with our chaos. Live and let live. Isn’t that what a supportive society is all about?
#Manonthemoon? It’s not just the old person. It could be anyone. Look around John Lewis or Waitrose, or wherever it is you go to kill time amongst other people; sometimes it’s the mother with the uncontrollable child too. The freelancer nursing one cup of coffee all morning to avoid the isolation of working from home. The middle-aged man escaping the stress of the office. The bored teenager behind the till. All different, all with their own struggles, all bumbling along in the hope of an occasional smile.
Let’s just be nice to each other, a hey?