So often, single travellers are discriminated against. In hotels, the tables with the sea views are always set for four or two. The tables set for one will frequently be in the dark corners. In restaurants, they will invariably be near the kitchen or the toilets.
When my mum became a widow after fifty years of marriage, she somehow found the courage to go on coach holidays alone, often staying in the same hotels she had stayed in with my dad. She was deeply distressed by this sudden, unexpected demotion. She was already feeling desperately lonely, and invariably everyone else was in couples, pressing further on the bruise.
One morning, she learned a game-changing lesson from a waitress. It was breakfast time and Mum had entered the dining room to see couples at almost every table.
‘Where would you like to sit?’ asked the waitress, coming over.
Mum pointed to a table set for one, in a dark corner.
‘Wouldn’t you like to sit by the window?’ said the waitress. ‘Have the view?’
Mum wavered. It was a glorious day outside. The window gave a view of the promenade, bustling with visitors, and beyond it, the sea. It was a perfect seaside movie. But there was only one window table free and it was set for two.
The waitress took her by the arm. ’You sit where you want to, love. Don’t you be thinking about anyone else. You’ve paid, same as they have.’
Sunday afternoon. Lunchtime. The Gothic Quarter, Barcelona.
The heat was blistering. I had been wandering for an hour through the maze of streets, happily shopping. Now I wanted a beer and tapas at a street cafe in one of the squares.
A table became vacant as I passed. I claimed it and took my seat.
The manageress came out to me: a striking looking Catalonian, with eyes as dark as dates.
‘You cannot stay here,’ she said. ‘This table is reserved.’
‘I see no sign.’
‘It was reserved from inside. It is for four.’
I smiled. ‘I am very happy for three other people to join me.’
This took her completely by surprise. Her face broke into a grin. She shook her head and walked away then sent the waiter over for my order.
But really – where was I supposed to eat? If no one is prepared to let you have a table on your own? When all the tables are set for four? Inside, I guess. Shivering in the air conditioning or sweltering in the absence of it.
Well no – I wanted to enjoy my lunch with a view of sandy 14th century ecclesiastical stonework, just like everyone else. And I got it.
As my dear mum learned, we get what we allow.