When I was a young lad I had two imaginary friends who would follow me everywhere.
Whether it was days out on steam trains, long walks in the countryside or an afternoon by the sea I knew Mammax and Sticks would be there by my side. They were good like that those two, but like all good things, they weren't made to last.
As an adult, you no longer have the sort of friends who are compelled, as a figment of your imagination, to be by your side regardless. And as a bloke with a 'niche' collection of social activities I therefore often find myself spending a lot of time on my own.
It's not because I'm a social pariah or a recluse - I've got 600 friends on Facebook AHEM - it's because, quelle surprise, there's not a great deal of other people who are up for travelling for hours to watch Hampton and Richmond Borough, and even fewer that consider a fun Saturday to be sat under a tree watching some minor country cricket.
I have therefore become quite accustomed to spending time alone and certainly wouldn't think twice about doing other things such as going to the cinema or going for a pint on my own to be a big deal. In fact, put me in front of a log fire with a beer and a newspaper on my own any day of the week and I'd be more than content. But I have noticed there to be somewhat of a social stigma around it.
Last week in the office we got on to the topic of going out alone, which turned out to be a sure-fire way of making me feel like a tiny, insignificant loser who can't even count his imaginary friends as "besties". A quick straw poll found that the vast majority wouldn't dream of going to the flicks alone and not a single person would ever dream of eating in a restaurant by themselves. Both of which I had done within the last week.
But guess what. I loved it.
I ate charcuterie without fear of some greasy paws reaching across the table to tuck in. I had a Caesar salad without fear of ridicule and washed it down with a crispy class of pinot grigio. I laughed at a movie that I am convinced no one else would find funny and when I got home I stuck on the wireless and drank a dram of whisky in my den of peace and tranquillity. What a loser aye!
So it came as no surprise to me that new research has found that I'm not, contrary to what my work colleagues may believe, alone in enjoying the pleasures of solitude. According to the study, nine in ten UK adults are content to be in their own company, with 59 per cent, like me, comfortable with living alone. The Intrepid Travel research found 40 per cent of people wouldn't mind popping to the pub without anyone else, while a third will happily go out for a meal on their own.
One of the stand-out results was the number of people travelling alone. With the World at our doorstep it seems folk are no longer waiting around for their friends to stump up the cash or courage to get out and explore. They're just going for it. Indeed, entire holiday packages have been designed around the notion of travelling alone with a series of London events being organised to advise solo travellers on how to make the most of their trip.
It also seems like travel is one of the areas in which the social stigma seems to have been dampened. The same guy who almost threw up at the prospect of eating out alone has booked four days travelling around Tuscany solo, partly because the flight home allowed more time, partly because he had a few extra days holiday to eat up at work, but mainly because no one else was keen, and why should that stop you?
Travelling alone is a wonderful way of seeing the World in the way you want to see it as well as meeting new people and experiencing new things along the way. As more people adopt 'solo' as a travel preference let's hope our eyes are opened to the joys of solitude at home. And if you need company, just remember: don't contact me!