With the emergence of a week when I was free to do as I pleased, Mrs Pickwick suggested I take a short holiday on my own as the other members of the family were occupied by the great hamster wheel of life. Aware that these opportunities come about rarely and the alternative was to empty the garage of unwanted belongings an activity which is like digging a hole with one hand and filling it in with the other, I purchased my flight and off I went.
Being alone with oneself for a period of five days is a shock. It is like going on a blind date organised by Match.com - you know you are well-matched but there is no guarantee you will have anything to talk about and you may decide to go off with someone else.
I was first aware of the joy of self in the seminal work "One is fun" by Delia Smith which I had acquired in my youthful prime. I had initially thought that this book was in praise of self-abuse, a topic which was close to my heart given my age. After the initial disappointment, I embraced what Delia did best although still wondered whether I was missing a base message amidst the ingredient lists. And to this day, Delia's Chicken in Mushroom sauce has become one of my signature dishes.
The joy of self is fraught with difficulty. Being stuck with oneself for five days is stark - what if you don't get on with yourself. I decided to manage this risk by keeping busy as I did not fancy sitting in a bar declaring to the weary barman "my ying is not talking to my yang" - that's way too philosophical for me.
I did not stop moving for five days - I consumed touristic experiences like an American embraces food albeit knowing my onions, I concentrated on the prime cuts only. So when it came to curling up with myself at the end of the day, this was easy as I was asleep in seconds.
My chosen exile led to a welcome discovery. I did not have to think about anything, my cerebral processing unit having only to react to my surroundings. The steady chatter of deadlines, worries and infatuations was made up of the latter only. This was liberating causing the feeling to return to my shoulders and the level of infatuation confirming to me that I was a fully functioning human being.
I discovered a new type of spooning with my "self bromance". It involved a spoon and anything I could find in the kitchen cabinet of the apartment I was in. And the beauty of this was that you could replace the spoon with a fork or go commando. I concluded that spooning, forking or using my hands can make you fat and decided to return to the original concept where no cutlery is required on my return to the bosom of my family.
Apart from my feverish investigation of my surroundings and excessive consumption with or without utensils, my fellow human beings provided me with my entertainment for the period. Daily games included awarding myself a beer every time I counted ten priests, monks or nuns. This was more difficult than it sounds as although I was staying in a Catholic country in a town from which a recent Pope had emerged into this World and whose picture was everywhere, it was cold. I discovered that the religious community like polar bears tend to remain in their lairs when the weather is inclement eating fish whilst swaying from side to side. As they say, cod moves in mysterious ways.
And when I engaged with someone fluent in English, I fell on them as if a member of a Silent Order of monks being given the night off having won the Monastic lottery jackpot. Thus, an increasingly alarmed Brazilian on a tour I was on become the recipient of interrogation, confession and counsel whether he liked it or not, before I returned to my continued hunting members of the religious community to justify my nightly allowance of grog.
Beyond this, I have never been the sort who routinely strikes up conversations with strangers in public places like my father in law can. Occupying the position of probably the best Catholic in the World, he is a man with the bloodhound like ability to sniff out strangers who are in some ways linked to nuns or priests interrogating them mercilessly until they confess. In contrast to him, I kept out of conversations with those I met concerned I may run out of words, topics to discuss or the will to live.
The principal conversations I had were with myself, inanimate objects I was grateful with or was trying to cajole to do my bidding or vistas and works of art which had caused me to rejoice or recoil.
The television too was my nightly companion. There was a choice of channels in every imaginable language and for every persuasion, the more interesting channels being guarded by a PIN Number. Regrettably, out of the entirety of these, only two were in English, one populated largely by wildlife programmes, the other Russia Today. Despite priding myself as being a lover of all creatures that grunt and smell, I developed a loathing for bears, the furry which received blanket coverage on the wildlife channel as well as for Fiona Bruce presenting the Antiques Roadshow who was the human equivalent on the same channel. The elephant in the room however not addressed in both cases was whether they do it in the woods.
Aware that foreign television channels often contain fruitier material, I went off-piste on a number of occasions before concluding that the only beaver I would find would be the type adept at building dams and bringing down small trees.
When the holiday came to an end, there was an element of relief at being able to escape from the enforced furries. I concluded that I was not my preferred holiday companion although if I was the only choice, I would do. The Pickwicks were very relieved when I returned, the Pickwick pooch in particular communicating his delight in the usual way before wiping his jowls on my trousers. Mrs Pickwick, thankfully jowl-less, did the same.Suggest a correction