We all know that a hipster with a baby is something of a babe magnet in the park, but a middle-aged woman swinging an orange nappy sack full of cooling dog shit? Really? I feel it is quite a long shot — and an expensive one at that — to invest in the responsibility that is, say, a labrador, on the off-chance that a nice man might compliment me on its glorious coat. I do not want a dog. Never have; never will. I prefer in my companions a grasp of the spoken word, and the words they speak to be about almost any other subject than dogs.
There is a great deal of advice out there for divorced or widowed women, and getting a dog is in the top three on the clichéd list. I know many who have succumbed. But they have done so not so much (although a bit) as a highly unlikely means of falling into conversation (and bed and matrimony) with a handsome fellow dog-owner, as instead of a man. Dog — or cat — as substitute. Single friends tell me how comforting their beloved animals are and how lovely it is to have them cosying up to them at night. I am firmly not among them. My view of men is not yet so jaded that I feel a pet with a brain the size of a tangerine is a viable alternative.
Everyone tells me to go on a course. This is one of the many occupational hazards of the divorced woman. For some reason, pottery is the type people always suggest. Perhaps they have visions of Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore becoming intimate while fashioning a pot in the film Ghost.
But in reality, the clay is chilly and clammy, the wheel one of infinite tedium and the Swayze figure nowhere to be seen — precisely because pottery classes up and down the country are full of women who have been advised to go to bloody pottery classes.
It is the same with photography and French.
So then helpers say (and you can almost see the light bulb ping above their heads at their clever idea): ‘Do the kind of course that appeals mainly to men, like motorcycle maintenance or computer coding!’
Neither of these remotely appeals. If I am ever going to do any kind of course — no plans — then it will be because I am interested in the subject and not because I am a sucker who thinks courses across the land are fodder for Swayzes.
‘OK, why not go on a walking holiday then?’ I am asked. ‘The Himalayas?’ There are so many reasons this suggestion is rubbish that I don’t know where to begin. Primary among them is that, until recently, you wouldn’t have got me walking much further than my local Starbucks, let alone up a mountain. I did the London Marathon in 2008 but was so put off running that, after it, I barely moved for seven years. I took it up again nearly three years ago, but didn’t join a club. I do it entirely alone with the Today programme, Spotify and Runkeeper for company. Hot young Joe Wicks-types always overtake me and I feel like an HGV to their Ferrari. Occasionally they smile at me and, though it is probably out of pity, it puts a spring in my step.
Two weeks ago a more-recently divorced friend (gorgeous, groomed, fit) decided she was fed up with being alone and that we should join an online meet-up resource. We found ourselves early one Saturday morning at our local park searching for Vlado, the leader of a group comprising several other middle-aged women in leggings. Alas, my friend and I couldn’t find Vlado, our running equivalent of potter Swayze, but decided to join the 500-strong throng of weekend runners and do the 5k anyway.
I had been going too often and too fast for some weeks and had had twinges in my ankle but didn’t want to let my friend down or pass up the meet-up. To cut a long story short, this was the final straw for the fragile bone. I am now nursing a stress fracture and wearing a very unglamorous orthopaedic shin-pad from casualty. I am not going anywhere far or fast or meeting any fitness Vlado for the eight weeks at least that it will take to heal.
Perhaps the next time someone suggests I should do some blinking pottery classes or walk a stupid dog — and believe me, they will — I should at least think about their inspired idea before being so darn snooty.