It’s Saturday night and Leeds city centre is abuzz with happy folk, drinking, eating and shopping.
Somewhere in the middle of this merry revelry is yours truly: dining alone in Nando’s.
It’s a sad old sight. All around me people are chatting animatedly – occasionally casting suspicious/ sympathetic glances in my direction.
How I came to be tucking into a medium-spiced butterfly chicken sans dining partner boils down to two crucial factors:
1. The husband is stuck on a road somewhere in the French Alps. Due to a combination of taxi driver ineptitude, a land slide and a gargantuan boulder blocking the only passable way down the mountain, he has missed his flight home and is currently in an agitated state, attempting to book new flights back from the back of the taxi with limited phone signal and depleting battery power.
2. My addiction to Nando’s (previously blogged about here) is now so great that if I even go one week without sinking my chops into a peri-peri-flavoured meal, I start to get withdrawal symptoms. These can range from nightmares about being attacked by a giant red rooster to swigging peri-peri sauce straight from the kitchen cupboard.
Dining alone, especially on a Saturday night, is a tricky beast to pull off. As I travelled into town, I was already contemplating which of the city’s Nando’s would be best to confidently pull off my Carrie Bradshaw-esque solo dining experience.
Do I go for the quieter Nando’s, discreetly holed away upstairs somewhere? This would reduce the possibility of strange stares from fellow diners, yet almost certainly accentuate my solo-ness.
Or do I go for the bustling Trinity shopping centre where trendy hipsters will be too busy taking selfies to spare me more than a passing glance?
I plumped for the busy Nando’s.
Lo and behold, in front of me in the queue was another lonely diner: a Japanese student who used exaggerated arm movements to communicate that he needed a table for one.
Japanese student sorted, the waitress turned her attention to me.
‘Table for one,’ I said breezily, adopting the air of this-is-all-perfectly-normal.
The waitress studied me for just a fraction too long and for one horrifying moment I thought she was going to pair me up with the Japanese student, which would have been terribly awkward given he only had a rudimentary grasp of the English language.
I was so busy worrying about said scenario it was only when I had been deposited at my table and the waitress had departed, that I realised she had seated me – perversely – in the middle of a huge, empty table for 10!
There might as well have been a giant illuminated arrow pointing down on my head. Tag line: ‘This sad woman is dining alone.’
‘Excuse me,’ I said to another passing waitress. ‘This table is too big for me. There’s only me. It looks, well, a bit strange.’
‘I understand,’ she said, her eyes filled with pity. ‘I’ll get you a smaller table.’
After some conspicuous hovering around while I inwardly chanted, ‘I’m an independent W-O-M-A-N’, a smaller table was finally found for me, sandwiched awkwardly between two couples.
I join the queue to order.
My phone rings. It’s my sister.
‘Where are you?’ she says.
‘In Nando’s,’ I say. ‘About to gleefully stuff my gills with spicy chicken, fries and halloumi cheese.’
‘On your own?!’ she exclaims.
‘Er, yes,’ I say, in a small voice.
I glance back at my temporarily-abandoned table, just in time to see the original waitress obliviously seating another couple there. Nooo!
There’s a long pause on the phone.
‘You seriously need help,’ says my sister.