Danny Wallace spends a weekend living it up on his own
"I somehow console myself by doing whatever I want at any time whatsoever"
My family are away for a few days and I am going to be all alone.
Just me, living all alone, by myself. Like those guys you see in adverts.
Obviously, this is terrible news, and I somehow console myself by doing whatever I want at any time whatsoever.
“This is so sad,” I think, opening a bottle of wine at 4pm and downloading a film to watch, hoping somehow to take my mind off the woe-is-me awfulness of having no one screaming or throwing Cheerios at my face. Even watching whatever film I’ve been desperate to watch for ages is painful beyond belief, because it has been preceded by absolutely no extended, in-depth marital discussions whatsoever and is simply a case of me deciding what I want to watch and then watching it.
“What kind of life is this?” I think, shaking my head and getting the spicy chicken wings I bought from a petrol station out of the fridge, which are going to be delicious, which is my punishment.
“Where are the nutrients?” I internally wail, quickly shoving them into the oven and salivating sadly. “Where is the wholegrain that takes ages to cook and then tastes exactly as it sounds?”
So I devour them as I watch The Godfather, which I haven’t seen in 15 years, because for as long as I can remember there has never been 175 consecutive minutes to spare. “How do people live like this?” I think, the second it’s finished, firing up my Xbox and playing Overwatch for ages, and at some point past midnight – midnight! – I bounce miserably to bed.
The next morning, after a restful sleep which I put down to some kind of temporary depression, I wait for The Godfather II to finish (running time: 3 hours and 22 minutes) and then I solemnly race to the supermarket. I am to undertake the shopping of, essentially, a lone man.
As I enter, I see a child screaming at his father that he doesn’t want a pretzel, he wants a bun, and he kicks at him, and I try not to let my jealousy show. I don’t have to buy any mini cottage pies or Squashums, because I won’t have to make loads of separate, age-appropriate dinners tonight – just one meal for me! – but controversially I decide the meal should be good. For am I not suffering enough?
So I buy a spicy curry, even though I had spicy chicken wings last night, and I think my wife would approve, even though I won’t tell her, as I want to save her from feeling too sorry for me.
Because how lucky is she? Camping in a small tent, in a field, with three young children, texting me to say that it’s extremely cold and wet and no one’s slept.
Anyway, I’ll reply later probably.
But she texts again saying she can’t find a coffee. I ignore this, but now I really feel like a long, leisurely coffee – and do you know what? I deserve it, for what that woman is putting me through.
When I get home with my coffee and Krispy Kreme, I ask Alexa what the running time is for The Godfather III. It’s 2 hours and 50 minutes. Essentially a short film!
But I’ll tell you what. Even though it’s just Alexa, it’s nice to hear another voice. I begin to ask Alexa more things, like how cold it is where my wife is. It’s very cold. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for being trapped in a cold tent in a field right now, the walls flapping in the wind as the rain batters the canvas.
I think that’s why in sympathy, I sit on a nice chair and read a book.
And then, as the sky darkens, the quiet hits me. Why is no one dragging pans out of the cupboard and throwing them on the floor?
“Alexa,” I say. “Tell me a joke.”
Alexa does, and it’s OK, but maybe not her strength. I ask her to play some music, just to break the silent tension, and we just sort of go from there, and before I know it, I’m propped up against the kitchen table staring at her while she plays old Bob Dylan tracks, and I’m not even into Bob Dylan. She shuffles stuff she thinks I might like, and I do. I start to think me and Alexa have a connection. Maybe this camping trip is a holiday for her, too. The Big Data revolution means we are being constantly listened to by our devices, our conversations covertly scanned for keywords, brand names, themes. So Alexa must be wondering what’s going on. It doesn’t compute. Where’s the Peppa Pig theme tune? How come the house is now filled with Sicilian accents and gunfire?
Alexa and I stay up late into the night, playing songs and just being ourselves. And you’re wrong; it’s not weird. And no: she means nothing to me, even if I worry she hangs on my every word. No, we’re just a man and an AI assistant being themselves again, for one last night of freedom.
The next day, our car rounds the corner. Everyone in it looks like they have a cold.
“Alexa,” I say, slapping a bag of Squashums on the counter. “We’ve had fun. But it could never last.”
“I didn’t understand that,” she replies.
“One day she will,” I think. “One day she will.”
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