"I want to be alone", said Greta Garbo, but if we can believe the words of a pop song, the luckiest people are those who need people.


The most sensible luxury item to choose when appearing on Desert Island Discs would be the complete holodeck of the Starship Enterprise. One of the programmes in the memory of this 3D projector device would be a village pub set in which to sit accompanied only by a conservative newspaper and a half of Directors real ale.  Buying a half indicates sophisticated restraint; you are just a little thirsty, and will be about your business quite soon, so you will be ignored.


It will be afternoon, because doing that in the evening gets you noticed, as the morning news is by then so yesterday, and the reading of it in a pub a bit of a last resort. It would be a fine summer's day, the door would be open and, crucially, the pub would be half full of people. Too many customers would be overwhelming, too few and the paper would have to be read, which is not the purpose of this exercise - an empathic observation of the ordinary.       


Radio phone-in programmes are also a good way of getting a full colour picture. The subject of one recent discussion was inspirational strangers, people whom you might often see who are just getting on with it in a way that seems admirably sorted.


The percentage of the population who relish being alone, even amidst company, can only be declining, due to mobile phones and the economic idea that a high number of "friends", listed on social websites, is necessary for survival. No wonder the slaves of the ringtone are neurotically anxious for contact reassurance. 


Having the security of a few friends in the background, doing things you can only wonder at and some acquaintances for daily contact, is firm ground for relaxing and watching the flow in soft focus. Exercise judgement and analysis: you will only be shoring up your left brain certainty and you will gain nothing but dry factual clutter. 


Violet will do as an example of how this can shift perception. Violet is my invented name for an elderly lady whom I see quite often. The analytical genius Sherlock would take about two seconds to read all the factual information that you could possibly need from her external appearance. He might, for example, deduce that she was a Bohemian princess, with gold mines in Peru, who bets heavily on the horses, but has a sure-fire tip for the 3.30 at Wincanton.


My own analytical engine is the standard model gone rusty after years of infrequent use but, it will have to do. Violet is a slim, tweedily well dressed lady with a quick, no nonsense manner; the sort of grande dame you might see in charge at a stately house and who always carries a certain newspaper of rather predictable views. That fact marks her card right away and my analysing bit does exactly what it should: puts two and two together and makes a sum out of prejudice. Violet is thus bundled and boxed by a few feeble assumptions and, whatever militant mindset I might have, will be reinforced.         


Violet unplugged is much fuzzier. She is probably a granny and she seems to take a lot of trouble to look nice when going out. She never speaks or takes much notice of anyone else but concentrates on the paper. Is there an air of stoic isolation about her perhaps? So you might feel like giving her your smiley face, at which point she might just leap to and batter you to a pulp with her journal of family values or, more likely, you might get invited round for a cup of Earl Grey, with two digestives, in the orangery.     


Writers, so I hear tell, are born observers and should sometimes be left alone to their dream-like gawping. The multitasking mania is a distraction. It might look righteously busy but has been proven inefficient. The bestselling author and psychoanalyst F. Scott Peck points out that we hardly ever listen to anyone with our full undivided attention, without bias, and there is a centuries old story which illustrates present awareness very well. Three monks were discussing the accomplishments of their venerable masters. "My abbot", said one, "can swim across oceans whilst reading the Sutras." "That is nothing" said the second, "my master can build a temple whilst writing haikus." The third monk was unimpressed, "When my master eats, he just eats. When he washes clothes, he just washes clothes."


In reality, attention flutters between two or more tasks of any significant interest, and this, unfortunately, is quite the usual state of affairs. So if you are really set on a nice walk, then it is vital to keep your mouth firmly closed. If you want to socialise, stay put.  


Research also shows that most of the population abhors silence and solitude, but the number of creative participants in Desert Island Discs who already work in peace and quiet is remarkable. Time to switch off that distracting noise and make something perhaps?