Saturday, March 06, 2010

List of the Month - Return of the Killer Factoids

My blog-friend JES has been passing on blog awards again. Such nods of recognition are always welcome, but I can't really respond to the exhortation to 'pass it on'. I don't really approve of the viral/chain-letter aspect of these things. And I don't read that many blogs (I think one of the awards asks us to nominate 12 other recipients!!!). And I've discovered in the past that the bloggers I do read have no interest in these trifles.

So, like grouchy old George C. Scott, I decline the honour. However, I will play along with the game element of the nomination - it's another of those 'Tell Us 10 Things About Yourself' ones. Now, I've done this before (twice!), so it might be getting a little difficult to think of TEN things I can tell you about me that are unknown, unexpected, and/or interesting... but I'll do my best. Here goes.

10 More Things You Didn't Know About Me

1) I have been in love 6 times in my life.
Roughly. Call it 6. At this advanced age, the memory of remoter events starts to get a little sketchy, and I am concerned that I might possibly have overlooked someone somewhere. Also, in hindsight one tends to reassess some of the encounters that were perhaps borderline cases, to downgrade what might once have seemed like a love to a simple infatuation. Naturally, I've suffered rather more cases of infatuation or lust than I have love. Not that many more, though. My averages all the way through the process are markedly LOW: I don't meet that many women; only a very small proportion of the women that I meet are sexually interesting to me, and only a small proportion of those develop into serious interests; even then, I seem to be unduly adept at dodging Cupid's Arrow (or Jove's thunderbolt, or whatever it is), and fewer than half of those I would call major loves; and most of my major loves have remained miserably unrequited or unconsummated. So.... the number of women I've loved and had an intimate relationship with is only TWO - which, for a man in his forties, is a wretchedly poor score.

2) I have only HATED one person in my life.
Strange, perhaps, given that most of my emotions pour forth so freely and excessively: my affection for friends or my enthusiasm for films threatens to be overwhelming. And my disdain for things I consider worthless or in poor taste can be pretty devastating. But this effusive negativity doesn't extend to people. I am very tolerant and forgiving, even towards people who have done me substantial harm. The only exception I can remember in my life was my housemaster at school. He was a 'jock', a PE teacher, a man who revered physical pursuits and despised intellectual ones. I was his polar opposite: a weedy aesthete with multiple health problems who was always looking to bunk off games, PE, and swimming; a natural academic who spent all of his spare time in the school library; an individualist who kept his own company most of the time, spurned team games (especially rugby, the school's major sport), and who derided the collective chauvinism of 'school spirit' or 'house spirit' as fatuous. He took against me with a passionate intensity, and I didn't seem to have much option but to respond in kind, for the sake of survival.

3) I have only ever cried during a film TWICE (in the cinema).
Over the last decade, I have developed a shocking propensity to cry very easily at films I'm watching on my own at home. Romantic comedies, especially, seem to tap into a deep vein of melancholia about the frustrations of my own love life, and will easily get the waterworks flowing. But crying in public...... I've only done that twice: when I was about 10 years old, at the end of Ring Of Bright Water (one of the best films made about the bond that can develop between a man and an animal; and it has a heartbreaking, and rather unexpected ending); and, twenty years or so later, at Schindler's List, during the closing scene where the surviving Schindler Jews queue up to lay rocks on his tomb.

4) I have some strange t-shirts.
Being a slobby bachelor, I spend much of my life mooching around my apartment in a t-shirt and shorts or sweatpants. I also generally wear a t-shirt under my shirt when I go out. And even when my tees have become old and threadbare, I still hang on to them, to wear when I go running. Thus, I 'collect' t-shirts: I buy a lot of quirky ones; friends often give them to me; some find their way into my drawers from sources I can't remember. Probably the oddest, most unlikely one in my current stock (the one I'm wearing now, as it happens) is from the Eton College Fencing Club. I did not attend Eton, and I have never fenced - but one of my old university buddies is a teacher there.

5) I have a blighted record with friends.
Well, when I was very young, anyway, I had an astonishing run of bad luck. I don't think it made me wary of or pessimistic about friendship (the friendships I made later in life have proved much more stable and enduring), but it did leave me feeling rather depressed and isolated as a child. My first best friend was an army brat, the son of the commander of the small local training camp. At that age, I didn't comprehend why - or how quickly - such postings are rotated. He moved away, suddenly and without explanation, after just one year. Shortly afterwards, I developed a new best friend (someone who, bizarrely, had briefly been an 'enemy', a bully at first); but after a year or two, I lost him too - when I was advanced a year in primary school (which involved switching to another campus; it was quite nearby.... but not when you're 8 years old). Within a year or so we found ourselves back in the same school, but by then we'd grown apart. My deskmate during my first year at secondary school became an even closer attachment. Early on in our acquaintance, he intervened, quite unprompted, to defend me in one of my confrontations with the hated housemaster. He had absolutely no reason to do so, to put himself in the way of this vile man's rage and scorn - no reason other than innate decency and courage. I still get a bit misty-eyed recalling that incident: I have never again experienced such an immediate and profuse upsurge of gratitude, affection, and admiration for someone. His parents moved him to a more prestigious boarding school in London at the end of the year. My next best friend was a bizarre sort of 'forbidden bromance' - a guy from the local state school that I started running into every day at the bus stop on the way home. I went to the town's private school, and there was a deep-rooted animosity - often a violent and dangerous animosity - between the two constituencies of pupils. The prevailing peer pressure of our community dictated that we should have hated one another, should have fought; but.... well, this bus stop was a little way outside of town, and we seemed to be the only two people using it at this time of day: it was a 'secret' rendezvous, where we didn't feel obliged to act out the expected antipathy. In fact, we got on extremely well. But, after about six months, he too abruptly disappeared from my life. After this, I did kind of give up on the friend thing for a while....

6) I am a cat person rather than a dog person.
Not that I don't like dogs. I get on pretty well with all kinds of animals. But you have to make a choice, don't you? And I choose cats.

7) Only two nicknames have ever really stuck to me.
At my secondary school I became universally known as Swampo (short for 'Swamp Creature' - a name that arose after a classmate once quipped, when I'd dozed off in a French lesson, with my hand on the side of my face distorting my features, that I looked like The Creature From The Black Lagoon). I didn't like that one much, but at least it was humorous, and not disparaging. Even some of my teachers started using it. When I became a schoolteacher myself, no stable nickname seemed to emerge for me - at least, not that I was ever aware of, not amongst the kids I taught. However, I was also an assistant housemaster, supervising the senior year dormitory, and I became pretty tight with those boys. For a while they called me 'Eddie' (a very positive appellation - after Eddie Murphy, because I was 'cool'!); but then we all became rather obsessed with David Lynch's Twin Peaks television series, and I was dubbed Agent Cooper, after Kyle McLachlan's nerdy-but-cool FBI investigator. That one I liked.

8) Only once in my life have I made a 'perfect score' of 180 in darts.
And that wasn't in an actual game. I used to practise a lot on my own at home during my last couple of years of school, as a kind of meditation, a way to unwind from the stresses of study. I never became all that good, and haven't played much subsequently. For some people a first 180 might be a threshold moment in the development of their skill, and they might go on to repeat the achievement more and more regularly and become formidable players. With me, the experience just underlined how darned difficult the game was; and rather than feeling inspired, I think it actually discouraged me from attempting to repeat the feat.

9) I'd love to be able to play blues guitar.
But I lack the requisite application. And I think I'm inhibited by a conviction that I could never become a really great player. Unless I can do something extremely well, I'd rather not do it at all. I still fantasise a lot, though - how I wish I could play like Marc Ribot on Downtown Train, or like Billy Gibbons on Blue Jean Blues, or like Angus Young on Ride On, or....

10) I have a strange attraction to the game of backgammon.
I used to play A LOT at university, and it's about the only game I think I might just possibly have been good enough at to take up professionally. It seems to me to be a perfect, compelling balance of skill and luck. I haven't played much for years now, but I just met a guy who's trying to start up a club here in Beijing. I wonder if there's any of the old magic still there underneath all the rust?


Tony said...

I entirely agree with you about the dreariness of blog awards and factoids, but I must tell you that your own Ten Things... are a thundering good read. What makes them particularly admirable, apart from the quality of the writing, is that what you have written outs you as a lovable, sentimental old thing and clearly you don't care. Bravo!

Froog said...

Why, thank you, Tony. Good to know you're still reading. We haven't heard from you in a while.

Yes, I am a terrible old softie.

This piece, like most of my posts, was entirely unpremeditated. I sat down to write wondering "Am I going to be able to think of TEN things?", and, well, it just growed.

moonrat said...

i cry during every movie, ever.

moonrat said...

once i cried during a vacuum cleaner commercial.

Froog said...

Was it the Shake'n'Vac, Moonie? That was a powerful narrative.

Or you mean a commercial for the vacuum cleaner itself, rather than just featuring one? I think you should let us know which one it was.

I find the Dyson inspiring as a technical achievement, but it doesn't quite move me to tears.

Froog said...

Every movies seems a bit excessive, Moonie, dear. Even in the cinema? You're not inhibited at all by the public space? Or by the Rally Monkey's preference for sitting as far away from you as possible??

I've seen some films recently that made me want to cry with rage and despair at how bad, or how overrated they were - but I content myself with a bit of tooth-grinding about it, and then a bit of blog-venting later.

I confess I usually get a bit misty-eyed when Goose dies in Top Gun - but only when watching it in the privacy of my apartment, NOT in the cinema.

The British Cowboy said...

I have hit a 180 in a league match once, and more than a few times in "fun" games against friends. I have also had a couple of league checkouts of over 100. My favorite though was a 91 checkout in the last leg of the semifinal of the playoffs for the league - hit the trip 17, choked up on the double top (dart stuck to my fingers and came perilously close to a triple twenty and busting me), then buried the double 10. I was at that perfect level of drinking to play darts - at the time it was 5 or 6 pints in, the arm moving loosely, no self consciousness, but still sober enough to hit what I was aiming for.

Froog said...

Pretty sweet! Well, you're much more of a devotee of the game than me, Cowboy. I've only played a scant handful of times since I was 18.

My one moment of distinction in playing the game came near the end of my undergraduate days, playing a fellow Corpuscle [NOT The Bookseller] in The Bullingdon Arms on St Patrick's Day. This was a foolhardy whim, since the place was so packed that it was difficult to clear people away from the board, and there was a ring of onlookers scrutinizing us intently as we played (standing far too close for their own safety!), impatiently for us to finish up and allow the crowd to expand back into the space. This kind of attention - fairly hostile attention, to be frank - might have been expected to make us nervous, and lead to us playing like shite. Somehow or other, though, it concentrated our minds wonderfully, and we both played the best darts of our lives: we matched each other throw for throw, both regularly hitting 100 or 140, and I think my partner only wasted one dart in his checkout. 18-dart finish, I think. No, it might even have been 15. I escaped the pressure of having to throw for a double because I'd started second, but that's way the best run of scoring I've ever managed - especially playing 'in public'.

The Bookseller was quite enthusiastic about the game, but pretty hopeless at it. There was one occasion, though, where he caught us by surprise, catching up a big deficit while a couple of other friends and I were fannying around being useless on our doubles for a few throws, and then - amazingly for him! - making his double with the first or second dart. The Bookseller was more surprised than any of us, but as soon as the enormity of his achievement had sunk in, his smugness overflowed. "Gentlemen, I appear to have won." he announced, with elaborate casualness. It became a catchphrase that stuck to him for quite a while.

I think that may be the ONLY game of darts I ever saw him win.

Anonymous said...

A few of your selections from the archives seem rather 'introspective', and pointed me to a few gems I missed. I particularly liked this one and want to drop a quick note about playing Blues guitar.

Your comment reminded me of what Oscar Peterson said after hearing Art Tatum play. He said it was at that moment he seriously considered quitting the piano because he didn't think he could ever play that good. Of course he went on to become a legendary pianist in his own right.

If playing at the level of Billy Gibbons on Blue Jean Blues is the standard your going to hold yourself to, yeah forget it! I've been a struggling guitarist myself, off and on this past decade, and recently decided I too lacked the requisite application and have given it up. But the one thing I always wanted to do was play Blues guitar. Never got good enough, and I'll agree with you, if learning a few chords to play kumbaya around a campfire is the aspiration, why bother. But surely you can strive for a happy medium, might keep your mind busy when your in a funk. I have a feeling you were born to play the blues, maybe not well, but born to play it.

Quick note about Billy Gibbons. Here in Vegas we get to see the real side of celebrities. It seems they are either total jerks or incredibly gracious. A select few are in the 'revered' category among Vegas workers who deal with them. Billy is in that revered category. Not because he is a huge tipper or anything, but because he is just such a class act in dealing with everyone and isn't afraid to bump shoulders around a crowded gaming table and deals with the public like he is just one of them. Class act.

Froog said...

Good to hear from you, HF.

You haven't stepped out into the wilderness yet?

I'm sorry to hear you gave up the guitar. I've just started strumming a bit on mine again. (It was a legacy - left to me by a friend who quit Beijing a few years ago.) Lately, though, I've been thinking more and more of trying to learn one of the Chinese instruments - the erhu, a little two-stringed upright fiddle, or the matouqin, a rather larger version from Mongolia that has a gorgeous cello-like tone. I have a feeling that either of these might make a rather good blues instrument.

I'm glad to hear that about Billy Gibbons too. It's rather too rare that that those we admire as talents also turn out to be admirable characters.

"Born to play the blues" indeed! More curse than compliment!! But thank you - I'm sure it was generously meant.

Anonymous said...

Glad you got my meaning. I read it back and was like 'that didn't sound good'. Was meant more in the vein of Ringo's lyric "you gotta pay your dues, if you wanna sing the blues". Glad it was received the right way.

Froog said...

On the theme of being discouraged by your role models...

Not sure now quite where, but some time not too long ago I wrote on here (maybe in a comment) about something I'd turned up on Joe Morello, the drummer with the Dave Brubeck quartet. Apparently, he started out as a violinist, and was something of a child prodigy - playing concerti with major orchestras (the Boston Symphony, I think?) when he was only 10 or 12. But a few years later, he happened to meet one of his heroes, Jascha Heifetz - and instead of being inspired to even great heights, it seems he thought to himself, "I'm never going to be that good. I should try and find something else."

I was talking about this to Zac Courtenay, a very fine Aussie jazz drummer here in Beijing, a little while ago. He hadn't heard the story before, but was intrigued by it because... he started out on violin himself... and he's a great fan of Morello, and models his stick technique on his.