Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The perils of deadly boredom

Let me start this week by stating that, yes, I know my blog entries are getting longer. I set out on this blogging enterprise with a resolution to write several hundred words every week or so and in very short order I have exceeded my requirements — and I daresay, yours too — with logorrheic gusto. I’m working on this, I promise. I fully intend to keep things lean and mean from now on. At least it keeps me off the streets.

We’ve all been to the odd party in our lifetime where we don’t know enough people to get comfortable and groovy. Picture the scene: the bright and beautiful mill this way and sashay that, engaged in almost certainly the funniest and most vital, sparkling banter you’ve ever had the misfortune to be excluded from. There’s the predicament: you know almost no-one there. Let’s say your host, who sent you the invitation, is busy circulating and cannot make introductions right now. There is only a finite amount of free booze you can consume alone before you will get noticeably disgraceful — like last time, if you remember. Now, I’ve not read Dale Carnegie’s famous self-help book, How To Win Friends And Influence People — no, please, really, I haven’t; I’m better acquainted with Terrorvision’s album of the same name, frankly — but I’m willing to bet the following is one of the tricks featured in it.

First you target the likeliest-looking trio of witty and glamorous people, hoping to square the circle. They are, naturally, locked in discourse that you suspect to be wondrously frothy and fun, or gripping and gravid. Probably both, looking at ‘em. Perfect. There must be a way of inveigling oneself into this conversational enclave. OK, get yourself a drink from the chap holding the tray of bubbles and let’s get in there. You stand to one side of the group, not so close to violate personal space, but sufficient for your presence and intent to be perceived. You make brief eye contact with one of the gang. First blood! Oh my, she’s attractive. Next, you catch a drift of the conversation. The trick is to pick up on the  thread, make the first thing you say echo it and bingo! — you’re in. So, let’s zero in on what this statuesque redhead is saying to the others. One’s a middle-aged lady with an imperious air and her oppo’s an embarrassingly young balding guy with Heston Blumenthal specs who’s nodding intensely:

“… and of course, Harry’s not been the same since he had his colostomy…”

— “hm, hm, well this is it.”

A mobile trills. Heston’s taking the call. Ooh, he’s stepped aside. Providential! Now’s your chance. Sidle over and make your play:

“So, er, colostomies, eh, huh…?” you offer, affably, with raised eyebrows. The carmine vision looks you once over. It’s instantly clear it’s not working.

— “er, yeah, terrible…” she essays weakly and regards the other lady with a slight turn of the shoulder that is all it requires for you to develop a sudden urge to find any other part of the room to inhabit. So you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own and you go home and you cry and you want to die. One could write a song about it. That bloody Dale Carnegie must have been a right Billy-No-Mates.

Since you’re clearly a classy, attractive and discerning individual who’s brilliant and fascinating to know, you’re more likely to have been on the receiving end of someone’s ill-advised attempt to engage. We’ve all had arse-clenching encounters at bus stops with well-meaning but ultimately boring strangers. No, not like that! Here’s one of my favourite examples of a conversational gambit. It’s a tiny detail to have retained itself in my head all these years but there’s something about it I find especially awkward and delightful; I hope you do too.

Many years ago, I used to work in the London insurance market. Never again, I assure you. The ladies and gents in my first ever office were really friendly, sociable and as you may expect, a pretty hard-drinking bunch. As a newcomer to the profession, I hadn’t quite felt ready to join in with the almost-mandatory end-of-week piss-ups. I was a shockingly inadequate and highly inexperienced drinker in those days. Yep, that long ago. In my teens, as a matter of fact. One Monday, my colleague Andrew, gleefully discussing the events I’d missed out on from the previous Friday, told me about an embarrassing moment he endured with my supervisor. It’s highly unlikely that this chap will be reading this, and coupled with the many years passed in the interim, I can call him Ed with the confidence of knowing that that’s his real name. Ed was a pleasantly bland and nervy young man with a little bit of public school bearing. He was considered very boring to know in the office and people dreaded — albeit with no malice intended — getting stuck in a corner with him at any social gathering. Andrew recounted that Ed came over to him in the boozer and opened with the following line in a highly conspiratorial fashion:

“I succumbed last night.”

What a beautifully weighted statement, Andrew thought. That word succumbed is so emotive, so leading. Succumbed to what? Heroin? The will of Satan? The advances of ‘Big’ Sally from Accounts? Alas, nothing so exciting: Ed had had a cigarette after several days without. Crucially, he had never spoken of this with Andrew, so it was actually a precisely balanced tilt at opening discourse. Lacking this background detail, and drawn in by the supreme dangling carrot of succumbed, Andrew simply had to beg Ed the question of what on earth he was on about. Too late — conversation had been enjoined. It’s either genius or studiedly, crashingly dull. I’m gonna try it sometime.

At just over 1,000 words here, I will go right now. Besides, it’s a dangerous thing to discuss boredom, isn’t it? A person who laughs at their own jokes as they are telling them is in danger of derailing the gag by setting up a false expectation in the listener. In drama, an audience will cry for a character who stoically does not, out of sympathy. Worst of all, you can bore your readers if you write about tedium too often. It’s a good pose in the short term to be wracked with weltschmerz or enfeebled by ennui — and how the foreign words glorify it enormously and no mistake — but after a while, someone who goes on about finding everything boring must face the question: what have you got to offer instead?

Until next time!


Currently listening to:
H To He Who Am The Only One (Van der Graaf Generator, 1970)
Pawn Hearts (Van der Graaf Generator, 1971)
The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage (Peter Hammill, 1974)
World Record (Van der Graaf Generator, 1976)
The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome (Van der Graaf, 1977)

Currently reading:
Nothing this week.

Currently watching:
Jurassic Park (Stephen Spielberg, 1993)
Return Of The Jedi (Richard Marquand, 1983)

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