Friday 1 March 2013

His Music is Better than it Sounds

2.    I’m just diggin’ you now

So then, Mr. Charisma Man, good luck to you, I say. Go forth and dip ye wick whilst ye may, because who wouldn’t? As long as all concerned are consenting adults, what business of mine is it how other people chose to employ their genitals for their own amusement (cf. Gay Marriage. Why the fuck do you care)?

As a self-diagnosed introvert, my social life has tended to progress through saltation – long periods of comfortable inactivity punctuated by the occasional epiphany and subsequent nervous, jerking leap forwards. The first really memorable one of these was when I was nineteen, in a pool bar in Adelaide. Getting slightly (very) drunk with my German housemate, we concluded that the single character trait people respond to most favourably is confidence. More than looks, humour, empathy, anything else.

So far so obvious you might say. Fine, I was young and stupid and hadn’t got that far yet, but the second part of that conversation was about how it was possible to fake it and, crucially, that most people can’t tell the difference between fake confidence and the real thing. It’s a virtuous circle, act confident and people will respond well to you, which increases your confidence for real and it keeps spiraling upwards. Striking while the iron was hot I asked the phenomenally attractive girl behind the bar what she was doing after her shift.

Obviously you can all figure out how this story ends. She shot me down in flames, but somehow I survived the fall and went on to have a pretty good evening. I think. It gets a little hazy after a while. Anyway, that’s not the point. It’s the acceptance of failure as the occasional price of success that’s important. Confident people aren’t confident because they think they’ll always succeed, but because they know that they will be able to recover from any failure.

This is all getting a little Secrets To My Success self-helpy, but bear with me. There’s another knob gag coming up in a bit, I promise.

Not yet.

There are a number of my physical features that are somewhat less than conventionally attractive. I know that revelation may shock you but it’s true. I’m only too aware of this because teenagers being the warmhearted, supportive, tolerant beings that they are these deficiencies were constantly pointed out to me at school. I now take inordinate amounts of pleasure in Facebook stalking these people and laughing at their personal losses, their divorces, the passing of their loved ones and the sad, lonely voids their lives have inevitably become as they cling uselessly to pitiful existences enervated only by a yearnful and implacable crawl towards the cold release of death (knob gag coming up, remember).

There were periods at school when I genuinely despaired of ever getting a girlfriend, what with the demonstrably apparent hideousness of my appearance. I’ve since learned that this is not an uncommon phase to go through, the lucky ones just get it out of the way in short order. Self-obsession is never attractive, except when people mistake it for confidence (see above). More to the point, it blinds you to what’s really going on around you. If I’d been paying attention I’d have noticed that it wasn’t necessarily the good looking guys at school who got the girls, but the ones with the best way with words.

Improbably, one of my closest mates at school fit that description. Whereas I retreated into chippy teenage sarcasm, he really could turn on the charm. A ‘sexy bastard’ in the parlance, I believe. It also helped that he was half Iranian, which leant him a veneer of foreign glamour. You have to understand that I grew up in rural England, and in my entire school of 1,400-odd kids there were maybe a dozen who weren’t wholly white. Just being called ‘Fleur’, was enough to seem impossibly exotic.

On reflection, racism was relatively rare. I think it’s because there were so few kids from minorities that they weren’t ‘from minorities’, they were just themselves. J was just J and wasn’t representative of anything wider because there really wasn’t anything wider for him to be a representative of. Of course it’s equally possible, in fact sadly probable, that I was just unaware of the worst of it.

The only incident I can remember happened when we were maybe fifteen. We were leaving the cloakroom, and one of the younger kids saw my mate, ostentatiously sniffed the air and smirked, “I smell curry.”

Obviously there was no odour other than the reek of piss from the nearby toilets. J kind of laughed it off, but not having his (undoubtedly hard-won) savior faire I grabbed the kid, pinned him up against the wall and yelled,

“You smell curry, eh? Well how about I ram a popadom up your nose and a samosa up your arse and we’ll see what you can smell then, dickface!”

That’s a lie. What I actually said was,

“RACISM! …is not good.

Which, it’s fair to say, somewhat punctured the air of righteous menace I’d been aiming to cultivate.

Because I’d never had to deal with it before, see? I knew conceptually that racism was undesirable, but it wasn’t something that had ever intruded directly into my world before (that’s not the knob gag, by the way). My mate had obviously had to deal with it far more often. While I held ill-informed jealousies regarding his popularity and put it down largely to his mixed-race exoticism, the fact was he’d clearly had to learn to be charming as something of a defence mechanism, in much the same way that many professional comedians will have had to develop their performance skills to deflect unwanted attention from schoolyard bullies.

Confidence is rarely about expecting the best. It’s about not worrying unnecessarily about the worst. Sometimes it’ll arrive through a personal epiphany, sometimes through hard earned experience. The downside to the epiphany route is that if you’re faking it then sometimes you’ll misjudge, overshoot and just come across as an arrogant prick. All the more reason to develop the real thing quickly then. And the trouble with developing confidence by having to deal with abuse is, well, having to deal with abuse.

The end goal is similar, but one of these routes is clearly better than the other (it’s the first one, the first one is better) and I realize I’m coming perilously close to advocating Personal Growth Through Racism here.

Christ, that’s all kinds of wrong, isn’t it? Lots of work to do in Part Three, then.

Here it comes...

Oh, yes. What’s pink and hard in the morning?

The Financial Times crossword.

Thank you, thank you, I’m here all week. Don’t forget to tip your waitress.


  1. Humour as a defence mechanism, indeed. Why are the best American comics Black or Jewish, right? Now Jews aren't all that denigrated anymore, but the 20th C. as a Jew would be something nobody can ask you to get over, unless he's Tustsi.

    My Canadian town was so white we thought Portuguese was a 'visible minority'. Went to a 'Highland Games' with my J-wife and mother a few years back and I was nervous. Hundreds going from pasty to pink in the sun, except for:
    - my wife
    - some white dude's Chinese-Canadian GF
    - S. Asian dude in one regimental band
    - Caribbean dude in another

    Yeah, I'd deal with a racist taunt differently having had a wee taste. No preaching: threats or put-downs. Next time I hear something I'll try, "At least he's not a piece of work like you."

    I have a big nose, am lanky rather than built (the built dudes in HS are now fat-fucks!), etc. I was shy before I went to Japan in my twenties. Some chicks dug me here, and some people could not deal with my alieness. I learned it's all arbitrary, so fuck anyone else's opinion of me. Helped a heap.

    Getting back to the HS jocks who are all pushing twice my weight, so are their wives, who were once the talk of the school. Everyone who ever snubbed me is not anything like I am:
    - well read
    - well travelled
    - has a foreign wife
    - still on his first marriage
    - not stuck with a mortgage costing more than his house is worth
    - in his proper BMI range

    1. I'm on 24.6 which is a bit hairy. I am putting the bike back together for my first ride this year on the weekend.

    2. I feel I should clarify that I don't really Facebook stalk people. That was a joke. That said, the collective onset of middle-age spread has not been all that pleasant to witness.

      My dad lives in the far north of Scotland (the real one), and I can well appreciate your nervousness regarding introducing your wife. On the upside, on the frequent occasions I found the dialect incomprehensible I could just get her to ask for a clarification, which was less embarrassing all round.

    3. Scots and Kiwis I can make little sense of: the former have changed all their vowels, and the latter have only one vowel. No, to be fair I find the Edinburgh accent enviably masculine, but Glaswegians... what?

  2. My son went to a "hippy" school for the first few years of his schooling. A chick I worked with had gone to the same school. She told me that she ended up dropping out of uni and almost having a breakdown because she couldn't cope with the real world having only known a supportive and caring environment all her life.

    Maybe learning to deal with bullies is like learning a language - better to do when you are young. Unless of course it's extreme bullying!

    1. Extreme bullying? Would that be like extreme ironing? Taking the piss out of someone whilst bungee jumping or something? ;)

      More seriously, that's the eternal parents dilemma, isn't it? You want to protect your kids as much as possible, but if you don't give them the wherewithal to survive in the real world then you've failed, basically. Shits me right up, I can tell you.

  3. Some wander down the less-traveled path, turn around and see nobody following them, give up and return to the oft-traveled road. Others run down the less-traveled path and are glad to so nobody following. Still others wander completely off the path, climb a nearby tree and pick off the passersby...

    Where was I going with this? I dunno... I guess I'm saying get rich and buy a helicopter or a jet plane or something...

    1. "get rich and buy a helicopter or a jet plane or something..."

      Words to live by there, my friend. Words to live by...

  4. I somehow managed to fluke my way through high school and getting girlfriends, as I have never been a very confident type at all. I either borrowed some through my friends or managed to fluke my way through. In my twenties I had some great moments of confidence, but also times where I had absolutely none. Bit of a long story really.

    I think the phenomenon you describe about racism is pretty spot on. I used to be in Hiroshima, where there was a little bit floating around, but where I am now there almost seems to be none. I think the more of a minority that are around, the higher likelihood that someone will have a bad experience with one member of that minority and then form a negative stereotype. The same thing seems to happen about dating too, no one seems to give a shit who is a charisma man and who isn't, yet ironically the women out here couldn't really give a shit about you either. Actually, I don't think it is possible to be a charisma man here.

    Not all of them are jocks or whatever, but I do see a lot of people from high school that have barely changed since finishing high school. I personally can't stand the place I grew up in and am glad that I am very far away from it. Of course I miss other parts of the city though.

    Got interrupted half way through and forgot the rest.

    1. I'm sure I should try and give an equally thoughtful response, but I'm afraid I just can't stop giggling at your last line.

      Yes, since you ask, I have had a couple of beers :)

  5. Wow... this is weird. Reading about people who grew up in areas that were whited out. When I first moved in, my stepmother used to get upset at me because she thought I sounded like a 'cholo'. Had no idea I'd picked up the accent or that it would even be an issue. Guess some people have issues that way, ese.

    1. I had to look that word up. I also used the word 'coloured' to refer to a mutual acquaintance when I was at university, and genuinely didn't understand the reason for the deathly silence that descended on the common room immediately after. Live and learn, eh?

      It might be why I'm a touch more forgiving of people in Japan, to be honest, and take the 'internationalization' bit of my role to heart. British cities are very diverse, but the countryside really isn't. There but for the grace of god...

  6. Wow, what a tale. Me and confidence have a strange relationship...and it's gotten even stranger since moving to Asia, where it is consistently fed and tarred and feathered on a damn near daily basis. I can write a post and get kudos from high caliber readers who "get" me and then an hour later go to Starbucks and have the staff not understand a single word coming outta my mouth or misunderstand me and bring me a chai latte when I think I was pretty clear when I said I'd like a blueberry cream scone.

    1. And that right there is a large reason I keep up this blog. It's nice to be able to use the words I want to use, instead of the closest equivalent I think people will understand.

      One of these days I'll share the story of my first attempt to rent a video in Japan, but I'll need to figure out how to do it in a written form. It does feature an awful lot of gestures...