Monday, 29 April 2013

Fernando Torres

There's been a lot of sporting discussion over Fernando Torres ever since he left Liverpool for Chelsea. The man has been through a catastrophic loss of form. There's been several competing theories for this loss of form, some based on insider knowledge of the club, some based on internet theorising. I'm going to outline none of them here. What I am going to do is make up several possible examples:

1. Fernando Torres has been afflicted with existential nihilism ever since someone gave him some Kierkegaard and Schopenhauer (Because 'Nando has been obsessed with famous sideburns of the 19th century since he read a picture book on the Crimean war and saw Lord Cardigan in action, moments before his displaying his daring George Osborne-esque leadership capabilities) to read on the train to London to sign his contract with Chelsea, and since then has been stumbling around the pitch in a cloud of nihilistic despair, frequently shouting after mistimed shots "Goal, no goal, what does it matter?! It's all a decorative façade on the perpetual insignificance of my meaningless existence!" (Rafa Benitez has tried to coach this out of him to no avail, by shouting at him during training sessions "You lend your own life whatever significance it possesses! Each of your accomplishments may be insignificant on a grander scale but within your own existence, they are important and valued! You have an obligation to your own existence to try and take as much advantage of it as possible! Now run the channels and try to stay onside!", to which captain John Terry intervened with "Oh, you're taking a simplistic view of the matter, We have a fundamental need to have our accomplishments validated by other people, a need to feel important, and if we recognise that, ultimately on a grand enough scale, that need will never be satisfied, that we are unimportant and insignificant, it's as bad for us as asking us to go without our other needs, like food and drink. You can't ask this man, starved of importance, to play football!" to which Rafa replied "Ultimately, a skeleton doesn't need very much food, does it? His need to feel important will be satiated in his own lifetime, much like his hunger. After he dies, he may be forgotten, but he will also be hungry. He doesn't seem to be worried about that. Now get back on the pitch and practice picking up stupid red cards!").

2. In children's books related to football, frequently the protagonist, some sort of aspiring young footballer, usually one with an older brother with whom they play in the garden under the watchful eye of a kindly grandfather, gets a new pair of boots/goalkeeping gloves that magically improve his game (as opposed to the hard work and practice other kids have to do, the fools). This old story is not just a fable, it actually happened to Torres, a man with an older brother and a grandfather who loved Atlético Madrid, who had a magical pair of football boots. Sadly, on his move to Chelsea, he forgot to include the stipulation that he wore these boots, and, upon seeing these unsponsored monstrosities, Chelsea's kitman threw them straight into the bin before Torres' first game for Chelsea. Ever since, he has been unable to play football to the levels he once could, and can be frequently found scouring charity shops across the country for new boots, asking shop assistants to throw him a football and seeing if he can hit a left foot volley into the coat rack.

3. He has been distracted from his football because he is writing a new screenplay about a team of footballers from North Korea who win the World Cup, and announce their dislike of their dictatorial monarchy to an admiring nation, who begin to see through the propaganda and stage a rebellion within their own country, toppling Kim Jong-Un and ushering in a new dawn of diplomatic talks and international acceptance of a more democratic nation. Indeed, the captain of the side, who goes on to lead the nation, announces to a UN meeting "The craziest thing that Kim Jong-Un did was have nuclear weapons. We wish the US and Russia to remind the world that they are not like our old regime. We came to clarity and saw the flaws in such a scheme; we can only hope America and Russia can do the same. Mutual destruction is not the future we wish to see; There is a place in this world for mutual construction. Help us build a better world." leading to multilateral disarmament talks brokered by the North Koreans, and the eventual abandonment of all nuclear weapons programmes worldwide. It's called "Coup du Monde", because he thinks that's clever (A coup is the overthrow of the government, the Coupe du Monde is the World Cup in French)(I said HE thought it was clever, not that it was. Get off my back, alright?).

Those are just three potential stories for the tabloids to run regarding Fernando Torres' continued lack of ability to kick a football into a net. I expect a Sun special pull-out booklet on possible reasons for his loss of form ("Where has Torres gone?", with a picture of a dejected looking Fernando on the cover) which, as well as these listed above, also implicates Torres as the full-time head of a crime family, one of 5 players who had their talent stolen by the Monstars for a 5-a-side game versus the Looney Tunes
(Space Jam reference. The Sun would also name the other 4), setting up a sideline in personally hand-crafted mugs and building a 1:16 scale Delorean from toothpicks in his garage.


As a young man, I've reached a stage in my life where the idealism of my childhood has to have a jarring encounter with the pragmatic demands of reality. I'm considering potential careers for myself, and I'm in a position where I'm becoming forced to abandon the dreams of my youth and instead face up to the bleak drudgery of a job I don't really WANT.

Some kids grow up saying "I want to be a vet! I love helping rabbits and I've seen Bambi.", and then those children end up working hard at school to get good grades, then becoming vets. However, I encounter significantly fewer children growing up saying to their parents "Mummy, when I grow up, I want to be a chartered accountant on £27k a year with 21 days of flexible holidays and a competitive bonus structure with opportunities across the country.", and yet, inexplicably, there are literally dozens of accountants all over the world.

There are two options for the people who have chosen a career that nobody appears to WANT to do from a young age. The first is fairly mundane: They didn't have any particularly strong aspirations as a child. Their self-image didn't really include a career (At a young age, it tends to revolve around allowing yourself to stay up late and eat as many chocolate digestives as you want want when you grow up), and so when the time came to pick a career, they were working with a blank slate, so to speak. They needed an activity to fund the sort of things they did aspire to as a kid (Television and chocolate digestives), rather than that activity being a desirable pastime in and of itself. The single most depressing statement I've ever heard another person utter is "I would sit in a dark room for 8 hours a day for £40k a year". For these people, work is a means to an end.

The second category is significantly worse. These are people who did have some sort of childhood dream, but the necessities of reality impinged on it, and they had to trade that ideal for a pragmatic reality. Perhaps our hypothetical childhood vet wasn't quite academically gifted enough to break into the world of animal practice. The career they wanted was closed off to them, and they had to accept the disappointing situation and from this, conjure up a new career. It's not really what they wanted to do, but hey, maybe telemarketing isn't so bad! And they do give you a decent salary and if you keep at it, you could be a manager inside two years and have your own office by the time you're 30. These people had hopes and ambitions for their careers that lie shattered by the wayside, and now spend 8 hours a day in a compromise, a perpetual admittance of the fact they betrayed their inner child and let him down.

The best way I've found for handling decisions is to ask myself what I would do when I was 10. When you're 10, the difficulties and complexities of life don't impinge on your decision-making. What your inner 10 year old wants is what you really want. You then have to obviously temper this desire with your adult viewpoint. For example, my inner 10 year old wants me to eat a chocolate bar and stay up late, but my adult viewpoint says "If I eat a chocolate bar, I'll get fat, and if I stay up late, I'll be tired tomorrow morning". In this way, I manage to try and work out what I actually want deep down, and then try to find a way to make it work with the adult reality of my situation (For example, I'll eat the chocolate bar and go for a run tomorrow, or stay up late and wake up late tomorrow).

I find myself facing a similar dilemma now, in terms of career. It's becoming increasingly obvious that I am, despite my inner 10 year old's desires, very unlikely to become a professional footballer and part-time rock god. It's one thing to have to make concessions in reality to move closer to the idealised wishes of the 10 year old. But it's quite another to have make concessions to the idealised wishes of the 10 year old to reach a compromise with reality. Especially in this case, as it isn't so much a concession as a complete demolition of the 10 year old desires. I understand that this is simply the pragmatic decision and one that has to be taken, but it's still incredibly frustrating and disappointing to feel you can't actually live up to your internal aspirations, even for reasons outside your control (I could be an excellent shepherd, but fiscally, that would be a poor move, for example).

I'll join the hordes in their compromise careers, filing on to busy motorways at 8:20 am, on my way to a job I don't care about. And I'll have to do this until I retire. Maybe I'll grow to enjoy that job, but it'll still always be a compromise, a reminder of the fact that when my ideals and realities came to blows, I had to shout "Stop the fight! STOP THE FIGHT!" and throw in the towel on behalf of my ideals.

PS. This has been very rambly. This is because it's exam time, and thus everyone I know is busy, and I am cooped up in a small room gradually getting cabin fever, and through The Sopranos.

Friday, 25 January 2013


My fears are not the tangible things that can actually kill you (I'm not afraid of great heights. I'm afraid of FALLING from great heights, or even more pedantically, suddenly not falling any more), but the more quirky, conceptual horrors. Obviously, I do have, to a certain extent, fears grounded in physical harm, but those are fairly standard, and thus not of note. These are my fears.

Failure. If you never try at something, you can rationalise it as, in some weird way, not failing, but the rather more ego-satisfying "not trying". "Oh yeah, well, I could be a world-class boxer if I dedicated four years to it, sure!" I can say, confident that I will never actually test this theory. Not trying is simply a much more energy-efficient method of not succeeding. It's a useful shortcut to failure, in which you don't have the soul-destroying experience of being bad at something before even getting competent. To come back to the earlier example, me taking up boxing would be several weeks of me getting punched in the face as I get gradually exhausted, fleeing and trying to hide from someone in what is essentially a small empty square. But if you never try at anything, you won't ever get past that terrible beginner stage, and reach the point where you are not completely awful at something, merely fairly abysmal. As an associate to this, there's the resigned indifference to your own failings. "Oh yeah" you mutter. "I'm just bad at that.", rather than thinking "I should try and get better at it by, y'know, working on it, rather than perpetually explaining I simply can't do it.".

I'm not doing it properly. Regardless of what "it" is. "Woah there, am I holding this burger wrongly?" (Yes. Ketchup fell down my sleeve, which is basically the standard for not holding something correctly, uncontrollable condiments), "Should I be brushing my teeth like this?" (If someone stabs you with a pointy stick and you start bleeding, it's not because you're not flossing efficiently. It's because they have stabbed you with a pointy stick. Similarly, even if you use shower gel and a loofah, if someone prods your chest with a dagger, you'll bleed. Copiously, I imagine). Should I carry my wallet in this pocket or that one? Oh, man, I've not got a Tesco clubcard. Better apologise! (I do this every time. As if the cashier is going to reach over the counter and grab me by the lapels, before shouting into my face "God, you useless wanker! You never shop anywhere else! You'd have enough points to be regional manager for Tesco by now as a reward! Just get your bloody life in order!" unless I include the contrite, mumbled appendage to my confession of not having a clubcard). Basically the haunting spectre of self-doubt and personal recrimination hangs in my thoughts. I've changed my handwriting three times in a bid to try and find one that can be considered neat and efficient, for example.

Everything I do is meaningless. Maybe that's why there's no point in doing anything. We are all Ozymandias. Most of us aren't revered in our times. None of us will be revered given a suitably long timescale (My legacy may well be pretty massive, obviously, but I sincerely doubt it'll outlast the eventual heat-death of the universe). Existential nihilism is a spectacular fear, making you disillusioned and cynical. You are meaningless, and everything you do is meaningless. Why do anything? So there's fundamentally no long-term advantage to doing anything. There's not much short-term advantage to it either because...

Creation leads to critique. Nothing you ever create can please all of the people all of the time (Even, astonishingly, these writings. I am as surprised as you are), and the people who aren't pleased are rarely shy in saying so. This, unsurprisingly, is a disappointing experience, and deeply dissuasive. If you never create anything, nothing you are responsible for and inherently therefore, proud of, can be criticised. It's analogous (Sort of.) to building a tower people occasionally knock down. It's such a dispiriting experience to have it knocked down, eventually you stop trying to build the tower at all. What's worst is the certain knowledge that I used to be ashamed of my own lack of tower, so I'd wander round knocking down someone else's. I guess this is one of the primary motivating factors behind it. This is inherently linked to the fear of failure, not meeting the subjective analysis of someone else being defined as failure, for some reason.

This one is a combination! I'm not particularly scared of either on its own, but when I think about them in conjunction, I panic. My mortality and my own lack of direction. I don't know what I want to do. This in itself is a pretty normal thought process, many of us spiral repeatedly in our little vehicle round the roundabout of life, looking for an interesting exit. The trouble begins when you realise your little car is running out of fuel all the time, and you have no idea what exit you want and there's definitely not a petrol station nearby. To extend the metaphor far too much. Then you panic about whether you should just take the next exit just to get off the roundabout. Or whether you should stay on, trying to find the best exit for you. Basically, I think "Hey, it doesn't matter that you have no clear-cut ambitions yet! You've got plenty of time." and my mind goes "Do we? I'm pretty sure that's not right. We've got like, 60 more years. Max. And only like, 30 more good ones. If you keep fit. Which you don't."

All of these make for awful Hallowe'en costumes. "What as you dressed as?" "The harrowing reality of your dwindling existence. You?" "I...I am a shark." "I hope you feel you spent the time making that wisely. You'll never get it back." "Goodness. Your costume IS good." "Thanks. More punch?" "No. No I think I might go home. And think. You know. About everything." "Okay. Have a nice night!".