Diary – University Challenge, Mediocrity, Decline and Fall

Like everyone, I believe that I have all the answers to life and that anyone who doesn’t behave exactly as I would in a situation has failed to understand the situation. This is despite having failed to accomplish my dreams; being an unpublished writer; having an unplanned career; being always slightly less muscular than I planned on being; being useless at having conversations with strangers; and having never won University Challenge.

So it was with ambivalence that I watched on as Goldman felled Monkman in the University Challenge final. My only glimmers of hope were the two occasions when Monkman interrupted questions prematurely, in one case answering vaguely and apologetically, ‘Italy?’ when of course the answer was, specifically, Monza.

It is a fact that no matter how good anyone is at anything, there will be a legion of people better at it than you. Even Monkman turned out not to be the best at University Challenging. In the list of the best diarists in the world, I rank poorly in: longevity, significance, global reach, and relevance generally. As a reader, I am daily confronted with people who are better than me at novel writing. As a short story writer, I am rejected in favour of other writers on a regular basis. As a cyclist, I do not stand up to comparison with the professionals, considering how often non-professionals cycle right by me when I’m on my weekend spin.

Sometimes I wonder, how does one come to terms with mediocrity? But then I suppose: we have no choice but to be it, whether we are on terms or otherwise. But I dare to dream: I hope to, one day, be remembered as a competent novelist and diarist. And maybe if I achieve this within my lifetime, I will have the opportunity to win Celebrity University Challenge; bearing in mind that the ‘fame’ bar is not set overly high—Kezia Dugdale, for example, was on the 2016 series. Perhaps not as prestigious as the regular season, but I would be proud nonetheless.

In my real life, being that which has recently been, I spent the weekend cycling at an average pace. Fergus and I went to Gourock, travelled by ferry to Kilcreggan, then looped past various nuclear weapons facilities around the Helensburgh area, before heading back to Glasgow via Loch Lomond. Immediately on arriving home, I showered, drained a can of lager, and fell asleep on the couch for three hours prior to attending a barbecue with friends in the suburbs. Sunday was spent making holiday arrangements; a torturous process. However, as a pleasant effect of said torturous day, Steph and I now have firm plans to fly to Rome for a fortnight next month, as well as places to sleep while we’re there.

During the week I made the mistake of reading an article about pensions. I was left feeling great dread for the future, noting my savings to be completely inadequate. The dread, of course, was not so great as to dissuade me from planning a holiday. I note mixed messages: pension fear, and fear of robots and automation, in some quarters. But others, perhaps optimists, write of automation bringing freedom from work—and the universal income! What is clear is that something must be done, as many millions have not the money to live today, never mind to save for forty years hence. I am inclined to like the idea of the universal citizens’ income. I am inclined to like the idea of reducing the working week. Why is capitalism so stubbornly popular when it afflicts us with the horror of the forty hour working week on an almost weekly basis? What a terrible use of time; in the future we will look back upon it as a great crime. Why oh why did we allow an economic system to rob us daily of our most productive hours!

In cultural news, I finished reading Zadie Smith’s The Autograph Man. In some ways I preferred it to White Teeth, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did NW. It grew on me, and I liked the Kitty Alexander character immensely. The ending, however, didn’t do anything for me; I think I may have missed something important. Smith’s prose was excellent, and she has a good sense of humour.

I also finished The Children Act by Ian McEwan. I think this started very well, but the standard wasn’t maintained. The writing, as always, was excellent; the problem was the plot. McEwan’s plots are often his weak point—see, for example, the supreme silliness of the euthanasia plot in Amsterdam, or the odd written-for-cinema feel to the gun-wielding ending of Enduring Love. In this case, I just got a bit bored of the Jehovah’s Witness kid with Leukaemia. I was more interested in the relationship between Fiona and her husband.

I am now reading Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh, which I started ages ago, but did not finish for some reason. The first four chapters have been hilarious. This week’s plan is to arrange a cheap hill-walking holiday for mid-July.

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I am an amateur novelist, an aspiring tax advisor, a cycle commuter, and a graduate of philosophy, politics and law

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Posted in diary, Literary criticism, Politics and philosophy

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