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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

NYE

I kind of love New Year, but this year I'm doing virtually nothing for it, and I love that too.

It divides people every bit as much as Christmas, but not as obviously. The reasons people love or hate or Christmas are well documented and understood: childhood magic, cosy gift-giving, holidays, feasting, family time – versus – commercialisation, stress and hassle, expectations, consumerist hordes, loneliness (if you’re alone).

But New Year (or as many annoyingly insist on calling it, New Year's) is a stranger beast. Some people really, really hate it, though often for idiosyncratic reasons. Certainly for those averse to big crowds and bigger parties full of forced jollity, it won't be their favourite night of the calendar - but people’s attitudes to New Year are all over the map, and I suspect very much tied up with good or bad experiences in previous years.

You are kind of expected to enjoy it – you’d be a party pooper if you didn’t – but at the same time nobody calls you a Grinch or a Scrooge if you don’t, and few people gush about how much they love the occasion itself in general. But I, perhaps surprisingly, do love New Year, or at least the idea. I have had my share of anti-climactic ones (most, in fairness, given the huge expectation to have a huge time) and my share of awful ones (the combination of that expectation, alcohol into the early hours and an often off-piste mix of people and places can make for some quite spectacular emotional fireworks...)

Alain

But you see it’s not really about any single party or event, nor even if a good time is had for me – in fact I have had quite emotionally traumatic New Year’s Eves that I look back on fondly, because, y’know, they were eventful and stuff.

The reason I love New Year is the same reason Alain de Botton is always banging on about airports. It’s about the liminality. Alain loves airports, not because of any single destination or arrival, nor any one teary goodbye or hearty holiday hello, but because they’re places of transition and possibility where everyday life is suspended.

Liminal places include the likes of airports, stations, hotels, borders, even bridges – places which are neither one place nor another, but hover in a limbo in between. And while you’re there, however briefly, you hover with them. They make few demands on you other than the need to negotiate your way through them – everything that mattered in your previous home or routine is put on hold, and you can view it all at a distance, in a moment of calm, while you wait to make your way back to it, or to something new that will take its place. Liminal places can be incredibly liberating and perspective-providing if you have time to stop and appreciate them (well, that might be stretching it for bridges, but the view is often nice).

New Year is like that. A few years back (after an awful, emotional one the previous annum, I think) I joked, ha ha, that my ideal New Year would be spent sitting alone in a white room in a big leather chair with a small bottle of port so I could properly think about what I had done. Ha ha. I joked. It was mildly funny (especially said with a deadly straight face). I was less than half joking.

Memorable New Years's – staying in

My fondness for the celebration probably goes back to what will always be the ideal for me (no, not sitting in a white room in a big leather chair) – the cosy close-friends-only house party.

Unlike Christmas, New Year is not really for "the kids", so it’s probably not that common for it to factor large in many childhood memories, but it does in mine. It so happens that from about the age of seven, for a number of years, as a family we used to get in the car and drive down to Bristol to see old friends and neighbours in the week after Christmas, in the proper tradition of Auld Lang Syne. I had spent my halcyon early childhood years surrounded by these good people, including one of my best friends, and we now only got to see them a couple of times a year at most, so this was very special – at once a return to the familiar and an exciting trip away.

In later years us kids got to stay up past midnight with the adults and Clive James being acerbic on the TV, before going bed – and then of course continuing to chat and compare notes about our experiences of the past six months or so, as we heard the reassuring (and increasingly intoxicated) murmur of the adults doing the same downstairs. It was perfect for New Year – staying up late with plenty of catching up, sharing, revelations, putting the word to rights, and year-in-review chat, something special but also cosy – and no need whatsoever for any alcohol or other stimulants.

I mist me up. That has always been the bar for New Year, and one I’ve never quite met since, but it certainly informed some house parties of our own in later years. I particularly remember a lot of discussion over the use of “rooms” in hosting that one of my friends and I agreed upon – that it’s not enough to have one activity in one room, no matter how much food and booze you have on hand. People don’t like to feel penned in, they like to explore, do their own thing, find distractions away from the main throng. Multiple things going on in multiple rooms. That is key. What’s in the conservatory? – oh! – there’s an old skool PS1 with a selection of retro games; and now I’ll just go to the toilet and – oh! – there’s air hockey in the bath.

Memorable New Years's's – going out

It’s got to be said, generally New Year's' spent in pubs and clubs have been less memorable for some reason (well, it's just yet another drunken night out, isn't it?) – but I have had a couple of particularly enjoyable ones down what was once my local, largely due the warm bonhomie of the lock-in, after the horrible jostling crowds thinned out to a more manageable but still diverse band of regulars hunkered down to the small hours.

Ironically, the New Years that really stick in the head are often the ones which really do not go at all to plan. My Millenium in The Smoke ended up much more surreal and memorable than it would have been because we never got to the fabled club we had tickets for. The tube shut down shortly after midnight due to a bomb threat and we ended up wandering the streets with vast throngs of people all in the same situation – aimlessly roaming, hoping desperately for taxi deliverance that would not come for hours, uncertain how to get home. We walked miles and miles across central London, faced police blockades at Westminster Bridge, saw shops open up at 3am to capitalise on the stranded masses... I can’t even remember if we found the club. I think we did, but by then it was something like 5am and they didn’t let us in.

Another New Year sticks in the mind because we insisted on marching a Christmas tree home about four miles through Stoke and Hanley for reasons that now escape all who were present. We had ended up in a rather dead bar with one of my friends livid that he had missed the chimes because at the time he was having a poo, and on the way home from this slightly damp squib of a New Year's, somehow managed to purchase this tree for 50p from some people who had in turn purchased it from a kebab house we were passing. I mostly remember the righteous sense of injustice (of the kind Russell Brand and George Monbiot would be all over today, no doubt) that the police stopped us three times and demanded we put it down - but we still got it home, dammit. And then threw it out again a couple of days later.

This year #1

This year, due to work constraints, my New Year festivities will be quite severely curtailed, which I’m strangely content with. I didn’t have any plans anyway, and even feel slightly relieved at being able to shrug off any nagging feeling that I must be having the best time with a simple “oh well”. I feel reasonably at peace with the turning of the year this time round, happy just that it's happening, and really feel no need to make a fuss and noise about it. After all, there will (I hope) be plenty more.

Last New Year wasn’t awful but it wasn’t great either. For various personal reasons you don’t want me to go into, it didn't feel like a fresh new beginning or hopeful clean page, it felt like things were coming to an end, ships sailing, people disappearing from my life and conditions getting tougher - I looked into 2014 with not much more than a deflated numbness. It all looked a bit flat and grey, like it would just be a lot of hard work with little on offer in the way of warmth, joy, intrigue or excitement to look forward to.

I was very, very wrong.

What my horoscope for 2014 should have said

2014 was a tough year, there is no doubt about that – there has been much stress and exhaustion, to the point of a record number of critical near-meltdowns, it seems, rather worryingly; there has been loss, guilt, heartbreak, bereavement, and some very heavy, serious shocks and concerns; not to mention a few-too-many alarming bits when the money just ran out – but one thing it hasn’t been, is boring.

There are years when you raise a glass on NYE and say “Thank the Moses we’ve seen the back of that f***er” (2008, if I recall correctly was a weapons-grade c***) but 2014 wasn’t one of them.

It was a year of two halves. The first was pretty bonkers, up and down and all over the shop in ways I could never have foreseen, but things certainly happened – and while some were awful, some were quite wonderful too.

By comparison it seems as if almost nothing happened in the second half, which also seemed to shoot by in a flash – but it was kind of like a recovery from the first half. The changes and bonkers events all seemed shudder to a halt, leaving me in a fug and a doldrums by the end of the summer. Almost without realising it the rest of the year, it turned out, was an exercise in slow building, getting back some fun, confidence, stability and control into my shit. To coin a phrase. Coming home and rediscovering oneself, if you want to get all touchy feely about it (and who doesn't?)

That’s what my 2014 horoscope should have said. It didn’t. I checked.

This year #2

So, as I gaze upon the unsown undulations of 2015 (and who doesn't?) I feel a quiet hopefulness – I have no high expectations of astonishing imminent successes, and I have no urgent action to take or resolutions to make, but this time it feels for once like I ended the year in a better position than when I started it, and there are real and genuine possibilities that things could continue to move and improve. There are options and I am open.

So no house party or lock-in, or roaming city streets (well, maybe just a bit), but neither is it the white room and big leather chair. I’ll simply be having a quiet spot of something and getting liminal with an old friend or two.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

I 'spose I'm an introvert, really. But I don't like to shout about it.

~or~ On being unapologetic about wanting to stay in.

Accept yourself

At the risk over coming over all “hey lets all love ourselves and celebrate our differences, you go girl!” – which I try to avoid if possible as it’s not a good look on me – I have recently had reason to accept a part of myself and, frankly it’s a relief.

No, I’m not gay (sorry about that). I have no announcement, no news for anyone who has known me for any length of time... just a few fresh (but quiet) thoughts about something that has come into focus again recently: That I am, fundamentally, an introvert, really.

Now, I’m by no means the most introverted introvert. In fact I have consistently chosen career options that have required me to communicate and assert myself, which may seem odd, but not to me – having spent much of my childhood feeling vaguely threatened and misunderstood by pretty much everyone except my immediate family and closest friends, I slowly discovered that communication was a kind of super-power – to be able to explain yourself, articulate your case and express what the hell was going on in that inner world of yours was a transformative skill to develop, and I developed it rather well.

I still think of myself as shy and retiring, which in a lot of cases I am – but I forget that isn't what everyone sees when, for example, I'm happily babbling and gesticulating away in a violent conversation, or boldly and bolshily schmoozing with strangers as part of the day job. But that I am fundamentally an introvert seems so obvious to me, a fact known practically from the egg, that - remarkably - I seem to have almost forgotten it, or its significance, of late.

"Say baby, what’s your Myers-Briggs type?"

First a couple of important things about introverts and extroverts – the terms have kind of entered everyday language to mean “quiet” and “loud”, but that’s not quite on-the-money. While shy, socially-awkward people will of course be introverts, that doesn’t mean all introverts are shy or socially awkward – any more than all extroverts will be loud and un-thoughtful. Invented by Carl Jung, the terms would more accurately be defined as “internally focussed” and “externally focussed”, and are key in a lot of more modern theorising about personality (not least the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator which, nauseatingly, appears to have replaced “what’s your star-sign” as the dating-compatibility question of choice for the "rational" set).

An introvert is most comfortable when immersed in their own “inner world” of thoughts and feelings – and likely to be uncomfortable and unhappy if they’re not regularly allowed to spend some quiet time “there”. Meanwhile an extrovert is most comfortable focussing on external things – objects and events in the “outside world” – and likely to be unhappy if they’re not regularly allowed to go out, find stimulus and do stuff “out there”. Clearly very few people are all one or the other, and we all experience both modes depending on our situation, the company we're in, activities required of us, etc – but the idea is that most people tend more in one direction than the other.

Underwhelming revelations

Now, I’m wary of labelling and pathologising myself as anything - this “Oh I'm an Aquarius which means I'm just like this and everyone just has to accept it” kind of business is both self-fulfilling and limiting - but in this case I am so very clearly an introvert there is nothing remotely controversial about "diagnosing" me thus.

That is not the revelation. The revelation, in two parts, is this:

A) That somewhere along the line in the past couple of years  - without realising it – I seem to have "internalised" the idea that being introverted is probably a bad thing and I should fight it because when I indulge my introverted tendencies it kinda makes me a loser.

B) That F*** THAT SHIT, in the most robust possible terms. The above unconscious attitude has been contributing absolutely nothing to my life except a vague sense of sense of guilt, vague self-esteem issues (as if I needed any more) and a party-pooping pall over stuff I enjoyed.

Actually, this is less about "accepting myself" in a warm, airy-fairy way, and more about rather selfishly saying: "Screw it - I'm not apologising any more, I'll do what I damn well like". I had allowed myself to become convinced that solitary, internally-focussed activities were kind of worthless, directing one away from the practical and worldly stuff one should be doing. But recently I've indulged myself in a couple of projects unashamedly on my own - and the knock-on effects have made me realise I have been missing something of late.

Purpose is key – this is not about mooching around idly on your lonesome, but using the fabled “me-time” in a focussed and productive way to do things you really want to do. To my surprise I’ve found a sense of re-engaged purpose and achievement that lasts well beyond the activity itself and casts a life-enhancing, optimistic halo into other areas of life – a benefit that was obviously there before, but I must have previously simply taken for granted, and then forgotten.

As alluded to in previous posts, one becomes more "worldly" as one gets older - the practical concerns of society become more and more salient as you get more “adult”. Of course extroverts are much more naturally focussed on both practical concerns and society – it’s their home turf. So society values extroverts more immediately and obviously – despite the fact that society benefits just as much from what introverts produce with their thought and creativity, away from its glaring eye (which, I gather, is what this book is all about, though I rather shoddily don’t seem to have read it yet).

Prejudice against my people

The upshot is, in everyday modern living, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking “I must be more like those extroverts” at all times. Which is a crying shame.

Having gone through an entire childhood and adolescence being constantly asked “Why are you staying in? Why aren’t you out playing football like a normal kid?” one comes out the other side and breathes a sigh of relief, with a vindicated “See? I turned out a reasonably normal, functioning, well-adjusted individual, after all - and there are plenty more like me who are now very successful and cool and stuff cos of their staying in and being a bit weird as a kid". One finally shrugs off all that crap you had to put up with, just to get your drawing done or your book finished, as the well-meaning but ill-informed bluster of people who just didn’t understand...

...only for it to come back, in another form, as one drifts towards middle age, FFS. I’m 37, and again people are going “Why are you staying in? Why aren’t you out travelling, sky-diving, marathon running and downing cocktails, like a normal adult? Life is for living YOLO.”

It’s the same shit. And it’s basically prejudice against my people, dammit.

Yes, maybe I should have got out more when I was a kid – but it wasn’t me. I was never going to be any good at, or interested in, football. In the same way “getting out” and forcing myself into social situations when I’m not in the mood can leave me feeling more distracted, bored, anguished and disconnected than if I’d stayed at home. Extroverts have no idea how much effort it can be for an introvert just to maintain "normal social face" when they just want switch that side of themselves off and be left alone. There is only so much socialising an introvert can take before they need a battery recharge of quality leave-me-alone time. Forcing them out of that doesn’t wean them off being introverted - it just makes them miserable and uncomfortable.

A healthy, balanced diet

I do understand that there is a danger for any introvert of locking themselves away too much, of being too wrapped up in their own world to get things done and grasp all the opportunities the world has to offer. But I at least have some sort of natural barometer of this – I do feel it when I’ve overdone the solitary stuff. I, too, go stir crazy, feel down when I've not spoken to anyone properly or left the house, and sometimes really need to get out. I love socialising and frankly sparkle with it when I'm in the mood. At work I'm almost always happier for having got out of the office, and feel bereft on days when it's empty all bar me - so I'm not a without extrovert needs, and really not the misanthrope I sometimes pretend to be.

But I do have a vivid, active and varied set of introverted interests, too, thank you very much. And when I indulge them, far from feeling like a sad hide-away, I actually feel  more alive and engaged with the world – because my mind is active and I am experiencing, learning, exploring the world in a different way; and doing that means I feel sated, invigorated and fired up with new discoveries and passions to go back into the more social sphere with. It is a balance - a hearty helping of introversion is just fine as part of a healthy balanced diet, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

There are vast rewards to spending quiet time on things alone, that simply cannot be gotten by any other method – whole vistas of intense, mind-expanding experience. But you don’t get introverts telling extroverts “Why are you going out? You need to stay in more, read a book, whittle some wood or something”... Extroverts are always mouthing off, judging us introverts.

Actually, of course, introverts are always judging extroverts too. But we keep it to ourselves.

Monday, 29 September 2014

This did not go so well

I was going to write something tonight.

Because I felt I couldn’t come back after six months with something so thoroughly downbeat as the last post, and just leave it at that - or you, adorable, sage and dexterous reader, would think “cripes, he’s gone a bit shocking”, or even (bless you to the point of sycophantic weeping) be vaguely concerned.

As an aside, what is slightly misleading about the previous post is it makes out that when I was younger I was having a whale of a time as this dynamic free-spirited creative force – when in fact, while yes, my lifestyle was somewhat (but not unrecognisably) different, and all manner of produce did indeed issue forth from my furtively over-active brain and fingers, all the while I was still constantly bewailing the loss of youth, the awfulness of the encroaching world and the certainty of a grey, empty future. In fact, from roughly about the age of 17, and in fact that is what drove quite a lot of the ‘produce’.

I’ve always had a tendency to long-nights-of the-soul about nothing. I look back and think “Jesus wept, you were 19 or 24 or 31 – if you’d just spent less time brooding about what you thought you’d lost or were about to lose or would never have, you might actually have appreciated what you'd gained, got and might yet attain - and enjoyed yourself more.” And of course, I’ll look back on now, when I’m 45 or 60 or 79 and think exactly the same thing. One does grow and change over the years, but there are core elements of personality that remain, and this recurrent wan, nostalgic pessimism, unfortunately, appears to be one of the less palatable ones.

So I was going to write something tonight as I thought I’d better follow that last post up with something light or positive or at least interesting and engaging, but now it’s too late to write anything really, except more of this guff, and that has only gone and given me the ennui.

Mmn. *Sigh*.

This has not gone so well.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Beating up the self ~or~ Habitual self-flagellation over trifling piff-puffs

When you’ve spent the afternoon rattling around in your tin and despite the best of intentions not quite managed to set foot beyond the paving slabs of your front yard; when you have failed get a haircut, to make a number of important (but not urgent) calls, or to really sort anything out that would constitute progress towards making changes in your life that really need to made, but instead have just cooked, eaten and washed up, ironed, tidied and busied yourself with any number of brainless domestic chores you could have done at any time; when you realise then that it’s really too late to make a start on anything, or go see anyone, and the night is tick-ticking away but you’re not tired and don’t really need to be up early so you decide it’s a good idea to have a drink, because why wouldn’t you...?

This is when you like to slump down and enjoy a touch of habitual self-flagellation, just to see the night out.

So, it strikes you, y’know, you’re not really sure you actually enjoy life much at all anymore. How did this happen? You always thought your way was right. You’re always shaking your head and tutting at the follies and stupidity of others and the way they go about things. So let’s look at where being smart and “different” and a wise-ass has got you, huh? Let’s look at what you’ve attained.

You’re a massive success in your chosen field, right? Looks at slippers.

Well, ok, but at least you’ve made some money, yes? Shuffles slippers awkwardly.

Ah! But you’ve done important things that have changed lives? Frowns at wall to the left.

You do enjoy what you do though, more than other people, yeah? Shrugs. Sighs.

Mmn. Well, you’ve made a home for your loving family and that’s what counts, huh? Blank stare.

Nevermind. You’re a bohemian-ish sort, eh? You've always got the simple pleasures of your books and your art, hmm? Faint but perceptible grimace*

*For a good four or five years now it has been clear things on this count are to some extent in decline. It’s a natural and normal thing of course, as one approaches middle age and responsibilities increase – work, families, and just the million little chores of doing the adult life – we all have less time, energy and even money to devote to those purely selfish, immersive pursuits. The days of wiping out whole weekends in pursuit of the learning or the creative urge – which is kinda necessary to properly getting into the zone and completing something impressive – seem long gone. Nowadays getting more than a couple of hours at a time to block out the world and crack on, before you need to attend to something worldly, is pretty rare - and when (like today) you finally get some time, you’re so tired and distracted and out of the habit, you struggle to start anything. You used to be the most prolific producer of creative stuff that you knew, chucking out an unstoppable torrent, and hoovered up eclectic knowledge like a sponge. With a hoover. Your interests and inspirations were varied, your approach oblique, your thoughts never obvious, your path never pedestrian. Life was all about playing, experimenting, learning, analysing, assimilating, re-combining, crafting and throwing something back into the world as a result. Perhaps it was all youthful pretention, and perhaps you were (ironically for someone so averse to clich√©) a clich√© – but you at least felt like somebody interesting and idiosyncratic, intelligent and insightful, doing things in your own interesting and idiosyncratic way, with something intelligent and insightful to say. Now you just feel like a man. Another adult person. You go to work, you come home, you eat, you sleep, you do your washing, you pay your bills, and you occasionally enjoy the same social activities and entertainment as everyone else in your demographic. Another man, dealing with the demands of every day modern life, struggling basically not to be shit – a shit employee, a shit friend, a shit family member, a shit adult – with what you often suspect is a very modest success rate. You don’t seem to have the time, money or energy to do much else. You still dabble in creative pursuits, and read the odd thing, and still enjoy it, but the last few years you have begun to wonder recurrently – are you over the hill, a spent force? To pretend “your art” is these days any more than a thoroughly unremarkable bourgeois hobby, or that more than a handful of faithful old friends should give a shit about checking out what you produce, is stretching it. To pretend you're still in some way academic, the same. In conclusion: When we were younger, it used to feel like it was us against the world. The world won.

Um... hmm... gosh, now. But, but, but, y’know – ah! But you’re HAPPY, yes? Looks appalled and starts to cry.

And that’s only the start of it, a springboard into endlessly circling worries over money, work, relationships, people, the troubles facing friends and family, health, the future, the state of society, the state of humanity... and soon everything fills you with bleak revulsion and despondency.

You know what you’re doing. It’s what the cognitive school would call a triad of negative biases –

-          Thoughts about the self: anything good about you or what you’ve done is nothing special; anything bad is a sign of your plentiful smorgasbord of major, contemptible flaws.
-          Thoughts about the world: anything good about it is either a mirage or a rare exception; anything bad is just the norm, the way the world works.
-          Thoughts about the future: anything good that happens is a one off and it won’t last; anything bad that happens is the way it will always go. D:Ream were wrong.

It’s a rut, a stuck record. Driven by the misplaced urge to be realistic, to be honest, to be under no illusions, you forget this shit-tainted self-absorption isn’t entirely realistic, honest nor under no illusions - since it’s biased, selective thinking, making sweeping generalisations that just aren't warranted.

Your friend reacted with disbelief to that whole Robin Williams thing (which, whatever your view of the outpouring that followed, certainly got debate going about depression, which is really not to be sniffed at) but your response was not shock, just a sad “Oh no”.

A lot of people were aghast that someone so successful, wealthy and loved could possibly feel worthless, trapped or depressed. But you pointed out to your friend that you both had just spent the conversation wailing and gnashing your teeth about your lots and staring bleakly into the existential void. Such vague malaise may be a trifling piff-puff compared to the crippling, empty, black-hole despair of real depression, but what your friend was saying about Williams having it all – and therefore not justified in being depressed – could equally apply to the two of you, from the perspective of a poverty-stricken, bedridden old man living alone in a shack in Sierra Leone.

The poor old thing would say: “How can you two be miserable? Go cook yourself a nice steak in your nice kitchen, play one of your five guitars, go for a drink with your mates and get out there and do one of the million things you are young, healthy, wealthy and free enough to be able to do.” The point was supposed to be that it doesn’t matter how much you appear to have from the outside, no one knows your inner world, your demons and what it’s like to be you – and no one is immune to depressive, obsessive thoughts.

But the analogy backfired a little because, on the other hand, you’ve got to admit the poor old thing would still be very right.

Goodnight.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

F*** Tinder

I am not going to come out of this blog post looking good: I will come off like a tragic loser and an unattractively bitter one at that. So I’m not sure why I’m even writing it, or if I really want you, dear, precious reader, to know about the failed, desperate, furtive goings on that happen behind the curtains of my suave and professional public persona (guffaw). But gosh, dang it, the tradition of painful oversharing for laughs is well established here, and such is one’s chagrin, that what the hellfire – on we go.

Fuck Tinder. Yes, fuck it. It has destroyed my fragile ego.

For those of you who don’t know what it is, it’s a mobile phone app that has been neatly described as speed-dating on your phone, a game of two-way hot-or-not, or a kind of dating game of "snap". You swipe through hundreds of pictures of men or women pressing “yep” or “nah” and if – and only if – you both hit “yep” to each other, it lets you know and you can start chatting. You can select a handful of pictures of yourself from facebook, write a few “about me” lines, set gender, age range and distance preference, and that’s about it. My first impression was one of revolted horror at the shallowness of it all but, of course, one uneventful night in the clutches of a howling gale of unquenchable ennui I thought “Go on - have a look. It’s a bit of fun.” And, yes, it is thoroughly addictive.

This season's themes

Unsurprisingly, it has a reputation as the app of choice for casual hook-ups, so I was kind of intrigued, if dubious, about what levels of seedy decadence I might be about to discover – but there has so far been disappointingly little in the way of shocking or sexy pics or advances, nothing much more racey than endless selfies of glammed-up duck-face pulling types in figure-hugging dresses, proudly displaying their shiny legs and cleavage in the traditional nightclub setting. No – rather this season’s key themes for female Tinderers seem to be sitting at a pub table gurning with a fake moustache, sitting in a festival field with pretty facepaint sprinkled around one eye, Halloween costumes, sky and scuba diving, skiing/snowboarding and horse riding (if posh). Business as usual, then.

A ludicrous amount of pictures contain three or more people which adds the extra cryptic challenge of “who the shit am I supposed to be looking at, ffs?” to the mix, swiping through until you spot which face all five pictures have in common. It’s like a fun family Wii game. Almost as many profiles contain what appears to be a boyfriend in at least one shot, probably a misguided attempt to say “Look, I was desired once – I’m a catch. With baggage you have to live up to. Aren’t you jealous already?” - No. And an alarming amount have simply put up four of five pics of their wedding day, without the common decency to at least crop the guy out. I did think this must be just sheer idiocy, vanity, or a shorthand for “Look, I’m recently separated/divorced – deal with it” - but I rather suspect it’s actually a shorthand for “Look, I’m an adulterer/swinger – you up for it?” - No.

Only about a half put anything in the "about me" bit, but I’ve started all but ignoring it because most tell you virtually nothing and I could largely have guessed the content anyway – Ah, yes, let me see... I expect you think that "life is for living", I expect you just want someone honest and caring, and I expect you love adventure, going out, live music and good food (I, of course, hate all these things). Occasionally the bio will reveal the person is massively annoying or a hideous idiot, but mostly they're thoroughly unremarkable. I suppose I am more likely to like if I find a profile with an "about me" that makes me chuckle or think "That's hellish cool", but these are so rare as to be practically mythological - and I wouldn't expect or demand such a bio from something as superficial as Tinder anyway.

Scything through vast swathes of faces

So, I’m starting to sound ever so choosy and sneery and up-myself, I know. No wonder I’m not having much joy. But, ah! Dearest, beloved, magnificent reader, no, no, no. I have been open of mind, broad of taste and liberal in my Tinder approach – after all, the casual, non-committal nature of it encourages one to experiment. I have not fallen into either the Scylla or Charybdis of only going for instant heart-flutter perfection on the one hand, or only what I think are sensible and appropriate choices on the other. Once you get your steam up on this thing you end up scything through vast swathes of faces and I have spread my yea-saying finger far and wide – from comfortably imaginable matches to “How the hell would that work?”; from reassuringly natural no-nonsense types to the intimidatingly glamorous; from probably too young to probably too old; from the “Hell yes!” to the “Hmm, dunno, maybe, at a push”; and have included an eminently reasonable variety of shapes, sizes and styles that are broadly in the ballpark of my tastes.

I must have liked in the region of sixty or seventy women now. And how many of those do you think have liked me back? Hmmm? How many, dear, majestic reader?

Four

Four.

You heard me. Four. Count ‘em.

One of those was very promising – we got chatting effortlessly over a couple of nights, all fun and no pressure and hit it off well. I asked her out and she seemed excited and nervous and over the next couple of days we started pinning down the details of where and when and what we would like to do and then – silence. I left it a bit, gave a brief prompt and – more silence. And the next day she disappeared.

Another match seemed to be reading off a sexy script and almost immediately asked me to put my credit card details into a webcam site where I could see her "cam". I can't put my finger on it, but for some reason I got the impression she was only after me for my money.

Another one was someone I said “yes” to by accident (it’s very easy to do).

And the other one was a friend taking the piss.

All of these appeared in the first couple of days of using the app. Since then – not a single match, despite ever increasing numbers of thumbs-ups from me. I tell you, the fun addiction soon starts to feel a touch desperate, then like pissing into the wind, and then downright alarming. I mean can it really be? Can it really be that out of sixty-odd mostly appropriate-looking women that I think are reasonably attractive, not one of them thinks “Yeah, maybe, he looks alright”? I mean to say, I carefully selected pictures that make me look more handsome than I actually am in real life, and everything. It’s just an insult. Are things really that stacked against me? Can the outlook really be that bleak?

Hot-sex gigolo lifestyle

This is the point at which I’m sure you – YOU – wretched, blasted, insufferable reader, are tempted to pipe up from the complacency of your stable relationship or hot-sex gigolo lifestyle and tell me I’m doing something wrong, and here’s your advice... well, respectfully, *bullshit* and get-to-buggery with that bollox. There is nothing to do on Tinder, before the chatting starts, aside from select some decent pictures and not sound like a weirdo in the tiny bio, if you do one at all. I’m savvy enough to know what is a flattering picture and what isn’t, I'm self-aware enough not to put up anything that makes me look (too) weird, tragic or shoddy and I have even taken friends’ feedback on my choices.

And besides, people’s tastes, temperaments and sympathies vary radically – surely even the most half-hearted collection of so-so pictures would chime vaguely with someone out of seventy people. Not everyone is going to unanimously swipe "no", thinking “I don’t like his receding hairline” or “That pic is a bit pretentious” or “Ooh, I don’t know about that shirt”. I’m a normal-looking man. I have nice eyes, ffs. Maybe I need a skydiving shot?

Excuses

So what is going on? Other people I know who’ve used it regularly seem to have multiple matches on the go at any one time. Maybe an awful lot of people install it, take a couple of brief looks and then never touch it again. Maybe the further away ones aren’t casting their net as wide, so will never see me. Maybe I just haven’t given it enough time – there are an awful lot of people on there to trawl through. But these excuses only go so far.

I had the (possibly horrifically sexist) notion that because men tend to be more looks-oriented than women – and Tinder is all about looks – the deck may be stacked in favour of pretty females who can pick and choose – in that any half-presentable woman who dresses well and takes a good picture will be inundated with likes from all corners, in a way that a half-presentable man might not – and therefore have a high likelihood of scoring a match in the first lucky handful of blokes they say “ok” to, and never make it far enough into the morass of men to get round to the likes of me. But I don’t really believe that – as long as the amount of looking and liking is fairly even between the sexes, it wouldn’t make any difference what gender you are. And the point of Tinder is that it’s the looking that’s entertaining and addictive - you don’t just stop the second the first person pops up to chat.

The final possibility is that my phone installation developed some bug, meaning for some reason women weren't seeing me or matches not coming through – of course! It is funny that all four (four!) matches appeared within a couple of days and then nothing, isn’t it? Yes, it is. Very suspicious. Ok, I’m going to believe that, lest my ego go foetal in the corner in a ball of weeping mess.

Huh. No. I dunno. All I know is Tinder has been a disappointment. Fuck Tinder. I’ll give it one more week.