I HAVE never been an especially competitive person. I am probably the least competitive person I know.
One of my friends thought he was less competitive and we had a bit of an argument about it, backed up with examples and citations and Powerpoint slides.
And I let him win.
When I decided I would like to be a journalist, I went for a course assessment in Preston. I did quite well on the written papers, but there were interviews in the afternoon. I chose to go last, as I had the shortest journey home, and I wanted to get a feel for Preston.
It turns out one can get a feel for Preston relatively quickly, and I spent three hours looking in a comic shop, trying to look different every time I passed a busker, and not walking on the cracks in the pavement.
The interview started quite well, then one of my interrogators apologised for my long wait, and I said it seemed only fair seeing as I lived the nearest. And I saw the lights go out in their eyes.
This boy, they evidently thought, does not have the killer instinct of a born journalist. We cannot see this boy, they thought, accidentally gatecrashing a drug baron’s child’s birthday party, becoming trapped on an illegal camp site by burly gypsies, or being chased across a football pitch by geese.
How wrong they were.
But as age has started to strip away the vitality from my body, like the ocean wearing rocks into pebbles, so my patience has eroded. And today the last remnants floated away into the sea.
I get the bus every day. I have probably mentioned this before. It is not an eccentric lifestyle choice, it is a matter of necessity.
In fact, if I were told tomorrow that I would no longer have to get the bus because they had invented something better, like jetpacks, or remote working from home, I would be delighted.
But we do not live in that sort of world, and so I try to derive as much pleasure as I can from getting the bus. That means sitting on the top deck front seat driver side – the best seat on any bus. It is the equivalent of getting a corner office in Mad Men.
This morning, the bus I did not want arrived at the bus stop first. I moved out of the way and saw my bus arriving behind it. My eyes flicked to the top deck. The seat was free, and I was in pole position, closest to the door of the bus. But then I looked back, and saw two young women who were at the bus stop before me walking towards my bus. I could have pretended not to have seen them – do not think I was not tempted – but my killer instinct was still shackled.
I let them on in front of me and watched, helpless, as they walked up the stairs. I dared to hope as I took the stairs two at a time…
But, no. They were sitting in the prime seat, my seat. I shuffled down the bus, flopped into a second-rate berth, and looked at them, my eyes boring into their backs. If they had taken some sort of pleasure in sitting in that seat, I would have been able to cope with it. If they had even looked down the periscope once… Instead they chatted throughout the journey. They could have sat anywhere.
I’ve been working on a project in a stuffy office the past few weeks and decided today to get some air. I needed some cash anyway, so I left the office and walked the short distance to the cash point. There was a younger man walking just ahead of me, and I just knew he was going there too.
The bus disappointment was still raw, and something snapped.
I sped up, passed him, and got to the cash point first. I heard him tut, but felt triumphant. Yes, I am in my forties, but I can go toe to toe with a much younger man and win. I felt like Rocky Balboa, though in the later films.
Then I realised that my jacket was on the back of my chair in the stuffy office, safely housing my wallet. I had no cash card on me.
And so I leant forward, made myself as wide as possible to block his view with my body, and I pretended to put a card in the machine and then to use it.
I might be able to compete with others, but I will never be able to win against myself.