The club membership paradox

Groucho Marx famously resigned from a Hollywood club, and in his resignation letter he said  ‘I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member’.

In the brilliant Annie Hall, Woody Allen, as the persona Alvy Singer, references this quote, explaining that this was the key tenet of his adult life that summed up his personal relationships with women. Alvy Singer believed that if a woman fell in love with him, she must be flawed to overlook/accept his flaws and was therefore an unsuitable partner – a self defeating outlook that resigned Alvy to a life of loneliness and isolation.


This clever, self-diagnostic and self disaparaging joke plays on the vulnerabilities and flaws inherent in the human psyche, suggesting the these flaws we identify in ourselves are an integral part of ‘us’, and therefore if you accept me ‘warts and all’ then you must by definition be flawed and therefore unsuitable and most certainly not what I’m looking for.

Like Groucho, I have had a lifelong problem with clubs/societies and this might go some way to explaining my issues with Facebook. As a young boy I was sent to cubs – I loved the outdoors, games, camping, climbing trees – and so cubs sounded ideal, yet I hated it. I dreaded Tuesday nights when I had to don my uniform and badges and shamefacedly walk to the church where the cubs took place. I felt self conscious in my uniform and grew frustrated with the rules and the conventions – the ritualistic raising and lowering of the flag, the pledge of allegiance, the formality of it all. And yet I liked my friends at cubs and the cub leaders, all good people in their own right, but wrapped in a rulebook bound inside a formal organisation I felt stifled. I particularly disliked the fact that I had to be there at 7pm every Tuesday.

It wasn’t just cubs, I hated swimming club (although I loved swimming), I hated school orchestra (but enjoyed playing the clarinet and saxophone) and as an adult my reluctance to join any club or society has remained strong – running club, university athletics club, walking club, chamber of trade society, local historical society – I’ve given them all a wide berth despite (in many although not all cases) a genuine fondness or interest for the underlying activity (running, hiking, local business, etc).

I was a member of Olney running club when there were only about 5 members and when it was gloriously informal. We would meet around 7-ish in a car park, have a bit of a natter and wait for folk to turn up and then we’d chat some more before setting off rather randomly for a run of sorts. I loved it, but it then grew in popularity and it rightly had to grow up, institutionalise itself and become more formal. It started at 7pm on the dot with a prescribed and pre-planned route with differing levels – easy, intermediate, advanced. You couldn’t be late or you missed it and it all became rather complex and stressful and for me a lot less fun, and so I left.

I could never be a member of a political party – partly because my beliefs are not aligned to one part of the political spectrum, but even if they were I don’t believe I could ever wear a rosette and attend meetings. I shudder at the thought, whatever colour the rosette.

At university I joined the Julian Cope fan club, this was 1984 when it was all paper based and I think I saw an ad in the back of the Sounds newspaper. I loved Julian’s music, but once I joined his fan club I felt embarrassed. What on earth was I thinking? I was 19 for goodness sake and had just joined a fan-club for a pop star? I don’t recall what I paid to join but I do know that I never renewed.

Famously at university I became Chairman of the University of Essex Athletics Club (1985-86). I never attended a single track meet or club meeting, I think I applied by post. I was like Howard Hughes, no-one knew who I was although I have to admit it did look rather dashing on my CV.

To this day I find it difficult to ever imagine joining a club that would ever have me as a member. I’ve always wanted to be a spy and have applied several times to MI6 for a job but have frustratingly never succeeded. I shall continue to apply, but paradoxically, in true Groucho Marx stylee, if they do ever offer me a job I’ll almost certainly politely decline their kind offer.

Unchaining the digital slave

Browsing Facebook is easy, playing candy crush is simple, building my SimCity takes very little effort. I can easily burn several hours a day doing these things, and I can do them anywhere – on a plane, on a train, at my desk, in a meeting (!), on the loo, in bed. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and do them. I think of something funny, something that I think will make people laugh and so I make a mental note to post an update on Facebook in the morning. Sometimes I do it there and then in the middle of the night, in case I forget, and whilst I’m on my phone I may even sell some items on SimCity to get more money, to build a bigger city. I’m a terrible sleeper.


I’m currently stuck on level 500-and-something of Candy Crush Saga. I’ve been stuck on it for weeks and it’s really hacking me off. I contemplated paying for extra moves, or buying additional booster packs but I thought better of it. I’ve paid before, 69p, doesn’t sound a lot but each time you do it a small piece of your soul dies and your kharma shrivels up, like a slug exposed to salt.

I’m on level 15 of SimCity BuildIt, but I’ve only been on it a couple of weeks. I look enviously at my SimCity neighbours, some who have row upon row of shiny skyscrapers and beaches and airports and beautiful people and … how do they do it? I’m so envious, I must work harder at mine, so I load it on iPad as well as iPhone allowing me to build my city anytime, anywhere, any place, it’s the right one, it’s the bright one, it’s Martini.

Facebook brings out the worst in me. I update my status at airports, that’s cool, and foreign restaurants, and cinemas, and concerts. I like to tell jokes to make me look funny as well. Basically I’m a show-off and an attention seeker. I also only choose to share select parts of my life – I choose my photos carefully, need to look good, need to look cool. I like to talk about my kids, but only the good stuff, the funny stuff. I don’t mention the arguments, the screams and shouts, the tantrums, the door slamming.

And possibly worst of all, when something exciting happens, I have this urge to take a photo and upload it to Facebook, often lessening the experience of the actual life moment itself as a result. I see life’s exciting events through a lens rather than just experience the event itself.

I also, rather ironically, get really annoyed by other peoples updates – people that show-off, people on beaches, people in schmalzy restaurants, people in airports mysteriously omitting their destination, making us guess where they’re heading. People posing in a selfie, people posting YouTube songs, like we care!! Yes that’s right, people identical to me, I’m a hypocrite.

I try and justify this nonsense to myself and it goes something like this – I work hard, I need to relax, I deserve to relax, and so this is my relaxation, playing SimCity. Therefore I wake at 3am to fill my factories with metal and wood, to build tools and equipment, ready for the morning. Perhaps I’ll even play a bit of CandyCrush too, then realise I haven’t played Words With Friends for a few days either and my Scrabble friends will be getting annoyed with me, so I’d better do that as well. I’m exhausted, but hey this is my relaxation time, I deserve it.

How warped and flawed is that thinking?  Of course work is hard, and yes family life can be hard – thinking ahead and planning meals, cooking, cleaning, all this on top of a draining and demanding job takes time and effort, but it’s the same for everyone. So why then, when I have so little time for anything these days, do I feel the right thing to do is sit down and check my SimCity? My hammers and spades are ready – Yay! So I make more, but oh no my SimCity police force is understaffed and my SimCity citizens are getting antsy, my mayor approval rating is falling!  So I switch to Candy Crush but this is such a hard level …

And no matter how hard I try, my SimCitizens are always pissed with me, because that’s how the game works. I built a police station but now they want fire protection, I build a fire station but now they want improved sewage and waste collection. It’s so insidiously stressful and it’s 100% self inflicted.

Meanwhile, I’ve only got 3 bloody likes for that YouTube video I posted on Facebook? What the HELL is wrong with these tone-deaf idiots? And on and on it goes.

All these things we do seemingly for pleasure, but somehow I manage to make them my life. I become enveloped, my head is spinning – what to do next? Water my strawberries on Farmville or build more chairs to sell in SimCity? Those candies won’t crush themselves and if I’m not careful I’m going to lose at scrabble again. I’m not good enough, I’m failing at everything. Now I have traffic jams on my SimCity streets – sadface #sadface :-(.


Of course, to any sane person, none of the above is real, none of this is life, none of it is living. In the meantime, outside of my self-promoting digital world, out there in the real world, real people are feeling ignored, real bills are left unpaid, real relationships left untended, real problems unresolved. Life is hard, Damon Albarn was bang on, modern life is rubbish, so adding to this with digital nonsense is so utterly, unspeakably facile, I think my head might explode, and so it’s time to make some changes.

Click, whirr …

Facebook – deleted
Messenger – deleted
SimCity (BuildIt) – deleted
CandyCrush – deleted
Words with Friends – deleted
Google+ – deleted
Snapchat – deleted

=== The End ===