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.


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