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Sunday 18th January 2004

I can identify the exact moment that my last serious relationship fell apart. We were away for the weekend attending a wedding. We were due to head off to the church in about half an hour, but even though I didn’t have much time I was keen to find an internet café before we went so I could check my emails and update “Warming Up”. My girlfriend suddenly looked at me, as if for the first time – I could practically see the mote falling from her eyes – and she said (amiably enough), “You’re a bit of a nerd, aren’t you?” I don’t know why it had taken her so long to realise. I had after all, been playing CNPS for several months by this point, but perhaps she had been blinded to my true personality, thinking (only partly correctly) that I was doing that ironically.
I admitted that she was right, I was a bit of a nerd and she claimed that it wasnÂ’t exactly a criticism and that being a bit of a nerd was an OK thing to be. But from that point on the eyes that had once looked at me with unquestioning adoration, now only registered bemusement and pity. I think she felt that IÂ’d somehow tricked her into liking me, by pretending to be a regular non-nerdy person, whilst all along, like a sort of reverse Superman with less impressive superpowers, I was nothing but a mildly obsessive geek, who by rights shouldnÂ’t be mixing with people from the normal world, but living in a sewer with all the other misfits.
She might have had a point about feeling scammed. After all, I donÂ’t exactly look like a nerd. Sure IÂ’m a bit short and slightly fat, but I have clean hair and good eyesight and wear reasonably fashionable clothes (albeit slightly awkwardly). Given I was a bit of a nerd wouldnÂ’t it be more honest of me to wear the clothing generally associated with that disenfranchised breed; most brilliantly realised in the actor Kevin EldonÂ’s definitive role, Norm from the Twix adverts. And whilst my speaking voice is a little unusual, it would be less deceitful of me if I constantly spoke like a strangulated John Majors with a sore throat.
My problem is (some might call it a curse) that were I to attempt to fit in to the mutant nerd community (that so many of you slot so comfortably and unobtrusively into) it wouldn’t be long before I was accused of being a cuckoo in that sweat-filled nest. My buck toothed, short-sighted girlfriend would suddenly squint up at me as I declined her invitation to watch season three of Star Trek TNG and declare “Hold on, you’re slightly cool, aren’t you?” I would never see her squint at me like she used to. There would only be the squint of betrayal.
I straddle both worlds, and in the short term can pass as a citizen of either country (quite a plain inhabitant of the Land of the Cool, but a supermodel member of the most successful rock and roll band in the Kingdom of the Nerds), but after a few weeks or months I would be deported from either as an undesirable (or too desirable) alien. Too fixated on statistics to be a norm, too socially aware to be a Norm from the Twix advert.
What brings this on is a great book I am reading, about one of my passions, the board game Scrabble. It’s called “Word Freak” and it’s by a journalist Stefan Fatsis. It details his attempts to rise from an average social player of the game to the status of an expert. It’s a great read so far, perfectly describing the pettiness and dignity of the freaks who have devoted their lives to playing Scrabble.
I always fancy myself as a pretty good player; the regular people I play are confounded by the fact that I have learnt all acceptable two letter words and practically accuse me of cheating (in fact “novelist” Stewart Lee makes a swipe at this side of me in his otherwise excellent yarn “The Perfect Fool”, but like the perfect fool of the title he stupidly chastises Scrabble Players who learn all the “1 and 2 letter words”. One letter words are of little use to a Scrabble player, you ninny and in any case it wouldn’t take much time for anyone to learn the words “a” and “I” – not even sure “I” would be valid as it is capitalised). Yet, knowing the two letter words is the most basic tactic of any serious player and you might as well accuse a serious chess player of cheating for studying the consequences of different moves and scenarios. The world champion Scrabble players spend hours a day attempting to learn all acceptable words and studying anagrams.
Reading this book makes me wish I had had the idea to do the same thing first (though Fatsis does a brilliant job of looking at the history of the game and describing the idiosyncrasies of the players as well as his own growing obsession – I highly recommend this book), and it almost makes me want to try and take part in a tournament. But ultimately it makes me realise that I would never stand a chance, because I straddle both worlds. I am obsessive enough about the game to make me an annoying opponent for any regular person, yet with too strong a grasp on reality to waste eight hours a day looking at word lists and noting down words I don’t know (and I’ve tried to start a mini-programme of this in the past, but always got bored). When I play on the internet (which I haven’t for a while, but did again tonight) I find I have a ranking of between 1200 and 1300. This is respectable for an amateur, but well below the 1700 that an expert player would expect, or the 2000+ of the best players in the world. It is a score that would be mocked by nerds for being so low and by norms for being so high.

I have no homeland and no compatriots. I am an island, entire of myself. Which presumably means that I am not a man.
Curse you God for making me this way.

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