A part of the whole

Thinking Allowed collumnist Liz Breslin ponders on the nature of competition.

The best surfer in the water is the one having the most fun, according to the side of the friendly yellow van parked at St Clair. Having always been the very worst surfer in the family, learning on the kids’ short board in the company of natural young athletes and a kite surfer, I was delighted to think that this could maybe, possibly be true.

If fun was any marker of my brilliance for the one and a-half hours we spent in the water with young Charlie, they might want to put a Kelly Slateresque statue of me at the Hawea wave.  No, I’m not being serious about my abilities. I’m just having a bit of a laugh. Laughing allowed.

Some people are very competitive. So competitive it makes me tired.  Like Gary ‘‘Gazza’’ Gascoigne, who once said he didn’t care if he was playing football against the best or Nintendo against a 5-year-old, he wanted to, had to, win. I mean, because, who does participation? Well, me. I like to. A good book and a nice cup of tea and nobody to be the champion of anything. Though I am aware that there are schemes you can join where you compete to see how many books you’ve read over a certain period. No. No thank you.

Which is one reason I loved Sue Wootton’s blog post on Corpus this past Monday. Seriously, subscribe to the blog at corpus.nz; it gives you something to look forward to in your inbox on Monday mornings and lots to read over cups of tea. This particular post is about Jay, the juggler at the Farmers Markets: "standing serene and smiling in the crowd, juggling plastic ducks, a toilet plunger balanced on his chin. He doesn’t look tired at all. In fact, he’s smiling. He’s actually enjoying himself. When, inevitably, he occasionally drops a duck, he only laughs. He picks it up and starts again. He’s having fun. Remember fun? Jay the Juggler does."

Juggling, just for fun. Unless you do combat juggling, of course. Which is a thing. Is it a human instinct to make everything competitive? Extreme ironing, anyone? Black pudding throwing? I mean, really? What is it with the human tendency to turn everything possible into a struggle to the finish line?

Social media’s a surreptitious competition. What is the point of posting unless you’re going to get at least five, or seven, or 700 hearts?

"Nice birthday party. Whipped up a little cake for the 3-year-old." Pictured: immaculately crafted culinary excellence. Urgh. (N. B. If you are reading this, Sam, I am not talking about your impeccable Lego-look Millennium Falcon. It is still the best cake in this and any other galaxy and I would still like you to be my mum.)

Competition in the arts. In which people get to create to the suspected preferences of the judges. So dangerous in so many ways. But you’re either fast or you’re last. We’re only singing when we’re winning. Join in. Come on. And don’t get me started on the politics of political winning this week.

Sporting provides more obvious outlets for competition. It’s not just team against team, there’s self against goal and kit against other people’s kit. It is all very valid and self-improving and patriotic. But none of it is peaceful.  I don’t have the balls to play netball. Running has got all sleek and shiny. And bike riding, well. Unless you’re riding fast on something more expensive than my car in the requisite amount of lycra, then who are you, really? Except this month. This month, the month of bikevember, I feel like I’m, no, not winning on wheels, but taking part.

I’ve just finished reading Laura Williamson’s book, The Bike and Beyond: life on two wheels in Aotearoa New Zealand. It is about cycling. But although there is a brilliant, breathless rundown on Jack Bauer’s almost tour de force in the Tour de France, it’s not just about serious lycra-clad biking, it’s about the history, the quirks, the diversity, the originality and the simple joy of being out and about on two wheels. It’s beautifully written and it reminds me that getting on a bike is not just for sport, but a mode of transport, a way of being free.

Which, incidentally, is also the point of bikevember. Which, in the Upper Clutha, is a thing. A thing designed to get us biking, just because. It started with bacon and pedal-powered smoothies on November 1. And I’ll do a lot for bacon. And back-pedalling round town and breathing in real air, I feel like I should have a seatbelt on this feeling, like I’m not bound by any self-improvement or competitive drive. Like I’m having unquantifiable fun. 

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