Rebecca Front: 'It's up to me to find out what makes a systems analyst really sparkle'

Days Like These

Share
Related Topics

At some point in my Pollyanna, patronising teenage years, I can remember making a pact with myself never to think of another human being as "boring". The reason for this edict was partly a desire to be "a good person". But it was also a challenge – if I really wanted to be an actor, if I believed I could get into the head of different characters, then I had to be able to see them as they saw themselves. And surely nobody in the dark privacy of their own skull really thinks of themselves as boring. As the years have gone by, I've tried to maintain this belief, but I can't say it's been without its challenges. Listening to interminable descriptions of contra-flow systems on the Newbury bypass, or "why we went for the cream tiles with the white grouting in spite of the fungal spore damage", it hasn't always been easy to remember that boring conversation is not a symptom of a boring mind. It is, in fact, a symptom of a mind that finds itself so interesting, it cannot imagine that its every thought and experience wouldn't enthral the rest of the world. (And as a columnist, I should know).

But it's not enough simply to substitute the damning judgement "that person is really boring" for the more sympathetic "that fascinating person tells a bloody dull anecdote". If you believe that everyone has a story to tell, or has an enlightening opinion on some aspect of the world, then you are duty bound – no matter how long it takes – to find it.

This may help to explain why, when the decorative lights are put away and the Christmas tree sent off for recycling last week, I breathe a sigh of relief that the festive social whirligig is over for another year. Parties, you see, are the frontline in my self-imposed boredom battle. Pinned against a cutlery drawer being talked at by a systems analyst from Billericay, the gauntlet is down for me to find what makes that analyst sparkle, and I simply have to pick it up.

There are two types of people who are brilliant at small talk. The first type profess total ignorance of the subject, thus simultaneously flattering you into feeling superior, and opening the way for you to talk further. If they were up against the cabinet with the aforementioned systems analyst, they would say something like: "You'll think I'm terribly ignorant, but I don't know what a systems analyst does..." And the analyst, while helpfully offering up an explanation, might just let slip something more intriguing, such as: "I joined Essex Web Solutions when I lost my vocation for the priesthood" – and, bingo, you've cracked it.

The second type is the sort who knows a little about a lot of things, and can therefore always come up with a supplementary question. My husband is one of those, and it never ceases to amaze me. We were once on a long cab journey in Yorkshire with a driver who, while I would naturally never say he was boring, nevertheless lacked, shall we say, rhetorical diversity. After the first 10 minutes of moaning about traffic and drunken passengers and mean tippers, I zoned out and looked at the view. When I zoned back in again, my husband had engaged him in a debate about minicab licensing legislation, a subject on which he, my husband that is, turned out be surprisingly well-informed. I've heard him do the same with builders, doctors, chefs, estate agents and someone who ran a Buddhist retreat.

How the hell he has managed to absorb facts about all these areas when he never appears to read anything other than the sports pages is beyond me, but it's damned impressive.

I, alas, conform to neither of these types. Try as I might, my responses to the systems analyst will rarely go further than: "Gosh. Right. Systems. That must be... I mean... and do you work in Billericay?" Couple this with a reluctance, born of years of teasing by my husband, to talk about my own job, lest he should catch me out just as I'm nearing the punchline of a well-worn theatrical anecdote, and you'll see what a parlous conversational state my analyst friend and I are in. It's not that I don't listen; I honestly do, very attentively. It's more that I'm so paranoid that someone might think I'm finding them boring, that I encourage them to talk about the same thing for far too long while maintaining an appearance of monosyllabic idiocy.

On the plus side, many systems analysts now have in their conversational armoury at least one sure-fire anecdote, about the time they got stuck with some actress at a party, and my God, was she boring...

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?