Far from the Madding Crowd

There are two kinds of people in the world. The ones who gravitate towards crowds and those who run the other way.

I belong to the latter group. Show me a crowd and I’ll look for the exit sign. For years I’ve admonished myself for not wanting to be part of a large group. People fascinate me but only when I can converse with them directly, preferably one on one.

Shouting over the rabble and trying to make myself understood is no pleasure and wears me out. Small talk is boring and even though I can carry on that sort of chatting for quite a while, it is unsatisfying. An evening of cocktails and circulating around the room, like some animal on the prowl, makes me uncomfortable. I would rather sit down with one interesting person and have a relaxing time.

All this feeling was brought to a head when I thought about New Year’s Eve celebrations. In the past we went out to a club or to someone’s home. The whole evening would be spent waiting for the countdown to midnight. Nobody really wanted to chat since drinking was the way to make time pass. The the clock struck twelve and everyone put on a happy face and started kissing and hugging in a frenzy.

Auld Land Syne was sung and then most people called it quits. I often wondered if they were truly as deliriously happy as they seemed to be. Or was it all an act, an attempt to fit in, a desire to be part of something important?

I often see crowds on TV heading for a sports stadium, so one day I gave that a try. We went to see a cricket match in Sydney. It was hard to find a parking spot and when we finally made our way into the cricket ground we trudged up hundreds of rows to where our seats were. We sat down, looked around and realised that we could hardly see the cricket pitch. Other people around us didn’t seem to mind because they were going to watch the action on TV monitors behind us. So there we were watching a match on TV with our heads turned away from the pitch.

This struck me as being ridiculous. Why would anyone traipse to the cricket ground, spend money on tickets and parking and then have to watch the whole thing on a large TV screen? Surely, staying home and watching the match on our own TV would have been much easier. To round off the evening we scurried back to our car and waited ages to get out of the parking lot. What a drag!

But try to tell that to those ardent football fans and the mad cricket crowds in India who obviously love being present at the matches. They must enjoy the feeling of belonging to a group of supporters. They want to wear the colours of their favourite team. I can only assume that it’s a tribal thing perhaps, a way of identifying oneself. You are a Real Madrid, supporter, for example, and that makes you feel good.

The desire to be entertained in crowds goes way back to ancient times when folks would gather to watch a chariot race or lions devouring Christians. In those days there weren’t any home theatres in which to enjoy the plays of Euripides or Shakespeare even.

Such mod cons are available nowadays and yet some of us still prefer to join big crowds for a shared experience. Could it be a vestige from the past? Does our amusement increase when others around us enjoy the same thing? Do we need to applaud together?

Thank goodness other people aren’t like me or where would that leave sporting competitions? How about horse racing and concerts? They’d all go broke!

I don’t seem to have that need in me at all which makes me feel so out of step and yet I’m gregarious by nature. People interest me and I love to observe them…but from a distance. If I go to the theatre I want to sit in a private box. Sounds as if I’m doing a Greta Garbo, but it’s not that ‘I vont to be alone’.

Company is fine but only in small doses, like chocolate truffles, really. A little bit is great but if you have too much it doesn’t agree with you. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I reach the ‘too much’ stage sooner than other people and have to retreat to my ivory tower. Sometimes a spade is just a spade. Perhaps I simply don’t fancy crowds and that’s all there is to it.

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