Spiral Notebook: Going up in the world
By Giles Broadbent
"Do you think I'm competitive?" I asked. "Oh, yes," she said without the deliberation that a verdict weighing evenly in the balance was due.
"Annoyingly so," she added under her breath and with feeling.
I recalled this brief exchange as I headed for the exit with my Tesco trolley. I found myself in competition with a fellow escapee who had departed their check-out earlier and so had the advantage in our Le Mans style standing start.
Or so they thought. Once I had applied determination, speed and a sly leeward nudge, she was left in my wake, tweety birds circling her defeated noggin. I made fresh air as she was still gulping down the Saturday night fish fug.
Of course, she was an unknowing participant in the race. Indeed, she was bewigged - to cover sparce threads of silver hair - troubled by a stiff hip and lacking any meaningful aerodynamic stylings.
So unfocused was my foe that she had been guided by her middle-aged daughter tugging on the trolley at the front end.
I'd beaten both of them. Result.
If one were to follow the musings of Attenborough and Darwin, one would conclude that such competitiveness was a fundamental essential for existence. Opposable thumbs are not "annoyingly" competitive but the product of generations of humanoids requiring a good grip on a Tesco trolley.
Evolution abhors a vacuum. I create rivals out of bystanders and if none are to hand, I cleft myself in twain and get up in my own grill. You say, disassociative personality disorder, I say life insurance.
And if competitiveness is hard-wired in us all, it follows (as the creators of Skynet would ruefully reflect) that competitiveness would be a facet of the things we create.
Which brings me to my point.
The dulcet-toned lift in my apartment has no rival, unless you include the stairs (which are solitary and peevish and generally not keen on team sports).
The lift is driven by a sense of obligation that is not whetted by performance reviews or the prospect of podium finishes. She cannot edge out a rival, like the Canary Wharf shaft-prowlers, and thus, in the race for life, she is a likely candidate for extinction.
So evolution has found an answer. She has split herself in two. Two voices vie for my attention. They talk over each other. They spar and spit. They do each other down.
"Ground fl-," says one voice. "Doors opening," says the other before the first has chance to finish.
Steady girls. No fighting over me. (Oh, if you must.)
Faulty wiring, says the maintenance man, scoffing at my theory.
Really? Let's take this down to Tesco town, Otis. See exactly what's what.