Month: May 2017

What is the optimum number of friends one can have? Think of a number!

Last Sunday, I was driving from Shrewsbury to Newport at 11.30pm. When I drive home late at night, there is only one radio station for me: Radio 4. In fact, truth be told, most of the time there is only one radio station for me, that is unless I’m in the need to sing really loudly, in which case I listen to a CD (how quaint).

Anyway, to get back to Sunday evening, I was driving back home late at night after a particularly fun night singing karaoke at The Crown in Shrewsbury, and they were talking about ‘the future’ on Radio 4. Part of this discussion on ‘the future’ was focused on social media. In their discussion of social media the people on the radio mentioned something called ‘Dunbar’s Number’.

Me (far right) at The Crown on Sunday

My interest perked up at this point. I had heard of this before, but I couldn’t remember where. I have a bit of a soft spot for theories or postulates named after a real person (I also like diseases or conditions that are named after a person – I have a bit of a secret wish to invent Collins Theorem, Collinsitus, or Collins Postulate, or even Collins’s Number).

Again, back to Sunday evening, ‘Dunbar’s Number’, Radio 4 told me, refers to the optimum number of casual friends a human being can maintain whether they be living in the jungle or in Newport, Shropshire. Dunbar’s Number was named after a real person called Robin Dunbar who lives in Oxford. Robin Dunbar is an evolutionary psychologist and he came up with the idea a few years ago (before social media became the beast it is now) that we cannot maintain more than a finite number of, what he terms ‘casual’ friends / acquaintances in real or virtual life.

The magic number is apparently 150. This magic number, although coined a few years ago, is relevant today, Robin Dunbar claims. The irony is that Robin Dunbar, as he stated on the radio last Sunday evening, hates social media and prefers to sit in a pub with a pint and the odd friend than spending his time liking and commenting on Facebook. However, as I drove through Telford and across the most horrible roundabout in the world (Trench Lock) listening to this programme, I considered my Facebook friendship circle. I have about 390 friends on Facebook. That is 240 more than Dumbar’s Number. Does that mean that 240 of those people are not ‘casual’ friends (or close friends) and are just people I have met? If so, what are they to me? After all, what does the social media phobic Robin Dubar consider to be ‘casual’? He said that a casual friend would be a  friend you would call on for help, or someone that you’d go out of your way to talk to in real life. Well what do I have to say to Robin? I’d talk to any one of my 390-odd friends friends for help or to chat to about their mornings. So there!

Robin Dunbar and cat

I guess this disagreement with a scientist stems in part of my desire to refute those clever types who reside in places such as Oxford, Cambridge or Wolverhampton and say ‘aha, you might be wrong!’ I’m a firm believer in the teeny tiny possibility theory, as I have professed on here on many occasions, and I think that this is one occasion when I should play the ‘teeny tiny possibility theory’ card. Robin Dunbar, I have more than 150 casual friends! I agree that the category of ‘close’ friends is probably quite small. However, some of my ‘casual’ friends were close friends at some point in my life and circumstances have since meant that our paths stopped crossing so often. For example friends I went to school with or met at university, friends from my year in Amsterdam, or my two years in Japan, friends I met in Oxford or friends from when I lived in Charlbury for seven years. I had some very close friends at university and they are there on Facebook but we wouldn’t regard ourselves as close now perhaps. But it feels wrong to classify them as casual. They weren’t casual, yet we don’t see each other often now. However, should disaster befall me and I was in their area, I’d call on them in a heartbeat.

So in conclusion, my message to Robin Dunbar is, your theory is interesting but I think things are a little more grey than you presume. I have more than 150 friends I’d consider casual. There are Venn diagrammes of friendships that you haven’t really considered. So there! Poor old Robin Dunbar isn’t the only friend theorist I want to blow raspberry’s at, there is also Seneca, who had a lot to say on the matter too. What you say is interesting, dear Seneca, but you were not quite right. Sorry!

I love you all!

People are weird…

This is the weird thought that I had while waiting for a space at the petrol pump at Asda petrol station today.

A place of petrol

This isn’t going  to be a very deep, profound weird thought. But it is weird enough to share with my fellow over-thinking humans.

People are weird.

That’s about it. People are weird, they are odd. Don’t you think?

Why are we odd? I hear you cry. Well, we are odd because we wear clothes. We drive cars. We need entertaining. We are obsessed with our phones. We use Facebook. We moan. We like to drink too much and fall over laughing. We like to poo in private. We like to read while we poo. We look miserable as we plod around in the daytime. We think shopping is a form of enteratinment. We sit. We sleep in beds. We think we are amazing yet we also think we are utterly awful. We overthink everything. We don’t just overthink a few things, we overthink absolutely everything. That takes up an awful amount of energy. Yet, when we are stripped naked of our cars, phones, worries and clothes, all we are is animals.

We are rather similar to pigs. We have similar skin to pigs. I’ve heard we taste a bit like pigs. I think we are more like pigs than we are like monkeys (sorry, Charles). Yet we wear clothes and pigs don’t. Why do we feel the need to wear clothes all the time, even when we are too hot? That’s weird. We not only wear clothes, we have fancy, unnecessary things on our clothes.

People or pigs?

For example, there was a lady putting petrol (or diesel) into her car in front of me as I was having these thoughts and she was wearing a black coat. There’s nothing too odd about that. But her coat wasn’t just functional. It wasn’t just keeping her warm. It sported funny toggle things on the back. They appeared to have no function whatsoever. So, my busy overthinking brain asked: what the hell is their purpose? They weren’t very decorative. They just dangled. They looked, well, rather annoying.

This isn’t the coat, but it is black.

The people who design such things for people to wear are weird. The people who buy such things are weird. We are all just rather weird.

Then, just as I had that thought, a space became available and I had to put petrol in my car, just like all the other pigs.

Is sentimentality inevitable?

Just four months ago, I moved, with my little family, from Shrewsbury to the lesser known village of Muxton, near Telford. That move was a huge wrench for me. It was also a temporary move as the permanent move, to a house in Newport, wasn’t ready to happen. There are lots of reasons for this, which I won’t go into, mostly because I don’t pay attention to the reasons. But the reasons existed.

However, next week, the permanent move is finally going to happen. Next week, I will be moving from Muxton to Newport.

The temporary move was to a house which I fondly refer to as The Rented House. I have never loved The Rented House. In fact, I have always felt a strong dislike for The Rented House. I’d rather be out of The Rented House than in it. This dislike is manifested by the amount of time I’ve been spending in Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury since we moved. This dislike can be seen in the amount of money I currently spend on petrol and coffee.

This dislike is partly based on location (Telford – sorry Telford but compared to Shrewsbury you are a bit of an armpit), partly based on the style of house (1990s modern yet already falling to bits – honestly, this house is a right state) and partly based on what it represented – a move from a life I loved muchly.

My artistic interpretation of The Rented House

However, despite all of the above, over the last four months I have grown to love The Rented House in a bizarre love-hate unexpected way. I would even go as far as to say that I will miss it when the move to the permanent house finally happens.

The Rented Staircase

I feel as if I have gone through a lot while living for a short period in The Rented House. It has been a fun, fabulous, emotional, turbulent four months. I have dragged myself kicking and sometimes screaming towards a BA in Fine Art and I have laughed and cried my way to the end of May. It has been a time in my life I will never forget.

The messy Rented Kitchen

I feel a weird emotional attachment to The Rented House, the house that I hated on first sight. Why is that? Am I then just a naturally sentimental creature? Do I feel a inevitable attachments to ‘things’ whatever they may be, houses or otherwise? I think the answer is ‘yes’. I do find myself getting quite attached to things very easily. After all, try to take my cuddly poo off me and risk bodily injury. So, am I just going to be sentimental wherever I am, however happy or unhappy I am? I don’t leave any attachments to people in Muxton. Muxton isn’t Shrewsbury, not even close. Only one parent has spoken to me at the school gates since we moved here and that was just last week, I won’t miss Muxton. In fact, Muxton is confusing and weird to me. Yet, I feel oddly sad. The only thing I will miss is my Muxton lamppost.

The view out of the window

I know that I will shed a tear or two on Thursday. I didn’t think I would, but I will. I will leave a part of me in this funny old 1990s falling apart house fondly known to me and my boys as The Rented House. Bye bye number 33.

The messy Rented Sittingroom