Twat with a Laptop: A Tale of Hometown Alienation

twat with a laptop - header

“What the fuck is that twat with a laptop doing?”

Ah, Grimsby charm, you’ve got to love it. Bet it’s some idiot in a beany and shoes far too high-grade for the sweatshop turtleneck he’s draped across a frame sorely lacking sustenance other than the outrage of the internet.

Except it wasn’t. He was talking about me.

And in that moment I felt homeless.

Now, I’m not trying to spin a “woe is me, I don’t belong anywhere” story. I grew up in a town (and family) of little sympathy for people who whine and moan about how bad they’ve got it.

But in that split second, a bloke who I’ve never met before took one glance at me working in a corner of the King’s Head and, in a single sentence, made me realize two things.

twat with a laptop - hipster

First, that I’ve become one of those twats who doesn’t have a “proper job”, pisses off wherever and whenever, and is as good as alien to the regulars of every village pub I used to frequent.

I suppose I had it coming – I’ve lived in three (technically four) countries in the last two months, work online, can’t easily explain what I do, and earn money from a business that one of my family says “doesn’t really exist”. I can see what they mean.

However, it also showed me how much of a closed circuit I used to live in.

You’re born in Nunsthorpe. You go to school. You leave after year 10 (if you’re lucky) or 12 (if you’re fancy). Get any job (or apprenticeship if you leave early and snag it). Work. Hard graft. Climb the ladder.

Sorry, no. You don’t climb. You step up the ladder in about 3 rungs. Over 40 years. With 6 day weeks. And 12-hour shifts. Then you settle down, and the cycle begins anew (or you work yourself to death). All whilst constantly apologizing and “can’t complain”ing.

twat with a laptop - nunsthorpe sign

Where does a marketer fit into that? Where does someone who can take their work with them (and yet still does 9-5) mesh with their 60-square-mile world?

I don’t. And it didn’t hit me until right that second how disconnected I’ve become from almost everything my hometown is.

I don’t hate it. I love going back, spending time with family, seeing the old haunts, and joining the general hubbub decrying the latest change to the high street.

I love the pubs. I love the casual and (mostly) clueless ingrained racism that passes in conversation so naturally. I love that if I told them how ridiculous and offensive they were being, most would quiet down with the kind of apologetic awkwardness that only comes from unintentional insults.

twat with a laptop - drinking

Graft is satisfying. Even laying a wall becomes an exercise in precise symmetry. Yet all of it is nothing more than work.

Art only comes in galleries. Endless hours of reality tv and soaps ruin any chance of leftover room for expression or growth. A movie is only ever just a movie, and god forbid you play video games beyond the age of 16.

There’s little to no investment outside of family.

To some degree this is good. I love my family to pieces, and it’s probably because we’re so close – the limited free time, along with limited investment or expression is (I’m fairly certain) one of the reasons we have that connection.

Tea is the third meal of the day, and you have it around a table. No tv – at best you’ll have low music. We talk. We joke. We catch up. We connect.

Even in our friends there’s a sense of this closeness – christ, even the bald guy who just called me a twat has been sitting with six other blokes and chatting for a good five hours.

Then again, friends and family can also bring out the worst in us.

twat with a laptop - half size pub

He probably wouldn’t have called me a “twat with a laptop” if he was alone. Or if he thought I could hear him – I learned years ago that people don’t bother you (or hold back) if you have brightly coloured earphones in.

If anything it puts people at ease to speak and act more freely, which is often more interesting than any music I might pretend to listen to.

I tried to brush it off, like I’ve been taught to do for almost anything that comes my way. Nothing’s that bad if you don’t let it sit with you, after all.

Humour’s good for making light of things, so I leaned toward him and answered “I’m working 9-5” while smiling. His friends’ eyes widened, and he began to bluster.

He’d been caught out, and the lads started laughing at said twat calling him on it. The English do love to pick on their friends.

Then the apology started – I told you it would.

“Sorry mate, I just didn’t know what you were doing – never seen someone working like that. What do you do?”

And just like that, the illusion was broken.

There’s no such thing as a closed circuit mindset for an entire town – no more than stereotyping my generation as “millennials” holds any merit.

This man, surrounded by the lads, at least six pints in, probably some kind of builder (judging by the brick dust on his trousers), who had just written me off as a hippieish, pretentious twat, wanted to know more. He wanted to talk it out and understand what he was missing.

He didn’t fit what I now realize was my own brutish stereotype.

Because, much like we touched on in our podcast season finale, there’s always another way to see things.

I hadn’t thought of him as a person – not really. He and his friends were my idea of the cardboard cutout Grimsby lad.

He was interested in more than work and family. Beyond talking to me about how remote work, well, works, I’d overheard him talking about football.

twat with a laptop - football

I can’t stand football, and so I’d written it off – I don’t understand it, so obviously he couldn’t be invested in it either.

Yet looking back, he was invested. They talked about strategy, unjust referees that robbed victories by chance, and how most big-league players have more dirt and scandal to their name than almost any other sporting personalities.

After a quick chat and (once again) failing to easily say what I do, he smiled, looked at his watch, apologized again, and got up to leave for work.

Earphones back in. New guy enters and takes his place at the bald guy’s table (same friends still sitting).

He turns to glance at me over his shoulder.

“What’s with the twat with a laptop?”

I smiled, and so did the rest of his table. I went through the motions of explaining once again and got the same reaction, but this time I didn’t take offence.

Because until I’d been shocked out of my own closed circuit, I truly was a twat with a laptop.

And maybe that’s something we all need to hear every so often.

Originally published on secretcave.co