Confessions of a nerd

“What’s the study of armorial bearings?” came the question from across the room as Jennifer toyed with the crossword.  “Heraldry,” I offered as I sat in a shut-eyed reverie listening to the rain belt down outside.

“That fits.  So what’s a predatory seabird ending in ‘a’?”  Skua,” I said.

“Smart arse,” said the Squadron Leader in her irrefutable way.  Yeah, I know.  I have a head full of useless information.

There are limited occasions when this collection of pointless minutiae comes into play, such as:

  • finishing crosswords – I can’t sit down and do one by myself, can’t think of a 6 letter word for yell loudly.  But when someone else has done the hard yakka, I can fill in the last few.  A fifth-columnist?  Traitor.  A knot fishermen use?  Bend.
  • the trivia night at Katoomba RSL – when the question asks for the ancient capital of the Aztec empire, I can throw in Tenochtitlan.  Buggered if I can answer any of the questions about Adele or Packed to the Rafters, though.

But all of that stuff (e.g. inventor of the fountain pen – E.B. Waterman) was no good to me when I could definitely have used some help, like when:

  • the really good-looking girls at school were more interested in tantalising gossip and smart repartee , neither of which I had.  One of the most biting insults back then was to be called a “brain”, the 1969 equivalent of “nerd”.  My braininess seemed particularly unappealing to the fashionable set.
  • my first marriage was shredding, and I couldn’t seem to stitch it back together, and I had to tell my teenage children that I wasn’t going to be living with their mother any more
  • my friend Gloria’s life was ebbing away from peritoneal cancer, and I sat by her bed with nothing much to offer her except my presence
  • my father sank deeper into a world where he had neither the distant past, nor even 5 minutes ago, any more and I tried and failed to connect with him.

Where was all my cleverness then?  Where was some apposite factoid to aid me in those situations?

I am damned if I know why, or how, those bits of abstruse information lodge themselves in my head, when I can’t remember that I was supposed to buy coffee beans.  But I have taken steps to put some more useful data in there.

For instance, I can now recite the Four Noble Truths, the Eight Worldly Winds, the Divine Abodes and the Bodhisattva Aspiration.  They may not be deployable in crosswords but they are better friends in tight corners.

And, maybe, those once good-looking girls from school, now in their late fifties, might find my braininess a little more attractive, come trivia night at the RSL.

david white

PS  My final confession – I couldn’t name, to complete the crossword, the shambolic subject of the novel by Laurence Sterne – Tristram Shandy.  But Richard Nixon’s chief of staff who took the wrap and went to jail?  H R Haldeman, you bet.


  1. Oh, and I would have totally got Tristram Shandy right.

    • Belinda
    • February 1st, 2012

    Definitely inherited this trait from you – I kicked butt in Trivial Pursuit last week.

    I don’t think it’s at odds with common sense or emotional intelligence, but you need to develop them separately and concurrently. Geez, it’s a lot of for being a well-rounded individual!

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