Don’t Blink | Robert Madden


Don’t Blink

Robert Madden

The Athlete’s Footnote Award


Journal entry #3 – First month in Zürich

Zürich is a really cool place. Not too big. Not too small. Everything works. And it’s true what they say about the trains. You really could set your watch to them. Speaking of trains, I’ve also discovered this amazing new sport. Kinda got involved without even knowing it.

It all started on my first commute into work.

I was sat in one of those 2×2 arrangements. One person beside me and two sat opposite. I looked up from my phone to discover the man in the opposing seat was staring right at me. Like really staring. I checked my shirt for stains. Made sure my fly was up. I even studied my reflection in the window in case I had a nose bleed or something. Nothing. For the rest of my commute I gave him the occasional glance. And he continued to stare.

That evening, on my homeward journey, it was the same. As it was rush hour I had to stand in the gangway area by the door. A woman stood close by me, holding onto one of those floor-to-ceiling metal hand bars. She stared at me the whole way home.

At first I thought they were being rude. But that night it hit me. The staring was a game. Some sort of indigenous Swiss sport. Only thing was, I’d never heard of it. Yodeling? Of course. Skiing? Absolutely. But, staring? Never.

The next day, I decided to join in the fun. I choose a younger person as my first buddy. I thought maybe the younger ones would be less experienced, you know? to give myself a fighting chance. Anyway, I lost. The studenty looking girl never took her eyes off me. Both my eyes started to tremble about three minutes into the contest. Then I blinked. Hard. Had to rub my eyes n’all.

That evening I got beaten by a grandmother. Nice old dear. Good jewelry and dress sense. Obviously wealthy. She beat me hands down. I wanted to congratulate her, but I noticed this wasn’t the done thing. Everybody just kept on at their stare game until it was time to get off.

After my first week of consistent losses, I knew I had to think of something. How could I improve? It came to me while I was feeding (my goldfish), Wilhelm Tell. Goldfish don’t have eyelids. Brilliant. I could practice on him till the cows came home.

Which is what I did.

Each evening I came home from work I placed Wilhelm’s bowl on the kitchen table. Stared right at him until my eyes watered. Over and over I did it. After a solid month of this I could hold out for twenty five minutes before I needed to blink. Surely that was enough?

Who was I kidding? This past weekend I decided to take the train from Zürich to Geneva. A journey of over two and half hours. I got stared at the entire time. Two Swissies sat opposite me, munching on toblerone. Not once did they take their eyes off me. I tried to hold out, I really did. But these guys were pros.

Earlier, when I was unpacking my suitcase, I came across the drooping eyes glasses my late Uncle “fun” Jacko left me in his will. I know it could be considered cheating. But I need a win. Tomorrow I’ll don the specs and give the Swiss hell.

The Athlete's Footnote Award