Monday, 7 December 2015

The Other Half

I'll put my cards on the table straight away and admit that this post was inspired by a couple of articles on the TFSource blog (specifically this one and this one) as much as it was that today is the third anniversary of the start of my relationship with my girlfriend, Courtney. Furthermore, it's a whole bunch of questions that I hadn't really considered before (though an ex- once told me quite pointedly that I'd "never find someone else who'd put up with" my collection) and reading the responses in the TFSource blog post got me wondering how Courtney feels about it all, since she has lived with me now for about a year and a half.

It is worth noting that both of us are Sci-Fi geeks, though Courtney has read less Speculative/Science Fiction than me (possibly because she's been into actual science for many years, and so reads more of that). Despite a not inconsiderable age difference, we like quite a lot of the same stuff (Film Noir, The X-Files, Firefly and Doctor Who, just for starters), and at least one person in both our families has a habit of collecting/hoarding, so we were both exposed to that mentality from quite a young age. Where I collect transforming robot toys (and other things), she collects stationery and books... and, lets face it, there are WAGs out there who may be frustrated by their partner's obsession while neglecting to consider their own.

I took questions from both posts, since they are quite different, reorganised them into a more logical sequence (because I couldn't help myself), and asked her to jot down a few thoughts. Her first comment, interestingly enough, was on the tone of the questions - she felt it was pitched quite negatively, with all its questions of "should" but, having now read both of the TFSource posts, she has said that they "weren't as negative as I'd expected them to be."

So... here's the Q&A, with a few of my own thoughts tagged on, because it's all about me...

1) What do you think of your partner’s robots?
I am happy that he has kept up his hobby of collecting them for over thirty years and is so enthusiastic about them. I've enjoyed most of the bits of media he's shown me and I like the idea of toys that change form and are both a "puzzle" and an "action figure" (though not quite enough to become a fangirl myself!).

...So another of our similarities is that we like the concept of TransFormers. This is certainly one of the most positive comments I've had about my collection!

2) How often do you notice the robots?
I didn't realise until reading this question that I don't consciously notice them that much! Of course now I'll be thinking about not noticing them and I'll notice that and then notice them more...

That's one of the advantages of having moved in with my collection already in situ, and in full swing: it's all basically "part of the furniture"! Though I suspect she's being a little polite here, and probably notices when I suddenly go and grab a figure from one of the cabinets while we're watching something on TV... Unless she's knitting or making origami cranes, that is.

3) How many robots do you think your partner has?
I'd guess about 400 in the flat. I know there are more at his parents' house, but I have no idea how many.

Having just adjusted my collection spreadsheet, I can confidently report that there are something like 550 (including Third Party models) in my flat, with about another 50 (original Generation 1) in storage back at my parents' place. It's a little deceptive, though, because some shelves are quite busy, some are quite sparse, and some of the models are stashed away in cupboards - I have four BotCon boxed sets and the TFCC's Seacons/Piranacon set, but don't currently have room to display them. I've also had to put the Binaltech and Alternity models back into their boxes to accommodate newer items.

4) How many do you think your partner should have?
As many as he wants, without it adversely affecting his finances or becoming an unhealthy obsession.

And here, she hits the nail firmly on the head, as I do worry about both of these issues. This year in particular I've spent more on toys and collectables than I should have, though not to the extent where it's actually causing a problem. Yet.

It would also be rather silly of me to keep buying at the rate I was from about 2004-2010 because I'm well aware that I'm basically out of space!

Courtney defines "unhealthy obsession" as being focussed on something to the exclusion of other important things, particularly human interaction (and specifically interaction with her... which is obviously not the case here because, look, I've asked her all these questions... about my hobby...), or buying the toys just because they're available, rather than because I think I'll enjoy them. Clearly she does not approve of the MISB approach to collecting, going so far as to say "I don't understand how a fan can do that, particularly with TransFormers, because they're all about transforming." Wise words, indeed. Hell, I'll never understand the point of the plethora of TransFormers merchandise that doesn't actually transform.

5) Where do you think they should be?
Currently they are in glass cabinets in the living room, with the odd one elsewhere in the flat. This suits me fine (particularly as it means less dusting), though we are a bit short on space so it might be good to find a more effective way to store some of the boxes.

Oh, God, the boxes... I have so far been quite strict about keeping the boxes from Japanese imports - most of all the Third Party stuff and the masses of Galaxy Force stuff I bought - but, with those boxes now occupying all the space above the cabinets, some of the space in front of one of the cabinets, most of the space inside the sofa-bed we have in the lounge and a huge amount of bedroom wardrobe space, I'm starting to think I need to thrown some of them away...

I am pleased - but not surprised - that she doesn't feel that my toys should be put away somewhere out of sight but, then, as she said in response to question 2, she doesn't tend to notice them consciously.

6) How do you think your partner’s collecting affects your lives?
Not much, to be honest. He spends lots of time writing for his blog, but if he didn't he'd be writing for one of his other blogs, of which he has approximately a gajillion. He doesn't spend so much money on toys that we can't afford other nice things. He doesn't expect me to join him in his geekery, but he does share it with me. The small effect it has is definitely positive.

...Or I'd be writing one of the novels I have floating about in my head. Though there are other reasons that sort of thing has stalled. Or I'd be sketching more. I'd agree, though, that my collecting doesn't really affect my life, because I do have interests outside TransFormers toys, and I'd like to think I don't neglect other responsibilities because of my collecting.

I do spend more time on this blog than any of the others, currently... and I recently set up a new blog to cover my non-TransFormers toys/statues/merchandise, though haven't yet written a single post...

7) What concerns you most about your partner’s collecting?
When he feels bad about spending what he considers to be "too much". Also, how much work it's going to take to pack them up when we do move house, but that's almost certainly the definition of a #firstworldproblem.

This is not an answer I would have expected... but it's nice that I'm clearly not so obsessed with toys that she's planning an intervention. Then again, I don't think I've made a secret of the complex cost/benefit analyses I run through in my head for almost every purchase...

On the 'moving house' front, I have a plan... involving the purchase of a number of large plastic boxes and some bubblewrap. That's basically how I moved everything over from my parents' home, only with cardboard boxes.

8) What has surprised you most about your partner’s collecting?
The extent of my Transformers knowledge before I met him was "there are Autobots and Decepticons", so I've learned a fair amount. I guess the most surprising thing is how big the fandom is.

Neither Courtney nor I are especially interested in exploring any 'fandoms'. Both of us have a degree of social anxiety (though I can get through it better these days by letting my inner motormouth out), and I'm frequently downright antisocial. I'll go to conventions when I can afford to, but she's not very keen on the crowds... The TransFormers fandom is big, certainly, but it's also very fragmented and seems disproportionately argumentative...

9) Where do you see Transformers collecting in your lives in 5 years’ time?
I'm hoping we'll be in a bigger flat/house by then, so there may be room for his whole collection. It would be interesting if we could make it to a convention like Auto Assembly, or even Botcon.

I've been to a couple of Auto Assemblies, but didn't think much of them beyond the retail side (although I admit I did go a bit 'awkward fanboy' when standing near Garry Chalk one time, and couldn't think of a single thing to say to him), and I'd be slightly dubious about dragging Courtney to one of them (though I did suggest it this year). We almost went to BotCon this year (this comes up again later) but I suspect that, now Auto Assembly is no more, we'll probably get to a Roll Out Roll Call before we actually manage a BotCon.

The only thing I'd add to Courtney's answer is that, before I moved out of my parents' place, I'd briefly discussed with them the idea of turning the fitted wardrobe in what was then "the spare room" into a diorama for my TransFormers... and I'd still really love to do something like that. Definitely requires more space than we have at the moment, though...

10) What is the best thing that has come out of your partner’s toy collecting?
An amazing holiday to Chicago, initially planned to coincide with Botcon, though that plan was abandoned when we realised that "in Chicago" meant "...well, it's in the same state!". We had a lovely time and want to go back as soon as possible.

Funnily enough, a friend of mine - and Chicago native - was shocked when I mentioned this year's BotCon to her, saying that they shouldn't be allowed to advertise the venue as being in Chicago, because it was about 30 miles outside the city, beyond the scope of all Public Transport. It's worse than describing Gatwick airport as being "in London". Still, we may have had to skip this year's BotCon, but we got to see some of the city of Chicago... which we wouldn't have if we'd gone to BotCon.

11) How big an effect has toy collecting had on your life?
I had to sit through the first three Bay films. That sort of trauma will never truly heal. Besides that, not a huge amount. Gord and I share lots of interests, but I think Transformers is one that will remain just his, though I'm always happy to hear him tell me about light piping or show me a fun cartoon. I even incorporated it into one of my own geeky hobbies, planning/stationery, by doing a themed weekly spread with some "Beast Hunters" stickers!

One of these days, I hope Courtney will forgive me for inflicting the live action movies on her. In my defence, I have not - and will not - inflict the abomination that is Age of Extinction upon her. I couldn't stand to watch it a second time, so why should someone I care about have to sit through it?

From my side, I'm happy that I can enthuse at her about my toys, and get her (vaguely) interested in the stories of Beast Wars and TF Prime, and I never get the impression she's being indulgent toward me, or putting up with aberrant behaviour, as I have in the past. I'm also very keen to see what she makes of Beast Machines, since that's a rather divisive story that I really like.

12) What do you think is the most valuable item in your partner’s collection?
One of the Masterpiece ones, or maybe Generation One as they're relatively old. Not sure if it works that way though.

Yeah, 'value' tends to be quite subjective with TransFormers... Certainly the Masterpiece models tend to become vastly more expensive in the secondary market, but some are less popular than others. Much of my Generation 1 stuff is a little beaten up, because I actually played with them as toys, and the stickers on many of them are in a shocking state, so they won't be as valuable as they might otherwise have been... Still, as guesses go, this was well-considered

13) Which is your favourite?
Truck Man! (Gord will explain this hilarious joke.)

Actually, I quite like the pink Azalea figure as well as Windblade. Also, the Beast Wars toys because I love the idea of a "robot in disguise" having an animal's head sticking out of it. Honourable mention to [TF Animated] Wreck-Gar because I dare to be stupid.

"Truck Man" actually comes from my niece, who I've tried to get into TransFormers. For Christmas 2014, I bought her the 1-Step Age of Extinction Optimus Prime (because, duh, obviously!) and Grimlock (because he's a dinosaur, and she likes dinosaurs). When I visited earlier this year, she could remember Grimlock's name, but Optimus Prime had become "Truck Man". When I reminded her of his real name, she just sighed and said something like "Oh, yes, that's who he is..."

While she likes the few I've bought her so far, (and even considers them 'a collection', because she once remarked "I've never had a collection before") I don't see it becoming a huge interest for her... Not with so many other genres to choose from... But if anyone ever tells her TransFormers are boys' toys, that she shouldn't be playing with because she's a girl, I shall instruct her to punch them, really, really hard.
If I remember correctly, quite a number of female fans seem to have got into TransFormers as a result of Beast Wars... though that seems to be more about the story than the whole "robot with animal parts sticking out of it" angle...

I'm not surprised that she picked an Azalea, as they're awesome models, but I am a little surprised that she chose the pink one, considering the five (including Salvia Prominon) available. Windblade is also an interesting choice, which she clarified by explaining that it's the 'Japanese' styling of the head sculpt and my own cartoon interpretations that she particularly likes. Wreck-Gar squeezes in because Courtney's a huge fan of Weird Al Yankovic, and took me to his concert at Hammersmith earlier in the year (the 'Mandatory Fun' tour), so I just had to show her the episode of TransFormers Animated he lent his voice to. It occurs to me now that I'm a little surprised she didn't mention TF Prime Bulkhead, since I've got the impression he's one of her favourites in the TV show...

So, there you have it... Courtney is a very rare and special person: she understands my geekiness and my enthusiasm for the TransFormers brand, even though she doesn't share it and doesn't foresee herself joining the fandom. She doesn't pressure or expect me to give it up and 'grow up', and has even - once or twice - expressed some concern when I've muttered about selling (or otherwise disposing of) some of my collection. Likewise, I wouldn't dream of discouraging her from buying stationery (it always get used!) or reading books (I have actually added to her reading list, with mixed success) or knitting. There's enough that we do engage in together to keep us both interested but, equally, we both value our personal time and space.

In fact, I would venture the opinion that if someone actually objects to their partner's hobbies, that could easily be the least of their problems...

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