As a journalist, I spend a large amount of my time gawping out of
the window, daydreaming and staring at a blank computer screen.
At such moments, it has often felt as if life is passing me by -
but it seems I have inadvertently spent all these years in training
for an increasingly popular competitive sport.
come to the Horse Hospital in London to take part in Staremaster
UK, Britain's first organised staring competition, which was dreamed
up by two friends in Florida and has grown from a bar-room joke
to a touring phenomenon that takes in art galleries and music festivals
around the world.
concept is simple: two competitors meet each other's gaze at close
quarters, and the first to blink loses. Elbows must remain on the
table. Touching your opponent is not permitted. Neither is laughing,
nodding, smiling, coughing or yawning. There can be no time-outs
and no sudden movements.
as it sounds, despite the fact that absolutely nothing happens for
several minutes at a time, Staremaster is a compelling spectator
sport - so much so that its founders, Sean Linezo and Jaimes Miller,
are fielding offers of sponsorship and television deals.
are making a training DVD right now, so you can learn all the secrets,”
improve their skills by staring at camera flashbulbs and, rumour
has it, ingesting large amounts of cannabis.Concerned about the
health risks of such a dedicated training regime, I decide that
good old-fashioned concentration is all I need.
soundtrack, featuring Eye of the Tiger and Can't Take My Eyes Off
You, announces that the contest is about to begin.
first two gladiators lock eyes and two video cameras project huge
images of their faces to an enthralled crowd of spectators.After
a 30-second warm-up period, during which blinking is permitted,
the announcer tells us we are entering the "dry-eye death phase",
so-called because the combatants' tear ducts have emptied and their
eyes are starting to burn. Once this phase begins, just one blink
or three eye flutters by either contestant marks the end of the
it's my turn to sit and stare. My
opponent is Partha Lal, who tells me he works in IT and wears the
slightly unfocused expression of a man who spends eight hours a
day in front of a computer screen. In my book, that clearly gives
him the upper hand.We
blink and flutter our way through the warm-up, then a hush descends
on the crowd (or is it boredom?) as we enter the death stage. A
few seconds later, Lal makes a distinct flutter.
a blink,” I think to myself, but I am powerless to turn to
appeal to the referee. Lal gets away with it. I stare intently at
his nose for what feels like hours, hoping to intimidate him into
fluttering some more.
it happens: I double-blink — a schoolboy error, unforgivable
at this high level. Lal is victorious. In less than a minute my
dreams of becoming a Staremaster are shattered. I feel somewhat
pathetic when I discover that the record is 22 minutes, 30 seconds.
I'm pleased to see, breezes through his next round and soon reaches
the final, where he faces Sarah McCrory, a student from the Royal
College of Art, whom I had marked down as the favourite as soon
as I first saw her dead-eyed gaze.
five minutes of exciting ennui, it is Lal who cracks first. He is
eliminated by a straight blink and McCrory's fist is held aloft.
Obviously, no one ever told her it's rude to stare.