I was reading High Fidelity by Nick Hornby when I came across this:

"What sort of time, after all, could make a thirteen-year-old boy spin away from a girl and toward a playground,"

I can't seem to find its meaning on dictionaries, thought you could provide me with an answer

  • 1
    It's not a common usage. Here, to spin away just means to quickly turn away [from]... Compare He whirled off (He sped away) Apr 3 at 19:48
  • There may also be a deliberate allusion to spinning (music, vinyl) discs, I don't know the exact full context. Perhaps he's off for a "turn, spin" on the playground roundabout. Who knows? Apr 3 at 19:57
  • @FumbleFingers - I happen to have the e-book edition of the Nick Hornby novel (for that is the one being discussed), and from my reading of the surrounding text I would say your 'quickly turning' interpretation is the right one. Apr 3 at 20:08
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    @FumbleFingers - I think that some people often look at their watches as a kind of 'displacement activity' (an animal or human activity that seems inappropriate, such as head-scratching when confused, considered to arise unconsciously when a conflict between antagonistic urges cannot be resolved). Apr 4 at 7:18
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    @MichaelHarvey: Yeah - the main character Rob has just seen his soon-to-be-ex girlfriend making out with a rival. He's slinking away in consternation, and he definitely doesn't need to know the time - as you suggest, it's a random 'displacement activity'. Apr 4 at 10:31

1 Answer 1


The full context helps us here:

On the fourth night of our relationship I turned up in the park and Alison was sitting on the bench with her arm around Kevin Bannister. Nobody – not Alison, or Kevin, or me said anything at all. I stung, and I blushed, and I suddenly forgot how to walk without being aware of every single part of my body. What to do? Where to go? I didn’t want to fight; I didn’t want to sit there with the two of them; I didn’t want to go home. So, concentrating very hard on the empty No. 6 packets that marked out the path between the girls and the boys, and not looking up or behind me or to either side, I headed back towards the massed ranks of the single males hanging off the swingboat. Halfway, I made my only error of judgement: I stopped and looked at my watch, although for the life of me I don’t know what I was attempting to convey, or who I was trying to kid. What sort of time, after all, could make a thirteen-year-old boy spin away from a girl and towards a playground, palms sweating, heart racing, trying desperately not to cry? Certainly not four o’clock on a late September afternoon.

He's walking towards her and he literally spins away to avoid the humiliating situation.

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