Your name cropped up in the casualty department of our local hospital the other day. I was in there unblocking a clogged up washbowl, And I remembered that I hadn’t heard from you since my last letter,. So I thought I would drop you another little note.
As a matter of fact. Your name came up when I was called to assist with a patient they thought was about to kill himself…
I was a bit surprised to find:
A. Him in the coffee lounge. Shaking and trembling while attempting to smoke cigarettes and drink black coffee (laced with vodka no doubt). All at the same time.
B. They were even asking me for my help!
Anyway, I said to our chap, just as a light hearted opening gambit;
“My goodness, are you trying to kill yourself quickly? Or slowly with caffeine and nicotene poisoning? Cheer up, old chap, things surely aren’t as bad as all that.”
“The patient is in the next cubicle, I am the psychiatric registrar,” he replied.
“Oops, sorry old boy. I can see that being one of those must make you feel pretty bad about things,” I answered.
And he said… Well I won’t tell you exactly what he said. But the gist of it was that he was going to take a written exam in psychiatry the following morning. So he wasn’t feeling depressed at all. He was just suffering from a feeling of normal anxiety.
“What do you mean by normal anxiety then?” I asked him. You see I once did a half-subject correspondence course in Philosophy. And I noticed that most people cannot define the things they are talking about. Of course, me being a builder, I don’t really have to.
Well that set our boy back a bit.
But after thinking for a minute. During which he smoked four more cigarettes and sipped another cup of coffee through another two. He replied, “Well lots of people are afraid of flying, right?”
And I said, “Right?”
“Well,” he said, “it can be difficult to define the border of a neurosis. But if you were sitting next to someone in the plane. Who started shouting ‘OO-oo-oh no. We’re all going to die. This thing will never take off. The wings are far too thin and they haven’t got enough engines’ and so on. What would you call him?”
“I’d call him a prat.” I said.
And the shrink said, “Yes, well I see what you mean. But I can’t put that in my exam paper tomorrow, can I?”
“Why? What’s the matter? Can’t you spell it?” I replied.
And the conversation degenerated into imprecations and expletives such as often occurs when intellectuals think you’re not taking them seriously. Which for one reason or another, seems to be most of the time when I’m involved.
Anyway, the upshot of this whole sordid business was that I got to thinking about anxiety.
And how best to cope with it. So I thought that maybe you might be interested in my thoughts on the matter…
You know, there’s a famous black-and-white picture-puzzle they use in psychology lectures. Which if you look at it one way, is a young lady with a tiara on her head. And if you look at it another way, it’s an old lady with a hooked nose.
Well, during such lectures. We get told that the human brain (and many psychologists have one of those). Is not capable of seeing both versions of the picture at the same time. So you look at it. And your mind keeps flipping you over from the old lady to the young one and back again.
Well, I’m sorry to say, I have the same trouble with clothes.
I suppose it’s all to do with the way we see ourselves. And the way other people persuade us to see ourselves. Particularly clothes salesmen.
For example, when I try on a smart jacket at my tailors just round the corner (Usually… George at Asda). Someone will invariably come up and say, “My, that certainly fits you well in the front”. While they’re pulling it up tight at the back.
And as I look at myself in the mirror. I force my brain to see my reflection as one of those ‘smart young men’ in the television commercials.
This would be the equivalent of the young lady version of the picture-puzzle.
All well and good but my problems begin, when I take my new jacket out for a trial run. At the sort of places where one dresses smartly (Births, Deaths, Marriages, Court-cases, Interviews, that sort of thing etc). And as I look around the crowd. I may see my old friend Tommy, who used to help me keep my van on the road.
Now in my mind, I have always known Tommy dressed in his oil-stained jeans and tatty tee-shirt. That handsomely shows us his trade, along with his manly rippling armpits to such advantage. And when I see that today, Tommy is wearing a suit. I do not say to myself, “Aha, there’s a smart young chap in a natty suit”. I say to myself, “there’s old Tommy who has left his tee-shirt at home.”
So in essence, to me, Tommy is nothing more than a tee-shirt and jeans. And any attempt to disport himself in a suit and pass himself off as gentry is seen to be nothing more than an unsuccessful practical joke.
And then I think of myself, and the same thing happens.
I see that I have been living in a dream-world. Cooked up mostly by intensive subliminal advertising campaigns and bad lighting at the tailor’s. And while people offer up platitudes like “Wow, you scrub up well,” all I ever hear is “IMPOSTOR!”
Every day, after the usual shit, shave and shampoo palaver.
I expertly traverse the routine of choosing the cleanest, most unstained and exceptionally well liveried shirt I possess from amongst a collection of at least twenty. And attempt to leave the house looking as polished and professional looking as possible in my company ‘uniform’… Only to return later on that day. Covered in blood, sweat and tears, sawdust, silicone, paint, plaster or concrete and the like.
And that’s when I sadly realise. That I really am just like Tommy. And that due to the restrictions of my chosen career, I have no real right to try and look super-smart, But should accept my station in life. Which is basically to be scruffy and generally looking too big for my clothes due to my far from athletic figure. So my mind suddenly flips me over, to the old lady in that picture-puzzle. And I instantly become ill-at-ease. And start dropping my cucumber sandwiches and canapés into my champagne cocktails and forget how to eat vol-au-vents without getting the mushroom fillings up my nose.
This brings me to the whole point of this letter… the things I’d like if not need to know, which are:
Is this just me, or is it everyone else at it as well?
Do you ever get rid of the feeling you’re just a child, dressing up in grown-up’s clothes?
Do all the people who seem to glide around in smart suits and silken bomber jackets. Actually believe they are smart and silky? Or are they just like me. Thinking of themselves as untidy louts who were designed for porridge-stained cords and knitted ties that have gone all stringy?
Does Prince Charles ever think, “Oh my gosh, here I am at this international summit conference thing”. And “I bet President O’bama is really thinking of me as a man who normally wears a comfy cardigan and gardening trousers”?
This might of course, just be a neurosis that has not yet been properly identified and fully described. But I really would be grateful for your input and advice on the matter. Or, if that’s not possible right now, any cast-off clothing that you think might be suitable. I enclose my measurements and also a photo of Tommy in his suit. To give you some idea of what I mean.
Oh, and never trust a tradie that rocks up in a suit with shiny tools
Yours Sincerely – Andy Robinson.