Monday, 10 May 2010
Fret and fright and worrit
I just come back from the doctor’s with me blood pressure, up sunnink shockin, it’s been. I was told again that a one-off high reading is not a diagnosis, still less a death sentence, and that I need to use my monitor a couple of times daily for a week instead of a couple of times monthly if I remember, and we will take it from there.
On the way home I stopped off at Tesco to buy a carton of orange juice and got stuck at the check out behind one of those women who wait until the cashier says ‘that’ll be six pounds forty three, please’ before rummaging in her shopping bag for her purse, then rifling through it to locate her credit card before deciding she probably has enough cash on her after all, and ooh, maybe she’s got the exact change, just a minute, and…
‘Oh, fucking get on with it, woman, will you, for Christ’s sake,’ I’m snarling inwardly, forgetting I’m not in a hurry. No wonder my blood pressure is high, I think, as I wander home, unhurriedly. On black dog days like today, everybody gets on my wick and I go around like a tetchy wasp. On such days if I’m not irritated, I’m gloomy or worried. I worry about life’s huge potential for illness and accident and loss, and even without them, its appalling brevity and utter pointlessness. Mounting the steps of the railway bridge, I catch myself imagining I’m mounting the gallows, and irritably snap myself out of it. I realise I’m drawn to gloomy subjects at such times, and have to pack my briefcase with light reading for the train journey to work, rather as a diabetic makes sure he has some sweets or chocolate on him in case he goes hypo. I totally piss myself off.
I have always thought I was alone in my family with these periods of morbidity, but today I was thinking about my father’s mother and wondered if I have inherited the propensity from her. Along with her competence and practicality as housewife, treasurer of this and that club and agent for mail order catalogues and so on, Nana was a world class worrier. The ingenuity she could bring to the activity used to drive my parents nuts. Once when I was no more than two years old, Nana turned up on our doorstep as early in the morning as she decently could to satisfy herself that I had not, in the course of the night:
1) Woken without my parents’ knowledge.
2) Descended the stairs and opened the door to the living room.
3) Gone through the living room to the door at the top of the cellar steps.
4) Opened this door and descended into the cellar.
5) Opened the clothes boiler, climbed in and
Quite a feat for a toddler whose reach was an inch or two short of the door handles. I would have needed a pile of books at least, and would have had to reposition these about three times in order to achieve the goal. Why she imputed to me such suicidal determination is a question she would never have entertained. I imagine her lying awake in the dark much as I have done so often, watching this and other scenarios unfold of themselves, as if independent of her.
These scenarios are not independent of their creator, though, and it took me a long time to learn that. Twenty years or so ago, I had a recurring dream in which I would be standing in my bedroom in a ghastly blue-green light that gave the skin a clammy and cadaverous glow, pulling hideous faces at myself in the mirror to the accompaniment of crashing horror movie music. In the dream this was both frightening and funny. I took it as a message from the unconscious that I was the author of all my own fears, and that I ought finally to take on board the advice I was once given by a wise colleague who said ‘you’re someone whose emotions are not a trustworthy guide to the way things really are, and you should try not to listen to yourself think.’
Some years later, this lady got regularly denounced in the gay press for her conservative Catholic views on homosexuality and bringing up children, and I came to question her wisdom on a number of matters, but that piece of advice was perhaps the most useful I have ever received from anyone, even if it still proves hard to apply.
Here she is on the reintroduction of corporal punishment in schools. Once I’d have been horrified at the thought. Now I'm more inclined to agree with her.