A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times


Dear Psychiatrist

Your name cropped up in the casualty department of our local hospital the other day (I was in there fixing a 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 who they thought was about to kill himself. I was a bit surprised to find:

A. They were asking for my help!
B. Him in the coffee lounge, shaking and trembling, attempting to smoke cigarettes and drink black coffee at the same time.

So I said, just as a light hearted opening gambit, "my goodness, are you trying to kill yourself quickly, or slowly by caffeine and nicotene poisoning? Cheer up, old chap, things surely aren't as bad as all that." And he said, "the patient is in the next cubicle, I am the psychiatric registrar." I said, "oops, sorry, but I do see that being a psychiatric registrar must make you feel pretty bad about things," and he said, well I wont 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, he was just suffering from a feeling of normal anxiety.

So I asked him, "What do you mean by normal anxiety then?" (You see I did a half-subject correspondence course in Philosophy and I ntoiced that most people cannot define the things they are talking about - being a builder myself, of course, I don't reallly need to.) That set him back a bit, but after thinking for a minute, during which he smoked four more cigarettes and sipped a cup of coffee through another two, he said, "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 we're all going to die, this willl never take off, the wings are far too thin and they haven't got enough engines' and so on, what would you call him?" And I said, "I'd call him a prat." And the shrink said, "yes, well I see what you mean, but I can't put that in my exam paper tomorrow, can I?" I said, "what's the matter, can't you spell it?" and the conversation degenerated into imprecations and expletives such as often occurs when intelectuals think you're not taking them seriously. Which seems to be most of the time where I'm coming from for one reason or another.

Anyway, the upshot of this whole business was that I got to thinking about anxiety and how best to cope with it, and I thought you might be interested in my thoughts on the matter. You know, there is a famous black-and-white picture-puzzle they use in psycology 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 its an old lady with a hooked nose.

  

During these lectures, we were told that the human brain (and many psycologists 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 sales-men. When I try on a smart jacket at my tailors round the corner (George .... at Asda) someone will come up and say, "My, that certainly fits you well in the front," while they pull 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 the 'smart young men' in the television commercials. This would be the equivalent of the young lady version of the picture-puzzle.

My problems start, when I take my new jacket out for a trial run at the sort of places where one dresses smartly (Births, Deaths, Marriages & Interviews). As I look round 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 in his oil-stained jeans and tatty tee-shirt that shows his manly rippling armpits to such advantage. So when I see that today, Tommy is wearing a suit, I do not say to myself, "Aha, there is a smart young chap in a natty suit," I say to mysellf, "there is old Tommy who has left his tee-shirt at home." 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 nothing but 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 by intensive subliminal advertising and bad lighting at the tailor's. I suddenly realise that I am just like Tommy, and that I have no real right to try and look smart, but should accept my station in life, which is basically to be scruffy and look too big for my clothes. So my mind suddenly flips over, like it does to the old lady in the picture-puzzle, and I instantly become ill-at-ease and start dropping my canapes in the champagne cocktail and forget how to eat vol-au-vents without getting the mushroom fillings up my nose.

The thing I want to know is, is this just me, or is it everyone else as well? Do all people who seem to glide around in smart suits and silken bomber jackets actually believe they are smart and silky, or are they like me, thinking of themselves as untidy louts who were designed for porridge-stained cords and knitted ties that have gone all stringy? Do you ever get rid of the feeling that you are just dressing up in grown-up clothes? Does Jeremy Paxman ever think, oh my gosh, here I am at this international summit conference and I bet that Mr 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 described properly. I really would be grateful for your advice, or if possible, 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.

Yours Sincerely

Andy Robinson.

THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHESSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

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Its my own fault really, its all about what I see in the world, and how it all translates for me.

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