I awoke suddenly when I heard a sound. Quite a loud sound – a kind of banging. The sweat trickled down my back. Who could be in my flat at this hour? It must be getting on for three in the morning and … then I heard the banging again. Someone seemed to be thumping around. I am not a great one for confrontations. My breathing became quicker and shallower.
I got up reluctantly and opened the bedroom door.
The hallway light blinded me, but before long I was able to discern a big, burly man with my TV in his hands. He was wearing a white T shirt and blue denims.
‘Good evening!’ I said. ‘Can I give you a hand with that?’
His eyes flickered and seemed to convey a puzzled look. Perhaps he was admiring my Portsmouth FC pyjamas.
‘It must be heavy. Have you got your van outside? I am more than happy to give you a hand. I don’t really need that TV. My schizophrenic friend dropped it around the other day. He had bought one of those LCD TVs from Richer Sounds on the Richmond Road and thought he’d clutter up my flat with that old relic. It is very kind of you to take the old thing away. Saves me ringing that dreary bloke from the council who tends to go on a bit… you know the sort… you are in the middle of something and all they want to do is bend your ear…’
The man shuffled from one foot to another. He appeared edgy and nervous.
‘You are one crazy dude!’ he exclaimed.
‘You are right. I have had several psychiatric diagnoses. The latest is borderline personality disorder. A bit of a mouthful – if you ask me. Psychiatrists tend to use psycho-babble. The chap I’ve got at the moment never seems to return my calls. I ring his secretary trying to be as polite as possible and he never gets back to me. I tell them it is extremely urgent and that I am having severe anxiety about an etymological problem. They don’t seem very conversant with etymology and yet most of their diagnoses are derived from Classical Greek! – Another interesting thing is that I asked this psychiatrist bloke if he thought Medea might have a personality order. You know the one… she murders her children to get back at her ex-partner, Jason… you know what he said. He said that she might have anger issues! Anger issues indeed! I suppose he thought he was being clever by making an under-statement. I don’t want to elaborate too much as you probably want to be getting on and all that… another thing – that medical secretary is a bit uncommunicative. I asked her the other day which was her favourite thesaurus and you know what the old cow said – she said that she wasn’t prepared to discuss it. Not prepared to discuss something as urgent and relevant as…
‘Fuck me – you are fucked, man!’
‘Anyway, I digress. Perhaps you would like a cup of coffee. Decaf OK? Caffeine tends to get my heart racing and I find it hard to sleep. Perhaps you don’t have that problem – you know – doing the night shift and all that. Do you guys ever work during the days? I have heard that some of you guys do a bit of work during the day. I suppose you are hoping that the wealthy folks are out and about getting on with their business and you think… well they won’t miss their laptops, hi-fi… that kind of thing. Oh just one thing… I don’t have any sugar. Apologies! The dentist said not to have any more sugar. She is another one who never returns my calls. Damn cheek. All I wanted to do was discuss the role of teeth in pre- Victorian literature and she never got back to me…’
At this point the chap screamed: ‘Can you shut the fuck up please!’ His face reddened. The TV landed a few inches from my feet and the bloke sailed out the door.
The next morning I rang the HHS helpline to discuss the drama of the night before:
‘Hello – this is Professor Brillo – I would like to discuss my anxiety – preferably with someone capable of empathy and preferably with someone who is not going to advise me to go to accident and emergency. Some of my anxiety is reasonable (or rational) and some of it is disproportionate. Some of it is distressing and manageable and some of it is distressing and unmanageable.’
At this point I heard some beeping sound at the other end of the phone and I realised that I was speaking to an answerphone. I was wondering why I hadn’t been interrupted. Normally when I ring the helpline they don’t hear me out. They seem to make some excuse about ‘appropriate use of time’. Appropriate use of time! Strangely this was one of my more satisfactory exchanges with the NHS!
I then felt that it was time to begin my day. Bran flakes with soya milk and a quick perusal of the internet. What I can’t understand is why I’ve been banned from so many chatrooms.
Needless to say I’ve been on several dating websites. My profile is:
Retired Professor of Linguistics and Social Anthropology seeks buxom lady for pleasant afternoons and competitive scrabble.
Surprisingly there were no takers.
However, I did message Renata (from Eastern Europe), asking her if Polish had many inflectional morphemes and you know what she messaged me back? … ‘Stop sending me messages you boring bastard.’ I took that as a ‘No’.
Steph (from Preston) looked rather nice. She was evidently doing her ‘A’ levels at Preston Sixth Form College. I thought that she might like some tutoring. I messaged her: ‘Greetings from the metropolis. I am a Septuagenarian, but don’t let that put you off – I can keep up with the best of them. I wouldn’t describe myself as athletic, but I do look rather dashing in my Trilby hat. If you would like a dalliance in the North of England at some stage I would be amenable. I like to book my train tickets a week in advance (so I can get the advanced-super- off -peak -saver) – so if you could give me some notice, I would be grateful. Many thanks. Archibald.’
No reply – I was heart-broken.
Then I messaged Grace, a 56 year old lady from Uganda, who from her photo looked to be rather extensive. I wrote: ‘You seem to be rather pleasingly generously-proportioned. May I suggest an afternoon of social interaction (if you pardon the euphemism)?’ She didn’t reply, although she did report me, claiming my message was ‘inappropriate’. How does one determine inappropriateness? Surely it requires a healthy dose of subjectivity?
I was so indignant – I rang the dating site helpline and explained at some length to this chap (on the other end of the line) how I wasn’t prepared to tolerate this kind of abuse and how ‘abuse’ was an over-used word which could be used to describe all sorts of predicaments. At this point he said that he had little sympathy for my complaint and terminated the call. I was furious.
I then decided to make my way to The Winning Horse. I was sure the staff and customers there would give me a hearty welcome…