Thursday, 8 March 2012

The terror of everyday life

‘Anybody seen in a bus over the age of 30 has been a failure in life’: words misattributed to Margaret Thatcher (who could well have said them but apparently didn’t) and which couldn’t be further from the truth.

The opportunity to travel by bus is one of the privileges that working in London gives me, if only for the spectacle it provides of the theatre of life.

Today I found myself sitting near three young women, possibly nurses, from a comment I overheard, at least one of them from Australia, from the accent in which it was made.

The three stars of today's performance leave the stage
of the theatre of life, on the number 30 bus
My ears pricked up when I heard one of them remark:

‘He has an irrational fear of getting his foot caught in the U-bend under the loo.’

OK. Curious. One of the others asked the very question that was puzzling me: ‘Does he make a habit of sticking his foot down the toilet?’

But we didn’t get an answer. Instead the three engaged in an escalating phobia competition.

‘I have an irrational fear of sharks.’ Well I suppose that is a bit irrational on the upper deck of a London bus (what about the lower deck, you ask? No idea. I never travel there). But the speaker had been swimming from a beach near Perth in Western Australia on a coast where there had been two fatal shark attacks in the previous week. I’m not sure that a certain apprehension ought necessarily to be classed as irrational.

We hadn’t stopped though. ‘I have an irrational fear of snakes. I can’t even handle long worms.’ I wasn’t quite sure why she was being called on to handle worms but I can imagine it wouldn’t be particularly pleasant.

Finally, the one to cap it all. ‘I have an irrational fear of all animals.’

No-one raised the stakes any further. What would the next step have been? Is there one?

Well, actually there is. With the edifying display we’re getting daily from Syria, not to mention Zimbabwe, Burma or the many other inspiring behaviour models around the world, including Downing Street, surely man is the animal that needs to be feared above all others?

But that wouldn’t be irrational, of course.

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