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This way madness

Is it possible, I wonder, for someone to have Munchausen’s Syndrome linked to merely seeming a bit odd?

In other words, can a person act selfconsciously in a deliberately eccentric way, perhaps because the idea of behaving as if they have a mild mental disorder makes them feel more at home in a disordered world?

Yes [ ]  No [ ] What? [ ]  (tick)

You see, I’ve observed in the mirror that I have classic Obsessive-Compulsive habits.

I can’t remember having had any when younger, except for obsessively doodling a little squiggly sunrise motif in the margins of my Latin exercise book, but I seem to have adopted several over the years. Yet they don’t really feel natural to me. I watch myself with a faint sense of unease, thinking I would never have dreamed of behaving like this thirty years ago.

Hence the question: as well as physical symptoms, can Munchausen’s also describe feigning imaginary mental illness? Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder something people can acquire later in life? Or am I just pretending I’ve got it to make myself feel better, to attract sympathy, to seem more interesting, to fill-in the spare time God has cursed me with? Or is it the wine?

We need to know.

As well as, or perhaps because of, having to drink exactly one bottle every night; while straining not to Post my 500th Post until 27 February, the anniversary of the founding of the BogPo; putting on my socks in the right order, carefully counting my strides along the section of footpath made from uniformly five-yards-long slabs of concrete, so that I don’t step on the joins, for a good few years I’ve made a fetish of straightening pictures on walls and tidying unruly piles of leaflets in shops and banks.

Sorting things found on tabletops and counters: pens, pencils, rulers, dictionaries, erasers, so that everything lines up nicely, each category having its own place, creating geometric shapes and harmonious mathematical proportion in relation to the other items; then mischievously disarranging just one, maybe placing a pen at a jaunty angle to the others, to prove to any passing interested parties that a modicum of anarchic creativity still lurks within this frighteningly well-ordered mind

Only, I am the interested party. Everyone else just thinks I’m a bit mad.

An invigilator at the university, I’ve genuinely experienced in a crowded examination hall, a strange effect. With:

…things put back in their place, so; a gap of exactly one inch between the orderly piles of spare yellow, orange, green and blue answer books, of graph paper and Optical Character Recognition sheets; the blue attendance slips all neatly aligned, stacked, regimented; the little sticky tabs and treasury tags back in their boxes or neatly piled; no spare yesterday’s question papers and the torn envelopes they came in, no attendance sheets and instructions to invigilators for making announcements in Welsh, no paper cups, no helpful information about reporting Unacceptable Academic Practice, no dated photofit pictures scattered about showing how to spot last year’s illicit Smart watch, all tidied away, nothing littering the floor…

all this artful symmetry seems to engender an extraordinary feeling of order and Zen-like calm even in the biggest room, the one seating 377 reluctant biologists, where there was previously head-scratching tension and fret; radiating benignly throughout the space to impose a discipline thoroughly conducive to profound and silent meditation over complex questions of business or criminal law, physics, sport psychology – French literature.

I imagine the exam-room attendants who come to clear up after the invigilators have gone gazing spellbound at my neat tabletops, shaking their heads admiringly. That Bogler, they murmur to one another in their peculiar private language. He’s a stickler for tidyness!

Only I’m not. I have to work hard at making the bed every morning with its cushions arranged, just so; doing the washing-up: the glasses, the dishes, the cutlery, the pans, in the same carefully worked-out, ergonomic routine every time.

And then today, I notice with some irritation that I am having the exact same unhealthy ‘brunch’ I have eaten every day for at least the past month at my kitchen table at about 12.45 p.m.: two rashers of bacon, two eggs easy-over, two sliced mushrooms – all lightly fried in rapeseed oil (the one they now think doesn’t kill you), with a double-tablespoonful of baked beans, heated-up in the same old baked-bean heating-up pan; followed by a small, strong black coffee.

And I recall that this morning has been unusual, because I have gone downstairs before putting on the double-thick layer of socks that I need to wear to make my oversize Wellingtons fit better, no-one, not even the French, makes Wellingtons in half-sizes; a normal pair inside a heavier woollen gauge. I put them on like this every day, first the right, then the left, while Hunzi dives under my feet, rolling his eyes and making heavy grunting noises, and sticks his big doggy ass in the air, he gets some kind of sexual kick from being involved with me putting on my socks.

Talk about OC Dawg!

Instead, I remember I have new socks, and go downstairs to the fridge to fetch them, taking care on the way to step on the cat. She loves me to pretend to step on her, writhing and clawing the stair carpet, purring and squeaking and wiggling her little ass in the air. What is wrong with these creatures?

I’d finally plucked up courage yesterday and bought a twin-pack of thicker, outdoor socks that don’t have holes in, that I haven’t darned before. They’re great, but here I go again. Am I just saying about that OCD thing to appear more way-out, more fashionable? Do I really think my sock-buying habits are so interesting as to deserve mention in this, muh bogl?

It beats obsessively insulting a bunch of Tories, I suppose.


A low blow, but one maybe needing to be delivered

David ‘schweinsteiger’ Cameron has today agreed with Save the Children that we should, er, save more children. But not the few Syrian orphans dangerously alone and trapped in the Calais Swamp, only 32 miles away by train, oh no. That would only encourager les autres to come and throw themselves on our razor wire. So we’re sending them some extra blankets instead.

If anyone should know about children facing death… it’s this sneering, heartless, not-quite upper-class oaf some of you inexplicably elected.


Should auld acquaintance

My 87 year-old stepfather has undiagnosed Alzheimer’s. Undiagnosed, because he smartly fools the doctors. Though it is obvious to anyone who knows him, the doctors don’t know him. He can still pass the tests.

I went carol singing with the choir this Christmas around the old folks’ homes hereabouts, where some of the inmates have late-stage Alzheimer’s and were constantly having to be fetched back from wherever they had wandered off to by their amazingly patient carers, their minds a complete blank. Sometimes they can get violent. Husks, I described them as.

It’s scary seeing these empty husks, like Science Fiction, where an alien lifeform has sucked out everyone’s brain. Will I end up here, like this? Probably not, the cash-strapped local authority is closing-down the homes.

My stepfather hasn’t reached that stage. But he will ask you the same question over and over again. He asks you: ‘And w-w-what are your movements this afternoon?’ And you tell him, ‘I’m staying here this evening but I am going home tomorrow’. Five minutes pass, before he suddenly says, ‘And w-w-what are your movements this afternoon?’

And you tell him again. And then you ask him, ‘And have they finished decorating your flat yet?’ And he shakes his once great leonine head in puzzlement and tells you he doesn’t know, he can’t remember what it looks like. But he was there less than an hour ago.

So I can tell from experience the difference between someone being totally out of it, or just getting a bit daffy in their old age. My stepfather’s punishment from God is that he’s conscious of his plight; he knows he’s fast losing his never very focussed mind and can’t do a damned thing about it. It’s all slipping away. But as long as he can fool the doctors….

My 90 year-old mother doesn’t have it; nor by all accounts did my late, 83 year-old father, although his arteries were well furred-up.  My mother will tell me the same stories over, but that’s only because I visit her twice a year. Otherwise she’s as sharp as a kitchen knife. You can forgive her forgetting a few details.

So I’m hoping from a genetics point of view I’m not going to get the Big A anytime soon. But after trekking out to my garden studio for the umpteenth time without the door key, forgetting I always lock the damned door, and schlepping back to the house again to fetch it in the teeming rain, I’m not so sure.

I was telling a friend at choir on Tuesday that I’d been practising two new songs all afternoon. ‘What are they?’ she asked, although I knew she wouldn’t know them because I sing jazz songs at home, not choir songs (a community choir song = three lines of untranslatable Kyrzgystani lyrics chanted over crunchy, ever-so ethnic harmonies, repeat until you hyperventilate). Nobody much knows jazz songs now, except other jazz singers, we’re the only ones who listen to each other.

And I had to confess that, although I’d spent four hours playing through the Dianne Reeves tracks on repeat, singing over her amazing voice again and again with my amazing voice, following precisely her vocalisation, her phrasing; downloading the lyrics, dreaming of sending her an MP3 of my amazing performance and she’s like, wow, this old white guy is really amazing, and she invites me over to duet with her and I am famous at last; writing down the melody on the piano and trying to work out some guitar chords, and what the hell key the songs are written in,

by the evening I can’t remember even the titles of the two songs, let alone the words or the notes, to tell my friend about.

Nothing whatever comes to mind.

And I want to cry.


The end of the tunnel

We stopped off, Hunzi and I, on our walk around the industrial estate, to visit a wonderful new shop that has appeared in the bowels of a large shed otherwise dedicated to a not-very successful-looking campervan conversion business, selling everything anyone could need to grow plants indoors.

I shall refrain from making the obvious suggestion as to what plants, exactly, might benefit from the use of this technology. I wouldn’t know.

I had a specific aim in mind, which was to nurse Avi, my lovely Avocado tree, back to health.

Two summers ago, I popped Avi out in the garden, thinking she would benefit from the fresh air and sunlight. To my great disappointment some of her leaves got scorched by the wind, while she seemed to have suffered an infestation of those tiny, green, leaf-boring caterpillars that cunningly become invisible in daylight.

So ever since, I have kept her indoors, in the south-facing window of my garden studio.

Here, she has been unhappy. The expensive double-glazing advertises itself as UV-resistant, cutting out what I believe to be a rather essential component of the photosynthetic process; while the oil-filled radiator I heat the studio with is unpredictable – by which I mean I usually forget either to switch it on or to switch it off, or to set the temperature correctly, depending on the air temperature outside – and sometimes creates an unhealthy fug. I should probably go back to the shop and buy a thermostat.

Last year I repotted Avi, as she had grown to about four feet in height and was starting to put out dainty baby branches. I bought the biggest ceramics pot I could afford, and filled it with a mixture of peat-free compost and the loamy, sooty soil salvaged from operations to level the ground where the studio sits. The pot is now so heavy, and I’ve got so old and knackered, I can no longer move it; so there she sits.

But poor Avi had grown energetically in the three years since she was just a little stone, and was seriously pot-bound. Getting her out of her old home proved difficult. I didn’t want to break it, as Avi has a little half-sister, Caddie, coming along nicely on the living-room windowsill, who will be moving up a class in the summer term. So we had to settle for some rather drastic root damage, and now she looks droopy and her leaves are papery and pale; still bearing the brown marks and curled edges of the previous summer’s damage.

Now, the sun is making strenuous efforts to peer through the wall-to-wall haze after a morning of strong winds and intermittent rain here, on the edge of Storm Gertrude, a 100 mph monster which has sent 50-foot North Atlantic waves crashing once again into Scotland’s west coast islands. But for the past three months it has felt as if we were living through Cormack McCarthy’s The Road, under a thick blanket of brown, radioactive rain-bearing cloud that never seems to lift.

Let alone missing her daily UV, Avi has really been getting no light at all, and her little topknot of growth was stalled. She’d been growing straight and true, but her growing tip has become twisted, its little coronet of baby leaves stunted and futile. Nothing in her demeanour seemed to change for months, she was looking depressed and I feared for her survival.

So, despite it meant getting a tad overdrawn it was worth investing £42 on an enormous, full-spectrum daylight bulb, on the recommendation of the sagacious man in the shop. Seldom have I met anyone so interminably dedicated to the task of problem-solving vegetation issues. I hooked it up in the window, next to Avi, about a week ago, and have tried to remember to switch it on every day for the necessary twelve hours; I have yet to understand the instructions for programming the timer switch he also sold me.

And Alleluya, already she’s sprouting new growth, her tip has put on another inch and the tightly clenched baby leaves are unfurling their shiny new faces to the (fake) sunlight. Hope springs eternal in my studio.

Who knows, it might even be doing my SAD some good too, to be sitting here bathed in simulated daylight, while outside the world is enveloped in perpetual, rain-sodden gloom. Why, I could even imagine us all together in Portugal: Hunzi, Scat the Cat, Avi, Caddie, me and Gibella, my pretty young Gibson guitar.

But no-one is buying my little house.

Whose given name, incidentally, is ‘Lezah’.

I only found out she wasn’t just ‘Number One’ when the first utility bill arrived.







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