I was going to write my first blog post for The Write Way discussing whether creativity and business acumen are mutually exclusive, but then I decided there was time enough for that and now would be an ideal time instead to introduce myself. So, my name is Betty and I think I may be suffering from Victor Meldrew Syndrome (VMS). According to The Daily Mail (that bastion of erudite reporting and towering intellect), VMS mainly affects men over the age of 50 and manifests itself as a dour lack of humour and a particular detestation of yobs and teenagers. I beg to differ, I think the syndrome equally affects men and women, age is irrelevant, and the main symptoms are, not so much a lack of humour, but a profound lack of patience and a tendency to glare like a snake about to strike, at people and things that annoy you.
I began to make a list of the people and occasions that brought on a bout of my VMS, but there wasn’t enough time in the world….people who cough into your face without covering their mouths, people who park themselves beside you on the bus, an inch from sitting on your lap, their thigh fitted snugly against yours; people in public places screaming at fever pitch into their mobile phones about the drab details of their daily rounds; Stephen Fry and his ridiculous acolytes on the preposterous QI; loud parenting people who shout monologues at their stunned kids in the supermarket ‘beans, you know, are a member of the legume family George’; same kids on scooters at the supermarket skimming adult shins; women driving cars, simultaneously putting on makeup and texting; cyclists on the pavements almost colliding with people in wheelchairs, screaming abuse when you protest and then cycling off with their middle finger proudly erect…….as I said, there isn’t enough time in the world.
What my list taught me though is that there is a pattern, indeed a natural rhythm, to the causes and circumstances of my spells of ill-will; people displaying a basic lack of good manners and an ongoing erosion of civility. Now, while my list is limited to my encounters in public places and only takes into account ‘first world problems’ – (I may be being ironic here as jargon and slang have been known to set off an episode of my VMS), it is nonetheless a valid list for the purposes of this post and there will be ample blog posts to come, detailing my infinite list of gripes, from my aversions to jobs worthy government officials to the falseness of ‘reality’ television shows.
Anyway, I digress. Where once we may have turned to a God for enlightenment and guidance, we now turn to Google, and so I began to search for a way of alleviating my symptoms and finding a way of living cheek by jowl in this modern day menagerie. I found myself knee deep in online pages of ‘inspirational life quotes’, bogged down in less than memorable memes about ‘life lessons’, and frankly repulsed by some of the more saccharine sayings. One particular piece of philosophy, courtesy of Og Mandino, caught my eye though, which advised treating everyone you meet as if they are going to be dead by midnight, treating them with all the care, kindness and understanding that you can muster.
This struck me as a revolutionary concept and as I walked along James’s St in Dublin the next day, I was determined to put this into practice, to curb my impatience. So I smiled serenely when I was clipped by a pushchair driven by a phone-distracted parent, I turned the other cheek when a shopkeeper coughed straight into my face, droplets of phlegm hanging like tiny diamonds between us in the air, and I maintained my composure when a drunk guy missed the mark and peed a river of urine on my new shoe. Continuing on my personal odyssey that day, I mused about my breakthrough in human relations, my new found ability to empathise and understand.
As I bowled along, with a benign beam and a cheerful twinkle in my eye, I was suddenly confronted by three young lads on bicycles thundering towards me on the pavement, at a high rate of acceleration. Keeping my head, and not letting the smile slip by a fraction, I continued to face forward. One of the lads screeched to a halt in front of me. ‘What are you fookin’ laughin’ at’, he demanded. ‘I am not laughing’, I explained cheerily, ‘this is what you call a smile’. By now the other two had surrounded me, the bicycles acting as barriers to any means of escape. ‘What’s that oul bitch saying to ya, what are ya on about, ya oul wagon?’ I took a deep breath, ‘Look, just let me pass by, let’s all show a little respect and manners and we’ll all get along just fine together’. I tried another winning smile. ‘Mad oul cat lady, what do ya keep grinning at? What’s so fookin’ funny? Are you on fookin’ drugs ya fookin’ nutter?’
Well, you can guess what happened next. The red mist came down and I screamed ‘Oh God all-mighty, I don’t belieeeve it! Unbeelieevable! What in the name of bloody hell do you think you’re doing? In the name of sanity, you must stop…’. On and on I went, dragging out every Victor Meldrew idiom in the book, whilst simultaneously shaking my fist, stamping my foot and getting ever-more purple in the face. The lads took flight, scurrying off on their bicycles, with only a smell of burning rubber and a palpable sense of terror left behind. Perhaps they feared that they were going to be dead by midnight. I went back to my old ways, where I will leave you, tongue- in-cheek, to ponder this ‘inspirational life quote’ from Victor Meldrew himself, until we meet again.
Victor Meldrew: Mirror image of your life really, isn't it? Car journey on a bank holiday. First fifty-odd miles on the go all the way - a sense of direction - bowling along. Get past sixty, everything slows down to a sudden crawl and you realise you're not going anywhere any more. All the things you thought you were going to do that never came to anything. And you can't turn the clock back. One way traffic just gradually grinding to a complete halt.