Saturday, 25 March 2017

#61 PROBLEM PAGES: A psychologist writes

The Management has decreed that in order to prevent over-personing and to prepare the ground for further swingeing redundancies, all employees will be required to multitask, at this moment in time. Noting that The Editor had a background in Psychology, The Proprietor proposed that a Problem Page could draw on this expertise (also covering relationships, dating and divorce tips, plus diagnosis of minor infections). “But I was a Social Psychologist”, the Ed protested “I know precious little about personality disorders and my knowledge of fetishes, acne cures and modern chat-up techniques  is skimpy - except that in that language, every third word must be ‘like’ or the person will be ostracised as some kind of freak”. “That’ll do nicely” replied Mr. Merdeok. “with your experience, you should be good at bullshitting! Make it up as you go along, that’s what the pro’s do, Cobber

As Psychology has become more and more popular there has been a proliferation of ‘problem pages’ in magazines and newspapers. Of course, most of them employ full-time journalists to manufacture them around circulation-boosting topics, but The Items would never stoop so low. Here is a small selection from our readers’ letters, all one hundred per cent kosher:

I feel nauseous whenever I see or smell bananas. What is the psychological explanation for this?
C.U., Winchelsea.

Well, my psychoanalyst colleagues might say that this is classic penis envy, an idea put forward by Freud to describe the young girl’s sense of not having such a thing, and envying the boy for having one. Woody Allen, in his film Zelig, argued that some boys might also suffer from this, suggesting that size does matter after all. On the other hand, I know of a case in which this phobia originated in childhood when the person concerned went to a summer fair in a heatwave having just eaten bananas for dessert, got heat stroke, and became violently sick for several days. It was a simple association of events and ideas, best explained by Learning Theory.

On a third hand, if you ever get an irresistible desire to show people your banana, you should make another appointment with me urgently.     

In an old Psychology textbook I came across the term ‘hebephrenic schizophrenic’. What is it?

It is an old classification which refers to a kind of schizophrenia which produces loud, raucous behaviour in which the person can be seen rolling down the street laughing and jabbering away to themselves and passers-by. They seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, leading psychologists to say that if you’ve got have schizophrenia, this is clearly the best type to have. Diagnosis has become more complicated recently since the patient’s behaviour is not substantially different from that of many people using Bluetooth mobile phone connections. The origin of the term is unclear but we can safely assume it has nothing to do with being Jewish, nor can you catch it from a flowering shrub.

I often feel that I am being pursued by The Grim Reaper, sharpening his scythe on an oilstone. 
R.A.C,  Walsall.

Well, first of all, come down off the tower-block and we can go back to my office and talk about this. Don’t look down and try and look on the bright side of Life. Please don’t swallow, smoke or snort anything on your way down: it’s not the solution and it may in fact be the problem.

I often get my two daughters’ names mixed up. What can I do about this?  
D.M., Port of Spain, Trinidad

If by ‘mixed up’ you mean anagrams that’s very unusual, and I’d recommend a good crossword dictionary. If you mean 'confused', then you need a mnemonic or memory aid: generate a graphic association with each: so that in my own family, ‘Leah’ becomes King Lear (or a layer cake if you favour the Old Testament pronunciation) while ‘Cora’ becomes an apple corer. Not flattering but effective. If these don’t work, as a last resort you can have the names tattooed on their foreheads, which has the virtue of helping others in the same fix, and is no more horrible than all the other tattoos people now have.

Why do people pray to God? Isn’t he supposed to be omnipresent and all-seeing, so he’d already know the person’s predicament and decided whether to help out or not? 
 PJ.S, Bristol.

A very good point, if I may say so. But if you’re looking for logic, perhaps religion is not the best place to start. You’ll notice that most of the major religions require their followers to believe something which is illogical, impossible or just bloody ridiculous (a.k.a ‘miracles’) as a kind of admission price. I gather the point is that if you can get them to swallow this, then you can tell them to do practically anything and they won’t demur (e.g. tithing their money to the Church, or not letting on about personal favours to the Clergy, because they ‘have their needs, too, and are only human’).

I have fallen in love with an Arsenal fan: the rest of my family won’t speak to me as we are all season-ticket holders at Tottenham, and my girlfriend is immovable on this issue. What should I do?  R.S., Southgate.

By an unlikely coincidence my eldest daughter had exactly the same problem. It is very difficult when religion divides families. Our first strategy was to create a kind of sheep-dip along the side of the house, for her boyfriend to be immersed in when visiting her. This cleansed some but deterred others (what you might call the ‘dyed in the wool’, type of fan). These she was better off without, we reasoned. Failing this I suggest a kind of Lysistrata-style withdrawal of sexual favours. I think you’ll find she comes around quite quickly. In any event it is only a temporary problem, trust me. As her team plummets towards the Vanarama League, Division 2, she will probably experience a miraculous conversion to a club just up the road.

This is the problem: I say 'tomartoes' and my husband says 'tomaytoes'. I know what you're thinking, but actually, I'm American and he's English! What should we do? We can almost never talk about salad without coming to blows...   Ms. AZ.

To be very frank I think you've both been a little too accommodating in the past, and too rigid in the present. Your need for harmony has caused you both to unconsciously internalise the idioms of the other's country, and having done so, are determined to stick to them. I think there is great insecurity here, in both of you. Reassure him that you love him, and suggest that you'll comply with his 'tomaytoes' if he'll promise not to swing the other way on 'potatoes'. Failing that, you could just stop talking about salad, ketchup, Bloody Marys or most of Italian cuisine. Good luck with that!
That’s more than sufficient for this week, but keep them coming……

Although Pavarotti could be a supergroup on his own, here he is in the most unlikely duo ever to figure here. But put aside your preconceptions....two of the very best..

International friendship through a common interest or shared emotions is often dwarfed by the juggernaut of conflict and war, but every now and then we get brief glimpses of the better alternative and a flush of internationalism warms us, literally.

Tottenham are known as a Jewish club, because of the large number of Jewish supporters (though nothing like a majority, and apparently no more so than Arsenal). The fans have called themselves ‘Tottenham Yids’ taking the insult and turning it into a positive thing, a badge of pride (much as some blacks call themselves ‘niggas’, and gays use ‘queers’). Sometimes they chant ‘Yiddo’ at a particular player: it’s an accolade, a mark of acceptance meaning ‘you’re one of us’, ‘you’re one of our own’. Confusing for the average neutral onlooker, but entirely positive and not remotely racist.

Our South Korean import from last season, Heung-Min Son, scored a hat-trick recently, at White Hart Lane. Yiddo! Yiddo! Rang out round the ground. He wasn’t fazed, he must have been warned.

So let’s get this clear: South Korean player is saluted by English fans at ‘Jewish’ club using racist slur transformed by heavy irony into approbation? It’s perfectly straightforward isn’t it?  Exactly. I’m sure he was well-pleased. Football is global.

Altogether now, "I want to teach the World to sing in perfect harmoneee..."

When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty but when I have finishedif the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong."     R. Buckminster Fuller 

Death is the solution to all problems. No man - no problem."       Joseph Stalin 

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.     Einstein

I don't like losers.     Donald Trump

    Farmers in Haiti...

Sean, are you trying to take over my blog?  I'll give in gracefully if you'll just tell me how this was done?
Have you been a tart and photoshopped it?  Reply in the comments section, it's still I have to offer a dowry to get someone to write in it?

 So you think you've got problems...       

When you walk up the drive of the orphanage in Siret, North East Romania (which is near the border with the Ukraine) you see a huge barrack-like building with many windows, each filled with children, all focused on you. You are an event. Few of the children are actually orphans, they are discards. Nicolai and Eleni Ceausescu, erstwhile communist dictators, sought military might and industrial power by increasing the population: they decreed that every family shall have five children, banned contraception, and monitored this by regular examination of women in their workplaces.   It was a disaster; Romania was a very poor country, more like a Third World outpost in Europe, and often these enlarged families could not be fed. Sadly the children were taken to the orphanages as the only solution. These became terribly overcrowded, their minimal resources being stretched beyond elasticity and the children’s care, supervision, education and activity became almost non-existent. 
The orphanages were now little more than holding pens with practically none of the provision necessary for healthy growth and development.  One example will suffice: many of the children had not been toilet trained before they had left their parents. Several hundred children would have to share a handful of toilets, often broken, invariably occupied and always disgusting. Many children up to 8 or 9 wore ‘nappies’, swathes of rough cotton tied around them, and changed infrequently. Others didn’t, they just went where they stood. Many years of this soaking into the wooden floorboards produced an odour so powerful that it seemed to register with all the senses at once; it filled the building and would never go until every board was replaced. It was beyond squalor, and yet the children's spirit survived it.
This is why the visitor’s passage through the main front door was a watershed. The stench hit like a brick wall falling on you. The immediate reflex was to heave, but was very soon followed by a dilemma: obey the visceral impulse to leave, or stay. Many, many British people stayed, and worked for the children and with the children over a long period which saw their conditions improve significantly – though often slightly undermined by the appetite of some locals for the shiny new bath fittings from B&Q that the trucks brought from London, for example. The workers were altruistic but it was very rewarding. 
The children left you in no doubt of their appreciation, and the volunteers would each attract a posse of children who followed them, hung off them if allowed to, and made every effort to communicate: there is something very pure and clear about the non-verbal expression of affection and gesture or the sign-language which embroidered it. Attention-seeking acquired a very different meaning: no longer just the showing-off and spotlight-grabbing of brats; rather the desperate craving for some attention, affection, conversation, touching – in fact anything - of children who had much, much less of these things than most British family pets. 
The children’s dormitories were packed with metal frame beds, covering most of the floor area, so that some parts of the room could only be reached by clambering across several beds and their occupants. Well-wishers from this country had provided televisions for many of the rooms: a welcome source of stimulation, though the acute contrast between Dallas and Siret must have been puzzling and troubling for the children.  
Two groups of children in the orphanage differentiated themselves: down in the bowel of the building lived the Basement Boys, completely institutionalised, many of them simply sat on their haunches, rocking backwards and forwards catatonically. And on the top floor, the HIV/AIDS babies/infants who never came downstairs and never would.
I made three visits in successive years (1994-1996), the first to ‘profile’ some of the older children who were about to be carted off to spend their adult lives in a mental institution or old people’s home, unless it could be shown that they were intelligent enough to make it in the outside world on their own. Remarkably, against the odds, all of them passed our DIY 'IQ tests' quite comfortably (constructed with a Romanian Psychology graduate, one long night): let’s just say that the end justified the means. Having been taken to one of these institutions, and found it to be even more desolate than the orphanage, it wasn’t a hard decision for me to massage the children’s 'IQ' data a little. 
I returned the next year with my friend JH, with a huge load of toys, games, books and art materials (see #59 The Drive). Amongst the load was a Barbie-style 'Doctor and Nurse set': we propped it up in the side-window of my estate car, with a notice saying 'Médecins sans Frontières'. We got many hoots, waves and smiles, as we sped across frontierless Europe, with no customs/border stops between Calais and the Hungary/Romania border. My final visit was at Christmas 1996. I judged that I’d be better off in Romania with the children than my fractured family and that was a good call. Fortunately I had equipped myself with lots of thermals, fleeces and long socks as I expected it to be cold. But not that cold (see #60 The Night on the Train).
 I’m not going to try and describe the experience of Christmas with a few hundred Romanian children at their party. Too many clichés, too much schlock-hazard. I will just say that I’ve never seen such elation, nor so many children’s faces that were simply luminous.
In those days I was still doing some running and one day on my second visit I decided to run along the river bank, under a cloudless sky and in hot sunshine. After a few minutes I came to a clearing where there were some huge broken lumps of concrete and a long straight gully through the ground. There were also some derelict buildings. There was nothing remarkable, except for the fact that I felt there was a cold, uneasy atmosphere, just yards from the open ground where I had felt nothing but warmth and ease. It was a strong, unmistakeable feeling which made me run faster, and feel relieved to have left it behind. I’m neither spiritualist nor superstitious, but what really gave me a shiver was when I asked someone back at the orphanage about it. “Sure,” he said “The old station, that’s where the Jews were herded onto the trains”.  Unquiet just about covers it.
I never went back to Siret, I was no longer so free having begun a new relationship, which brought another baby daughter. But it had radically changed, anyway. Daniel Donnelly, the popular Irish balladeer had visited, written and recorded a very successful song about it and given the orphanage the profits, injecting such a huge amount of money into the place that our efforts had become largely superfluous.
On a couple of occasions I stopped in Bucuresti and stayed with a remarkable couple who were friends of a friend. He was the ex–National Basketball Coach, and now Secretary to the Deputies (I think the equivalent of our Cabinet Secretary or similar); she was the Director of a children’s hospital in the capital. It is difficult to estimate and translate but I would guess that in this country her salary would be in the region of £100,000 p.a. Then, in Romania, she was being paid $60 a month, or roughly £10 a week. Now that’s what you call a minimum wage.  This puts Romanian economic migration in a slightly different light? Who in their right mind would prefer to work in Romania for a week’s wage that could be earned in an hour in this country?