#11 Self Help, Self Harm
I’m not a fan of self-help books. I know they’re a big money market and some people rely on them and all that, and if you do, then good for you. Live and let live, I say. It’s a difficult world, so grab whatever gets you through it. For me though, self help books are like a cross between the bible and a Romany fortune teller; they’re vague enough for you to read into their philosophy what it is you want to hear – if you’re desperate enough to believe – and generally they’re peddled by charlatans and huxsters with first class honours certificates in Rank Hypocrisy. Maybe that’s harsh but Allen Carr’s ‘Easy Way to Stop Smoking’, one of the best-selling self-help books of all-time was swiftly followed up by Allen Carr’s ‘The Only Way to Stop Smoking Permanently’, which is either a cynical cashing in exercise, or a blatant admission that the first book didn’t bloody work. That they themselves were followed up by Allen Carr’s The Little Book of Quitting, How to be a Happy Non-Smoker, The Illustrated Easy Way to Stop Smoking and, amazingly Allen Carr’s Easy Way for Women to Stop Smoking, which just sounds creepy, and you have the genre in a nutshell: each self-help book should just be called ‘The Emperor’s New Snake Oil Salesman.’
Everybody who knows me knows my views on these things and they’re unswerving. Anyway, despite this my mother-in-law (who knows me very well indeed) bought me a self-help book called ‘How to Smile Through the Inflammation’, or some such, and Natalie is now reading it on my behalf. So far the jaw-dropping, hold the front page, conclusions are:
- Avoid Stress – No way!
- Eat a balanced diet – Oh, now there’s a thought.
- Exercise – Seriously, this is revelatory GOLD!
- And, sleep well – I mean, IT’S ALMOST LIKE THE AUTHOR KNOWS ME.
I haven’t actually opened the book myself but I’m guessing that a quick skim of the index is unlikely to yield much in the way of how to combat Chronic Rheumatoid Arthritis Inflammatoire Psoriatique (C.R.A.P.I) while rushing for a plane through Charles de Gaulle airport carrying a suit-bag laden with autumn tweeds. Or how to deal with a horse intent on trashing the gate to the hay barn every sodding day. Or a puppy with an excited bark that goes through you like fingernails on a blackboard. A chainsaw with a mind of its own. A broken shower thermostat that turns into a bathroom deluge of a leak, because apparently I’m not a plumber. A volcanic boiler. Or, weirdo B&B guests who only come out of their room on rare occasions and only then so that Madame can do cartwheels, and we all know what that’s all about. And all that before I’ve got to go to work to host five shows at The Comedy Store in Manchester.
That was my week, and no amount of Who Moved My Cheese-ery or The Power of Now-isms was going to make that stress free and an aid to a good night’s sleep, let me tell you.
The specialist had upped the dosage of my weekly immune suppressant injection. It went from 15mg to 17.5 mg which doesn’t sound much, but which was like moving from a pint of strong lager to a pint of strong lager with a double tequila top and a flaming Sambuca chaser. The effect is horrible. It’s like two days of crippling hangover, two days of headaches and nausea, stomach upsets and vile mood swings. Some close to me might argue that there isn’t much change there then, but this is on a different scale and for the first time since the diagnosis I felt genuinely unwell, not just arthritic aches and pains, which are sharp and debilitating enough, but properly sick.
I had the place to myself, Natalie was at work and Thérence at school, and I leant over the sink under the kitchen window, hauling myself into the day while the kettle boiled. From my vantage point I could see the hay-barn, and my heart sank. The horse, Ultime, and her goat cronies had trashed the gate and were bingeing on hay. The old-fashioned kettle began to whistle beside me like an alarm, like when Tom gets so annoyed with Jerry, there’s a ship’s whistle and steam comes out of his ears. There really is no respite.
The goats scattered as I approached, my dressing gown flapping revealingly and my boots thudding across the hard ground, it wasn’t my best look but I was almost incandescent with rage. It seems like I have to re-build this gate every few days because the horse and goats can’t actually wait to be fed like normal grateful animals, they have to help themselves. Only they can’t help themselves because they’d overeat. So I mend the gate, repairing the wooden strats, screwing in more retaining barriers and for two days they sink back until they attack the fence by the orchard instead, wait until I have to mend that and then start on the hay-barn again. It’s a never-ending guerrilla war with two aims, one, the endless eating of hay and two, the utter and complete destruction of my sanity. I fixed the gate and swore heavily and threateningly at the miscreants. I shouted for Kipper to stop barking at the birds, which he didn’t. I shouted at Gigi to stop barking at Kipper and she ignored me. I was supposed to then remove a fallen plum tree from the orchard but the chainsaw wouldn’t start and instead just puttered at me before belching and going silent, like an old drunk slumped in the corner of a pub. I knew exactly how it felt and went inside to take my injection.
That’s when I decided to start being sensible. You simply can’t battle all the time. So much of my life appears to be just fire-fighting, reacting to little setbacks here and there; a spiral of energy sapping, anger inducing incidents that drive me crazy and as there wasn’t much I could do post-injection, I just went to bed feeling queasy and useless. I didn’t feel any better when I got up again, but at least I could rest for a bit. Even the hay-barn gate still seemed intact.
I decided to take a shower. Only the shower decided to break instead, the thermostat became stuck though rather than just maintain its temperature, it went shooting through the temperature scale and settled on ‘Last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, skin stripping hot.’ I screamed. Then I screamed down the phone at the plumber, or his answer phone at least and waited for at least ten minutes before coming to the perfectly reasonable conclusion that I could probably fix it myself. I mean just how hard is plumbing anyway? I got the right tools and set about dismantling the shower tap. Plumbing isn’t all that complicated, you just have to know what you’re doing. I didn’t. Also, you have to turn the water off. I didn’t.
Once the bathroom was under about 20cms of water it dawned on me that rather than screaming vile obscenities at the shower and at life in general, I should probably find the stop cock, which I remembered was out the front of the house. For the second time that day I went out flapping in my dressing down, plunged my hand down a cold, dark recess and turned off the water. I slumped back relieved. I had prevented a major flooding, which no doubt some self-help books would persuade you to turn into a ‘positive’. The fact I had started the flooding in the first place negated any immediate euphoria however and I made the decision not to touch another thing for the rest of that day.
‘That’s it,’ Natalie said, coming in from work seeing me lying on the sofa, ‘relax. That’s the idea.’
I grunted something about the world being shit on a stick.
‘I’ve bought you a present,’ she said, handing me an Amazon box. It was the DVD of Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer’s Gone Fishing series. ‘You’re always saying how relaxing and calming you find it,’ Natalie beamed. And I am too, it’s a soothing balm like The Repair Shop on BBC2, a lovely, gentle heartwarming diversion. But I was in no mood to watch more successful colleagues.
‘Thanks,’ I mumbled under my breath, ‘Why not just invite McIntyre round for tea?’ And I stomped off to bed, truculently eschewing the gate-trashing, bathroom flooding, thermostat breaking, chainsaw belching horror of the day.
‘Where are you going?’ Natalie asked.
‘I’m going off to write a Self-Help book,’ I said, ‘, actually more self-hindrance, it’s called ‘I Don’t Give a Shit Who Moved my Cheese, Life Can Fuck Off.’ And I slammed the bedroom door behind me shaking the house, causing Kipper to bark and the tap to fall off the shower.
The ‘Monsieur So British…’ blog carries on from my two best-selling books, ‘À la Mod…’ and ‘C’est Modnifique!’ both published by Summersdale and available here. This blog will also appear as a podcast every fortnight. It’s here on itunes if you’d like a listen. they’re only 15 minutes long…
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