I was four years old in the summer of 1977, and remember the Silver Jubilee fairly clearly. We were at a holiday camp in Brixham, Devon, and it was very hot indeed. On June 6th all the children were given a Jubilee mug with a packet of Treets (the closest thing we have to these now is peanut M&M’s – they don’t taste the same you know) in it, and a Jubilee pencil. This pencil, in my ickle hands, was HUGE. It was about five times the size of a normal pencil, with the Jubilee picture of the Queen on the side, and a Union Jack thingy on the top. As far as I can recall I really liked it. Or so I thought, until somebody pointed out recently that it may well have been the root cause of one of my weirder phobias.
I am sort of notorious for my utterly irrational fears. I am scared of most animals – dogs and cats I am happy with but anything larger and in the farmyard arena is pretty much out. Horses are just plain scary, geese are homicidal maniacs and everyone knows that every so often a whole bunch of cows (a herd….?) will gang up on an unsuspecting rambler and squash him flat until he’d fit into his own cagoule pocket…(I had one of those cagoules that folded into its own pocket and I’m here to tell you unashamedly that I LOVED it. Genius…….a raincoat that stored itself IN itself – that’s transcendental, man…). Conversely, anything smaller than a cat is ok unless it has more than four legs. Rats and mice are no problem, but insects? No thanks. I’ve tried really hard not to pass my arachnophobia onto Small Person, and have really only struggled with it on one occasion. She was no more than two, and in the bath at our old house. I was faffing around with laundry in the airing cupboard, and heard a small querulous voice say “Mummy? Butterfly?”. I looked round to see a big spindly-legged spider stalking up the side of the bath, and with a big cheery smile said “that’s right, darling” and squashed it flat in a handful of loo roll. I’m deeply paranoid when it comes to spiders, and tend to endow them with almost supernatural powers of hearing and regeneration. As far as I’m concerned, if a spider is in the bath you must remain absolutely silent when going about your ablutions otherwise it will launch itself into the air and latch onto your head and bite your face off. Likewise, even when squished to a pulp you must never, ever go near the loo until you’re absolutely sure they’ve flushed away as it’s guaranteed that they’ll climb out and come after you. And that’s scientific fact, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. I’m also vaguely afraid of lifts, and as a previous post will attest to, I’m deeply scared of flying. Other problem areas include clowns (but I’m not alone in that one), Tom Baker, the dark, being in the bath when the plug gets taken out, other people’s cheese (don’t ask), hotel corridors (am holding Stephen King personally responsible for that), Jools Holland when he’s standing up (the proportions are all wrong), cellars, attics, being a passenger in a car, needles and cotton wool if it’s squeaky. I also have a slight issue with the word “mo*st” but that’s more about prudery than fear – it’s the rudest word in the English language and there’s simply no need for it. I think all this makes me a fairly well-rounded individual – I know someone who’s afraid of wet wood, my friend’s father is physically sick if he sees an unattached button and my sister is unnerved if she thinks about her own tongue for too long. As far as the Other Half is concerned, however, I’m a sure-fire candidate for ECT and writing home with crayons.
The one that he and pretty much everyone else I try to explain it to REALLY struggles with though, is the one that people misinterpret as my fear of “big things”. This always generates much hilarity, but it’s really not about big things at all – I’m not scared of elephants (although admittedly they are bigger than a dog and slightly dangerous but then I’m never really likely to meet one in a situation that might prove hazardous to my health) or tractors or the Eiffel Tower or mountains or, well, big stuff. My problem is one relating to the scale of things – in a nutshell it’s things that are bigger than they should be. For example, display models of everyday things that are scaled up for impact. Our local toyshop had a window a few years ago with really big (about three feet long and proportionately, er, girthed?) Crayola crayons in it. These on their own were sort of ok, but the Ex then invited me to think about how the box for these giant crayons might look, or how thick the lines they would draw might be. This is where I really have a problem – it’s just wrong
. Also wrong are giant paperclips, really big cutlery and oversized furniture. I once saw a programme in which the presenter was sitting in what looked like a normal stripy deckchair, until the camera pulled back and it became apparent that this chair was massive – he looked like a midget in it and I had to look away. There’s a female TV presenter who puts the fear of god into me with her scary enormous coat buttons – it’s not the sight of the buttons that freaks me out, but the thought of touching a button that size and actually doing it up….imagine the size of the buttonhole…..I know I’m not making any sense here but it just makes me feel very uncomfortable and makes the inside of my head sort of itch. Occasionally it goes the other way, and something is scaled down to the extent that it makes me feel as if I’m the one that’s disproportionately big, but that’s just as bad. I’ve met one other person in my life who has related to this, although actually with hindsight I think she might just have been humouring me. Anyway, the upshot is that I’ve lived with this for as long as I can remember but never really tried to rationalise it. It’s a constant source of amusement to anyone who knows about it, and I’ve learned to shrug it off and just not look at things that might freak me out. And then in a meeting the other day we went off at a tangent about a pencil museum in Cumbria, and I mentioned my Jubilee pencil. A colleague of mine who knows about my phobia did the finger-on-the-nose-while-pointing thing beloved of Lionel Blair on Give Us A Clue, and excitedly shouted “That’s it!!!!”. And do you know, thinking about it she might just be right. It doesn’t make me any less weird, but sometimes it’s nice to think there might actually be a reason for areas of my instability.