If I were asked to describe the personality trait I am most ashamed of and least likely to own up to – it would be a tendency to panic in all but life-threatening circumstances. I think most of us, faced with imminent, actual death, produce some hormone or other to keep us unnaturally calm. For example many years ago I drove into a ditch on my way to work; I was braking on a muddy road to avoid a low-flying blackbird. I remember I was playing a Mozart cassette at the time. Never been able to listen to Mozart since.
It is true what they say about everything slowing down. That graceful sail into the ditch seemed to last a lifetime. Some men came along and hauled me up the side of the ditch, still in my “work” high heels, clutching my handbag. The reaction set in only an hour or so later, when I got home and my ex-husband refused even to put the kettle on for a cup of tea while I phoned the insurance company on the basis that he was a bit busy right now.
But most of the time I panic, since I have a very, very low stress threshold. Looking back, potential has not been reached, vistas have been narrowed and my whole life skewed out of shape – all in a futile attempt to avoid making a fool of myself by having a panic-type meltdown or throwing a panic-fuelled wobbly in public. And whatever I do it’s going to happen anyway, at intervals, because that’s the cockeyed way my brain happens to be wired. Old Beaker in the picture – that’s the way I feel on a good day.
This morning it was blowing a gale – the tail end of Storm Katie. Looking out of my bedroom window I saw that all the fence panels on the left-hand side had blown down in the night and landed on my garden shed. Not to panic, I thought. They are not your fence panels, they are her fence panels. Do you need the garden shed just at the moment? No. Haven’t you just accepted an offer on this house? So what does it matter if next door’s fence panels have blown over?
I drifted into my office, coffee cup in hand, and switched on the computer. What had my stats been doing overnight? Had they suddenly shot up to 3 million? Coffee cup in hand I was gazing out of the window when something flew within inches of it – followed by a small explosion. Oh no, I thought, some Eagle or other Bird of Prey has been blown off course and dashed to death on my driveway. Why an Eagle? Who knows. I pulled back the net curtains. My car windscreen was smashed. A bit of next door’s roof had zoomed into it – and there it was on the passenger seat, something the size of a house brick surrounded by an ocean of glass.
And following swiftly on from that, the thought that tomorrow I had to be at a railway station on the other side of the county by 10:30 am to meet an estate agent to be driven round to eight or nine different houses dotted about the county. To get there on public transport would mean getting up around 5 to feed the cats, catching a bus outside the one-and-only-shop around 7, catching a train, then another train, then another train and possibly – depending on the timing – another train… And the journey back, from a different town, would involve a train, another train, another train, followed by a bus (if there were any at that time of night) from a town so rough I would never normally frequent it after dark… or possibly a taxi… which would be expensive…
And then panic set in. I rambled around trying to decide what to do next – should I get dressed, make breakfast, feed the cats, make the bed, clear up that big heap of sick one of the cats had just deposited at the top of the stairs, phone the agents, look up windscreen repairs on the internet, phone my insurers, start printing off bus and train timetables and the numbers of local taxi firms, wash my hair…?
In the end I stomped round the house in tears, railing at God, the Universe, Fate and so on for Never Getting It Right, and I staggered through all of the above tasks in no particular order, and somehow made a plan, and had to take two aspirins for the headache. This afternoon the brother of the absent neighbours came round (nasty bit of work). If that had been me, he said, I wouldn’t have gone through the insurance company. I’d have waited till Sunday when my brother came home and he’d have paid for the windscreen “cash in hand with a drink on top”. So once again it’s my fault?
Well, a) I didn’t know his beastly brother was home on Sunday, b) I needed my car to be usable tomorrow – though it won’t be – not next week, and c) I don’t speak to his beastly brother or his beastly brother’s wife for that matter and I’m certainly not going round cap in hand trying to negotiate unofficial deals with them over car windscreen repairs within hours of them returning from yet another holiday in the South of France – and having them deny, as they almost certainly will, that it could have been their ridge tile which plummeted into my car. I’ve locked the giant chunk of moss-covered tile inside it, so they can’t destroy the evidence. I’ve also, with difficulty in blustery conditions and with the help of Big Puppy’s mama – she of the Illegal Scotsman – duct-taped an extra-strong bin sack over the hole in the windscreen to keep the rain out.
If today has been this wearing, what’s tomorrow going to be like? With the bus, and then the train, and then the other train, and then the other train, and then nine house viewings in several different towns, and then a train… And what am I going to eat? Can woman survive a long day of public transport on chocolate and bottled water?