In the days of my childhood, I knew a man who ‘rejoiced’ under the extraordinary nickname of “Linnet”. Linnet was himself an unusual and eccentric character; he was a loner and the butt of mostly (but not always) harmless practical jokes. In general, he seemed ever to be the object of fun and not infrequently, of derision. My own experience of him as I came to know and often talk to him, was that he was far better ‘value’ than most folk ever gave him credit for. There was spontaneous warmth and at times, seeming genuine concern for others about him, which caused me to harbour something of a ‘soft spot’ for him.
One day, I was walking along the street just behind him and became intrigued by his practice, following every few steps, of bending the knee nearest to the fencing that ran along in front of the houses and flicking his heel upward and from behind. On at least a couple of occasions, he missed the actual wooden structure with the heel of his shoe and both times stopped, stepping back a stride, to – this time successfully – repeat a similar action before continuing on his way. When I arrived home, I reported my observation to my parents, who – as far as I recall – told me that that was just the way Linnet was (adding I shouldn’t wonder, that it was none of my business anyway). School chums were, for the most part, less sympathetic and more derisive of the unfortunate Linnet, with responses ranging from, ; “Cus he’s a nutcase”, to “Because Linnet has a pea where most people have a brain”. As I mentioned above, I had cultivated a friendship of a kind with Linnet. (Indeed, at one point during under-graduate student days, I was, I think, Linnet’s final – and probably only – visitor, as his life drew to a peaceful end on a ward of the local hospital and almost to the last, he was still “telling a good tale”.
One day, I summoned up the courage to ask him, “Linnet, why do you kick the fence or wall every time you walk along the street?” Good natured as ever, Linnet responded, “Do I?” “I don’t know boy” he confessed in his customary drawl, “But I’ll try and have a think next time and I’ll no doubt come up with an answer fo yer”. Linnet was as good as his word, and later he told me; “That kicking business you asked about boy; well, I just seems to do it – almost unconscious like. All I can say is if I miss one, I ’as to go back lyke, ’cus it makes me feel better… somehow relieves me a bit if you know what I mean”: now is that any good t’ yer?”
“Obsessional – compulsive neurosis” (to give it its proper title) amounts to an overpowering need to behave in a certain manner and is driven from within the individual him/herself. Not infrequently, people who are subject to this condition, perfectly well realise how absurd their behaviour may appear to others. However, the more they fight against it, the more tense and anxious they become, that is until they relieve the tension with a further bout of the appropriate behaviour, i.e. in Linnet’s case, “fence kicking”. And the more the behaviour is rewarded and (remember the term that I used earlier from yesteryear?) “stamped in” in this way, the greater the build-up of pressure in the form of anxiety, in order to relieve it. Who knows? Maybe one day in his dim and distant past, old Linnet had become angry or fearful about something long since forgotten. But at the time, in his anger or frustration, he kicked the fence in the said manner…and it made him feel better. Need I say more!
(to be continued next week).