Now what I'm getting at is this: a while ago, I was flipping through my diary of my trip to Syria and Jordan, some of the worst weeks of my life. Yet as I scanned each story the memories came hurtling back with a painful, pin-sharp clarity. Every miserable moment was there to be instantly accessed in full colour with stereophonic Dolby sound, fast forward and reverse and stutter-free pause facility. Now if I look at my diary for a happy time (my holiday in Paris last year with my wife or the time we went to Spain for a few days to shoot inserts for my last TV series), I see the words but all I can call up is a blur - laughing mouths, dancing bodies, out-of-focus mountain tops. But there is no sharpness, no feeling of being instantly back there. All happy memories are alike and tend to merge into one rather vague and foggy remembrance. Each unhappy memory, on the other hand, is unhappy after its own fashion.
It seems that the good old brain hangs on to unpleasant memories with a vigour it doesn't reserve for the recollection of happy events. For example, it is only the acid-etched recall of some appalling embarrassment that can turn your heart over and make you pull in your neck like a turtle. A happy memory can't do that. So I reckon that if I want to have a mind choc full of memories, then they're going to have to be bad ones. And that is why I was walking down the Seven Sisters Road with no trousers on just after the pubs closed last Thursday night - honestly.
While I'm trying to have a bad time all the time, I'm still very keen on self-improvement of mind and body, and the two aims are surprisingly compatible. There's hardly a New Age ancient herbal remedy or dazzling breakthrough in mental therapy that I haven't tried at one time or another. As well as visiting the practitioners of these various healing arts, I always buy at least two or three books connected with the therapy in question - Yoga For Good Driving, The Alexander Technique - A New Way of Standing About or Cognitive Therapy - How Not to be Bonkers in Five Easy Stages. But there is something about the tone and style of these books that puts one off. They are all relentlessly positive about the particular treatments that they embrace and they always try and support their cause with anonymous case histories that generally go something like this: "Margaret, 39, Bank Clerk. Chronic arthritis had reduced Margaret to the size and shape of a hairy orange tennis ball and she was in constant pain. However, after a brief course of acupuncture she was restored to full health and fitness and is now president of Estonia." Or "Jake, 45, rag-picker. Jake had been dead since the late Regency period but after administration of homeopathic medicines he was up and about and bouncing around in no time at all. He is now working on his first novel."
Obviously, the authors of these tomes felt that positive reinforcement is part of the treatment and therefore to allow any thought that these remedies weren't invariably successful would be to subvert the chances of them working. And yet any sensible person can figure out that if all these claims were true, there would not be a sick person left in the world, peace would prevail throughout the globe and I would have shows on all TV channels at once.
It would, I think, help the credibility of these self-help medical books if they owned up to this fact. They should each contain at least one case history which goes something like: "Michael, 32, computer programmer. Michael was completely buggalugs, barmy, doollally. After six years of cognitive therapy he is still completely buggalugs, barmy, doollally." Or "Alexei, 43, comedian. Alexei tried every remedy going but none of them made any difference because there was nothing wrong with him in the first place. He was just an attention-seeking little git who would benefit from a slap upside the head."Reuse content