On this course, confession is not good for other souls

The Trader: All eyes are on Jane, and there is hostility in every one of them
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Jane pours us another glass of Merlot each and announces: "We're going on a self-actualisation course."

Jane pours us another glass of Merlot each and announces: "We're going on a self-actualisation course."

"What on earth for?" I say.

"Duh! To self-actualise ourselves, of course," Jane replies in her best "I am talking to an idiot" voice.

"And what exactly does that mean?" I say. Being in love, it seems, hasn't noticeably softened my sharp-tongued best friend. Jane pauses. "Well, obviously," she says. "It's ... it's when ... you do things ... and it ... Oh, all right, I don't know. But I think we should do it anyway."

And I agree, because now I do want to find out what it entails, but also because it's October and you know what that means. Yes, it's the annual, "Oh my God, we're going to crash" time of year, when everyone runs round in a blind panic predicting blood and hellfire in the markets, mainly, as far as I can tell, because it happened this month in 1929 and 1987.

So far, the dismal prophecies have failed to come true in the years since - despite everyone's best efforts - but you never know, and I may need all the inner strength I can lay my hands on in the weeks ahead.

"Fine," I say. "As long as I don't have to hug complete strangers." But Jane smiles and tells me she doesn't think hugging's part of it, and pours another glass of wine. Which is how, three days later, I find myself in a large Victorian semi in north-west London being asked by Lizzie, an unnaturally smiley woman, to embrace my next-door neighbour.

"You said there'd be no hugging," I hiss at Jane during the instant-coffee break.

"No, I said I didn't think there'd be any hugging," she whispers. "I didn't know I was wrong, did I? Anyway, I don't know what you're complaining about. I had to hug that woman with a moustache." She shudders and gazes mournfully at her mug. "God, this stuff is revolting. Look, it hasn't even dissolved properly."

I make a conscious effort to cheer Jane up. "Come on, we're here now," I say. "We may as well go through with it. I think we should just go with the flow and not be so cynical about it. You never know, we may even gain something from it all." So Jane nods, carefully pours her coffee on to the nearest pot plant and says: "Let's do it."

We spend the rest of the two days excavating moments: a scary one from childhood; the last time we felt happy; the first time we did well at something.

We talk about parents, school and all the rest, or sit quietly and meditate. We draw diagrams and make lists of things that annoy us, upset us, cheer us up. We tell the group our first impressions of the person on our left and the person on our right gives their first impressions of us. We also say which person there most intimidates us, and nearly everyone answers, "Jane".

To my surprise, by the end of the two days we are all, I feel, positively glowing with love and understanding. There's only one exercise left: a final confession. Most people admit drinking too much, hating their brother, the usual stuff. And what does Jane do? Jane, for some strange reason, confesses to getting a buzz out of earning more than other people.

At once, the mood in the room changes. All eyes are focused on Jane - and there is hostility in every one of them. Even Lizzie fails to maintain her tirelessly understanding facade.

"Well, anyway, this'll cheer you up," I tell Jane later, as we make our way home. "According to this leaflet, next weekend's course is called Learning To Love Others. Lizzie should have a full house for that one."

"Yes," Jane says. "Only without us. I never want to self-actualise again."

* thetrader@hotmail.com

Looking for credit card or current account deals? Search here