Health: Road rage might make you nicer to your wife. Me, I prefer a subtler form of anger management

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The Independent Online
"People keep blathering on about how awful road rage is. Well, I need it. It's an essential part of my life. It gets out all of my frustration at the end of the day. If I don't get the chance to wind down the window and yell `for ****'s sake, you dozy cow' on the way home, I take it out on my wife. It ruins the whole evening. But if I've had a good rant, I'm as sweet as pie. I've banged on a few roofs, but I've never hit anyone or forced a car off the road. So what's the problem?''

My mate Bob sees his road rage as some sort of necessary catharsis, and on the few occasions I've driven with him, I've wished I hadn't. Ironically, it was the same Bob who cured me of the delusion that the expression of aggression was a good thing.

For as long as I can remember, I've been prone to bouts of violent temper. I blame the red hair; my mother thinks it was because our dad died when we were kids. Whatever the cause, I swallowed Freud's view that aggression, like flatus, was better out than in. Allow it to damn up, and mental illness results. So I took up rugby.

Being ludicrously short-sighted, I had no fear and I waded in recklessly. I had my nose broken several times, but usually felt better for it. At Girton, the team consisted of 14 swotty myopics who had to be pointed in the right direction and Bob, who had somehow got into Cambridge with his eyesight intact.

We won a surprising number of matches given the haze we were playing in, and started an unsurprising number of fights given that we couldn't see what we were treading on.

In the second year, I was made captain and wore contact lenses so I could greet the opposing captain and rally the troops. I took it very seriously, but Bob took the piss. When I tried to lead the Girton haka, a deeply spiritual and skeletally impossible warm-up exercise that involved stamping your feet and punching the air simultaneously, Bob stood outside the circle, fag in hand, and laughed. What hope has a team got when it can't even show respect for its own haka?

From that day, the bubble was burst. Bob convinced me that I looked like a jerk when I tried to get angry, and I convinced myself that playing in contact lenses was a lot more scary because you could spot the hard bastard on the other side. I didn't stop playing rugby, but I could never get into it in the same way. When I moved to St Thomas's, the captain tried to rouse us with ``if we lose today, we'll have to live with that defeat'' speech and I laughed. I wasn't selected after that.

I thought I'd miss the Saturday afternoon violence and take it out on other people, but I didn't. I dabbled with satire (Freud's "socially acceptable sublimation of aggression") and read up on anger. There's no evidence that expending your aggression on a sport's field or in a car makes you any less aggressive when you've finished. On the contrary, aggression just seems to breed more aggression. Those who indulge in contact sports exhibit far more daily aggression in season than out of it. The reason they find it cathartic is not because legally controlled violence makes you mellow afterwards - it doesn't - but simply that they enjoy being aggressive.

Road rage isn't legal or controlled, but I suspect there are a fair few people like Bob who do it because they get a kick out of it, and they know that if they take it out on a complete stranger, they probably won't have to face the repercussions. Bob isn't a doctor but he does a bloody stressful job. So had he tried anger management? "What, you mean pulling into a lay-by and listening to Radio 3? Sod off. I'm very happy with the way I manage my anger as it is."

As for me, I've found a brilliant solution to road rage. It's called artificial saliva, available over the counter for people without much real saliva. It's great for public speaking, when one end of your gut goes dry and the other end goes moist, and when you squirt it on your tongue it actually tastes like someone's spat in your mouth.

But best of all, I keep it in the glove compartment for when someone cuts me up. Instead of ramming them or swearing or doing anything that might reflect badly on my profession, I calmly lower my window and fire off a few squirts, without a hint of anger. Virtual gobbing. You know it makes sense.