Dylan Thomas was a magnificent poet, but as an epidemiologist he was worse than useless. In his defence (poetic licence and all that), he may not have intended his most overquoted line as direct medical advice. Even so, it now appears that – far from being a clarion call for defiance in the face of mortality – “rage, rage against the dying of the light” was an inducement to suicide by ode.
This is the finding of new research into the cardiovascular effects of anger from Harvard Medical School, although the discovery that outbursts of volcanic rage greatly increase the chances of heart attack and stroke might have come from the University of the Bleedin’ Obvious (formerly, Old Wives’ Tales Polytechnic).
There are countless, reliable, anecdotal sources for such a link, after all – one being the fella who walks into a pub with a crocodile on a lead. “Get it out,” says the barman. “Hang on, it does tricks,” says the man. “Tricks, you barmy bastard? Get it out.” “Calm down,” he says, “you’ll have a thrombosis the way you’re going. You’ve not seen the trick yet.”
Other than to report that he places his genitals in its mouth, smacks it on the head with a plank, is pleasured as a result, and then offers £50 to anyone else who cares to try the trick (“I’ll have a go,” pipes up a little old lady, “but don’t hit me on the head as hard as you hit that crocodile,”), we’ll pass over the fine detail to concentrate on this central point: the fella with the croc, without being a Harvard researcher, instinctively grasped that his fury was raising the barman’s risk of going quickly into that good night.
This is evidently a concern for those of us – if you’ll excuse the crude stereotyping – in the pompous, tubby, Jewish male demographic. Each racial group is predisposed to certain ailments, with the Caribbean community prone to sickle-cell anaemia and Asians to diabetes. The middle-aged Ashkenazi Jewish man – as students of Larry David’s oeuvre must appreciate – is prey to losing his rag at the slightest provocation, or no provocation at all. This disorder is known within the pages of the Lancet as Winnerial Disease (WD), after the late restaurant critic, Michael, who exploded deafeningly at a staggering range of perceived micro-slights.
No-one is sure why rage is so damaging. It could be that it releases stress hormones such as cortisol, or restricts the production of “good cholesterol” and boosts the bad stuff. For Winnerial Disease sufferers who don’t die from a coronary on being told by the snotty receptionist that the next available GP’s appointment is in late October, 2017, the statins will no doubt be doled out like Smarties.
However, those of us who suspect that the long-term side effects of statins are not fully known will continue to look elsewhere for the antidote. During my martyrdom to Winnerial Disease, I have tried various non-chemical remedies. I once learned the art of transcendental meditation, “learned” in this case equating to handing over two weeks’ wages to be a told, by a “guru” in slippers, that my mantra was the monosyllable “om”.
Its advocates insist that meditation, by slowing the pulse and lowering the blood pressure via the miracle of a peaceful spirit, promotes tip-top cardiovascular health. In my case, when cleared of all other distractions the mind was invaded by the paranoid delusion that the bank was stealing most of my income. It is one thing to scream abuse from the wheel at the driver in front for maintaining a speed of 29.97mph in a 30mph zone. It is quite another to find yourself furiously clenching the fist and jaw while sitting cross-legged on the floor inhaling sandalwood fumes. There can be no dignity in that.
Latterly, my quest for cardiac health has taken in yoga, which its fans insist is a panacea. It is still early days, but precisely how screaming in frustration while inescapably trapped in an ersatz version of the lotus position can be good for anything is a mystery.
Somewhere in all this lies a useful lesson for the terminally aggravated. If you are nervous about an extended lifetime on prescription drugs and ill-suited to the more mystical antidotes to stress, there are three things to avoid. One is reading about any medical research. Another is ever leaving the house and exposing yourself to the hell of other people. The third is anything else that could be filed under the catch-all header of “Life”.
Failing that, all that remains is to turn to Dylan Thomas for inspiration. He may have been a lousy epidemiologist, but the author of Not From This Anger cannily sidestepped the ravages of heart disease and stroke by drinking himself to death.
Not a cock-up, a conspiracy?
The consolation for Hugh Powell, who thoughtfully exposed a document detailing Britain’s top secret response to the Crimean problem to photographers on Monday, is that he is in good company. Well, mediocre company, given that this Keystone Kops trail was blazed by Hazel Blears and Met assistant commissoner Bob Quick.
The frequency with which this particular cock-up has occurred powerfully suggests that it was no accident this time. Even without any precedents, hiding a confidential paper hardly represents a monumental challenge to a deputy national security adviser who is both the son of Charles Powell, Mrs Thatcher’s chief foreign policy expert, and an Eton contemporary of the Prime Minister.
Since Powell fils is far too smart to have made such a moronic mistake, we may assume he was executing a fiendish plan to spread misinformation. Exactly how a document subtitled, “Erm, well, we’ve got no idea how to play this one, but let’s try to look busy doing nothing, eh?” was designed to mortify Vladimir Putin is no clearer than what the real policy on Crimea, if any, might be. But isn’t that the point of having exquisitely subtle minds guarding our security? The more impenetrable they are, the safer we remain.