Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A Fine Line Between Stoicism and Insanity

When the British abandon their impenetrable facade of privacy and stoicism, they really do so with gusto, as we found out last Thursday night.

Just as I was dozing off to sleep at around two a.m., there came a loud crashing sound emanating from downstairs. Convinced we were in the process of being burgled and that the would-be sticky fingers had just dropped our new TV set (what else could possibly account for such an enormous shattering?), I hastily awoke Steve, who had alarmingly remained asleep. (Note to self: must get guard dog.) Tip-toeing into the hallway with Steve wielding a lamp base for protection--a vision that didn't inspire confidence, especially when complemented by the silk purple sleep mask he wore pushed up onto his forehead--we heard yet more crashing and through the hall window noticed four police officers in the alley suiting up into full-SWAT gear: bullet-proof vests, black padded body suits, and helmets with face visors. It was officially time to panic.

What could possibly be going on to merit this type of Code Red police activity in our idyllic, sedate little Chelsea neighborhood? The crashing sounds intensified, and having safely ascertained that they weren't originating from our domicile, we made our way downstairs to investigate, my head filling with visions of a hostage stand-off involving an Islamic terror cell that had been roosting right under our noses.

Infused with the kind of giddy rush that Miss Marple no doubt felt each time she was on the verge of making a momentous discovery, we peeped out our front blinds to survey the scene. Quickly it became apparent that what we were witnessing was the work of no Islamic terror cell, unless one of their number went by the name of Sharon. Two more police officers in full riot gear were positioned out front, accompanied by a civilian who kept soothingly yelling (if one can indeed can yell soothingly), "Sharon, please come talk to us. Sharon, what are you doing now?"

Well, it was pretty obvious what Sharon was doing now because by that time we had abandoned all pretense of discretion and climbed out on our roof to get a better view, where we saw clearly that she was expelling onto the street every last household item that would fit thru her rather substantial 3rd floor windows. A desktop computer, microwave oven and remarkably, a full dinette set and chest of drawers lost their lives that night as we looked on in a mixture of awe and disbelief.

In between running back into the depths of her flat to look for more possessions, she kept up an inscrutable litany of ranting of which we couldn't discern a word. This went on for the better part of an hour, until the police somehow managed to get in through the back entrance, subdue her in a straightjacket and whisk her away in an ambulance, restoring calm once again to Elystan Street.

We later received confirmation from other neighbors (in addition to gardening and drinking beer, the British LOVE to gossip, a trait that admittedly makes me feel right at home, but demonstrates yet another incongruity of a culture that is obsessed with privacy) that Sharon had evidently suffered a full-blown nervous breakdown. Before I even had time to ponder this sad information, we also learned that she's already been installed back in her (furniture-less) flat, less than four days later.

Now, I don't know much about nervous breakdowns (unless one counts that time in Chicago where I hurled a large portion of Steve's CD collection, Frisbee-style, over our 16th floor balcony--which, for the record, was entirely justifiable), but it would seem that someone who had experienced one might need more than four days recovery time under the care and observation of trained mental health professionals before being cast adrift back into society. But that's the British National Health System for you--there's no money budgeted for something as trivial as a nervous breakdown in the NHS coffers.

When I recently explained to a friend's Irish husband that in New York, not seeing a therapist is the exception rather than the rule, and that therapy is considered a perfectly natural form of maintenance no more embarrassing than say, getting a manicure or going to the gym, he recoiled in horror as if I'd stuck him with pins.

Probing him further on the matter, I learned that when the English have problems, their first line of defense is to try resolve things themselves, and failing that, they might "talk to their mates about it" over a couple of pints at the pub. But since the English seem so private when it comes to personal matters, I'm not sure how much this strategy accomplishes, though it does, however, explain this recent headline:
I guess on the bright side, that's 20% fewer potential nervous breakdowns that the NHS will have to 'treat' in the future.


Anonymous Sir John the Brewer said...

"...Steve's CD collection?" If I recall the story correctly, didn't a lot of those CD cases have YOUR CDs in them!?!

Glad to have some full on loonies in the hood, it makes life a bit more interesting!

Barb and I are looking into a Nov 30-Dec 4 visit! Still looking at airfare and trying to get time off, but the wheels are rolling!

3:10 AM  
Blogger The Reluctant Anglophile said...

Wow, you have an excellent memory! Yes, 'tis true that since Steve has never been the neatest of persons, many of my CD's were erroneously stored in his cases, thus my unbelieveable folly (or some might say, comeuppance) in hurling them over the balcony, only to later discover that instead of sending METALLICA and THE ALLMAN BROTHERS to death, gone were my beloved ERASURE and A-HA cd's.

We will hold those dates--it would be GREAT if you guys could come then! Oh, and a new idea proffered by a friend here that guests should be encouraged to write an RA post about an observation/event from their trip upon their return to give RA readers an alternate perspective on life over here. :-)

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Nora said...

Joni, you must be some kind of weirdness magnet! Nice neighbor!

7:21 PM  
Blogger The Reluctant Anglophile said...

It certains livens up the neighborhood, which otherwise is quite sedate...Am definitely a magnet for weirdos--they seem to be drawn to my vicinity even moreso here than in NY, and still not sure whether I should be taking it personally!

8:06 PM  

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