(Some content caution.)
I'd always thought of myself as a pretty timorous sort of a wretch, but just recently I've come to realise how incredibly brave I am and how many things there are that I'm completely unafraid of. This is thanks to the highly fascinating Phobia List, a comprehensive survey of the myriad things that give someone or other the screaming horrors.
At first glance, actually, it had the opposite effect, as I encountered all my old most cherished fears, was reminded of secondary ones I'd forgotten about, or introduced to new ones I immediately clutched to my bosom. 'Got that one, got that one, partially over that one, seems only prudent to cultivate that one now you come to mention it,' I muttered to myself as I scanned down. For example, I most certainly have spectrophobia or fear of ghosts, sciophobia or fear of shadows, scelerophobia or the fear of bad men or burglars, and bogyphobia or fear of the bogeyman. But these are all entirely sensible fears shared by all rational people, indeed probably not without some evolutionary use, not so much fears as basic human drives really, and without them we would still be living in lightless caves at the mercy of ghosts, burglars, bad men and bogeymen and would never have invented doors, night-lights, cosy eiderdowns, crucifixes, shotguns, pitchforks, teddy-bears and all the other accoutrements of a good night's sleep.
And I suppose there have been times when I may have suffered from a touch of ergophobia, or fear of work. Suppose nothing, it's my recurring fantasy that the EU human rights courts will shortly recognise it as a legitimate medical condition.
Moreover I genuinely and inexplicably suffer from Automatonophobia - a horror of 'ventriloquist's dummies, animatronic creatures, wax statues - anything that falsely represents a sentient being.' Doubly so if one includes politicians and TV game show hosts in this last.
I must further admit that the clammy hand of Catapedaphobia, the 'fear of jumping from high and low places', is not unknown to me. Reluctance to jump from high places is understandable, but the 'and low places' rider brings a blush of shame to my cheek as I recall at the age of ten finding myself unable to jump down from a rather small and stunted tree I had climbed - practically a bush in fact; I revisited it recently and the distance involved can't have been more than five feet and was probably closer to four - anyway after being stuck there for close on an hour I was rescued by a passing old lady taking hold of and bending, not merely the branch I was on, but practically the whole damn tree down to the ground until I could gingerly lower myself the last three inches, after which I was given a summary clout round the ear for my wetness.
The list actually omits some of my personal bugbears - the fear of midgets; the fear of street jugglers dropping their clubs on my head; the fear of being given a makeover against my will by a marauding TV programme.
In short, unlike the late Franklin Roosevelt I have never suffered from phobophobia, or fear of fear itself. To me, fear is a constant companion, the guide of all my days and the torment of my nights. Still - after reading the Phobia List I realise that compared to some trembling ninnies I am Alexander the Great, Admiral Nelson, and Jeff Bridges in Fearless rolled into one.
What manner of person has Linonophobia, or fear of string? Porphyrophobia, the fear of the colour purple? (Apart from that bloody maundering film.) Or Lachanophobia, a fear of vegetables? (Unless you include politicians and game show hosts.)
As a general rule of thumb, if it can't chase after you it isn't scary, and it can't chase after you if it doesn't have legs. (Or fins, or wings, or tentacles, or nameless slithering bits.) Who has ever had their throat ripped out by purple? When was the last time Van Helsing saved a virgin from string? Who was ever whisked off to an alien planet by parsnips? Or any other kind of vegetable, with the exception of certain types of mushroom?
Here are some other curious phobias from the list. I should point out that the compiler Fredd will only include those he has found in reference books, so some poor sod or sods somewhere or other has genuinely suffered from these.
Barophobia - Fear of gravity
That one has to be fairly debilitating. 'Bastard gravity! Everywhere I go, pulling at me, sucking at my organs, dragging me down! Well, I defy you! Look, look! Helium balloons! Ha! I'm tying them to my arms! Didn't think of that, did you? See, see, I float! I'm going to just float here all day and mock you.'
Kathisophobia - Fear of sitting down
From Freud's diaries:
'Today first session with Lotte O, a 31-year-old housewife from Leopoldstadt. Unusual case. When I asked her to take a seat she emitted a high-pitched screeching noise and belaboured me about the head with the table-lamp for ten minutes. When I finally calmed her she explained that she has suffered from a fear of sitting all her life. Under hypnosis it transpired that the aversion stems from a childhood trauma where she inadvertantly sat down on and killed a small pekinese she was fond of. Condition has been a great handicap all her life, unable to attend theatre or opera, always eliminated in first round of musical chairs. Unkindly nicknamed 'Loitering Lotte' due to refusal to sit down at social gatherings. Unable to get into carriages, has to ride standing on the roof, tends to get knocked off going under low bridges. Interestingly, after delicate enquiries ascertained that she has no trouble sitting on toilets - obviously not associated with original trauma. I perceive a possible way forward. If as a first step all the chairs in her house had cisterns attached to them, then by a gradual process...'
Dutchphobia - Fear of the Dutch
'The Dutch will carry off our children.'
'Some Dutch have moved in, there goes the neighbourhood. Better sell up now before we're arse-deep in clogs and windmills.'
'Never mind Korea, who's keeping an eye on the Dutch?'
'This Summer... your worst nightmare...
They came from a land beneath sea-level...
They came... on bicycles
Watch... as they espouse a benign liberal tolerance
Listen... to them slur the letter s
Gasp... as they develop a school of painting with the ability to capture fleeting moments in time by means of a sensual rendering of light and an uncanny mastery of perspective
Swoon... as they put their fingers in dykes
D is for Decriminalising cannabis
U is for Unassumingness
T is for Tulips
C is for Calvinism
H is for ....the Horror
The D U T C H
They're tall. And they're amiable.
This cinema... coming soon... don't walk home alone.'
Patroiophobia - Fear of heredity
I can see that one, particularly if you combine it with Gerontophobia, the fear of old age.
'Where are me glasses, son?'
'They're on your bloody head. Not even on the top of your head, but over your eyes.'
'Where's me knee ointment?'
'In the fridge, as you apparently mistook it for cheese spread.'
'Ooh, soon be time for Cliff Richard's Christmas record.'
'Shoot me now.'
Apart from that, in Britain at the moment a really choice case of fear of heredity can be found in the Fortier-Quinn household.
She isn't trying to get at Blunkett with all this denial of paternity bit. She just doesn't want a kid who goose-steps round the nursery issuing identity cards to all its teddy-bears.
Geniophobia - Fear of chins
Oh, but this... I like this. This just goes to show, you know, that for every... Look, I'm going to write a love story. This could be the feelgood romantic comedy of next summer.
Say there's a man with absolutely no chin at all, I mean none whatsoever. And he's all sad and afflicted and, 'Cruel fate...born without a chin...my face goes straight into my neck... I would hang myself but there would be nothing for the noose to grab onto, I would just slip right through...'
And he doesn't think any woman will ever look at him and he hates his life. But next door, or in the next street, or at the end of many journeys, there is a girl whose life has been blighted by Geniophobia, the Fear of Chins. And she visited many psychiatrists for this terrible affliction, forcing them to crouch down behind the desk while they talked to her so she could only see their eyes and nose peeking over, but they were unable to help her, and so she went through life lonely and afraid, and dreaming, dreaming of a man without a chin, or at least a man who would keep his chin decently hidden... 'Dick Turpin, there was a man... WG Grace... Wilf from the Bash Street Kids, all men should dress that way...'
And, you know, when literary or artistic posers have their photographs in the papers with their hands cupping their chins while they peer thoughtfully into the middle-distance, she cuts them out and puts them in a scrapbook and kisses them. 'If we met I would superglue him like that.'
And her friends wonder why she never has a boyfriend and set her up on blind dates, but they're uniformly disastrous, it always turns out to be, you know, Jimmy Hill, Senator Kerry, Desperate Dan, Judge Dredd.
But then one day she meets the man with no chin, and they fall in love and fuck like deranged rabbits, and live happily ever after.
Or maybe they don't. Maybe it ends tragically. Maybe he misunderstands and spoils everything by having an operation to give him a prosthetic chin. Or maybe, just before she summons up the courage to tell him how she feels, he accidentally cuts his throat while shaving, because he has no chin. That would be really shitty. That's a good ending, though. Perhaps if it happened the day before they were due to get married, if he slit his windpipe while shaving because he was so happy he forgot he had no chin. Jesus. A film like that could haunt you for the rest of your life.
Ankylophobia - Fear of immobility of a joint
I suffered from this in student days. My friend Trog in particular would hog the thing mercilessly and slobber on the roach as well. Arf.
Actually, now the possibility of your joints seizing up has been brought to my attention, I can imagine having a neurotic fear of it in certain situations. For example, what if you'd taken an elderly relative to an RAF reunion and your knees suddenly stopped bending and you had to walk round everywhere looking like you were doing a bad Douglas Bader impression? Or what if you were at a Holocaust survivors' reunion and found yourself goose-stepping everywhere?
The thing is definitely worth fearing. I imagine the really hardcore ankylophobes spend their lives in a state of constant preparedness for their joints becoming immobile, and go around everywhere with their limbs constantly arranged in the position that would be least inconvenient if they were to become stuck like that - hands constantly held out in front of them, sort of half open but half gripping, like one of those Action Man figures that could hold things; they would go round with legs semi-bent all the time, never standing fully erect, loping everywhere like Groucho Marx, so if they froze that way concerned relatives could variously manouevre them into a sitting position or prop them upright, as the occasion might call for.
They never, ever scratch their arses in case they get stuck like that. And they never point when giving directions. 'Never point, son,' the more experienced ankylophobes tell the neophytes. 'If you're going to start pointing at things, you might as well go the whole hog and start doing "I'm a little teapot" routines. Remember, every posture you choose could be your last. Do you want to go through life pointing into the distance? Everyone you meet looking behind them? Hitting people when you turn round, if you still can turn round...birds roosting on you when you go outside... looking like a statue of Lenin all the time. Hands in front, Action Man Kung-Fu grip, that's the way to still have a fulfilling life when the big stiffen comes.'
Or maybe they go around flailing every limb spasmodically all the time to prevent them from becoming immobile. The dolts.
Pteronophobia - Fear of being tickled by feathers
O'Brien looked down at him gravely and rather sadly.
'I told you we would meet in the place where there is no darkness, Winston.'
'What is in Room 101?'
'The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world. For some, it is rats, for others, drowning. For you, it is a naughty French maid with a feather duster.'
Nelophobia - Fear of glass
One wonders at the shifts the sufferers must resort to in order to banish glass from their lives. The mugs of wine, the plastic cartons, the Fisher-Price televisions, the special cars with clingfilm windscreens, the French mimes hired to give the illusion of patio windows.
Aulophobia - Fear of flutes
'I was mauled by James Galway as a child.'
Proctophobia - Fear of rectums
'No, Doctor, I'm not ready yet.'
'Yes, Mary, you are. I'm going to moon you now. I think you can take it.'
Textophobia - Fear of certain fabrics
I like the unspecificness of this one, the enigmatic vagueness.
'Doctor, I...have a fear of...let us just say...certain fabrics...'
'Which fabrics in particular?'
'Oh, we need mention no names...just...certain ones...I think we all know which are the good and bad fabrics...'
'Come now, out with it.'
'I prefer not to specify...I have many enemies...if they were to discover my weakness...'
'My discretion is assured. Is it Cotton? Nylon? Satin? Twill?'
'Did you have to mention that name?'
Oh! Oh! Oh! Have you seen that biblical film, The Robe, though? Half the people in that had fear of fabric, and with good reason. It's about the robe Christ wore at the crucifixion, and what became of it afterwards, and basically it menaces all the people who were nasty to Jesus. It throttles centurions and stings pharisees and so on and they're like, 'Aargh, get it off me!' Check it out, it's ace. I think there's a sequel, as well. Robe 2, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the laundry.
(By the way I thought of the definitive ending for the chin film: he was shaving for her. He grew a beard to conceal his lack of chin, sort of like a ragged fringe around his neck, and she persuaded him to lose it so she could see him in all his chinless glory. 'Do it for me, darling.' So he does and he severs his jugular, because he knows no demarcation line between face and neck. No-one remembers a happy ending but by Christ they'll remember that. It'll be etched on them. Etched.
It'll still be a feelgood film, by the way, because at the end she decides that she has the strength to go on and that'll she keep looking for Mr. Right. Like Untamed Heart or Titanic or something. He may be dead but he taught her how to live kind of thing. As in, the bloke is dead with his blood splattered all over the bathroom like a slaughtered goat, but so long as the bird's learned Deep and Meaningful lessons in Growth and Maturity everything's fucking kosher. Women.)
Lutraphobia - Fear of otters
Who, who? Who could possibly? These innocuous little...some maniac lying awake at night clutching his blankets muttering, 'They're out there, damn them, I know they are...waddling furtively through the fens...come up through the sewers and rub their wet noses against me... conniving little shitbeasts... put their webbed feet on me, I know they will... last resort I've got the gun... never take me alive...'
Octophobia - Fear of the figure 8
This could have formed the basis of the greatest film Hitchcock never made. A beautiful heiress with this affliction, her fortune-hunting husband knowing about it and trying to drive her insane. 'Look, dear, I bought you a Scalextric, look, I set it up.' 'Aieeee! Did it have to be that shape?'
No, no, back up. Better if the husband's trying to save her. Something a bit like Marnie. A man hires this mysterious blonde to be his secretary, and a load of money goes missing and they think she's been embezzling, but it turns out she just hasn't been writing down the number 8 so all the accounts are out. So he lets her off but forces her to marry him, but he gradually comes to realise that something is wrong. Like he tells her to meet him for dinner at eight, and she drives off to Canada and starts a new life. Or he comes down one morning to find her curled in a foetal ball screaming and crying, and a voice on the television is saying, 'This edition of Sesame Street was brought to you by...'
And when she counts she's like, '1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, meeeeep, 9...'
He tries to force her, 'What comes after 7, Elsie?'
'I don't know...a number...a horrible number...'
'Say it, damn you!'
'No, no, don't make me say it, if you loved me you wouldn't make me say it.'
'Tell me, Elsie, what is bread made out of?'
'Ha! Ha! Fooled you! You just said it in French.'
'Noooooo! How I loathe you!'
So she leaves him, she runs away, but everywhere she goes the number 8 pursues her, great scene where she's in the lounge of this hotel and these two sinister spinsters are sitting there with their knitting, and one of them's winding wool round the other one's hands in a figure 8, and the camera goes all in and out and she shudders, and the old woman says 'Are you all right, dear?' and she takes her lorgnette spectacles off and dangles them at right angles, making another figure 8, and the blonde almost passes out, and the old crone says, 'You look a little faint, dear, maybe it was something you ate,' and she screams and runs out.
And she's running through a fairground and a candy-floss machine is whirling round in an eight, and she runs into a hall of distorting mirrors but they give her a really extravagant hourglass figure and she screams again, and outside eight children watch a clown juggling eight balls and the carousel is playing a distorted version of Beethoven's Eighth...
So her husband finds her and he forces her to confront it, he gets a pair of those score-cards from the Olympics or ballroom-dancing competitions or whatever with 8 written on both of them and chases her round the house with them, 'Look at them, Elsie,' and eventually she's backed up into a corner sobbing, and she regresses, she regresses to her 8th birthday, and we see what started it all. It's her 8th birthday, and it's winter, and her father bought her a lovely new pair of ice-skates. And they go out onto a frozen lake, and eight members of her family are watching her adoringly, in two groups of four, and she skates a figure 8 round them and the ice breaks and they all drown...
Verbophobia - Fear of words
This must be very very difficult to treat.
'Come, tell me what the problem is.'
'Please, you are safe here, there is no need for alarm.'
'You, you are pointing at me, you object to my tie?'
'Come, don't be shy, tell me in your own words.'
'And now you are throttling me... this is not good...'
'Oh, what are you...oh, you draw a picture... all right... a man... with a balloon coming out of his mouth... crossed out. Ah, the fear of bubble gum, that I can treat.'
Politicophobia - Fear or abnormal dislike of politicians
Abnormal dislike? How on earth is this quantified? Surely every reasonable person esteems politicians one degree below child molesters and one degree above modern architects? I think if every time you see a politician you are consumed by the urge to trepan them with a rusty tin-opener while yelling, 'Die, die, die in agony, you filthy, corrupt, vapid, duplicitous, treacherous, treasonous, lying, preening, sanctimonious sack of weasel-shit,' and then crucify them upside down in a piranha-infested vat of yak-smegma after selling their families to be swabs and concubines on Siberian factory-trawlers, you have a normal and healthy dislike of politicians. Anything beyond that is politicophobia, and should be resisted.
Ithyphallophobia - Fear of seeing, thinking about or having an erect penis
Entries from the journal of A. Ithyphallophobe:
'Jan 31. A bad day. Awoke to find The Thing was up to its beastly tricks. Will it never let me alone? At least I realised in time to stop myself from getting out of bed - otherwise I might have seen it, and I think that might have finished me off, the sight of it protruding from my pyjamas like some disgusting fleshy banana... oh God just the thought of it...I will have to break off this entry here
'Feb 3rd. I hate my boss, Mr. de Kock. He looks disgustingly virile and probably has an e.p. frequently. Whenever I have to go into his room I make a point of knocking first and asking, 'Are you decent?' What if I went in and he'd just come back from the toilet and had forgot to zip and had just got an e.p. and it was there, there peeking over the edge of his desk like some fleshy pink periscope? Just the thought... I can't go on with this
Feb 4th. A new colleague at work, Alice-Jane Trubshaw - a woman. So no new penis to worry about, thank God. I showed her how to work the photocopier and she gave me a lovely smile. I like her and hope she will be my friend. But she must never find out about the horrid creature I harbour in my pants.
Feb 5th. A fitful, fevered night, tossing and turning, dreamt of Alice Trubshaw and then that I was pursued by the Loch Ness Monster... awoke to find I'd thrown the covers off the bed and there, there...between my legs... staring at me impudently with its one eye... this throbbing, pulsating monstrosity...
Feb 7th. Last night before retiring I attempted to tape The Beast to my thigh to quell its excesses. I knew from experience that merely touching It might rouse It to disgusting animation, so I took care to keep my eyes shut and be guided by touch alone, and as this necessitated a certain amount of fumbling the worst happened and something went wrong and not only did The Beast become engorged but it ended up taped to my stomach... I passed out, and every time I came to it was still there and I passed out again... finally summoned the courage to stay conscious long enough to yell for help. Old Mrs. Bullivant, my landlady, came running. When she saw it, she passed out too.
Luckily Mervyn from across the landing turned up. Mervyn has holidayed on a nude beach on Mykonos and so is presumably inured to the sight of Horrible Things, although not, I imagine, in their full ghastly state of swollen horror... I blurted an explanation and he smilingly but firmly ripped off the tape.
'It's always the quiet ones,' said Mervyn.
'Isn't it,' said Mrs Bullivant, who had recovered and was watching intently.
So now they know what Lovecraftian terror dwells among them. I must seek new lodgings.
Feb 9th. Miss Trubshaw has a curious effect on me... I wish we were not thrown together quite so much. She threatens to rouse me in ways I prefer not to think of... If I should become tumescent at work! It would be the end of me. So far the beast has always behaved with propriety there but these days its impudence knows no bounds... how I wish I could detach it and leave it at home or, better, sink it at the bottom of an ocean, where it would be a menace only to shipping...
Feb 11th. Mervyn has been kind to me since the incident. I think he wants me to know he does not hate me for the eldritch horror I exposed him to. He goes out of his way to seek me out and talk to me; he has even enquired after the health of The Brute after the episode and offers to rub ointment on it. He is a compassionate man. I suppose he too, at times, has known the curse of... the thing of which I will not speak.
Mrs. Bullivant is being nice to me too. She won't hear of my leaving and indeed spends a lot of time hanging round outside my room. She apologised for fainting and says if I suffer any similar problems I need help with I have only to ask. I blushed and stammered out apologies for what happened. 'I could have given you a stroke,' I said. She patted her hair and murmured, 'Well, it's a thought.' She is a strange woman.
Whenever La Trubshaw is near the beast senses it... has not yet woken to its full turgid ghastliness, but it throws off its slumbers, stretches and yawns, as it were...
I should start wearing baggy Cossack trousers to work in case the worst happens... or leather underpants... it should be caged and the key thrown away...
Dreamt the Thing grew thirty feet high in the night, crashing through the ceiling, hurling the people upstairs out of bed, bringing the whole house down around my ears... I ran through the streets, an outcast, hunted by everyone, carrying the Thing like a Scotsman running with a caber... I ran through a door and suddenly found myself in the middle of a Convocation of the Bishops of the Church of England. 'I'm sorry,' I said, 'I'm so sorry.'
'It's all right, my son,' said one of the bishops, smiling. 'You see...we too have erect penises.' And they lifted up their vestments and all, all of them.... I screamed and ran out into the streets...there were penises everywhere, everywhere...driving buses, running newstands...walking down the streets wearing bowler hats...they had taken over....
At that point I woke up crying.
Plainly I am losing my mind. I must do all I can to banish everything penile from my life. I have not been into work for three days, terrified to see Mr De Kock whom I am now convinced spends half the day with his quivering great tool jutting out of his waistband, three feet tall and with the veins on it humming and reverberating like the hawsers of a steel bridge in a high wind, or Miss Trubshaw who has a terrible effect on my own unruly member. Following the nightmare I am afraid even to walk the streets. I seek distraction in television, but our entire culture seems to be based around phallus worship, the interaction between overglanded men who are plainly no strangers to e.p.'s and lewd women brazenly seeking to call their dark powers forth... In desperation I turn to gardening and cooking programmes and travel shows, and at every turn am confronted with cactuses, cucumbers, French bread...
I am on the verge of a breakdown.
Mervyn has just asked if I would like to come to his room to watch a video. Perhaps I should. Although he has doubtless had an e.p. at sometime in his life he has never struck me as alarmingly virile, and if I am alone with my morbid thoughts any longer I will crack. He tells me has rented a film called Spunky Cock IV: Farmyard Fun. I suppose this is some nice wholesome cartoon about a feisty rooster like Foghorn Leghorn. It may be just what I need. Yes, I think I'll go.
(Here the journal breaks off)
Rhabdophobia - Fear of being severely punished or beaten by a rod, or of being severely criticized
Oh, but don't we all suffer from this? I mean don't we, really? Don't we all spend our lives in fear that if we step one inch out of line we will be hit with the guilt rod or the political correctness rod or the social ostracism rod or the Wrath of God rod or the Don't Mess Up At Work rod or the Disappointment To Your Parents rod or the speeding ticket rod or the incest stigma rod or the Don't Steal Knickers From Washing Lines rod or the Don't Put Rollerskates On Old Ladies And Push Them Across Motorways rod or the Don't Bring Sarin Into The House Of Commons rod or the Don't Strap Dynamite To Hedgehogs And Post Them Through People's Letter-Boxes So They Go 'Ooh, How Cute, A Hedgehog' And Then They Blow Their Heads Off rod?
Well, no more. I've had enough. From this day forth I will fear nothing. Everyone else, however, should be very, very afraid.