The airport now checked each passenger’s emotional, as well as physical, baggage. I had booked a flight to Oslo. It seemed far enough away for me to start anew.
The booking area was busy. I had to queue. Eventually, a woman in uniform ushered me into an ante-room. I sat down in one of two easy chairs.
A man strode into the room, pulled up a chair and sat opposite me, so close our knees were almost touching. He opened a hard-backed A4 notebook and from a pocket took out a silver ball-point pen. He was a striking-looking individual, with soft, wavy grey hair, beetling eyebrows and dark eyes that glinted behind a pair of heavy-rimmed spectacles. I supposed he was about fifty years old.
‘Name?’ he asked.
‘Not very often, these days.’
‘Hah!,' he said. 'a comedian. Jokes hiding some deep-seated neurosis. I meant gender.’ ‘Male.’
‘Purpose of journey?’
‘Kindly be more specific.’
‘I always wanted to see Oslo in winter,’ I said, ‘when the trees are bare, it’s freezing cold, the lakes are frozen over, and you have to wade through six feet of snow to reach your hotel.’
He looked at me severely.
‘You’re not taking this seriously.’
‘How can I?’ I replied. ‘Checking one's emotional baggage before one boards an aeroplane is about the daftest idea I've ever heard.'
‘You think so?’ he asked.
‘Nihilist,’ he said, and wrote it down.
He paused for a moment, clicked his pen off and back on, before speaking. ‘You think people placing bombs on aeroplanes is a joke?’
‘Is that a rhetorical question?’
‘I’m deadly serious. I’m here to ensure that the airlines can be made aware of fractured, borderline insane characters whose intention is to blow up the aeroplane.’
‘Do I look like a fractured, borderline insane person?’ I asked.
‘Uses sarcasm to mask feelings of inferiority,’ he mumbled as his pen flew across the page. ‘Who are you, anyway?’ I asked.
‘I am Doctor Carson, a renowned psychiatrist. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of me.’ ‘Oh yes, you’re the talk of the Golden Lion along the Mile End Road.’
I have learned to read upside-down. I saw that Dr Carson had scribbled on the paper: truculent – a sure sign of an inferiority complex.
He changed tack.
‘How does that make you feel?’
‘Oh, come now, Snagge…what is your Christian name?...’
‘Come now, Peter, a trauma like that is bound to affect you.’
‘My wife was a harridan.’
Misogynist, he wrote, perhaps hates his mother.
‘Do you hate your mother?’ he asked, pen poised above the notebook.
Evasive, he wrote, scared of commitment.
‘Look here, Dr Carson, will this take long? I’ve a flight to catch and I’d like a beer before I fly.’ Terrified of flying, the doctor wrote, a clear sign of rampant insecurity. Possibly an alcoholic. ‘How do you manage the panic attacks?’ he asked, innocently.
‘I don’t have panic attacks,’ I replied.
Inveterate fibber, wrote the doctor. One to watch.
The woman who had shown me into the ante-room brought the doctor a cup of tea. ‘Thank you, my dear,’ he said.
She smiled, gave a half-curtsey and left.
‘Splendid little woman, that,’ remarked Carson. ‘Small, blonde, pretty blue eyes, hour-glass figure. Appeal to you, does she?’
‘I didn’t notice.’
Carson’s pen again flew across the page.
Possible homosexual tendencies.
‘I have to tell you, Sna…Peter…’ said Carson, ‘that I’m not inclined to let you leave the ground unless you open up to me and tell me truthfully about what troubles you, why you feel so insecure, why your wife left you, and why you are hiding your homosexuality from the world at large.’
I had to humour this buffoon or I would never get away. I thought deeply before replying:
‘I grew fed up of being a patsy at work, under the tutelage of an unreconstructed imbecile by the name of Charlie Harvey.’
‘Where did you work?’
‘Benson and Tull, solicitors. I was an articled clerk there.’
Under-achiever, he wrote.
‘I quit,’ I said. ‘I also intend to quit this country with its class system, its perpetual rain, its tendency for a person to apologise if you step on his or her toe, its wretched government and its reliance on creeps like Charlie Harvey to move things forward.’
‘I intend to find work in Oslo, as a lumberjack, a dog-walker, a park ranger, anything, as long as it’s not in a solicitor’s office.’
Fantasist, wrote Carson.
‘I need to be as far away from my wife as it is sensible to be. Her tentacles spread out far beyond the Fulham Road, and I need the safety and sanctity of a foreign country where she can’t get her voracious mitts on any of my assets.’
A miser, the doctor scribbled, also incapable of forgiving and forgetting.
He’d filled a page and turned over to the next.
'It’s a clean country, Sweden,’ I said, ‘unlike this filthy, litter- and graffiti-strewn concrete wilderness, occupied by indolent drug-ingesting youths addicted to internet pornography, knife-carrying and the use of foul language.‘
Shows unpatriotic tendencies – a possible terrorist.
‘I’m angry,' I said, 'angry at my lack of achievement, angry at the way my life stretches out in a veil of nothingness. Shakespeare describes my mood perfectly in Henry VI, Part One – “Hung be the heavens in black,”’
Carson stifled a yawn.
‘Am I boring you?’ I asked him.
‘It’s all balderdash,’ he said. ‘You’re a dodger. You duck these issues because you have no idea how to resolve them. I’ve heard these stories for quarter of a century – the ramblings of discontented males, hamstrung by their inadequacies, downtrodden by their spouses. These emasculated males cling to a life-raft of false hopes.’
‘Can I go now? I’ve a flight to catch.’
‘You need the services of a good therapist. My card.’
He passed over a small rectangle of pasteboard.
Our tete-a-tete was interrupted by the arrival of two men in white coats.
‘There he is,’ said one. ‘Who let him out?’
‘Your fault,’ said the other. ‘You were on shift.’
‘I have to take a break every now and then, don’t I?’ replied the first.
‘What’s going on here?’ I asked. ‘I’ve a plane to catch.’
‘It’s nothing to do with you, sir,’ said the second man. ‘Come along, Mr Carson, this really won’t do, you know. We warned you the last time that you would be in for it if you tried it again.’
‘I’m not leaving, not until I’ve finished with this patient,’ said Carson.
‘He’s not a patient, and you’re not a doctor, let alone a psychiatrist,' said the first man. ‘So, if you wouldn’t mind coming with us, we have an ambulance waiting for you outside.’
Carson got up reluctantly and tottered away on the arm of the second man. The first turned to me and said, ‘He spends all his time reading books on psychiatry. Round the twist he is, of course. He thinks he is an actual psychiatrist. Caught him here last month terrifying the life out of some poor woman. Said she was on the brink of murdering her father. She fainted clean away. Airport chose to settle out of court. No publicity, see?’
‘What about this emotional baggage business, then?’ I asked him.
‘Oh, the real psychiatrist will be here in a minute. He’s en route from the local hospital, I believe.’ ‘The woman who showed me in here ought to have known Carson was a phoney,’ I said.
‘How could she?’ he replied. ‘She told me she only started working here this morning. Well, cheerio, then.’
I sat for maybe three minutes before the door was flung open again and a young man of about twenty-nine breezed in and sat down.
‘I hear you’ve had a session with poor old Timmy Carson,’ he said.
‘Yes. I was quite taken in. He seemed real enough.’
‘Of course he did. He’s had plenty of practice. I’m Dr Kingslake - pleased to meet you.’ He held out his hand and I shook it.
‘You are a real psychiatrist, aren’t you?’ I asked him.
‘The real thing, yes. A doctorate and three thousand hours of on-the-job experience and training.’
‘That’s a relief. I don’t feel inclined to go through that farrago again.’
‘I see he left his notes,’ said Dr Kingslake, picking them up from Carson’s chair. He scanned them and said:
‘Not bad. Not at all bad for an amateur. Any truth in any of this?’
‘Not one iota.’
‘Good. That’s you, then.’
‘I can go?’
‘Nothing to stop you. Anyone can see that you’re an ordinary English chap with his head screwed on and as unlikely to blow up a plane as to cut off one of his own ears. Enjoy your flight and your holiday. Where is it you’re going?’
I didn’t feel like telling him why.