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Messing with a shrink

In the previous blog entry, the tree-rodent said this in part of a comment:
Now, I'm not sure whether I was responsible, but 9-year-old me took great delight in thinking that I'd messed with his head enough to make him crack.

Allow me to recant a little story of my childhood. I was maybe eight or nine and I had weekly appointments with a child psychologist or psychiatrist - whichever it is that is not a doctor.

To give you a measure of the man, he was habitually late for his appointment (something the social worker that took me pulled him up on multiple times) and he never corrected you if you called him "Doctor".

The first few appointments were fairly mundane. He asked a lot of questions and given the sorts of questions he was asking, my mother and I felt that he already had a preconceived notion of what was "wrong" with me, before even having met me.

I remembered, when I first started to see him I was reading a mostly-pictorial story that was part of "The Terran Trade Authority" series. Pretty impressive, and far-out, drawings of spaceships. This not-doctor made the leap from "Terra" to "Terror" as in enfant terrible. Until mom bluntly suggested to his face that it is quite astonishing that a man of the stature that he claimed to be didn't even know the Latin word for planet Earth, which can be found in the Romance languages such as "tierra" in Spanish, "terre" in French, "terra" in Italian...

Anyway, it seemed that he wanted me to be an easy case of some sort of parental neglect.
Now, let's get one thing straight right away. As a child I was an insufferable shit. Yet through that, and with my father failing at being a father, failing at being a husband, and failing at life in general, with all of that going on my mother stuck by me. It's part of why I stuck with her later in life. We looked after each other.
Trying to drop my problems on her being a bad (or malicious) parent is something of a beserk button for me. But I don't explode or have tantrums. I only used to do that to mom over such horrific ideas as having cream in my tea (she probably should have explained what a Cornish "cream tea" was before telling me she was going to get me one), but I grew out of that nonsense fairly quickly as I don't really have the personality for creating a big scene.

No, my beserk button response is psychological warfare. So I asked mom to take me to the library. Which she did. Fleet library. Where I still had my little (and first) library card. Where a woman with big glasses got the shock of a tiny child (I was small for my age when I was younger) wanting to check out adult-grade books on psychology. I spent some time reading and absorbing as much of that as I understood. Mom helped, but kept a distance as she wasn't entirely sure what was going on. Plausible deniability.

Now, this not-doctor was Jewish. I don't say that to be anti-semetic in any way, just to point out that when we used to go on holiday to Cornwall, we would often stay the first night in the Jamaica Inn and back in those days one could find a Gideon's bible in the drawer beside the bed. When I couldn't sleep at night, I would read bits of it. As a child I read damn near everything, even that.
Now, as I understand it, of the Abrahamic religions, the "New Testament" is uniquely Christian. So a Jewish person is unlikely to have much (if any) familiarity with the Book of Revelations.

So in my role play (with little toy animals) I acted out scenarios that were a mixture of Revelations and Lovecraft. I had already read the Cthulhu mythos and various things-which-are-too-awful-to-speak-of by that age. Poor bloke, he wrote many notes, crossed out plenty, wrote more, maybe later crossed that stuff out.

Enter mom into the equation, having figured out (and greatly enjoyed) what was going on. This man was really rather, shall we say, simple minded? There were toy animals that were white, ones that were brown, ones that were yellow... yeah... seriously, in his mind these directly equated to the various human ethnic groups. So, with mom's help, we staged a big story that was extremely racist if you understood the animal toys like that and strung that on for a bit... until a sudden massive flood wiped out everything, the result of the tentacled Old One getting annoyed about the animals having discovered kumquats. Don't try to make sense of the underlying narrative, it was designed to mess with him. Eventually, after nearly everything is killed, it ended with two "black" toys floating in a china teacup rescuing two "white" ones from certain death, and they set off together to try to find the mythical land of Ulanbator where they could live happily ever after.

Ulanbator, which I think has an extra letter in there somewhere, is the capital of Mongolia. Because I like Geography and Earth Science and such and you always get some twat who's like "Alright then, what's the capital of Outer Mongolia?". So I can say the capital of Mongolia and point out that there's been no "Outer" for decades.

I have received "a subset" of my medical records from PCSE (NHS England). There are some reports from child psychologists which make interesting reading. Unfortunately there is nothing from this not-doctor, which is a shame as the adult me would really enjoy knowing how much I screwed with him.
I also discovered that the place I was sent to for a couple of weeks (Burseldon) was not to see if I could cope with being away from my mother to see if I would adapt to boarding school. That was the cover story they told me. It turns out that the place is a child assessment unit.
Also, there is absolutely no mention of me communicating using sign language. So I'm starting to suspect that may have happened while I was in America (aged, what, four? five?). Being uprooted from everywhere I knew, being very much the odd one out in terms of accent, and with a grandmother who was less than charitable towards my mother... it would make sense that I'd be less than willing to communicate. So I would likely have been taught a rudimentary version of Makaton or something of that nature. Funny thing is, I do not conciously remember any of it, but I have noticed that I use certain gestures when saying things - like holding my hand with index finger up and tracing out a horizontal 'o' when I'm saying "we" or "us", and some others that I'm not going to try to describe.
Anyway, that part is a disgression...



I didn't tend to torment teachers, other than asking a lot of questions of varying degrees of difficulty, just being a bit of a brat (but in general, not aimed at anybody), or often being completely lost when it came to read stuff out of the book as I was maybe a couple of chapters further on. My science teacher called me on this, told me to put the book down and tell her what the pages between where the class was, and where I claimed to be, said.
Of course I did. Not exactly, mind you. In a rather snarky way like pointing out that they don't tend to make rockets with hydrogen and oxygen these days because hydrazine and something that I didn't remember then and still don't (Google says dinitrogen tetroxide (N2O4)) because it makes a much bigger bang for the weight, which is important when you need as much thrust as possible to take off but as little weight as can be managed. So for a while she just left me alone to read stuff in peace.

Now, while some teachers deserved respect, others... less so. To give you an example, I had pretty much figured out by the time I was ten that I was ultimately destined to live and die alone. Don't be upset, I've had forty years since then to get used to the idea. ☺ Point is, I wanted to do cookery rather than woodwork. Back in the early '80s one just did not say stuff like this. Cookery was a girl thing, woodwork was a boy thing. When I insisted, a teacher said, and actual quote, "You a fag, boy? You a fag?".
Me, not being at all familiar with homophobic insults went home and asked mom why that man called me a cigarette because I wanted to learn how to cook. It was clear that mom was angry, but she tried to hide it.
Now the good thing about being a messed up child is that you often interact with an assigned social worker (and if Mrs. B is still alive and somehow improbably reading this nonsense, big shout out, you were amazing!) and, yeah, mom suggested that my social worker might have a better answer, so I asked her. I don't know what happened behind the scenes, but that teacher never interacted with me again and I was found a place in the cooking class... where the girls were far more interested in not getting bits of whatever on their uniforms than the fact that a boy was there.

This was, however, a bit hit and miss. One day we made a risotto in the morning. It was wrapped in cling film and left on the table until the end of the day. It looked nice, smelled nice, I was looking forward to sharing it with mom. When I put it in her hands, she felt it and asked when it was made.
On the way home, she told me that she was going to throw it out, I wasn't to eat it. Because I was looking forward to it and so understandably dejected, we took a detour (in the pouring rain, got everything from my waist down completely soaked) to go to the little supermarket in town, an International if I remember correctly. Anyway, she said I could get anything I wanted as long as it was actual food (so a pack of Mars and a bag of Monster Munch would not count). I settled for one of those nutty oven meals that they made in the '80s with like beans and chips and some sort of meat-like thing.
Turns out, next day, some of the girls had been very poorly. One does not leave rice at ambient for hours and expect to survive eating it unscathed. I was saved that horror, though I heard mom talking about it with one of the other parents and... messy and painful in equal measure. So even now, four decades later, I cook as much rice as I intend to eat, anything I'm making for tomorrow is left to cool for one hour max, then it goes into the freezer compartment on an upturned saucer to quickly bring it down to cold. Rice can be kept cold, rice can be kept hot (a lot of the smarter rice makers have a 'keep warm' mode that runs after the main cooking), but rice should never spend a long time at an ambient room temperature.
The technical reason is a bacteria called Bacillus cereus. While spores that are often not killed by cooking (the food has to pass 100°C to kill it, or over ~56°C to deactivate it), a peculiarity of rice (as opposed to milk, that Bacillus cereus seems to prefer given it's reproduction time is shorter) is that those spores can produce a toxin called cereulide which cannot be destroyed by subsequent reheating. Once it is there, the food is tainted and must not be eaten.
So if you order chinese: eat it quickly, never leave it at room temperature, throw out what you don't eat (don't be tempted to stick it in the fridge to eat later). Seriously, two hours tops folks, that's the most it's safe to leave rice at room temperature.
Not two hours "now", but two hours "in total".

Now imagine a risotto left on the desk in a warm sunny classroom all day...

Another useless teacher was the first maths teacher I had at boarding school. He was taking the advanced maths class...where I, a person with dyscalculia, was placed. Okay, I was quite quick at maths as I approached it as logic problems, but when it came to actual mathsy-maths I was lost. To this day I still don't get long division, and I often multiply by repeated addition except for those things I learned by rote, or blatant cheating.
For example to multiply 33 by 15. Well, 33 times 10 is 330. To make up the fifteen, take half of that (half of 300 is 150, half of 30 is 15, so it's 165) and add it to the first result, or 330 plus 165 which means 33 times 15 is 495. And, yes, I just opened a TaskWindow and check it. Phew!
Anyway, this teacher was very interested in the bright kids, the ones who understood sets and irrational or imaginary numbers (I was an irrational child with imaginary friends, does that count?) and expended little effort in getting the rest of us up to speed.
So one day I put my books into my briefcase, bid him farewell, and walked myself to the intermediate maths group. A jolly Irish bloke who was a good enough teacher that I got a C on my maths GCSE. As I was talking the second level exam, a C is my highest possible result and it meant I pretty much got everything right. I was both surprised and impressed by that. I was expecting worse.


Anyway, the comments on my previous entry triggered this random reminicence. I'm not going to work tomorrow. I am going to Big Town to have my eyes tested. My glasses are... what, four years old? I held off getting my eyes retested as I noticed a degradation of my sight. It's called ocular degeneration, one of many side effects of getting old. So I think my new prescription will require stronger correction than in the past.
It will also be the first longer journey in Lucy. I think, if I go shopping, it'll maybe be 60(ish) kilometres round trip? You can see why I didn't entirely fancy a smaller car with only a 60km range...


I'll leave you with one final anecdote. When I was young and wanted to read a book, mom would often buy two copies. One for me to read, and one for her to read. She would read the story just ahead of me, and chapter by chapter we'd sit and talk about what happened in the story. Did I agree with the characters? Would I have done the same things if it was me? And so on. I think this time was extremely important for bringing a story alive. Rather than making it just "this thing that happened that I was reading", it became almost interactive.
In the more adult books, a fair few things went over my young head. If I caught them, mom's response would frequently be "I'll tell you when you're older", but she otherwise steered clear of such topics. She did a brilliant job sanitising J G Ballard. I reread "The Drowned World" when we came out here in 2002. I was like "Oh my god, this is kind of messed up". Then I reread "Crash" and... hang on... these people are... getting off on being in crashes?!? Mom, how on earth did you manage to talk about this without ending up in that rabbit hole? Her reply? Skillfully.

That being said, I very much respect that mom didn't try to impose her thoughts on my choice of reading material. She tried to guide me in some cases, but sorry, there's absolutely no way I was going to read hundreds upon hundreds of pages of that nutter's personal vendetta against that whale. However it worked both ways. I gave up on some of the classics (put Steinbeck in here too, far too depressing), while mom gave up on Neuromancer as being incomprehensible gibberish.



PS: The capital of Australia is Canberra (as in the former P&O ship), not Sydney or Melbourne or... ☺



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SteveP, 10th July 2024, 22:06
The capital of Australia is Canberra (as in the former P&O ship) 
Hosted a lot of schools cruises. Had an onboard head teacher. His last job before retirement was head of the school I had just left and working his way through a case of wine per week
C Ferris, 11th July 2024, 09:07
Hmmm - I can see several Acorn nuts being banged against the wall!
Gavin Wraith, 11th July 2024, 14:45
Mathsy-maths? Not sure I know what that is. Long division isn't maths. It is arithmetic. Maths is more a study of ideas and concepts, not just numbers. The trouble with maths is 1) it is usually badly taught, and 2) nobody but mathematicians (and physicists, maybe) have the slightest idea about what it is really about. Different subjects such as statistics, engineering, etc, use parts of mathematics, but their practitioners often have no idea what mathematician
Gavin Wraith, 11th July 2024, 14:51
s actually do. [Sorry about the hiatus. Typing this on a Pinebook Pro balanced on my knee.]
Gavin Wraith, 11th July 2024, 18:51
Thanks for the heads up on Bacillus cereus. Many a time I have had Chinese takeaways and put the leftover fried rice in the fridge for my lunch the next day, with no ill effects. I shall be more careful now. My wife makes risottos with arborio rice and asparagus from the garden, and again we sometimes have the leftovers for lunch the next day.
jgh, 11th July 2024, 19:36
Yes, too many people think "heat it up, kill the bugs", without comprehending that those little bugs have been happily pooing in your food for hours, and nothing will destroy the poo. 
In Hong Kong you could get cookers with a "keep warm" setting which I called the "incubator" setting. :(
jgh, 11th July 2024, 19:44
Rick, I have to ask: did your school have a sixth form? The reason being, over decades I've read loads and loads of people discussing their crap schooling and wondered: yerwot? my school wasn't like that. 
I later found out - when I was a governor of my school - that the majority of the teachers had specifically signed up because it had a sixth form and they wanted to teach the higher subjects, and taught the lower subjects as part of the job. So, we got great basic and O level teachers because they were advanced level teachers. 
A couple of years after I left the sixth form was removed by the council, and half the teachers left, along with two thirds of the pupils. When I was a pupil there were 2500 on roll. When I was a governor the school was down to less than 600. 
Eventually, the school was close to being being whatever "administration" is for schools, and had gone from parents fighting to move into the catchment area in the 1960s to parents fighting to get *out*. 
Rick, 11th July 2024, 20:21
Yes, there was a sixth form. Or maybe upper fifth then sixth? I don't remember. 
I was supposed to stay on, but Maggie cut back on post-16 education and that was it then. 
But, note, it was a special needs school so I would imagine that things might have been a little different there? 
We would joke that the teachers in that place were the ones that couldn't hack it in a real school, but in reality I think "normal" teachers would run screaming. That weird SEND kid that would get stuck in the corner as nobody knew what to do with him? Welcome to a place where EVERYBODY was that kid...
Rick, 11th July 2024, 20:34
"Long division isn't maths. It is arithmetic." 
Arithmetic IS maths (though it's a subset so maths isn't arithmetic; it's like alkali and base). 
Note, by the way, that I am using standard secondary education (high school) definitions here, where the class is "Maths 2" and you have maths prep (homework). It's probably college or early university when they pull out the arithmetic and treat it separately from algebra and geometry and the sorts of "this will mess with your head so much you won't want to speak it's name" that simply couldn't be taught in normal schools, not to mention the sort of fun that can be had when your new favourite words are "axiom", "theorem", and "conjecture". ;)
C Ferris, 12th July 2024, 08:55
I wonder if Rick is going to give us a lesson in the use of computers / Maths :-)
David Pilling, 12th July 2024, 12:54
Math at school set off as arithmetic, in the years BC - before calculators - we sat there for hours calculating - long div/mulitply, converting inches into furlongs and back etc. This moved on to using tables, logs and trigonometry. Probly one could in those days get a job as a calculator, with no electronics proficiency in calculating would be a useful skill. 
But get far along and all the arithmetic vanishes and it is proper maths - equations. 
Point being if you were good equations and no good at arithmetic you would not get to be a mathematician. 
It was always spoken as "lower sixth" and "upper sixth", two years. Sixth form was the best teaching I ever had. Being a teacher there would have been pleasant, all the troublemakers had left, kids were interested in the subjects. 
You may imagine that, not so much the teaching at sec. mod. was always bad but the atmosphere was not conducive to learning. Less obvious is how poor teaching at Uni. often was. 
Gavin Wraith, 12th July 2024, 16:30
At the boarding school I attended from 7 to 12 years old we got taught Euclidean Geometry (ruler and compass constructions, axioms) by Mr Davis the chaplain. He used to throw chalk at anybody he thought was asleep. "If you have ever seen a policeman write an x, if you haven't write a y. One, two, three, .... OK, who has written an x? Who has written a y? Who has written nothing at all? You are sausage, sir!". His conceit was that the ancient Greek geometers were lending their theorems to members of the class. Whenever the theorem was needed in a proof the designated borrower of the theorem would have to stand up and state it clearly to the class. Those who flunked this were enrolled in the Royal Society of Twerps. This met in his house every Saturday evening for catch-up classes, and cocoa and cake was provided by Mrs Davis. He was a kind, eccentric man, but slightly exhausting.
Gavin Wraith, 12th July 2024, 16:59
I think of maths as a vast territory, always expanding its frontiers. The entrance to it has paths leading to arithmetic, algebra and geometry. Paths fork, and sometimes join up. The panorama from the entrance is misleading, giving little hint of what can be seen further on. Some parts of the frontier are quite close to the entrance, but most require long treks through varied scenery. The fauna can differ from one area to the next. Particularly confusing is the fact that the same name is often used for quite different beasts or their qualities (e.g. "graph", "harmonic", "principal"). 
Two mathematicians meet on an aeroplane and introduce themselves. "I study flirg patterns". "Gosh, so do I." "Incidence of dynamic punforg in classical spindfar." "Wow! Me too." "Kratinjae's second law of cryptorrhoid affinities?" "Yes, but only in the commutative case." "Sorry. I only know about the tropical conjectures." Silence for the rest of the journey.
A tree-dwelling mammal, 12th July 2024, 20:35
2 days behind on the comments, I must be slipping! (Actually I've had a couple of gigs so been busy and sleeping off the two consecutive late nights.) 
Reheating rice - if you've just eaten your takeaway flied lice (it's FRIED RICE you PLICK - #lethalweapon4) then put the rice STRAIGHT in the fridge as soon as it's cool enough to do so without defrosting it. It'll be perfectly fine for a couple of days. I keep my fridge at 1 degree C so it'll probably be alright for 3-4 days in there. When you take it out to re-heat, unclip the corner of the plastic container it now comes in, bang it in the microwave and nuke it. 2 minutes on high power. It should be taking the skin off your fingers when you take the container out. Let it cool slighly (so it doesn't do the same to the lining of your mouth) then it's perfectly safe to eat. 
The psychologist I saw didn't get me to do any role play. I do remember coming up with this weird scenario where everyone had been 'replaced' with aliens, and shouting at the quack "You're one of THEM aren't you?"... I guess Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost should be paying me royalties for The World's End. It's basically the same story as the one that 9-year-old me came up with, minus the alcohol / pub crawl, and with the 'aliens' replacing an entire school rather than an entire town. But I claim my intellectual property. 
Psychological warfare is great. But it only works on people who have more than one brain cell (by which I mean it only works on people with two brain cells because you can get their brain cells to argue with each other). I always remember the poster I saw on a wall somewhere that said "I refuse to engage in a battle of wits when my opponent is unarmed". 
I also recall that back in the early-mid 1980s when I was at primary school (Rick - I think you're about 4 years older than me if memory serves?) it was still not unlawful for a teacher to hurl a blackboard eraser at you. I became somewhat expert at dodging it, and I don't think it ever managed to hit me. 
One occasion on which I successfully dodged it was the term that we were doing a class project on the Arctic. Apart from getting seriously annoyed that the teacher kept mis-spelling it as 'artic' (wtf, it's not a truck!) she also kept telling us that the reason the North Pole was cold was because it's further away from the sun than the equator. A major argument broke out in the class between her and 6-year-old me, who KNEW that the reason the polar regions were colder was because the energy from the sun was spread out over a greater distance (angles and stuff). She insisted it was because the poles were further away from the sun. I drew out a diagram that demonstrated it, handed it up to her. She looked at it, then up went the cry of "smart arse" followed by me ducking to avoid an incoming board rubber shaped missile. 
I also recall that, again in primary school, having the same teacher for almost every subject caused some interesting contradictions. One day in particular, we had a science lesson in the morning where we were covering evolution, and an RE lesson in the afternoon where were covering the creation myth. So the teacher goes through the story of 'the earth was created in 7 days', Adam, Eve, all that crap. I put my hand up and asked "but this morning you told us that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and we evolved from lower apes, now you're telling us that the earth is 6,000 years old and we were created by some invisible man in the sky, they can't both be true surely?" 
Again I was about 7 years old then, and had comprehensively rejected any form of religion. 
Honestly, when I left school back in 1994 it was the best day of my life. I'd like to say that when whichever parent picked me up I'd put a cassette into the car player that had "Things Can Only Get Better" on it and cranked up the volume, in hindsight that might have been more appropriate. I do remember putting a CD on of the James House album "Days Gone By". Which does have kind of a poetic ring I guess. 
I'm told the education system nowadays is much more aware and accommodating of 'neurodiverse' people. I hope that's true.
jgh, 13th July 2024, 02:05
When I was a school governor, the only RE teacher retired, and we abolished RE and religious assemblies. At every Ofsted report we told them: save some time, just write us up as "fail" on religious provision. 
SteveP, 14th July 2024, 10:17
Speaking of low temperature incubation of rice (and vegetable) bugs. There's a vegetarian food stall that does the rounds of festivals that isn't great on the minimum temperature and maximum display time. I don't think he's killed anyone yet. 
He did GBBF one year, didn't like me or the Env. Health inspectors I had working for me. 
Apparently, with undercooked chicken or lukewarm veggie available - shockingly, the chicken is actually safer.

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