When we started counselling, we weren’t given any instructions or introduction. No explanation as to the theory behind the practice. Not even what the practice was. Nothing about what to expect, or what was expected of us. No steer whatever. Straight in.
Never having done this before, I assumed it would be like learning anything.
You turn up for your first piano lesson, your teacher asks what you’ve learnt already, poo-poohs every other teacher you’ve ever had, tells you what you’re doing wrong, and you’re away. You play a scale, she raps you over the knuckles, shows you how to do it properly.
Skiing, the same. You need to lean down the mountain, not up it. But Gaspard – or Pierre, or Günther – that’s completely counter-intuitive! That’s why you have a ski instructor. Dummkopf.
Naturally, I thought counselling would run along similar lines. These geezers must know something we don’t, otherwise we’d be the counsellors and they’d be the ones being humiliated. Sooner or later, presumably, they will impart some of their wisdom.
For the first few weeks, it was understandable that we’d be filling them in. How we met. What our families were like. Things we liked – or didn’t – about each other. But there’s only so much, right? After a while, you’d think they must have enough background.
I kept waiting for the real thing to start. Week after week... after eventual month. I mean, when are they going to tell us how to do things better? We began this malarky in September, it’s nearly Christmas, we still seem to be doing all the talking.
I put it to the test. There is a member of my family, I said, I have a real difficulty buying a present for. Because of a bad experience in the past. But I love this family member and want to choose something, and Christmas is nearly upon us.
Uh-huh. They nodded and listened.
So... ok... I find this difficult, right? I want to buy a present for this person I love.
Yes, we’ve got that.
You understand? That’s it? You’re not going to tell me how to solve it? No ideas whatsoever?
Well that was a bit of a waste of time, then, telling you that, wasn’t it?
If your piano teacher behaved like that, simply listening, week after week, while you kept playing the pieces all wrong and with the same mistakes, never telling you how to iron them out... eventually, if you had any sense, you’d stop going to the ruddy piano teacher and just play them wrong to yourself at home.
It was beginning to driving me nuts.
I felt we’d been sitting in the concert hall, listening to the cacophonous tuning-up, waiting for the music to start, for about three hours... and sooner or later someone was at risk of saying, That’s it, time to go home, it was a Philip Glass piece, ha ha.
Another thing I found really difficult: we’d never been told why or that it must be so, but we’d noticed they never started the sessions. We had to kick off every time.
I think I may have mentioned already that Shaun, generous to a fault with all the money he doesn’t have, does tend slightly towards the parsimonious when it comes to spending words. He doesn’t. Not without weighing each one very carefully, turning it this way and that, making absolutely sure he is willing to part with it... and then possibly thinking better of it and hanging on to it anyway.
Which does mean his sermons are stonkingly lean, packing the punch of a verbal body-builder. No one preaches a better, anywhere.
While his breakfast conversation is a little... shall we say... sparse.
So every week, I was the one left to open the batting.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever tried being a mother, but if you have you will know the one luxury you are seldom afforded is the opportunity to focus. Not so much a one-woman-band as the whole orchestra, conductor, audience, ice-cream sellers, stewardesses, loo attendants, programme-hander-outers, and all the people who didn’t bother to turn up but stayed at home watching the telly.
If you are given one more responsibility you will shoot yourself.
The one thing I needed like the proverbial crater in the topknot was having to work out, week by week, how to start yet another counselling session.
After six months of this I said so. I felt, I told them, burdened by having the sole duty of every single bully-off, all on my own. I had enough responsibilities at home.
The woman counsellor – who, I’ve said before, was very kind – asked me how many of us were in the room? Even I can count to four. So why, she asked, did I assume it must always be down to me? Why take on this extra responsibility?
Oh. Ah. Ok. Wow.
So... I’ve started every session, now, for the last six months. Pretty basic arithmetic suggests it’s not my turn for the next eighteen.
Phew. I needn’t open the innings for at least the next year and a half.
Next week, guess what. I kid you not. All four of us sat in silence. Because I didn’t start, nobody did. And I wasn’t jolly well going to, having been given permission to not.
Tick, tick, tick. How long could this go on?
I’ll end your suspense. Twenty. Agonising. Minutes.
Until the male counsellor exploded with rage and asked why we wasted his time...
(But at least I got him to start…)