(I searched in vain The Observer/Guardian website for this 'Larkin' article, so scanned in my (undated) copy from several??? years ago)



1) A Summarised Case Study from Oliver James' 'Britain On The Couch'.

(ALSO: For >257 perceptive and well researched articles from Oliver James, see 'The Observer')

2) Depression and Grandiosity (from??, by??)

3) From Alice Miller: The Drama of Being a Child:

The Poor Rich Child

The Lost World of Feelings

In Search of the True Self


I remember when I was quite small being frequently baffled by people's behaviour. Mainly it was adults that confounded me, but sometimes it was other kids too. And it wasn't just their behaviour - which was often not so much baffling as (from adults) absurd and occasionally disturbing - but also I was baffled by the lack of concern or even acknowledgement that adults showed when I and others were witness to their irrational and errant ways. I exempt my immediate family from this because I cannot recall it there - I was lucky - but outside that little oasis of safety and relative freedom, these observations of mine were many. I remember thinking that if it was me acting that way it would be the last thing I'd want anyone to witness - especially kids (who remember EVERYTHING - though they may repress some of their more traumatic memories). For me, I'd be just too embarrassed at appearing so stupid, irrational, vindictive...

I'm surprised now, as I look back, that I didn't seek to understand the cause of these anomalies. They were apparent most predominately at school, but as the years passed I noticed them occasionally almost everywhere. Even so, I was rarely a victim. As a kid, I felt alienated so kept my distance - or else behaved so as to minimise the risk of reprisals (though I was never compliant, and was frequently a victim of undeserved - as I saw it - draconian punishments). As an adult, I was inclined to confront such behaviour - unless there was a risk of violence. Now, I realise, I should have sought to understand and respond accordingly - as though to 'tame' an aggressive animal. By confronting it, I precluded any chance to 'succeed' in the world in any traditional sense... not that I was ever tempted by such success.... to succeed in this sense one often has to gain favour with the very people I'm talking about: aggressive, impulsive, competitive, those incapable (usually) of any kind of empathy. Hence the absence in my life of any effort to 'succeed' - even if I'd been attracted by it, it would have been pointless (and I'm no entrepreneur - for good reason the mere concept strikes me as abhorrent).

When, some years ago, I read Scott-Fitzgerald's masterpiece 'The Great Gatsby' it was on the first page where I was suddenly reminded of the phenomena I address here, which I'd long ceased to take notice of, ie:

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

It goes on (less relevantly):
He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were unsought—frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon; for the intimate revelations of young men, or at least the terms in which they express them, are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.
And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes, but after a certain point I don’t care what it’s founded on.

It's appropriate that like Fitzgerald's narrator, I too recognised the fortunate circumstances of my first few years; though in the context of this article my recognition was that I never suffered the causes of depression - which can often also explain irrational behaviour.

There have certainly been one or two brief periods in my own life when I've experienced loss of direction, abandonment or some other psychological jolt, but depression never came near, and the issue of suicide as a solution would just not have occurred to me. Whatever necessary step-by-step process towards corrective action was required - like getting up after falling over - was to me the only and natural response to adversity. It would have struck me as both stupid and uncomfortable to remain in some pointless and disagreeable condition, and as for suicide - the very suggestion would have scared me rigid, which would prevent it from ever entering my reality (which is not to say there are no circumstances where I might contemplate such a solution).

Perhaps I'm over-sensitive to life's best qualities, and insensitive to the worst? But the truth is, I've been lucky. I have no early hang-ups - none that are significant in regard to the subject of this article - and have rarely needed to confront real adversity. And I'm lucky too, I reckon, that I don't need any weird theological support, nor wild 'dreams' of becoming a millionaire, or fulfilling some other lofty hope. Yet I'm as alert as anyone, I think, to the fundamental meaninglessness of existence: that the universe, the Earth, and us are nothing more than mere chemical phenomena and have no meaning whatever (other than what we choose to bestow). Evolution says it all. Fine; so what? None of us asked to come aboard, and none of us can reverse the clock. We are where we are. So while I acknowledge that life for some people, for a variety of reasons, means only struggle, for me the word 'struggle' (though not necessarily in the physical sense) just doesn't apply - not yet anyhow. Nor does it need to for most people if they consciously choose and make the effort to extricate themselves from a particular mindset. But this doesn't include everyone. Many have enough dough to release them from physical struggle - yet they imagine 'struggle' nonetheless and are unable to quell these imaginings. So although such imaginings are problems that one would think can be resolved and overcome quite easily, could the victim but see it - or so it seems to those of us who've enjoyed a favourable start and to whom such 'struggles' appear utterly unreal - the practical situation isn't so easily addressed (maybe this works).

For most of us working-class - with or without struggle - life can be mundane. But it needn't be. It should present amazing opportunities which we see as our task to make the most of. I don't mean making money or becoming famous or going after some other mad ephemeral desire. I mean the kind of opportunities, for instance, Tom Hodgkinson mentions in his book 'How To Be Idle', activities that engage yet don't necessarily have purpose - like the Dalai Lama's sand-paintings which, seen by very few, when they're finished are destroyed unrecorded... and like this website which (to my knowledge) nobody visits or reads - hence 'Solipsistic Reflections'.

I declare this philosophy smugly from my position of privilege, moderate contentment, stable mood and comfort with my own company; not needing to rely on others provides a delectable kind-of freedom. I realise though, as I say, that many don't share such advantages, which depend perhaps on subtle details in how one experiences those first crucial weeks and maybe years of life - as we see in the extracts. And that's why I've placed those links, the three brief accounts by professional people who've studied and know about these issues. So if you want explanations and perhaps even solutions, then take a look. GOOD LUCK:


Case Study

Depression and Grandiosity

The Drama of Being a Child