Thursday, 28 January 2010

Are you mental?

Perhaps not the most politically correct question, but one that I have asked my friends (in jest) and also asked myself (seriously). How do we really know we are sane? Can sanity be measured? With the amount of debilitating illnesses about how would you spot the early signs of mental decrepitude?

I have often joked with my parents that if they lose their marbles, they’ll be in a home faster than they can shout ‘poisonous monkeys’. I would expect nothing less from my own kids.

When talking with my dad about this he gently comforted me by saying, “Well you know that mental illness runs in our family.” Well I didn’t, and then I wondered why he had only just decided to tell me. When I confronted him he simply answered, “Well you didn’t think you granddad was sane, did you?”

I hadn’t even thought about it, and now that I did, I was concerned.

My granddad would turn up at our house for Sunday lunch in his bright blue Robin Reliant complete with matching beaded seat covers, and park head on to the curb. Should this have been a first indicator? At 14 I thought it was cool, especially how you could drive and get a massage at the same time.

He always wore a suit, the tweed type that most gentlefolk of his age sported. He looked smart from a distance, but closer inspection revealed many cigarette burns in the lapels and that his tie was held in place by no less than six tie clips and two tie pins. Another sign maybe? Or could he have been following an early Health & Safety directive on the dangers of flapping ties.

My brother and I would always position ourselves opposite him when it came to dinner, as we enjoyed watching his most unusual habit. He would pick up the salt cellar and proceed to pour a mountain of salt onto the back of his hand. He would then use his other hand to take a tiny pinch of salt and sprinkle this over his dinner. He would then proceed to eat his dinner as normal seeming to forget the mountain of salt still perched on his hand. It would spill mostly on the table, his food and into his lap. He remained completely oblivious. My brother and I thought he did it to make us laugh, which we surely would have if not for my mum’s burning glare.

A few weeks later my dad had to pick up my granddad as his driving licence had been taken away after he had crashed into a BMW and written it off! Plastic cars are amazing. Still this was to be expected as he was getting old, what was a surprise, was that my dad had to pick him up from the police station. My granddad, not phased by the loss of his licence turned to the next available transport – an invalid carriage. The police had picked him up heading southbound on the hard shoulder of the M5. When they asked him what he was doing he replied, “Going shopping in Exeter officer.” Obvious really. Although Exeter is some thirty-five miles from his house.

He was also known for his amazing gift giving talent. A present from my granddad was always something to behold. My twenty-first birthday was no different. He proudly presented me (unwrapped) Bruno the Bear Fabuland Lego (for ages 2-4), and for some strange reason he also gave my mum a can of Silverkrin hairspray, also unwrapped. Perhaps he thought I was retarded, or perhaps he was simply taking the piss?

Whatever it was I never doubted his sanity and proof of this came one more eventful dinnertime after he had covered my dad in salt. He regaled us with a story of a distant uncle, who, said my granddad “Was really mental”. He told us of how my uncle would sit at the table and arrange all of the condiments and other items on the table in a specific order and then tap out a tune on them with his dessert spoon. A possible musical genius?

It then dawned on me that my granddad didn’t realise that his own mental capacity was fading. If he couldn’t tell, how would I? And perhaps in that is the answer, we all fear what might happen, but even if it does, will we actually know anything about it. Armed with the old adage ‘ignorance is bliss’ I am off to stock up on some salt and pepper.

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