To Woo HOO the September 1 release of my third novel, Driving in Neutral—a love story about claustrophobia—I am running the 75 Days of Phobia series. It takes Maxwell, the claustrophobic hero in Driving in Neutral a little while to figure this out, but sometimes you have to embrace your fear, like my Guest Anna Cleary does.
Let me state at the outset that I do not suffer from a phobic personality. I am as rational, balanced and brave as the next person. In fact, when you fully understand where I’m coming from, you will very likely wish to congratulate me for my astounding rationality, and considerable courage against insec—the odds.
What you need to know is that I’m a descendent of Rose Twining, the warm determined woman who was my maternal grandma. Rose had some noble quirks that she cultivated in her five children with assiduous care.
“Cleanliness is next to Godliness” may well have been the mantra for some in Rose’s day, but in her opinion, God or any other being would just have to wait in line.
Cleanliness came first!
Rose scrubbed herself, her children, her floors, washed her walls, purified her surfaces, and waged relentless war against germs. What she couldn’t see, she assumed.
Unlike certain troglodytes of the modern era, Rose accepted the science.
Bacteria had been discovered, and if the nasty creatures happened to be invisible to the naked eye, they loomed large in the hygienic housewife’s mind.
Rose boiled her sheets, her curtains, cloths and covers; Edward’s— her husband’s— socks and shirts; the entire family’s underwear and all and any fabric that could come into contact with her or her loved ones.
When Edward sat down to dine—only after he had bathed, shaved and changed his clothes, never before—Rose spread a newspaper under his plate to prevent him from sullying the cloth with his man-germs.
Zealotry, it seems, has a long after- life.
Rose’s bacteriophobia was handed down. With it came her ataxophobia (fear of disorder) blennophobia (a morbid fear of slime) amathophobia (dust) insectophobia (self-explanatory) pathophobia (polio, diphtheria, tetanus, plague) and a goodly dose of androphobia—men— I suspect not so much a fear of the cringing male animal as a fear of his male germs!
Consequently, I grew up with some doozies of aunts. Auntie Valerie wouldn’t let Uncle Harry into the house when he came home from work until he’d showered and shaved She scrubbed her front verandah and barricaded it with chicken wire to prevent anyone from besmirching it with their feet.
If I went to stay with her, she kept me in bed so I wouldn’t mess things up.
Auntie Vaness wouldn’t allow the beds in the house to be touched until bedtime, and only then if their owners had just bathed.
My sisters still like to spray their street shoes with disinfectant before they bring them back into the house. One carries a bottle of Dettol with her when she travels for fear of strange germs in other places.
Naturally, I have a healthy respect for germs myself, as well as a horror of mess, dust, slime, filth, beards and most insects. I was twenty-three before I risked allowing my skin to make contact with a public toilet seat!
But one does mellow. My major difficulty now is a chronic form of inertia. Occasionally I may allow the old family phobias to drive me into whirling like a dervish around the house attacking dust and dirt. More often than not though, these days I find the strength to resist. If you drop by to visit you’ll find me suffering the disorder around me with a helpless yet languid despair.
You see, I learned along the way that it’s better to fight your phobias, or at least conceal them.
Once during an important school staff -meeting, a cockroach ran over my foot. Ran? The thing strolled. I screamed in horror and jumped up on my chair, triggering a sort of domino effect as other people around me screamed too and jumped on their chairs. This made me quite unpopular with the principal, who snorted at my explanation as if I were a mad person. It’s hard to retrieve one’s reputation after something like that.