It’s years since I saw Father Ted, but I have realised that I’m a second Mrs Doyle.
Not physically (hello waxing), and not in terms of cups of tea (wine being another matter), but in another, more sinister way.
You see, I think we were wrong to laugh. I think Mrs Doyle suffered from a little known syndrome, and deserved our compassion and understanding.
I think Mrs Doyle was an Involunteer.
I’ve come to realise that I’m one too.
Involunteering makes day to day living difficult. The sufferer, in the course of an ordinary conversation, veers away from simple chat and is compelled, beyond her control, to offer help to anyone she encounters (whether it’s needed or not). Mrs Doyle was lucky, in that her involuntary compulsions depended on proximity to a kettle, but some of us are much less fortunate. I caught myself recently, for example, at a family reunion, pressing the promise of an unused steriliser onto a bemused pregnant friend (who not only hadn’t mentioned sterilisers but who could, had she have so wished, have bought several brand new ones without noticing the cost). There was also the occasion not long ago when, walking home from school, I urged my stash of outgrown baby clothes onto an acquaintance who had recently become a grandmother. Plus the times, too numerous to mention, when I hear myself in a meeting or discussion, uttering a variation on the theme of “I’ll do that!” or “Why don’t I…?” without running the words through my brain first.
I don’t think I’ve caught it from anyone. My parents are decent folk who will go out of their way to help others, but usually via a measured and appropriate detour, so it’s obviously not hereditary. Is it a manifestation of a severe need to People Please? Perhaps. Perhaps it’s a hangover from miserable days of bullying at school; the result of my subconscious eagerly sniffing out opportunities to extract sufficient liking from those around me to bolster me against the time they will inevitably turn. Which would make more sense, and indeed be more successful, if I waited to identify occasions where my help was (a) required and (b) deliverable. Is it because I have a well-developed obligation to serve those around me, or a wish to spread some of my own good fortune? Well, again, maybe. I do think it’s important for everyone to contribute to their community in so far as they are able to; but that doesn’t explain the knee-jerk reflex which discomfits my listener as much as it inconveniences me.
I wouldn’t mind if I could rest well at night, Pollyanna-like, content in the knowledge that I have brightened the lives of all those I meet (though not with calves-foot jelly; I never understood why that was a good thing to bestow on someone). It doesn’t work like that though. Even at the time, I can hear a voice in my head saying “What?! What are you..? No! Stop it!”. Later, burned out and resentful, I end up doing a half-hearted job of things that would probably have been better left alone (though,in fairness to myself, not always).
It’s an affliction, and I think I myself am the cure. Autumn leaves and the first whisper of snow are not auspicious companions for making resolutions, but I really will try to wait, listen and think before I speak. A kind of Green Cross Code for the officious, if you will. Thanks for reading. I could read it again for you, if you like? Or email it to you? Let me have your address and I’ll send you a translation. No? Ah, go on.