Don’t sweat the small stuff… or, on the other hand, maybe you should…
by Lisa Botwright
I love tv show Room 101, with the very funny and caustic Frank Skinner, in which three celebrities compete each week to banish their pet hates to the depths of Room 101, famously inspired by the nightmarish depiction of the ultimate torture chamber in George Orwell’s 1984. But it’s not rats that get thrown into Room 101... or war, or famine, or murder, or the big C – it’s all those irritating, niggling things that drive us completely, irrationally insane.
Binge-watching Frank Skinner and co while under the weather recently got me thinking about my own pet hates: as a busy, working mum, it’s all the myriad of things that are sent to unhinge and unravel any attempt to bring order to the chaos of every-day life. You know... things like stickers on books. Surely the devil himself creeps into bookshops after the staff have gone home, and sprays the labels with an evil concoction made within the bowels of hell itself.
My moments of peace are rare, but picture the scenario. Housework: done. Cup of tea: made. Children despatched to friends – and I have carved out a moment in time to enjoy the latest bestseller. The book is looking rather artful laid out on the coffee table, next to a vase of flowers and my favourite Emma Bridgewater mug. But wait, let me just remove that ugly price tag. All this peace and serenity suddenly ebbs away, as I realise that the satisfaction I sought in lifting the sticker off in one easy, fluid movement can never be mine; instead I’m left scratching at a horrid and unsightly blotch that will forever demonstrate to me that all
illusions of control over my life are just that: illusions.
When Orwell wrote his dystopian masterpiece, it was inspired by his own personal hell. Boredom. Room 101 is based on a conference room in BBC Broadcasting House, where Orwell was forced to sit through many a tedious meeting. Now, I don’t mind a boring meeting – when else would I have time to mentally plan my shopping list or run through the family’s diary for the following week? – but being forced to spend unnecessary time in the car is my bugbear…
“Pick me up at five o’clock, mum,” says my teenage little darling. Only now it’s 5.45; I’m sitting outside school, frozen solid as I fear that putting the heater on will run down the car battery, and there’s no sign of the little darling’s netball/hockey/football team’s bus anywhere. Despite being glued to her phone at every waking moment, heaven forbid she should actually answer it when I’m trying to get hold of her. When Little Darling eventually appears – walking as slowly as possible and chatting to her friends without a care in the world – I signal for her to get in the car and grumpily speed off. Which brings me onto my next pet hate: Road Ahead Closed signs. You clock it, and there’s still time do a detour, but only if you’re psychic and you actually know which road they’re talking about. However, since there is a good possibility that the sign has only been put there by a man in an orange jacket with a GSOH, it may or may not mean what it says. So, stomach clenched, I continue anyway – nervously anticipating whether our ten minute journey will now take an hour and a half when we have to double back through hideous rush hour traffic.
The list of causes of irritation and anxiety is endless. Next is People Who Take Stuff That Doesn’t Belong To Them. I’m not talking about the nasty poachers who think they could possibly have a right to a West African rhino’s horn more than a West African rhino (which, as I type, has just been declared extinct. A whole species wiped out.) No, I’m talking about getting out of the shower with hair dripping in my eyes, only to find that Little Darling has stolen all the towels (they’ll be on a wet heap on her bedroom floor. Sigh.) along with the hairdryer, my hair brush and my favourite mascara.
Moaning about irrelevant stuff is inherent in our culture – just look at the success of the Grumpy Old Men/Women series – and I think it’s entirely natural. I remember once getting the all-clear after a series of very scary medical tests – throughout which I’d been stoicism personified – only to burst into tears later the same day when someone sat on my sunglasses. I felt better, afterwards.
The Dalai Lama may teach that us that if a problem is fixable, then there’s no need to worry, and if it’s not fixable, then there’s no need to worry. ‘There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever,’ he says – but I’m not sure I agree. I have a theory that the path to inner peace is actually all about ‘sweating the small stuff’ – blocking out all the bigger, more seriously upsetting, issues in the world, by focusing on silly things instead.
Next time you find yourself getting wound up, relax and don’t chill out. Enjoy a good old moan, that’s what I say.