One day, quite recently, I got out of bed on the wrong side and slid seamlessly into a default state of irritation. My wise, caring (and occasionally irritating) partner quickly spotted this and offered me some constructive advice. She explained that irritation is a useless, counter-productive emotion in which one may choose not to indulge. In order to be irritated we need to believe we're not getting something we deserve – thwarted expectations are the cause – and, although irritation tries hard to persuade us that we are justified in our reaction, if we choose to adjust the expectation, we negate the anguish. After a week in which circumstances have tested the theory almost to destruction, I am pleased to report that this works.
It happened that the weather was set fair and we had packed our bags for a couple of days hiking the coast of Anglesey. In excited anticipation we went to load up the campervan (which is kept in a "secure" underground space) only to find that someone had put a brick through the window, stolen some of the contents and vandalised part of the interior. It put paid to our plan for a getaway but we resigned ourselves, nevertheless, to Plan B which involved going to the movies. But then it fell to me to spend the next three hours on the phone to the insurers, the emergency glass replacement company and the police. As it was Saturday afternoon all their offices were closed and calls diverted to 24-hour out-sourced help-lines, each of which required me to recite my name, DOB, postcode and full address before allowing me to explain my situation, on the hearing of which I was passed quickly on to someone else who went through exactly the same procedure. It was... exhausting. But, eventually, the vehicle was dispatched to a repair centre and I went home.
The walk home is just two blocks and passes a bank of ATMs, a favourite spot for street-beggars, one of whom happened to be sitting on the bag of bedding stolen from our campervan. My first reaction was outrage, turning quite rapidly to anger, but I walked on a while before pausing to consider my response. I can't deny that I felt like taking physical revenge for the damage done to our beloved campervan, but your average white, middleclass, liberal-leaning leftie knows that violence is never the answer and so I restrained the instinct to lash out. Anger-management technique is quite similar to irritation control but it's more important to master it because of the consequences: whereas an irritated person might be inclined to harrumph, sulk or raise their voice, an angry person treads the tightrope of violence. And so I consoled myself with an empathetic reflection on the social ills that are the cause of homelessness, addiction and the resulting petty crime. “I am not the real victim”, I recited.
I took a photo of the beggar sitting on the bedding and, along with some evidence he left at the scene of the crime – a tube of medication issued at HMP Strangeways – gave it to the police to deal with. They still have been unable to apprehend him, despite his obvious presence: perhaps they think, as do I, that it would do no good; perhaps they are just under-resourced.
And so, days later, with the campervan in a compound awaiting the manufacture of a new window ("sorry sir, it's not a standard size – no one keeps it in stock"), the beggar still to be seen on the streets, the police sending me conflicting messages and the insurance company finding obscure get-out clauses, I remain adamant in choosing to be neither irritated nor angered. In fact, having mastered the techniques for the subjugation of irrational human behaviour, I am now considering signing up to a Vatican correspondence course, Sainthood: the Next Steps.