58. Just asking: what would Englebert do?

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Robin Hood: should have stayed out of Nottingham

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Byron: should have stayed in Nottingham

Is it possible to develop a phobia of a specific town or city? If so, what is the correct term for an acute fear of Nottingham?

Don’t forget, a phobia, by definition, has to be irrational. However, there are plenty of genuine reasons to be afraid of Nottingham, in particular the possibility of making an unwanted left turn onto the Trams only zone, punished by a £30 fine and a humiliating picture of yourself, grinning foolishly, in your car, on a tramway.

We all know there is only one way of treating a phobia, and it’s not multivitamin tablets or fish oil.  Determine what the fear is, then – as Nike would have it – just do it. Which is why I find myself in Cafe Nero, near Nottingham station, shaking and hyperventilating and palpitating, as I type my negative thoughts into the Nokia: If I run as fast as I can, I will still be in Nottingham for half an hour before I reach the edge. It feels like being on a submarine or space station, without an escape pod, other than East Midlands Trains. I look round, but I can’t see a defibrillator handy, nor anyone who looks trained in immediate life support. For a moment I wonder if caffeine might really have a discernible effect on the nervous system – I’d always assumed this was a myth.

And then, right in front of me, I notice there is a discarded copy of the Daily Mail health supplement. Which is when I get distracted from my behaviour therapy program and morbid thoughts about sudden-adult-death-in-Nero-syndrome. Until Michael Gove puts more basic medical science onto the school curriculum, we have to make do with the health pages in newspapers to find out how our bodies work. As I read through, I learn the following:

Under the headline, ‘The allergy delusion’, it is reported that many people who think they have allergies, or have even  been diagnosed with allergies, are not really allergic. There’s a long story about someone whose GP has told them they had dairy and gluten sensitivity, only to find out from a proper doctor, with a labcoat and microscope, that they had Crohn’s disease the whole time.

Next, I learn that International Singing Superstar, Englebert Humperdinck, (ISSEH for short) suffered from asthma which completely went away after four sessions of acupuncture. Without acupuncture, ISSEH would never have been able to achieve 25th place in the Eurovision song contest. ISSEH’s mother was told she had just a few weeks to live, but following acupuncture, lived on for years.

There are many other fascinating stories. A Psoriasis sufferer had been cured completely by Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. It can be dangerous to suppress a sneeze. Vitamin D is unlikely to do any good for most people. Central heating makes you fat. Lifting weights can harm your eyesight. Migraine can be managed by a magnetic machine about the size and weight of a house brick. It has a handle at either end and is applied to the skull.

I learn that it could be bad for you to keep pressing the snooze button on your alarm clock. Snoozing only makes you more tired. By rights, the button should be called ‘procrastination’, but there isn’t room to write the proper word.

Medicine as reported in newspapers represents an entirely different, yet parallel speciality. In the Hospital of Newspaper Medicine there are several floors devoted to alternative medicine. There is a huge department of Bogus Nutrition. These patients all appear to be slim young females in gym outfits. The mental health floor is convinced that CBT and Mindfulness can cure any condition. The upper floors are filled by keyhole surgeons and computer controlled robots. The medical wing is full of machines the size of house bricks that go beep. Again, all the patients are slim young females in gym outfits.

Yet in the basement of this hospital there is a well resourced Debunkology Department, where last years miracle drugs are revealed to be the stuff of nightmare. Last year Statins were supposed to make us all live till 120. Everyone should take them.This year the Guardian tells us that Statins have become ‘a monster that no-one can kill’.

I think I’m beginning the get the hang of Newspaper Medicine. News has a kind of cycle with a fast turnover – build things up, knock them down. It’s the same treatment as celebrities and football managers. By comparison, Dr Google and Dr Wiki seem like paragons of truth. Something seems to happen to journalists that makes them bitter and twisted. I’m guessing it’s the fact that any old person with a computer and $20 for a website can be a writer nowadays, even an escaped psychiatrist. Newspapers seem to suffer from excess bile, which is probably why they go yellow after a few days.

What would they make of someone who had become phobic to a whole city? My guess is one quick article about Total City Allergy Syndrome, with a tip from ISSEH suggesting acupuncture got him over the problem he had going to South Wigston. Only to be followed by a rapid debunking exercise making it clear that City Allergy Syndrome is a delusion or possibly a benefits fraud.

Along the lines of the Tintern Abbey joke lets try this one:

Patient: Doctor, I have an irrational fear of a large industrial city in the East Midlands.

Doctor: It’s Nottophobia.

Patient: Yes it is a phobia.

No? I’m sure Stuart Lee could make it work.

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