Phobias, Foibles and Characters

I like to think of myself as a reasonably well-adjusted, rational, intelligent woman, with the usual quota of foibles and idiosyncrasies. But I do have three completely inexplicable and bizarre (except for one)  ‘phobias’.

Let’s start with the one that I believe is sensible and, given my seaside Sydney home, perfectly justified. Although, it has been known to induce fits of hysterical laughter amongst good friends and family.


Not to be trusted - ever

Yes. Sharks. You’re with me here aren’t you? Who isn’t concerned about the possibility of a shark gnawing on your quadriceps as you have a leisurely swim in Sydney Harbour or at one of our gorgeous beaches? Quite understandable.

I have a proven method of avoiding a shark singling me out when I’m swimming. (Proven, because I have not once had even the briefest glimpse of a shark in the many years I have been practising this method.) When I’m in the water, I make sure there are always several swimmers ahead of me. A shark bait buffer zone. This, combined with my ‘if the water’s too deep to see the sandy floor, I’m too far out strategy’, has proved fail-safe.

But sometimes, the terror of the shark is so great that I simply have to get out of the water. Even in an indoor swimming pool. Yes, that’s right. Laugh away. I have been so overcome by my fear of the shark that I have clambered out of an indoor pool. Of course I know there is not a Great White cruising in the deep end, niftily camouflaged by the black line on the bottom of the pool. That’s what a phobia does. Rational thought is immediately jettisoned.

Which pretty much sums up my second big fear. The open staircase. Or even worse, the open spiral staircase. I hate them. I will avoid them at all costs. My fear of slipping through the riser-less gap is profound. I have been known to freeze on them, my legs refusing to function. A wave of nausea and prickling fear can sweep over me and I just can’t move as I cling desperately to the railing.

Nightmare Scenario on Cockatoo Island

Going up is terrible. I can see the potentially lethal gap as I climb the staircase. And as for going down? It’s just as bad. I can’t see the chasm (four inch space), but I know it’s there just waiting to seize my ankle and pull me through.

I have absolutely no idea how, when, where, or why this fear made an appearance in my life. Maybe it’s because I’m so um…  height challenged (5′ isn’t so short is it?). Who knows? I sure don’t, but I’d put money on a traumatic past life experience.

Unlike my final phobia in the Big Three. That humble vegetable, the pea. Or as I affectionately refer to them, ‘little green balls of misery.’

so green, so round, so utterly revolting

I come from the generation where the evening meal was meat and three veggies and force-feeding was part of the daily ritual. You ate what was on your plate. Quietly, so dad could listen to the news on the wireless, and without complaint. My mum, a lovely woman,  simply could not believe that her four children disliked peas. And so she kept serving them and I found all kinds of ways to avoid eating them, like hiding them under my lamb chop bone. I can still feel the horror of the night I discovered that peas do not flush down the toilet, they just bob around in the bowl, accusingly.

To this day, I still will not, cannot eat peas. I dissect spring rolls, samosas, pies, anything that may contain a pea. I have left, untouched, bowls of fried rice, minestrone and any other dish with a surfeit of peas. And as for watching other people eating them? Blah.

So, when I’m thinking about characters that I’m developing, I remember that I am a well-adjusted, intelligent, rational woman with a couple of phobias and a penchant for ironing tea towels. We’re all a bit weird in our own way and so are my favourite characters.