View from the Bridge: 54

by John Morrison


54: A Second Opinion

Whenever an over-worked GP writes a perfunctory prescription for tranquillisers - instead of listening to what his patient has to say - he unwittingly creates a job opportunity. Whenever conventional medicine admits to being stymied by some new and malignant virus, the door marked 'Alternative Therapies' opens a little further ajar. Whenever a patient is offered a gloomy prognosis, he is susceptible to the soft, seductive siren voices of complementary medicine.

Alternative therapies seem to occupy the middle ground between established religion and medical orthodoxy. The Church lurches erratically between laughable anachronisms and unseemly haste in jumping on the latest barmy bandwagon. Where the Church used to provide unequivocal moral guidance ("Repent or be damned...") it now offers the merest slap on the wrist to those who transgress. We in Milltown wince at the pathetic attempts of the Vicar of Saint Diana's to be hip and trendy. Acknowledging "the sanctity of indiscriminate shagging" isn't giving much of a lead to impressionable youngsters. And downgrading the Ten Commandments to the status of Performance Charters is unlikely to bring the doubters flocking back to fill the empty pews in his echoing church.

There was a time when the vicar of Milltown could terrify his congregation with a few home truths from the pulpit, leaving women weeping, men ashen-faced, children traumatised and damp. A time when the Devil walked among us, and wasn't just your dad dressed up. Guilt, fear and sin have put 'bums on pews' for almost two thousand years... but they don't play so well to the Pepsi Generation.

When church leaders get together now - to swap fashion tips ("Mmmm, purple..."), mull over vital ecclesiastical questions ("Is there still a place in the Church for blind prejudice?") and generally try to put the 'fun' back into fundamentalism - the rest of us just stifle a yawn. And with the doctors offering unpalatable observations ("It's not good for you, you know, all that crack cocaine on an empty stomach"), there are plenty of people in Milltown who'll pay good money to hear reassuring platitudes from a smiling therapist.

The therapists of Milltown are anything but cynical. They mean every word they say, which is worrying and comforting in about equal measure. It's a comfort to take your troubles, your stiff neck and your unregressed past lives to someone who will reinforce everything you say with empathy and understanding. But it's a worry that the people listening so intently to your litany of woes should themselves have only the most tenuous of toe-holds on reality.

Here in Milltown we're a bit top-heavy with people who promise, perhaps rather glibly, to heal your life. The newsagent's window is a patchwork of their tiny notices, each one showing just what professional results can be obtained with a John Bull printing set and an unfettered imagination. You only have to rub your neck wearily in Milltown to have half a dozen pastel-coloured business cards thrust into your hand.

One day an ambitious entrepreneur - some Bernard Matthews of self-basting therapies - will grab this unregulated business by the scruff of the neck and create some appalling multinational conglomerate. The MacDonalds of Meditation; the Toys 'R Us of Transactional Analysis; the Coca Cola of Colonic Irrigation. In the meantime, however, alternative medicine continues to be an informal free-for-all, allowing otherwise unemployable folk the chance to earn a crust.

We can all re-invent ourselves as whatever we want to be. After all, is anybody going to sue if a particular therapy fails to do what it claims to do? "Your Honour, my client claims that after six sessions with the accused, she had still not been formally introduced to her inner child". Not very likely, is it?

So Dope Dealer has remodelled himself as a Substance Abuse Negotiator, and the barmaid at the Grievous Bodily Arms now calls herself a Sex Therapist. Milltown's elder citizens have the opportunity to waste their old-age pensions on a few sessions of Empire Deprivation Treatment. Post-Keegan Trauma Counselling is available for distraught Newcastle fans. Even our Town Drunk, trying to get in on the act, is applying for a grant to teach self-empowerment through binge-drinking.

Having come to terms with her own deficiencies with mop, broom and duster, Willow Woman is offering sessions on Housework Neglect Assertiveness. She inspires other women to confront their own slovenly habits head-on, without embarrassment or self-consciousness. She encourages them to stop making craven apologies, when a visitor calls, about their untidy homes. Instead of rushing around - plumping up cushions, tossing old magazines into the bin and kicking childrens' toys under the sofa - they are soon able to survey their unsanitary surroundings, look the visitor straight in the eye and say, without a hint of apology: "Yeah, it's a pigsty. Who gives a shit? Let's go out...".

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