Friday, 14 December 2007

How Pimms helped my social phobia

I suffer from social phobia, which people who know me well find unbelievable because I am, with friends and in small groups, fairly confident, some may even say loud.

The phobia strikes when I’m required to interact with strangers and especially when I’m in crowds. It takes the form of a debilitating shyness that renders me near-speechless; in its most drastic form I may suddenly develop the impression that I’m naked, and even checking and rechecking that I’m wearing clothes doesn’t help. It also manifests physically in the form of an angry red rash that spreads over my chest, neck and face – which is why, when I deliver lectures or give presentations (which, incidentally, terrifies the life out of me), I always wear a scarf.

So as much as I was looking forward to the village’s annual street party a few evenings ago, it was with the usual slight trepidation about whether my social phobia would make things difficult for me.

When I arrived, the party was already in full swing and the village square was packed with people. I felt the usual irrational twinges of anxiety – why was everyone looking at me? had I remembered to put on underwear? did I have a booger dangling from a nostril? – and just when I thought I was going to go into panic mode, my friend V called me over.

She was manning a stand that was selling Pimms at R10 a glass, which she was dispensing from two jugs, one of which was empty.

‘I’ve run out of Pimms,’ she said, picking up the empty jug, ‘and I have to go and mix up some more. Would you mind watching my stall for me for a few minutes?’

And before I could explain to her that there was simply no way I could deal with the general public, she dashed off.

Left without a choice, I moved in behind V’s stall and stood there uncertainly, feeling as if a spotlight had suddenly been turned on me. My chest started heating up, the first sign that the rash was about to climb and spread and turn me into a glowing blob of humanity visible from outer space.

‘Two Pimms, please,’ said someone, waving some money at me.

‘And two for me… no, make that three,’ said someone else.

‘Ooh, that looks delicious, I’ll have one too,’ said a third.

Trying not to let my hands shake too much, I poured the drinks and took the money. More customers kept arriving, and I kept pouring and taking money and giving change, and soon, to my surprise, I realised that I was actually enjoying myself.

‘Is it an English thing?’ someone asked, looking with some suspicion at the fruit-filled jug I was pouring from.

‘I think it is,’ I said. ‘And you should probably drink it on the lawn, under an umbrella, after a rousing game of tennis,’ I added.

‘I don’t play tennis,’ he said, ‘but I’m always happy to sit on the lawn and drink…’

We both laughed – and there I was, right out of the blue, making conversation with people I don’t know from Adam!

By the time V returned with the full jug, the other one was empty. ‘Wow,’ she said. ‘You’re making good sales.’

‘Can I stay here?’ I asked. I’d realised that the fact that I was behind a stall, giving me a degree of separation from the crowd, had made me feel safe.

‘Sure,’ she said.

So I spent the rest of the evening selling Pimms. And chatting to strangers.

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3 comments:

meggie said...

Snap for the rosy neck, face & shoulder area. I used to suffer but not as badly as my daughter.
I am so glad you found a refuge!!

tonypark said...

Cooking a chicken with a beer can up its bum on a braai is also good for breaking the ice and meeting new people.

Whenever we do it we are surrounded by onlookers. The first thing they want to know is why we are apparently cooking an old Amstel Lager box lined with aluminium foil (this, of course, is simply the faux-Webber lid over the chicken).

Juno, thanks for asking about the chicken. I've actually done it four times now and, if I do say so myesf, it has tasted sensational every single time.

It really does cook the chicken to perfection. The hot can on the inside ensures the bird cooks all the way through, in just an hour, and the steaming beer keeps it tender.

It doesn't taste like beer, either (or perhaps I just don't notice). We've also done it with wine in an empty beer bottle (which works, but is less stable than a can).

The proudly South African-designed "beer bird" device is a 100 per cent winner and is, as we say in Australia, the best thing since canned beer.

angel said...

oh thats awesome!