Wednesday, 28 April 2010


Stress is a word that rhymes with dress and tress. It sounds a bit pathetic and girly. Unlike words such as death, pain and torture, it can’t be taken seriously.

So stress, in a similar way to smoothies, I-Pods and the Liberal Democrats, is a modern invention. Why, then, must it exist at all? What are we getting out of all this concern about working hours, climate change, and quality time? I’ve been trying hard to find the upside of stress, and this is what I’ve come up with: Stress is a pyramid scheme.

I don’t mean that it gets passed to you by other people, and you then pass it to more people in order to make yourself feel better about being involved in it in the first place (although, hang on, that’s a truthful a definition as any). And I don’t mean that it’s made up of useless ideas that you keep telling yourself are fulfilling you on some hitherto untouched deep level (although, yes, that works too).

What I mean is this: stress, when laid out in diagrammatic form, makes a pyramid.

It’s quantifiable, you see. And everyone has the same amount. If we could make it visible and solid, it would be the same size and shape for us all, and it would look like a house brick. Of course, if it actually was a house brick we could throw it into the nearest canal and be done with it, but metaphorically speaking, it’s a house brick of an exact size and shape for everyone.

I’ll give you an example. Let’s visit the beautiful (and entirely fictional, I hasten to add, in case you think it sounds like an appealing holiday destination) land of Womba Tik Tik Land. Womba Tik Tik Land has amazing foliage, impressive infrastructure, and a Death Row inside its infamous High Security Prison built specifically for traitors to King Womba the Sixty-Eighth. I beckon you, dear reader, towards cell number one, where a poor man has a crushing weight on his mind:

-Imminent Death by Firing Squad

That’s a big problem. It’s beyond the word stress. It’s more of a hideous nightmare type problem. Lots to worry about there. But let’s leave him with his nasty house brick and move along to cell number two:

-Probable Death by Firing Squad some time next week
-A Nasty Splinter in Toe that might go septic

That’s not to say that the guy in cell number one doesn’t have a splinter in his big toe too. All the floors in the High Security Prison are wooden and Womba Tik Tik Land scientists haven’t yet invented slippers. But he’s consumed with the hugeness of the worry of imminent death. He hasn’t noticed the pulsing toe, or, if he has, he’s worried out. The toe is of nominal concern.

But the bloke in cell number two has a corner of his brick spare, and splinters can really be very painful. They can cause gangrene, you know.

And so on to the man in cell number three (Womba Tik Tik Land is populated entirely by men: no wonder they commit crimes with all that pent-up testosterone.):

-Quite Likely Death by Firing Squad in the next year, but there’s plenty of time for an appeal
-A Nasty Splinter in Toe that might go septic – when o when is someone going to invent slippers?
-Possibility That Wife is Sleeping with Good Looking Milkman

Or you could rank the wife’s infidelity above the toe, depending on your priorities. The point is that once you’ve made these stresses solid, squelched them down, added mud, thrown in straw, and told your Hebrew Slaves to crush it all together with their feet, you will find all three prisoners are left with identical bricks in size and shape. Apologies for the Hebrew Slave thing but I’ve only ever seen bricks made on the telly in The Ten Commandments.

To continue with the analogy, I personally have three hundred and twenty-eight separate chunks to my brick at present, so you can be sure that in the grand scheme of things none of my stresses are very important. You see, I find the knowledge of the pyramid scheme very reassuring. It cheers me up to think that the good-looking millionaires out there must have thousands of niggles besieging them all at once in order to make up their quotas, such as slightly untidy eyebrows, calorie counting, misplaced toothpaste and a problem with the air conditioning on their private jets. Rather like being covered with a cloud of angry bees rather than being stung by three non-deadly scorpions or bitten by one King Cobra.

Once its in perspective, my stresses are really only the equivalent of one brick’s worth of jellyfish tentacles. That’s not so bad. It’s all relative.

I feel better about my brick now. It’s no longer tied around my ankles or making a start on walling me up. Instead it’s merely stinging a bit. Excuse me while I pee on my legs and then carry on about my daily business.

Uh oh. Stress number three hundred and twenty-nine: I smell of pee. That’s one more to squelch into the brick.


Frances Garrood said...

Aliya, this is really weird, because I've expounded the pyramid theory for years. The worse things rise to the top; the others settle in order underneath. I tell this to my stressed children when they phone. Supposing you had a serious helath problem? I said to my daughter(perish the thought)when she was having problems with bitchy friends. Wouldn't that make the rest of your pyramid seem relatively unimportant?

Yesterday I had a real pyramid moment. As I hung almost upside-down from the saddle of a terrified horse, the fact that I have very sore eyes and am feeling rather tired flew out of the window(I survived. Just.)And no-one running from a burning building has ever complained that they had a touch of indigestion; their pyramid has just gone up in flames.

The only point where I might differ is that I do think people have different sizes of pyramids. Husband has a tiny one; mine is huge.

Aliya Whiteley said...

I think you might be right about the brick size, Frances. But I do resent thinking that some people have a smaller brick than me.

David Isaak said...

"Womba Tik Tik Land."

Started out sounding like a nice little children's bedtime story, and then you went all Roald Dahl-ish on me.

Aliya Whiteley said...

The Roald Dahl museum in Great Missenden is a hoot. Cafe Twit is a wonderful cafe - order some frobscottle and read all the Dahl books lying around on the tables. I put my recent Dahl tendencies down to spending too much time there.