"I live in a state of more or less perpetual irritation"by Sam Leith / May 21, 2015 / Leave a comment
The dawning of my forties has brought a new and interesting phase of existence. We all know about the Age of Innocence, the Age of Anxiety and the Awkward Age. Now, I think, we are entering a less glamorous era and one with fewer high-toned literary associations: the Age of Irritation.
I live in a state of more or less perpetual rage: the sort of rage that attaches itself to inanimate objects and distant political institutions alike, and which betokens—in my analysis—a sense of powerlessness in the face not of vast cosmic forces but of the utter trivia of day-to-day life. Here is not the bellowing of Lear into the teeth of the storm: rather, the clamped jaw of Basil Fawlty attacking an Austin 1100 with the pitifully unintimidating branch of a sapling.
A non-exhaustive list of things that annoy me—some of them theoretically nice things—would include: people having birthdays; finding three half-eaten pots of hummus concurrently open in the family fridge; the phone ringing; spending hours on my hands and knees picking up bits of plastic crapola and putting them into boxes, while followed around by a one year old taking them out again slightly faster than I can put them in; being invited to parties and lunches; spillages; innocent professional enquiries by email; the need to organise and go on holidays; the ineffable daily tedium of slathering ointments on my stress-aggravated psoriasis; the post being delivered; the post not being delivered; the sound of laughter or music playing; the need for haircuts.
Depression is one thing. Distraction is another. Stress is another. But irritability is another thing still. I wanted to wheel out TS Eliot’s line about being “distracted from distraction by distraction,” but that’s not the way annoyance works. You don’t stop being annoyed about Thing A because Thing B annoys you. Rather, Thing B compounds your annoyance with Thing A. Distraction is wired in series; annoyance is wired in parallel. Before you know it you have a whole smouldering fusebox to contend with.
What’s the cause of all this? I suspect in part it’s having three children under six, who have entirely different methods of aggravating me. From my toddler there are the innocently lethal impulses (the urge to reach up to the worktop for the shiny knife, or to wander off in the first unsupervised moment to…