EPISODE FIVE: IN FREUD WE TRUST
I sat at a table by the window and stared at the now blank sign that hung over the doorway across the road. Upon leaving the empty Explorer’s Club, somewhat dazed and confused, I’d been rather grateful to discover a café directly opposite. But as I stared out I began to find something strangely sinister about the vacant sign and blank, staring windows that confronted me from across the street. I turned to picking distractedly at the Formica table top, an activity I was still engaged in when Michael returned from the counter and set down two large mugs of tea.
“There you are,” he said with a rather forced cheerfulness. “I told you I could rustle up some refreshments.”
“What did you offer them this time?” I asked without much interest. “Not Hamlet again I hope.”
“I did a couple of scenes from The Importance of Being Earnest. I thought the waitress looked like she could do with a bit of cheering up.”
I refrained from adding the obvious remark that she was not the only one and took a sip of my tea. We sat in silence for a few minutes, listening to the clink of tea cups as people with plans and a sense of purpose hurried to and fro along the pavement outside.
Eventually though Michael felt compelled to raise the great unspoken topic. “Are you absolutely sure you heard Sturridge right?” he asked tentatively. “There couldn’t have been a crossed wire somewhere could there?”
“Oh no, he was crystal clear.”
Michael shook his head thoughtfully. “It just seems so unlike him,” he mused.
“How would we know?” I shrugged bitterly. “You’ve never met him and I’ve only ever shared a couple of drinks with him. That hardly makes us bosom buddies.” I disliked the sour tone of my own voice but was somehow unable to help myself. “I suppose that’s the problem with hunting through a strange landscape for someone you barely know. There’s always the chance they might turn out to be a complete arse.”
Michael shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I think that’s a little unfair,” he complained mildly.
“Sturridge is an arse,” I insisted. “Though why he should think I care about his precious idea, I don’t know.”
“Perhaps he’s just a bit disorientated,” suggested Michael. “This landscape can do funny things to people.”
“I can think of one or two funny things I’d like to do to him,” I muttered.
“And I suppose you think I’m a complete arse for bringing you on this wild goose chase in the first place,” Michael added sadly.
I looked up into his dejected expression and immediately felt guilty for being such a grump. “No, of course not. It’s not your fault,” I replied. I thoughtfully stirred my tea for a few moments. “But if Sturridge is so adamant he doesn’t need to be rescued then I have better things to do with my time. I’ve got a critical evaluation due in next week.”
“Well, if that’s all that you’re concerned about…” Michael said with a half-suppressed smile.
“No, of course not,” I retorted. “But I have rather put my life on hold to come here. I have friends and family I haven’t seen, you know… I miss my boyfriend…”
Michael raised a mild eyebrow. “You haven’t mentioned his name once.”
“I’ve been busy.”
The truth was though, much as I did genuinely care about family, friends and Peter, it wasn’t on their account that I currently felt so sickened. It wasn’t even down to the fact that I had almost been eaten by nuns and squashed by a castle on this wasted trek. No, the real reason I felt as though I had just been punched in the guts was the new, unpleasant side I appeared to have uncovered to Sturridge. I appreciate he had never asked us to come after him but there was something in the disdainful tone of his voice by the end of that phone call that had really wounded. I was familiar with the saying that you should never meet your heroes but I had always imagined that in my case this was down to the fact that I would inevitably make a complete tit of myself in front of anyone that I admired. It came as something of a blow to discover that the accepted view was the correct one and that your heroes were always destined to disappoint you one way or another.
“So, I suppose there’s nothing left but to look for a way back to reality,” Michael said lightly.
“I suppose,” I replied thoughtfully. “Though I’m not sure that will be any easier than finding Sturridge.”
Michael turned to the map case hanging on the back of his chair and took out our map of the landscape. He unfurled it on the table between us and we both stared at it rather despondently.
“If there’s no point in going forward then I guess the only option is to go back,” suggested Michael, just a touch wearily.
“We can’t use the cable car to get back across the canyon,” I complained.
“Then we’ll just have to find our way round via the bridge I suppose,” replied Michael.
I gazed at the long and twisted trail we had followed to get this far and sighed. I had a sudden flash of insight into what Napoleon must have felt like as he surveyed the road back from Moscow. Then another thought struck me.
“But what will happen to you if I go back to reality?” I asked Michael. “What with you being dead and everything.”
Michael shrugged, a touch uncomfortably. “I suppose I will go back to, well… wherever it was I came from,” he replied uncertainly.
“That undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns?”
“That’ll be the place,” said Michael with a wry smile.
“You might be better off staying here,” I thought aloud. “Perhaps I should travel back alone.”
Michael shook his head firmly. “No, I brought you here and I’ll see you safely home, no matter what,” he insisted valiantly.
I continued to gaze at the map, not entirely convinced.
“Don’t worry Everingham,” he added cheerfully. “Feed thy faint heart with hope and calm thy breast; for in this underworld I’ll not forsake thee.”
I smiled vaguely, hoping I wasn’t going to be asked to identify the quote. “Well, I guess the first task will be to find our way to the bridge then,” I said instead. “I do hope there’s a bus – I’m really not in the mood for a fifty mile hike right now.”
We decided to split up to check out local transport options and arranged to meet up again in a leafy square we discovered at the end of the street. I arrived at the appointed rendezvous two hours later in a substantially more positive frame of mind. It may have been partly due to the excitement of exploring a new town or just the general invigoration of exercise. But mostly the reason for my new found chirpiness was contained within the tattered flyer I held in my hand, having torn it from a notice-board by a shop doorway.
Michael showed up a few moments after me and we retired to a nearby bench to compare our findings. Michael came armed with his own collection of paperwork; bus schedules and train timetables and scraps of travel advice from just about everyone he had come across. I quickly brushed these aside.
“Forget all that bus and train stuff,” I told him. “I’ve had a better idea.”
Michael simply raised a mildly curious eyebrow.
“We’re going about this all wrong,” I explained. “We should never forget this is the landscape of the imagination we’re trying to escape. If it’s a problem of the imagination then it needs to be tacked imaginatively – Sturridge said it himself. Now he may have turned out to be a Grade A arse…” (Michael gave a dissenting cough. I ignored him.) “…but when it came to the landscape of the imagination he certainly knew what he was talking about.”
“So, what are you saying? That we somehow need to imagine ourselves home to get there.”
“Not quite,” I replied. “But you have to remember that everything in this landscape has its origins in an act of the imagination, whether it comes from a book or a film or a play or a song… Basically, I think what we need to do is to work out what our narrative is.”
“Our narrative?” Michael responded uncertainly.
“Yep. What are the standard narrative journeys? Why do people travel in the imagination?”
Michael thought hard for a moment. “Well, I suppose it all depends on the plot. For love, for money, for adventure…”
“No, no, no. Those are mere surface reasons. We need to explore the subtext.”
“Yes, the subtext,” I repeated with a weary sigh, wondering just how such a pillar of the British theatrical establishment could have got by with such a weak grasp of narrative theory. “All journeys in the imagination are essentially a search for a sense of self. The protagonist is always missing some vital element which they will somehow unearth through their travels.”
Michael continued to regard me with an expression of pure scepticism.
“Think The Wizard of Oz,” I encouraged. “If I only had a heart, or a brain or whatever…”
“Okay, let me see if I’ve got this straight,” Michael replied. “What you’re saying is that, as the protagonist of this imaginary journey, you must be missing some important quality that you need to discover before you can complete your travels.”
“Now you’re getting me,” I said with a sigh of relief.
Michael looked me up and down with a thoughtful air. “So, just what is it you’re missing?”
“Well, that’s just the point,” I replied tetchily. “If I knew that I wouldn’t have needed to come on the journey, would I?”
“And how then do you propose to find out?”
This was the point at which I triumphantly presented my tattered flyer to Michael. He read out the contents with a frown.
“The Harcourt & District Psychoanalytical Society hereby gives notice that renowned psychoanalyst Dr Sigmund Freud will be offering consultations during his temporary residency in Stafford Harcourt. For an appointment please apply direct to his office at 54B Berners Street.” Michael paused and regarded the accompanying photograph of the venerable doctor with a furrowed brow. “What is Sigmund Freud doing in Stafford Harcourt?”
“Who cares?” I retorted. “But if I need to dissect my personality who better to consult than the best analyst in history?”
Michael continued to examine the flyer with an air of dubious scepticism. “I never had you down as the therapy type,” he mused.
I had to concede that he had a point there. “To be honest, I’m not. I think it’s mostly bollocks. But if the alternative is another long slog through dangerous terrain then it has to be worth a try.”
Michael gave me a withering look.
“You could have a go yourself, if you like,” I suggested, encouragingly. “We might get a discount. Although, given that you’re technically dead, perhaps therapy would be a little wasted on you.”
“I’m not the one who’s considering psychoanalysis just because she can’t be bothered to check a bus timetable,” retorted Michael. “I’d love to see what Freud makes of you.”
“So you agree we should give it a go?” I said, choosing not to rise to the bait.
“Well…” Michael glanced despairingly at his painstakingly acquired collection of bus and train schedules.
“Just one session,” I urged. “If I’m not getting anywhere then we can go back to more conventional modes of transport.”
Michael sighed heavily. “Fine,” he reluctantly agreed. “But if you get carted off in a straightjacket you needn’t expect me to come and rescue you.”
It was becoming something of a commonplace that to gain access to anyone of importance in the landscape of the imagination it would be necessary first of all to negotiate a way past one or more lesser figures. Dr Freud’s minder came in the form of a stocky, severe looking receptionist who peered disdainfully at us over her ample bosom. She occupied a desk in the centre of a spacious waiting room on the first floor of 54 Berners Street, defiantly guarding the way to Freud’s office.
Confronted with such opposition, my natural inclination was to hang back and let Michael attempt to work his more practised charms on the formidable custodian. However, on this occasion Michael was signalling his tacit disapproval of my whole plan by loitering unhelpfully in the doorway and so I was obliged to step up and tackle this negotiation by myself.
Fortunately, the woman in question, who introduced herself as Carol, turned out to be sterner in appearance than manner. It transpired that she was not disposed to look unkindly upon my request for an urgent appointment with Freud but something of a spanner was thrown in the works when she insisted I pay a fee of fifty marks or equivalent.
I may not have been quite as skilled at bartering as my colleague but I fancy that under the circumstances I acquitted myself rather well. I eventually secured the required interview in exchange for two tins of fruit cocktail and the recitation of a hastily composed limerick that began, ‘There once was a doctor called Freud, who suffered from a painful haemorrhoid…’
When she had finished chuckling Carol told me, “He’s got a patient in with him right now but I could put you down for the following appointment. You’d only have to wait for half an hour or so.”
“That sounds great,” I replied enthusiastically.
Carol picked up a pen and was in the midst of taking a note of my details when we were both distracted by an awkward cough that came from the corner of the room. It was followed by a thin, tremulous voice that piped up, “I say, excuse me…”
I turned around and noticed for the first time that there was already another figure in the waiting room. He was an oddly angular young man with wispy hair, a wispy beard and thick rimmed spectacles who seemed to blend in quite remarkably with the brown leather armchair upon which he was seated. Upon finding three pairs of eyes – mine, Carol’s and Michael’s – now fixed upon him he immediately shrank back. But, after a further protracted bout of throat-clearing, he finally managed to string a few words together.
“I’m really terribly sorry, I hate to interrupt,” he said in a faltering tone. “But I believe I have the next appointment. My name’s Martin Croft.”
Carol looked into her appointment book and then glanced up in surprise. “So you have,” she exclaimed. “I’d forgotten all about you.”
Martin swallowed several times and smiled uncomfortably.
Carol turned back to me. “I’m afraid Mr Croft does have the next appointment,” she said apologetically. “And that is Dr Freud’s last of the day. The next available consultation is tomorrow morning.”
I resisted the temptation to kick the desk in frustration. The idea of kicking my heels for a night in Stafford Harcourt was not appealing. I turned and fixed Martin with my most winning smile. “I don’t suppose you’d be prepared to switch appointments, would you?” I said hopefully. “You’d be really helping me out.”
Martin blushed a particularly violent shade of red. “I’d like to help, really I would,” he said hastily. “But I have been waiting some time for this appointment. You see, I’ve already given up two previous dates for urgent cases.”
I was about to concede gracefully when I caught a glimpse of Michael toying cheerfully with his timetables. It spurred me on to make one last suggestion. “I probably won’t need a full appointment,” I suggested to Martin brightly. “I’m sure I’ll be in and out in ten minutes. If you book the appointment for tomorrow, I’ll let you have whatever’s left of my time today as well.”
Carol looked momentarily put out by this proposed breach of appointment etiquette but, after tutting loudly a few times, finally shrugged to indicate she was not inclined to interfere.
Martin opened his mouth to speak but, after gasping uncertainly for thirty seconds, shut it again and gave a reluctant nod.
“Thanks, you’re a life saver,” I told him cheerfully. In response he merely shrank back a little further into his chair.
Carol glared at us for a few seconds, defying anyone to make any further adjustments to the arrangements, before updating the information in her appointment book.
I took a seat beside a rather disappointed Michael. He could scan through his timetables as much as he liked but I fancied I’d found the fast lane back to reality.