Fears and Phobias... and a Funny Story

I’m a self-confessed scaredy-cat. It doesn’t take much to make me nervous.

(Image by Alexas_Fotos - Pixabay)

(Image by Alexas_Fotos - Pixabay)

I get nervous when I’m out at night on my own.

I get nervous when I have to go somewhere new. I have to psych myself up to enter a room full of people I don’t know, especially if I’m on my own.

I get nervous when I’m about to travel, even if I’m going somewhere I’ve been before.

As for clowns, I don’t just get nervous, I’m scared of them. I struggle to even look at a picture of one. But I don’t think I have an actual phobia of clowns, called coulrophobia, by the way. I can still function; I either close my eyes or look away. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad experience with a clown. I think my problem with them is the contradiction they represent – they’re supposed to be bringers of happiness, yet they always have sad faces. It doesn’t make sense, I know, but then our fears never do.

As for actual phobias, I have two. The first, which isn’t as bad as it could be, is acrophobia – a fear of heights. I don’t know how high I have to be before I start feeling panicky as I’ve never given that any thought.

All I know is, at some point I start to feel dizzy, I have trouble breathing and I have to hold on to something. I struggle to glance over the edge, even if there’s a railing between me and open space. As for floor-to-ceiling windows, I can’t stand right in front of them and look out; I stay a few feet away and gaze into the distance.

(Image by Gerd Altmann - Pixabay)

(Image by Gerd Altmann - Pixabay)

But the real doozy, the phobia that makes me freeze up completely, is ‘katsaridaphobia’ – fear of cockroaches. I only found out recently that it was an actual phobia and that it had a name; I just thought I was weird, being terrified of something that can’t hurt me.

Growing up in Malaysia, the damned things were everywhere… or, at least, that’s what it seemed like to me. They usually tended to come out at night. Going to the toilet while half-asleep wasn’t fun as I always had to scope out the bathroom before setting foot in it.

Apparently, the advice to make cockroaches run from you is to stamp your feet. Because of the way they hear and, I guess, being so low to the ground, it’s deafening for them and they run in the opposite direction. Well, from my experience, that’s either a load of bull or cockroaches in Malaysia have the worst sense of direction – they’ve never run away from me; they run at me!

As if having them race around on the floor wasn’t bad enough, I then found out some of them could fly! Honestly, the first time I came across one, I bolted. I’m surprised there wasn’t a me-shaped hole in the wall. Back then, it was like being in my horror movie. But, looking back, those memories make me laugh.

Like this one. My sister and I were still up late as we’d been ‘volunteered’ to keep an eye on my cousin’s wedding cake and take it out of the oven when it had finished baking. We were in the lounge, either watching tv or just chatting, I can’t remember. When it came time to check on the cake, to our horror, there was a cockroach between us and the kitchen.

I remembered the handy can of bug spray and, with my sister cheering me on (quietly, as our parents were already in bed), I approached the beast. As I was about to spray it, it sprouted wings and flew! Squawking, we retreated. I tried to spray it while it was flying and failed miserably. Then it flew right at us. Brave me flung the can at it and we ran!

(Image by Gerd Altmann - Pixabay)

(Image by Gerd Altmann - Pixabay)

We couldn’t hide out in our bedroom as we still had to check on the pesky cake. So, we ventured back down… no sign of any cockroach. I’m sure that’s the fastest we’ve ever moved to get something out of the oven, shut up the kitchen and get back upstairs. I honestly can’t remember, but I think we took the cake with us… not to eat, but for it to cool down in the safety of our bedroom.

What about you? Do you have any phobias?

5 Reasons I Love 'Princess Mononoke'

I grew up watching my fair share of Japanese animated programmes. Back in the day, we lumped everything animated, regardless of the country of origin, under the umbrella of ‘cartoon’, whereas now the proper term for Japanese animation is ‘anime’. I watched Transformers (don’t ask me which one!), Astro Boy and the original Ultraman – my boys were gobsmacked when I told them that!

When my boys started venturing from Western cartoons to anime, I was amazed at the amount and variety on offer. It was fun watching different shows with them as they were growing up. Nowadays, they watch mainly on their own, and occasionally, I’ll watch some series and films with them.

‘Princess Mononoke’ - San and Moro, the wolf goddess

‘Princess Mononoke’ - San and Moro, the wolf goddess

They’ve watched more Studio Ghibli films than I have, but of the ones I’ve seen, my favourite is ‘Princess Mononoke’. The film is set in medieval Japan, during the Muromachi period to be exact, which fell roughly between 1336 and 1573. This was the time firearms were being introduced to Japan. The film is basically about the natural world being threatened by new, technological developments. In this world, it is accepted that animal gods and trees spirits are part of the fabric of nature.

The story centres around the prince of a clan, Ashitaka, whose remote village is attacked by a boar god overwhelmed by a deadly curse. While trying to stop the maddened boar, Ashitaka is, himself, inflicted with the curse. The wise woman of the village deciphers the reason for the boar god’s behaviour – he’d been driven mad by an iron bullet.

Ashitaka and Yakul

Ashitaka and Yakul

Ashitaka has no choice but to leave his village and his people to find the source of the bullet and, hopefully, a cure for the curse before it kills him. His quest brings him to a mystical forest, watched over by a benevolent Forest Spirit. He also comes into contact with San, a human raised by Moro, the wolf goddess. San is Princess Mononoke (Spirit Princess). Close to the forest is a human settlement, Irontown, led by, surprisingly, a woman, the Lady Eboshi. It is in Irontown that Ashitaka finds the source of the iron bullet and finds himself caught in a battle between man’s industrial innovations and the magical balance of nature.

Lady Eboshi

Lady Eboshi

That’s the basic plot of the film. And here are 5 reasons why I love it so much:

  • Life is mirrored in the plot, in that it’s full of moral ambiguity. Unlike most animated series and films out there, there is no clear-cut villain in ‘Princess Mononoke’; in fact, I’d venture to say the same of all Studio Ghibli productions.
    If you go into this film thinking you already know who you’re going to be rooting for, you may find yourself having a change of heart.
    The Lady Eboshi seems to be the main antagonist, determined to keep moving in the direction of ‘technology’ and new innovations and woe to any who stand in her way. She’s not in awe of the animal gods, viewing them as nothing more than adversaries she has to fight and defeat. But when it comes to her people in Irontown, she treats them well and cares for those whom society has cast out.
    As the eponymous princess, San isn’t a shining example of the calm gentleness of nature. Her blinkered hatred of humans is what drives her to keep fighting Eboshi and her people.

  • The characters. There are no redundant characters; every single one is interesting in their own right, even the minor, nameless ones. A few words, facial expressions and body language is all that’s needed to convey enough of a person’s character, so you have their measure in minutes.
    I love the way the animal gods are portrayed. The main ones we see are Moro, the wolf goddess, and the boar god, Lord Okkoto. As for the tree spirit… Let’s just say he blew my mind! I’m dying to say more about them but don’t want to venture into spoiler-territory.
    I have to mention Ashitaka’s companion and mount, Yakul, a red elk. His loyalty and love for Ashitaka is a pleasure to watch, and Ashitaka’s care for him is plain to see.

  • Strong females. Don’t make the mistake of thinking there are any damsels in distress here just because the word ‘princess’ is in the title. San’s first appearance shows her with blood smeared on her face. The first time she sees Ashitaka, she basically tells him to get lost.
    The Lady Eboshi is a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners type yet retains her femininity. The women in Irontown have more ‘balls’ than the men and, even though they continuously make fun of them, they don’t hate men; they love their husbands but happily speak their minds, thanks to Eboshi’s equal treatment of all.

  • Romance, more specifically the lack of thereof. We have a young couple – San and Ashitaka – who are attracted to one another, though Ashitaka’s attraction to San is more obvious but, at no point, are we distracted with a ‘getting to know you so we can be in love’ side-plot. It makes a refreshing change not to have a neat, tied-up-in-a-bow romance.

  • The art and music; a real feast for the senses. The animation is mainly hand-drawn with some CGI. Bear in mind this was in the 1990s; CGI was nowhere near what it is now. Some might say it looks simplistic, but that’s part of the charm. In my opinion, it makes it easier to get lost in the story. As for the music, it doesn’t intrude. Each part complements the setting, be it Ashitaka’s village, the landscape he passes through on his travels, Irontown, and the forest. There are moments where there is no music, no sound except what is actually happening in the story. That ratchets up the tension more than any piece of music.

Lord Okkoto, the boar god

Lord Okkoto, the boar god

Have you had the pleasure of watching ‘Princess Mononoke’? What do you think of it? Do you like Studio Ghibli films; do you have a favourite?

(Images from ‘Mononoke himé’ Wiki)

Great Role Models - My Dad

This Monday, 15th April, would have been my dad’s 100th birthday.

My dad (in the UK in the 1950s)

My dad (in the UK in the 1950s)

It’s been almost 20 years since I lost my dad. My mum has passed too; I loved them so very much and I still miss them a lot.

When I was little, as much as I loved my dad, I was also scared of him – he was tall, just over 6ft, and had quite a presence. I guess he came across as strict and no-nonsense because of his responsibilities. He not only looked after us – his wife and 4 daughters – he also looked after my mum’s family. Before I explain how that came about…This is one of the earliest photos I have of my dad, I think he’s about 21 years old.

Papa - ROMC.jpg

My dad started his working life as a parcel clerk in the Malayan Railways. Malaya, part of the British Empire, was still under British rule. Before the outbreak of WW2, he joined the Railway Operating and Maintenance Company (ROMC) as a volunteer, alongside his best friend, who happened to be my mum’s older brother. At this point, my parents hadn’t met yet. The volunteers were trained by British Army sergeants; according to my dad, they were “tough”! In the photo, he’s wearing the uniform of the ROMC.

My maternal grandfather had passed away when my mum was still a little girl and my gran was only in her 30s, and she had 6 children to care for with the youngest still a baby. Sadly, in 1943, just 6 months after my mum and dad were married, her brother, my dad’s best friend, my uncle I never knew – my gran’s first-born – died after contracting malaria; he was only 22. And my dad promised my gran he would look after her and her children.

In the 1950s, my dad was sent to the UK as part of a training course arranged by the railways, Malaya still being under British rule.

He worked for the railways all his life, and by the time he retired, he’d worked his way up to Assistant Traffic Manager, the highest post a non-Malay could hold.

I can safely say I inherited my love of books and reading from my dad. My mum loved to read too, but her reading material of choice was the newspaper and magazines. His favourite genre was thrillers, but he also enjoyed fantasy and westerns. When he was into a book, we had to practically jump up and down in front of him to get his attention. We always joked that the house could fall down around my dad and he wouldn’t notice, he’d just continue reading!

Papa- reading.jpg

He loved films and going to the cinema. When I was old enough and it became apparent I, too, enjoyed westerns and war films, my mum was so relieved – it meant I could go with my dad to the cinema and she wouldn’t have to suffer through those films anymore. She didn’t have to go, but she didn’t like the idea of him going on his own – her argument being, how could you enjoy a film properly if you don’t have anyone to talk to about it?

Papa - entertaining.jpg

A keen golfer, he played, representing the railways and, with his teammates, won a few trophies. He also enjoyed swimming in the sea. We always had dogs as pets, and his favourite breed was the German Shepherd.

With the last dog he had, Prince

With the last dog he had, Prince

While we did have fun before, it was only after retirement, when he relaxed a lot more that we had even more laughs. Like most grandparents, he and my mum were quite indulgent with their grandkids.

My dad was a good man with strong morals who took his responsibilities seriously. He loved his family and set things up so that my mum wouldn’t have financial worries when he passed, and he made sure there was enough for his 4 daughters too. I couldn’t ask for a better role model for my sons.

My dad and me (1985)

My dad and me (1985)

Who’s your role model? A family member or a mentor? I know at least a couple of people who cite fictional characters as their role models, and I think that’s a great idea.