Notes from the Sofa

By Raymond Briggs

An insight into one of Britain's greatest creative minds

Bring back creative socio-paths

Having recently written of my discovery that I am a stereotype, it was a relief to find that the label does have its compensations.

Also, for the last 17 years I have had on the wall of my workroom an article from the Times by the great Doctor Stuttaford. It has stood me in good stead for almost two decades. Thanks a million, Doc!

Why Gifted Artists Pay a High Price for their Vocation, is the title.

‘Creative people often find it difficult to comply with the demands of a prosaic world [such as Ingrams and The Oldie, R.B.]. The artistically gifted are frequently so dedicated to their vocation, whether it is music, visual arts or writing, that they can appear SELF-ABSORBED, IMPULSIVE, IMPATIENT AND INTOLERANT [Yes! My CAPS. R.B.] Even in my medical lifetime there was a sub-group whom psychiatrists labelled creative socio-paths – a term now abandoned.’

What a shame! I like it. I am definitely a creative socio-path. I am impatient and intolerant of stupid PC people wanting to tidy up the language. What’s wrong with being self-absorbed? It’s better than being absorbed in someone else, so ‘in love’ that you can’t think straight or get on with work. Also, it’s being impulsive and impatient that gets things done, otherwise you might spend hours gawping at your mobile phone or garbage on the telly. In the War, it was intolerance that got rid of Hitler, Buchenwald and Belsen.

Being labelled a psychiatric type with a proper title is reassuring. It helps you to understand who you are and where you stand. It gives you the kind of reassurance that religions must give their believers. ‘You are a sinner!’ Er… well yes, I suppose so. ‘You will burn in hell!; Um… oh dear. I’d better try and be good then.

Millions of people find this comforting. At least it tells them what they are and where they are going. So why should we creative socio-paths be denied the comfort of our label?

We won’t go to hell, will we?



Pooh Sticks and hysterics

For several years now, like many people, I have become increasingly involved with the Japanese.

Frequently I have to join the Japanese pilgrimage to Pooh Sticks Bridge, which is only a few miles from where I live. Until the Japanese started making me go there I had never seen it. I’m not even sure in which A A Milne book it appears, as I haven’t read any of them.

Every year the Japanese visit Pooh Sticks bridge in their thousands. The woodwork of the stiles on the footpath leading to the bridge is polished by the constant flow. Quite why they do it is a mystery. The original is long gone and has been replaced by another one. There is nothing much to see, just a bit of woodland and an ordinary wooden footbridge over a small stream with a few inches of water trickling by. It’s not exactly Niagara Falls. However, it seems to fill the Japanese with wonder. They stand in smiling rows on the bridge, taking endless photographs of one another. After all, there’s not much else to do there.

Back in Japan they must show these photographs to anyone willing to endure them. Row of twenty smiling Japanese standing on wooden bridge… bit of green in the background… the unfortunate viewer must be hard pressed to find something to exclaim about. But maybe they do:

Ah! So… this is you? Ninth from the left?

Yes! It is Pooh Sticks Bridge! In England!

Aah! Pooh Sticks Bridge! Wonderful! You have been to Pooh Sticks! Aah! Aah! Wonderful!

It makes you realise how religions get started.

Many of the Japanese seem to be so urbanised you wonder if they have ever seen a green field before. Once when walking down to the bridge with two young, sophisticated Japanese business-women, we had to pass through a flock of sheep. They were astounded by this, hands held to the to mouths as they gazed in wonder at the animals. Then suddenly, they burst into laughter.

Don’t they have sheep in Japan? Don’t they have fields?

Then, when the lambs started feeding from the ewes, banging their heads upwards into the mothers’ udders, the Japanese went into such a paroxysms of laughter, they almost fell over. They were staggering about, doubled over, and holding their sides as if in pain. If I’d been a director on a film, I’d have told them they were over-acting.

When they had recovered, we walked on through a patch of woodland. Trying to make a conversations, I started pointing out some wild flowers: This-one-is-called-a-butt-er-cup, that-one-is-called-a-dai-sy, that-one-is-called-a-dan-de-li-on…

Aah! Mistuh Briggs! You know a lot about Natu-ah!

Well, as a member of the Dairy Farmers’ Association*, I have to know all there is to know about Nature. My cows need me.

*My qualification from the Slade School is DFA (Lond) – Diploma of Fine Art, London. This has appeared in more than one reference book as ‘Member of the Dairy Farmers’ Association.’



Big bags and babies


When we were nine- and ten-year-old kids, towards the end of the War, we were haunted by two terrible images. And despite the bomb sites all around, neither of them came from the War.

A small, dark-haired girl in our class at school said she found her father’s sperm on the lavatory seat and had put it into herself with her finger. Them, later, she had given birth to half a baby.

We were stunned by this and baffled. Was it possible? Why would she lie about it? We had never received a word of sex education, so we had no idea of what was possible and what was not.

Giving birth was fantastic enough, but half a baby?! The question then arose – which half? To give birth to a child with no hips and no legs was dreadful enough, but a child with legs and feet but with nothing above the waist – no arms, no head, no face, no voice… this was the essence of nightmare.

From then on I felt quite fearful of this girl and kept away from her. Whether it was true or not, it still meant she was a creepy person. If she had not actually done it, pretending that she had was almost as bad. What would she say or do next? She could easily tell fantastic lies about one of us. Even then I must have had an instinct about avoiding paternity suits, despite never having heard of them.

About the same time, we were intrigued by a middle-aged, respectable couple in the park. Sex and babies again. We used to play football near the entrance to the now abandoned underground air-raid shelters, and this couple, well-dressed in long coats and both with hats, would regularly come past us and go down into the shelters.

We had often explored these long, dank, pitch-dark tunnels, with rough planks for seats on either side. There was no lightning, the floor was wet, the roof dripping. It was a depressing and frightening place.

The man always carried a very large black leather bag, smaller than a cricket bag, but much bigger than a doctor’s bag.

What on earth were they doing down there? Why did they come so often? What was in the bag?

We immediately thought sex. Sex and Babies. We knew sex caused babies, but hadn’t quite grasped the fact that you can do sex without babies. Did you need equipment to DO IT? Is that what was in the bag? Or were there babies in the bag? Or at least one baby? Why was the bag so big?

Even today, over half a century later, I would still like to know.

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