The Gentleman's Guide to Phobias

The Gentleman's Instant Genius Guide author Tom Cutler shares his foolproof solutions to overcoming the 10 most searched-for phobias on the Internet. Hint: there's a recurring theme

1.    Flying

Jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery was once asked to play at Ronnie Scott’s Soho jazz club but declined because he was too terrified of flying. So Ronnie personally flew out to California to hold his hand on the flight over to London. As they taxied to the runway the already heavily sweating Montgomery started to shake with terror. In his best reassuring voice, Scott said: "Look at it this way, Wes: when it’s your time to die, it’s your time to die." "I know," replied Montgomery, "but I don’t want to die when it’s the pilot’s time to die". Heavy sedation (try a few large Scotches) is the answer here.

2.    Heights

I’m not very good with heights myself and my knees tend to go all wobbly. Once, coming out of the lift at the top of the Empire State Building, I looked down through the gap between the door and the floor and could see the sharply receding ‘chimney’ up which I had travelled. It gave me the willies – with knobs on – and I started to make mouse-like squeaking noises. On another occasion, I was persuaded to go up the not-all-that-high lighthouse on Plymouth Hoe. Steeling myself, I bent double and squeezed into the narrow staircase, where I was immediately overcome by claustrophobia. I should have had a few large Scotches beforehand.

3.    Clowns

Clowns don’t bother me, except for their not being very – or at all – funny. If you are frightened of them I suggest you just imagine them falling over, or having water poured into their trousers, or getting a custard pie in the face. That will stop them seeming so fierce. Hang on a minute, that is what happens to them anyway. I don’t know what the problem is here. Just avoid going to the circus (obviously) or have a few large whiskies to calm your nerves.

4.    Intimacy

If you are frightened of intimacy I suggest you simply avoid it. It’s not compulsory and it can’t spring out at you from a dark alley.

5.    Death

Listen. Before you were born you had been effectively dead for billions of years. Did it bother you then? No, of course not. If you are, on the other hand, frightened of hellfire retribution from a vindictive deity, then you should either moderate your behaviour or stop believing such fairy tales.

6.    Rejection

Nobody likes rejection but it is a normal part of life, like indigestion. You can avoid it by never doing or saying anything and never meeting or talking to anyone, but that isn’t a life. Best thing to do if rejected is lick your wounds, pick yourself up and try again. Either that or drown the humiliating memory with a bottle or two of Scotch.

7.    People

Yes, they can be horrible, but avoidance is hardly an option. I think our old friend the intake of several large whiskies is the answer here.

8.    Snakes

Move to Antarctica.

9.    Success

I don’t get this one at all. I can understand fear of failure, but success? What’s the matter with you? Actually, I don’t think anyone really fears success – it’s one of those made-up psychiatric things that they use to label people they can’t persuade to stay in ruinously expensive psychoanalysis for another 10 years. "You won’t continue, Mr Smith? You’re afraid of success, that’s your problem. That will be £350, please."

10.    Driving

Other people’s driving is what scares me. My own driving is a model of exquisite perfection. Men in white vans with "clean me" scratched in the mud on their sides, who appear from nowhere and cut you up, boy racers who speed past you at 90 in built-up areas and little old ladies peering at you through the steering wheel as they go the wrong way down the M1, that’s what scares me. I control my fear by always drinking a few large Scotches before I get behind the controls. You should try it; it’s guaranteed to banish all fear and send you off into a lovely doze. (My publisher’s legal department browned their trousers on reading this. It is a joke. Obviously, you should never drink and drive – as if you would.)


The Gentleman's Instant Genius Guide by Tom Cutler is published by Constable & Robinson, out 22nd September.