Once upon a time, there was a student called Robert. One day, many years ago, in a seminar room, an event occurred which was to change his life for ever. Apart from Robert, there were eight other students in the room. One of them was Rookie Phil, as the other students called him. Nowadays, Rookie Phil would be the type of young man who drives around in a 10-year-old Vauxhall Nova with go-faster stripes, booming music, a priapic exhaust pipe and a passenger seat yet to be visited by the bottom of a girlfriend.
As the lecturer was taking her seat, Rookie Phil, possibly in a cack-handed attempt to impress the girls, revealed, apropos of nothing, that he had just completed a magazine questionnaire purporting to calculate an individual's life expectancy. 'Ha ha!' he announced laughing loudly. 'It said I'm already dead!' An embarrassed silence ensued as 16 eyeballs swivelled towards the lecturer for guidance. Slowly, the lecturer's expressionless face turned towards Rookie Phil. 'Well,' she said, 'perhaps you are
Quite uncharacteristically, Robert broke into a fit of uncontrollable giggling. This set the other students off such that the lecturer had eventually to abandon the seminar. Later, tortured with guilt, Robert presented himself at the lecturer's room in order to apologise. The lecturer asked what had set him off. Robert couldn't express it any way other than to say it was something to do with the casual and donnish way she had said, Well, perhaps you
. 'Mmn,' said the lecturer, turning to gaze wistfully out of the window: 'Perhaps that was wishful thinking'. By the time the lecturer had turned back from the window, Robert had already completed a high-velocity departure.
Ever since then, Robert's life has been blighted by the horror of giggling outbreaks. It is as if he caught a virus that day, symptomless for most of the time, breaking out occasionally, but never going away altogether. Most of the outbreaks have been harmless if sometimes a bit rude. But on occasion they have been a lot embarrassing and a lot rude. It was many years before the medical profession formally discovered the condition we now know as Corpsing Disorder. As yet, no cure has been found. All that can be offered is symptom-relief based on sufferers thinking about Michael McIntyre when they feel an outbreak coming on. But although this is highly effective in blocking outbreaks, it brings with it seriously unpleasant side effects and is best avoided, even in emergencies.
But there is much that other people can do to help those afflicted by Corpsing Disorder. Sadly though, not only have other people been unsympathetic, but in many cases they have sought for their own amusement deliberately to provoke outbreaks in sufferers. Robert has endured this shameful state of affairs throughout his working life.
One day, for example, he and a colleague were interviewing someone for a job. By this time, his vulnerability to Corpsing Disorder was widely known. The candidate's manner of speaking seemed as if lifted from The Apprentice
: schools were Interactive Learning Facilities
, common courtesy was Emotional Intelligence
, desks were Work Stations
, and the feedback metric was 360
˚. Knowing of the risks this posed, Robert carefully avoided the eye-contact he was sure his colleague would be seeking. Temporarily thwarted, his colleague's opportunity finally arrived when the candidate said she would give the job 110%. 'Ah, that's unfortunate,' he responded, seemingly in sympathetic disappointment. 'We had an earlier candidate who proposed 112%.' Given the ensuing outbreak, the candidate's subsequent acceptance of a job offer was received with some astonishment.
Robert's colleagues were relentless in their exploitation of his disorder. In many circumstances, all it took was eye-contact when someone said they had been compelled to come up the stairs because the es-cue-lator was broken, or that they were not going to tolerate something in any way shape or form going forward. Other circumstances have been deliberately engineered, such as at a staff training event when the person proposing a vote of thanks to the guest speaker briskly thanked them for coming, before adding, '...even though it wasn't very good'.
Of course, not all outbreaks have been deliberately provoked. Some have been naturally occurring, such as where someone at a meeting might begin an observation with, 'With great respect...', only for the response to be prefaced with, 'With a little less respect...'. A similar example occurred at the beginning of a meeting when the attendees were going round the table saying who they were. There was a power cut just as it came to a man who looked like he'd been left out in a violent hail storm. 'Hi,' came his voice through the total darkness. 'I'm Brad Pitt.'
I am writing for no other reason than to draw attention to the crippling condition that is Corpsing Disorder. Robert himself would ask for no more from other people than their understanding, though a disabled sticker would come in handy too. As you may have guessed, I am not really a disinterested observer. In fact, I can now reveal that I was one of the students at the seminar that fateful day. Robert, who incidentally looks like George Clooney, has been a close friend ever since those long ago days.
And I still see Rookie Phil around now and again. As it happens, just the other day as I was coming out of Waitrose, I spotted his wife loading their unmistakable car in the adjoining Aldi car park. She came up to the electrified fence to say hello. She had been shopping for Phil's tea. 'He likes Japanese food,' she revealed, holding up some items from Aldi's Tokyo range. 'Ah,' I observed, 'Small portions, but so many'.
'Quite,' she said.