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Home | 2015

Wittgenstein’s disease

Posted by Mad Mitch on UTC 2015-10-16 15:08.

In 2002 – I can date it to the month, day and hour, actually – I lost my nonsense bypass. Nearly everyone else I know seems still to have theirs, but mine definitely went at that moment. I was sitting with my wife watching Delia doing her stuff – yes, I know, I know, but after fifty your life choices reduce to sensible things, thank goodness – and I was coping fine with the ‘What you do now is…’ grammar, just cruising along in fact in that nice, comfortable state of staring blankness you get to after a bit, which is really the only reason to watch television, when Delia said apropos crème fraîche ‘I like it for that lovely dairy flavour.’

Lacking the nonsense bypass, the entire but limited processing capacity of my brain became dedicated to the concept of a ‘lovely dairy flavour.’ ‘What?’ squeaked every brain cell in unison. My wife’s nonsense bypass works fine so she was just sitting there as though nothing had happened; ‘Then what you do is…’ In these situations your body protects itself with a full brain reboot. After a moment's blankness I was back with Delia again, who was just taking whatever it was out of the oven.

I learned that this is called Wittgenstein’s disease, after the great Austrian therapist. Bitter experience has taught me not to point Wittgenstein moments out to others. It only leads to ridicule, perhaps even to that most wounding: ‘When you earn one tenth as much as Delia does…’ Not having experienced Wittgenstein’s themselves, they cannot appreciate what the true sufferer goes through.

Ah, those desperately dangerous years of television cookery! How did I survive them? I hope I’m not being unfair to Delia. She, Hugh, Keith and Anthony were about the only TV cooks I could still listen to without blacking out within seconds from nonsense overload. Gary, for example, just needed to put his face over a pan and say ‘Mmmm, there’s a lot of flavours going on in there,’ and the black curtain would descend. All Wittgensteiners should avoid him, Rick, Sophie, James… but most of all Ainsley and Jamie. And, of course, any TV cook under 25 years old. Raymond is considered safe, since you can’t understand a word he’s saying anyway. Wine pundits should be avoided at all costs.

Any current affairs programme is a minefield for us Wittgensteiners. The use of the word ‘investment’, particularly when the said investment appears to be ‘going in’ has caused me to hit nonsense overload, miss the cup and pour tea down my trousers on a number of occasions already. In my opinion, and being completely unbiased for a moment, Wittgensteiners who allow themselves to listen to anything any one of the current lot of pinko smoothies (of any party) says have only themselves to blame.

But to an advanced sufferer like me, anything on radio or TV nowadays can contain material that could provoke an attack. A recent example, talking about house-buying: ‘A carport would be OK, but you wouldn’t be able to build any structural buildings.’ Feeling a Wittgenstein coming on, I focussed all my thoughts on a pot of basil on our windowsill. Too late. ‘What do you think of the view? – Unreal – completely unreal.’ My eyes glazed. ‘And the house? – Perfect. We like it a lot.’ Blackness.

Dangers also lurk in the written word in all its forms. Wittgensteiners have to choose their authors carefully. Comment pieces of all types should be binned immediately. Books are usually much safer, but Watership Down triggered an early attack, switching my lights off for several minutes with ‘Rabbits can only count to four.’ Let’s not even discuss Harry Potter.

Signs and announcements can be very potent. Never, ever, read warning notices in public places – ‘CCTV is operating in this area’ – and particularly those on doors: ‘This door is alarmed.’ Stop reading immediately if you encounter the words ‘For your comfort and security…’ Never attempt to read service announcements in railway or bus stations, especially if they have been written in chalk on a blackboard. If a sympathetic friend is not on hand, feign illiteracy and get a passer-by (preferably under 40) to paraphrase – note, not read out – the notice for you.

If you ask someone over 40 and they politely decline to help, claiming defective vision, you have probably found a fellow sufferer. Confirm simply by quoting the great doctor’s phrase ‘Whereof one cannot speak,’ whereupon a fellow Wittgensteiner will reply without hesitation: ‘thereof one must be silent.’ It takes one to know one.

If all this leaves you unmoved or just puzzled, be happy. The prognosis for you is good and your bypass will probably give you many years of good service yet. But if you’ve got Wittgenstein’s, what can you do?

The disease is progressive, the symptoms usually starting to manifest themselves in middle-age. At first, sufferers often report a deep furrowing of the forehead, typically whilst listening to news and current affairs broadcasts. In the course of time these attacks become more profound and frequent. The onset of full-blown Wittgenstein’s, characterised by the need for frequent brain reboots and the presence of concomitant marital difficulties is then only a matter of time. There is no known cure. Even remissions are unknown. Sufferers can obtain a lot of useful information about the disease from the Wittgensteiners’ own website:

The only reliable solution for me: no TV or radio, and nothing written after 1960. No social media of any kind. It works fine. I’m free of attacks, I’ve stopped spilling things, and my quality of life has improved enormously. The people around me no longer think of me as the pedantic old grouch twisted with Delia-envy (Delianeid as it is known in the textbooks), though they probably find me rather boring: since I no longer watch TV or listen to the radio, there is now nothing more they can talk to me about.

Sufferers should console themselves with the words of Prof Dr Wittgenstein: ‘Everything that can be said, can be said clearly.’