The syndromes of power that we see demonstrated at the top table of these hierarchies have their small beginnings amongst the common people, and though wielded against each other, yet seem on the surface to be quite invisible. The first and most primal of these is the power to withhold.
In its early infancy a child will note how the mother commends and has many encouraging and kind words when she unfolds the nappy to find that the child has ‘been’. Showered by the mother’s demonstration of love, the baby cannot get enough and may even look forward to this unveiling, anticipating the glow of happiness which suffuses it when it receives this blessing.
‘Oh, good boy/girl,’ the mother gushes each time she changes the nappy.
However, after a while the mother oft-times becomes, through constant repetition, quite immune to the child’s offering, and even, to be frank, bored and disgusted by the whole process. In this case the child, no longer receiving the usual loving attention which by now it might seem entitled to, feels perhaps somewhat neglected.
Nevertheless, as happens through some minor bowel disorder, or merely that it is in the nature of things, that the child does not deliver the goods on time, whereupon the mother becomes most concerned and gives the child all her attention once more, and since this attention is exactly what the child yearns for it quickly learns this new means to obtain it.
In psychological terms this is known as anal retention.
Such a profound power, once learned, is never forgotten: B. has something A. wants or needs but will not relinquish it unless A. fulfils certain conditions. B. will sometimes not relinquish the item even if A. offers to fulfil the conditions, since this would mean a loss of that power, the enjoyment of which B. might prefer to keep.
Bill is a tractor driver down at the landfill site; he has had a long day and in need of a bit of relaxation.
‘I’ll go down for a few pints this evening,’ he thinks and begins to look forward to a few hours with his mates down the pub.
Arriving home he sheds his boots and plonks himself down in his armchair for a half-hour of tv before his evening meal. He can hear his wife clattering her saucepans in the kitchen and knows it won’t be long. He searches through the channels but can’t find any football, so switching off he makes for the kitchen. His wife is bustling around the stove in a flowered housecoat and he takes his place at the table.
‘What have we got tonight then?’ he asks, they have both long since given up exchanging any sort of greeting.
His wife mutters something about the ‘bloody potatoes’, and he knows that’s it as far as conversation goes. He gets out his paper and turns to the back pages where he becomes engrossed until his meal bangs down on the table before him. He continues to read as he eats, while opposite him his wife occasionally gives vent to irritation concerning the ‘bloody potatoes’.
Finishing the meal Bill returns to the sitting room where, preparing to leave for the pub he puts his boots back on. Putting his hand into his jacket pocket and finding it empty he remembers that last night had been a larger gathering than usual; he had been required to stand a good few large rounds and now he is broke, and will stay so until tomorrow when he receives his weekly pay. He looks around the room in dismay, his evening at the pub fading into a wishful dream. Then he sees it on the sideboard, his wife’s purse. Relief courses through him at the sight. He walks to the kitchen door and calls to his wife who is now washing up at the sink.
‘I’ll just borrow a couple of pounds from your purse,’ he says, and turns to reach for it but his wife gets there first. Brushing roughly past him, her hands still wreathed in foam she grabs it and drops it into her housecoat pocket.
‘You leave my bloody purse alone,’ she snaps and returns to the sink.
‘Oh, come on, love,’ says Bill, ‘I just want to go down for a couple of pints.’
‘You buy your own pints,’ says his wife.
‘But I’ll pay you back tomorrow,’ pleads Bill.
His wife however is adamant.
‘Why should I lend you money?’ she says. ‘It’s little enough you do around here anyway.’
Bill is now stuttering, desperate for the pub. ‘But… but…’
His wife cuts him short.
‘How long have I been asking you to clear the back drain?’ she demands, ‘and what about the new kettle you promised me, you know the old one gives me shocks?’ she is now working herself up into a fine temper. But it is too late this evening for either drain or kettle and Bill knows of old that once in this state no words will move her. However, so desperate is he that he gives it one more try.
‘I promise to pay you back tomorrow,’ he pleads, but the only answer he gets to this is a furious and self-righteous clatter of saucepans.
Returning to the living room he plumps once more into his armchair and gives a long suffering sigh.
Bill definitely won’t be going down to the pub tonight.
Dave Tomlin from ‘Power Lines’