Review: Shrunk

Black humour from a genuine eccentric


By Oliver Black
Prospero Press, £9.99

The brief biography on the back of Oliver Black's book describes him as a professor of philosophy and a burnt-out corporate lawyer. The category of his book is given as Humour/Memoir. It has an abundant share of both. As befits the author's name, the humour is black, often to the point of jet.

The memoir is not chronological, but specifically devoted to a range of subjects like the class system, dogs, cats, cars, adolescent sex, old people.

The first chapter deals with Black's visits to a series of "shrinks" - hence the book's title. In their waiting rooms, he "eyed the other patients and tried to guess their perversions, while they doubtless did the same to me."

Black suffers from an affliction psychiatrists call GAD - Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Most of us probably have a touch of it (eg: will the pain in my index finger allow me to finish writing this review?). But Black considers himself a textbook case, and calls this chapter, London's Leading Hypochondriac". Ever since Moliere's Le Malade Imaginaire in 1673, hypochondria has been seen as high comedy, and, at his own expense, Black also plays it for laughs.

He is not reticent on domestic detail either, and his marriage sounds particularly interesting. Husband and wife -she is the younger by 10 years - have pet names for each other. She is Fluffy, and calls him Baby Jesus. Despite her name, she is the practical one. When Baby Jesus's mother dies, appalled by the cost of undertakers' charges, Fluffy decides on a DIY funeral. She designs and decorates the coffin herself and commandeers their Polish decorator's beat-up old Volvo as a hearse, tying black ribbons on the wing mirrors. A few months later, she is doing the same for her own mother. When not in a DIY hearse, they drive around in an old taxi. They have some very strange ideas about pets and ageing, and come across as a genuinely eccentric couple.

Black admits to an upcoming sixtieth birthday. His favourite birthday presents in the past have been a ride in the driver's cabin on the Northern Line, and a gift voucher for a colonic irrigation.

He has a remarkable memory for events and dialogue. One ends up wondering how so many remarkable and often embarrassing things could happen to one man.

It started early, too. When his father, the eminent Jewish designer, Misha Black, was knighted at Buckingham Palace, his son, aged 15, went with him. Getting out of the car, Oliver split his new trousers in the crutch. Whenever he sat down he had to keep his thighs pressed tightly together.

A touch long, this very funny book is probably best read in small doses, and there are several scatological bits that the squeamish can skip.

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