Harold Behr

Cyril Plotkin: Faribel Without a Cause

Cyril Plotkin never forgave or forgot a personal slight. Faribels clung to him like leeches in a swamp. He was, you could say, a master of the art of grievance, a serial offence taker. Over the years he had collected as many faribels as he had lost friends, mainly through misunderstandings on both sides. Whenever the hand of reconciliation was extended to him he spurned it, with the result that he became more isolated as time went by. But knowing no better he was resigned to his misanthropic view of the world.

The origins of this malady could be traced to his childhood. A delicate little boy on whose head the crown of potential glory rested, he was sheltered by his mother, whose rose-tinted view of him captured only his angelic side and blinded her to his wrongdoings. His father, on the other hand, resented the over-close bond between mother and son. A rough and ready sort of person who believed in action rather than words, he disliked his son’s precocious use of language as well as his argumentative nature and frequently asserted that little Cyril was ‘too big for his boots’.

The rot set in when Cyril had his first encounter with the outside world during his first day at school. His beautiful speaking voice was slightly impeded by a lisp and a tendency to mispronounce the letters ‘r’ and ‘l’ as ‘w’s. So when he stood up and grandly introduced himself as ‘Thywil Pwotkin’ he was greeted with a ripple of titters from his insensitive classmates. The teacher instantly rebuked the children but the problem was compounded when Cyril, now hot with shame, noticed a smile playing around her lips. From that point the seal was stamped, not only on his social identity but on his faribeldike predisposition.

A spiteful little girl, a leader among her classmates, introduced herself to him as ‘Gladyth Thteventhon’ and henceforth he was lustily hailed as ‘Thyril’ which rapidly morphed into ‘Thquirrel’. One of his more sympathetic teachers wrote, ‘Cyril is a sensitive boy who easily feels slighted and then stubbornly refuses to perform the set tasks.’ His mother had a different slant on the problem. ‘The child has got a memory like an elephant’, she declared. ‘Whatever you say he takes it all in and then he never forgets it. And if you insult him he never lets you forget that either. Those teachers simply don’t understand him’.

From his schooldays onwards Cyril suffered one disillusioning experience after another. He lost several ‘best friends’ in sequence, through no fault of his own, of course. These were lads who enjoyed intellectual pastimes – testing each other with quizzes, playing chess, listening to music together. But sooner or later an incident would occur which proved to be a ‘casus belli’ – an accusation of cheating, an expression of boredom in a moment of irritation, an impulsive mocking of his way of speaking – and that was that. Figuratively and sometimes actually, the door was slammed on the friendship and a permanent state of faribel declared.

Naturally, Cyril decided to study law. What better way could there be to right wrongs and deliver justice in the face of injustice? He joined a prestigious law firm and for a while all went well. The old grounds for faribel were almost forgotten. But although the old wounds to his self-esteem had largely healed they soon opened up in the face of fresh provocation. He felt that he was being given the most unrewarding briefs, that his accommodation in Chambers was the dingiest office in the premises. Worse still, the senior partners in the practice had a habit of holding informal meetings from which he was excluded and during which important decisions were made about the day-to-day running of the practice. One day Cyril decided that enough was enough and placed an anathema upon the entire practice, or to put it in terms which would have been familiar to him, he pronounced a Group Faribel on all the partners, jointly and severally.

After much morbid contemplation Cyril decided that the only way he could possibly survive on this hateful planet was to find a lady with enough goodwill and money to marry him and look after him in the manner to which he had been accustomed. He in turn would create a pleasant domestic environment for them both in a people-free zone called home.

At last the wheel of fortune turned in his favour. After a diligent search through several dating agencies Cyril, with all the right professional credentials and being a man of fairly prepossessing appearance, managed to lock onto a widow of similar age, not unlike his mother in devotion and temperament and willing to embark on a new life with him.

For a while, all went well, but then the wheel of fortune spun again and this time it stopped opposite a door from which there could be no return. Still only in his late thirties, Cyril Plotkin, Bachelor of Law and Master of Faribel, suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack while berating a taxi driver for taking a circuitous route to his destination.

As was to be expected, the funeral was a small affair. Two or three distant relatives who had managed to avoid excommunication and an equal number of former friends, who, now that it was too late, were determined to forgive Cyril’s unfair allegations and join the grieving second-time widow, made up the funeral party. The presiding Rabbi, who had not known the deceased, hastily mugged up a few facts about him to mention at the graveside. ‘Samuel Plotkin’, he intoned in a booming voice, ‘will be sorely missed by his dear friends and family’….

It was fortunate that Cyril Plotkin, of blessed memory, was unable to hear his name being mispronounced at this solemn moment. Or perhaps he was able to hear it. Who knows? There is no doubt, however, that such a transgression would have incurred a faribel to end all faribels.

About the Author
I was born in South Africa in 1940 and emigrated to the U.K. in 1970 after qualifying in medicine. I held a post as Consultant Psychiatrist in London until my retirement in 2013. I am the author of two books: one on group analytic psychotherapy, one on the psychology of the French Revolution. I have written many articles on group psychology published in peer-reviewed journals. From 1979 to 1985 I was editor of the journal ‘Group Analysis’; I have contributed short pieces to psychology newsletters over the years.
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