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Byron Shire
October 19, 2021

Mandy Nolan’s Soap Box: Binge the Cringe

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Every single person has a cringe key. It’s the Achilles heel of annoyance. That one peculiar habit or nuance that brings you to your knees. It’s our little operational secret. The part of us we hope no-one finds.

I don’t like the sound of cutlery being thrown into a drawer. When I say I don’t like it I don’t mean a little bit. I mean the sound goes through my bones and into my teeth and makes me feel violent. Unhinged. I lose control. I can think of nothing else. I want to scream.

It’s not rational, neither is it a result of some unresolved cutlery-based trauma. I was not thrown into a bucket of spoons as an infant. I don’t ever recall being hit with a fork. It just happens to be the sound that permeates my nerve sheath. I don’t even like talking about cutlery; it tends to create the conditioned response.

When I see people unpacking the dishwasher, I get nervous. I think, I hope they place each piece gently into the receptacle, and not bang it in like some sort of Viking marauder.

I could never work as a kitchen hand. The sound of ten kilos of cutlery being tipped into a dish of water once sent me screaming from a restaurant. Once everyone I worked with knew my secret they made sure they did it as often as they could. To them it was funny. To me it was torture.

Knowing what drives people nuts gives you this incredible power, and regardless of the public education campaign to counteract bullying, none of us can resist that tiny taunt that sends a friend or lover over the edge. You see, bullying people we love just a little bit, is soo soo much fun!

My husband John hates emery boards. Ever since we got together I haven’t been able to file my nails. He doesn’t even let me say ‘emery board’. He doesn’t even like the idea of them being in the house. They immobilise him. It’s like superman’s Kryptonite – he shrivels into foetal position and goes ‘ooh stop stop’.

He can’t speak. He’s incoherent. Nothing has made me want to file my nails more. The fact that I don’t is a profound act of love and shows a self-control I didn’t even know I had. Of course every now and then I just can’t help myself. I once put a nail file under his favourite pillow. It was like he’d found a giant spider. He got so freaked out and screamed like a girl. I actually think I wet myself. His response was entirely immature. He went and put the cutlery away.

I have secretly fantasised about making some sort of box made entirely of emery boards. Or maybe record myself filing my nails and then make that the ring tone for his phone. He has made me swear not to tell the children because he knows what will happen. He’ll walk into the lounge room and five people will be filing their nails. I’m not worried about his reading this because he won’t be able to: it contains the words nail file and emery board. He can’t even handle the words, let alone the actual thing. John wasn’t traumatised by a nail file either. It just doesn’t make sense.

I have a friend who can’t bear phlegm. Not that people like it. But we live with it. She can’t even handle her own, let alone the phlegm of others. Unbeknown to me, the other morning I was marvelling over what a spectacular word it was to spell. That phlegm actually is spelt how it sounds when it comes out. Like the ‘g’ is the chunky unexpected bit right in the middle. She had to leave the table. Once her secret was out it was impossible not to say ‘phlegm’ about 20 more times.

Her husband doesn’t like paddle-pop sticks touching his teeth. Some people don’t like the sound of chewing, chalk squeaking on a blackboard, the sound of gulping, two stryofoam eskies rubbing together. Snoring fits into this category.

I can understand sound. Especially high-frequency sounds. Sound seems to enter the cell wall and create an instant ‘cringe’ reaction. But nail files? Paddle-pop sticks? Phlegm? Ah, the wondrous mystery of human idiosyncrasy. I will ponder it some more. But first I must stick these emery boards inside John’s shoe.

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  1. I cringe in the knowledge that each of us has a cringe-worthy gene. Look in the past at Gene Kelly, he was singing in the rain, poor man.


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