In Marie Jones’ play, ‘A Night in November’, the civil servant character, Kenneth McCallister, refers to his wife, the prim and proper, anal-retentive Debbie, an aspiring snob, whose books sit in perfect symmetry in the library case (having never been taken out and read) and on whose pristine floors you could eat your supper.Debbie, you see, is a particular type of person, a psychotic perfectionist (who in the play is contrasted with the happy-go-lucky wife of Kenneth’s Catholic workmate).

Perfectionists want to master and control their environment and live in a narrowly defined world in which they feel empowered. Now, just before the sisters put pen to paper to complain of misogyny, let me say that men can be Debbies and there are bits of Debbie in every one of us. I had an uncle who could only eat using his own special knife, fork, spoon and plate, and who used to carefully hold the cutlery up to the light to ensure that it had been scrubbed spotless and polished and hadn’t dried out with any little water stains.

And who remembers ‘Sleeping With The Enemy’, starring Julie Roberts as Laura, married to the psychotic Patrick Bergin? He was a control freak who had to have the towels laid out without a single wrinkle, and the tins of food placed alphabetically in the cupboards in straight lines. Laura fakes her death and escapes but later realises he has discovered her ruse when she comes home one night to find all the stuff she unorganised in her new home now organised.

Because life is not perfect a Debbie’s life is one of perpetual crises. If her taxi doesn’t arrive the moment she puts down the phone, it means they’ve forgotten her. If Rover doesn’t come in when called it means it’s been knocked down and killed, or abducted. Debbie can be very frustrated because she has to keep her multiplicity of opinions to her victims, who are usually her nearest and dearest.

She would prefer to be called Deborah but has deigned to go by Debbie as proof that she is as normal as Sal and Pat who have survived despite the abbreviations.

Debbie never likes the colour of neighbour’s doors. Their choice of curtains is always tacky. The husbands drink too much. The wives wear too much make-up. Their children watch videos.

When Debbie’s children get up in the mornings she checks their temperature, their stools, their ears, their throats, their fingernails, before filling them with Vitamin C, cod liver oil and porridge. They don’t take sugar in their tea. They don’t eat free school dinners. They don’t wear jeans at the weekends. She asks them if the teacher’s breath smells of anything strange and if they sit next to any dirty children. When they are not at school they are at the dentists or the opticians or being X-rayed. When they come home from school they change out of their uniforms immediately then do their home work. Debbie checks the laundry basket. Then she will call the children to the top of the landing: ‘Look children! Little gremlins have rolled up into balls your socks! We have to fight those little gremlins! Don’t we?’ ‘Yes, mammy.’

Debbie takes the joint out of the freezer on Friday for Sunday dinner: she likes to make sure it’s defrosted. Making dinner, her onions have to be chopped up very finely because the recipe says so, and you know and I know, that recipes are never wrong. Debbie likes the candles to be equidistant from the ends of the table and from each other. Her few mantelpiece ornaments are also symmetrically arranged for easy cleaning twice a day.

Debbie is appalled when her husband wipes his mouth on the napkin, because napkins are for show. A fart can land a child in bed with no supper; and a follow-up check in the Royal in case there’s ‘a bowel problem’. Debbie’s house has spare light bulbs, spare fuses, spare washing powder, soap, shampoo, bandages and spare germolene.

Debbie prefers real wallpaper with lots of flowers to plain paper that’s painted, but she believes that man William Morris to be a member of the Orange Order. If her flight to London is at three o’clock on Friday, she likes to be at the airport on Thursday because ‘you never know what could happen.’

It’s Debbie versus the world. She is ‘Serial Mom’ personified. And it’s all for little. Undoubtedly, many of the systems which battle with us from childhood to conform, to be good boys, to wash our hands and tidy our rooms and do well at school, are for our own good. But perfectionism is an illusion that is unattainable. And the poor Debbies only make themselves unhappy denying the fact that we are rebels, like going to bed without washing the last dish, like leaving socks stuffed into shoes and clothes hanging over the chair.

Yes, we are the animals that Debbie will never teach or train!

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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison