“Do you know, I set the table one evening and he came in and sat down, and looked at the spoon I had put at his place and he got up and took it back to the drawer and took out a different one which he put at his place and then sat down? Can you believe that?” The lady had looked at me for confirmation that such behaviour was odd, if not completely abnormal.
There was a look of disappointment when I said I could believe it. It would have been pointless to try to explain that cutlery has its own feel, that food doesn’t seem quite the same if it’s not eaten with the preferred cutlery, or if it’s not served on the favoured china. Swapping one spoon for another seemed quite reasonable behaviour, in fact, swapping an entire place setting would not seem so unreasonable.
Perhaps everyone has compulsive traits, perhaps they are more manifest in men. A friend would tell of a railway history society where a mistake about some minor detail of engineering, or buildings, or carriage livery is considered a virtual heresy, a point that might become the centre of debate. Within the church, there were many who would have become severely agitated if there were some detail of the liturgy or obscure point of doctrine not correctly observed. First-order matters of doctrine or teaching might have been considered entirely secondary to the subject that had prompted the argument.
Compulsiveness seems not often to be about big issues, important matters, but about those things that most would regard as trivia, as things barely to be noticed and certainly not worthy of a fuss being made. If one subscribed to the thinking of Sigmund Freud, there would be something deeply Freudian about such a compulsive attention to detail.
Putting things together ready for school in the morning (staff only for the first two days), there was a realisation that I must have my black cartridge pen, for without it I would feel unable to write. It would be as difficult as trying to eat pudding with the wrong spoon. There was also a feeling of a need to fill in the pages of my planner, because unless the details are written down there is a fear that things might not be done properly.
For those, like the lady, who are bewildered by such traits, a compulsive attention to detail causes greater agitation to the person concerned with the minor details than to anyone else who is unfortunate enough to notice.