Some people think confession is good for the soul. Personally I reckon that careless talk cost lives. Or friendships, at least. If you think your flatmate's arrogant and imperious, or he's spotted that you have alcoholic relatives, it's risky blurting that out, rather than keeping your mouth shut. And it's also a good move to keep it to yourself if you're not quite normal. I'm not, never have been. I spend a lot of time trying to hide this, and it helps that I look quite ordinary, and can sound mostly harmless.
Take the 'About me' on my blog, for example. "My name is John Watson. I am an experienced medical doctor recently returned from Afghanistan." This carefully conceals the fact that my full name is John Hilary Watson. (My parents are Catholic and I was born on St Hilary's day, but that's no excuse). And you would never know that I returned from Afghanistan a wreck. Or that I came close not to being a doctor in the first place.
Medical school teaches you to discipline your mind, but it's pretty riotous as far as bodies go. I thought that was wonderful when I got there, away from my parents' disapproving oversight. I wasn't the only one who went a bit crazy, of course; lots of us did, let loose in London for the first time. But I was the one who ended up taking things way too far.
Julie Porter was a trainee nurse at Barts, tall and dark and sexy as hell in her tight jeans. I'd copped off with her the first night we met, but I wanted to try something new after that, so I had a plan for the next time. I was drunk, of course; Julie was too. Which was probably why I was able to talk her into coming to the hospital with me and letting me tie her up to an examination couch. She looked gorgeous spread out naked like that, fuckable as anything. Only then I realised I'd forgotten the condoms.
"I'm not going through with this unless you find some!" Julie insisted.
My head was starting to hurt like crazy, but I rammed myself back into my trousers and stalked off to the vending machine in the Gents.
An hour later, a porter heard Julie's screams for help. He untied her and then came and found me: passed out in a toilet cubicle, pack of condoms still clutched in my hand.
The only reason I didn't get kicked off the course was that Julie swore blind to the Dean that the whole thing had been her idea. I went round to thank her, afterwards, and she told me never to speak to her again. But I sobered up after that, literally. Cut right down on the booze, found myself proper girlfriends and treated them nicely. I got through my training OK and then I found a job, a way of life, where they didn't mind me taking risks.
It didn't worry the army that I wasn't quite normal. They're there to teach your body and mind to do things they don't naturally want to. Like excessive numbers of press-ups. Like putting yourself in a situation where large numbers of vicious shards of metal might penetrate the soft vulnerability of human tissue. The army trains you to run into danger rather than away from it, and I found that all too easy to pick up. The hard bit was staying in control while I did so. But I learnt how to do that as well, eventually.
And then it was all over. A medical discharge, an army pension, and civilian life. And a therapist to help me adjust.
My therapist is called Ella, and I don't get on with her. But I've kept going to her once a week for almost six months now. At the start it was part of the discipline that got me out of my bleak bedsit, staring at the walls all day, all too conscious of the gun in my desk drawer. And since the army arranged the therapy for me, it would have seemed ungrateful not to take it up, given how hard it is for a lot of people in my situation to get access to help. So I turn up, and I do what I'm told, and...no, truthfully, I mostly don't do what I'm told. If I was still in the army, I'd probably be had up on a charge of 'dumb insolence' for my attitude to Ella. I'm outwardly compliant, but I am really not co-operating in any meaningful sense. Which is probably stupid of me.
Ella wanted me to have a blog, so I started one. Then she complained - no, observed - that I didn't write anything in it. And when I did start writing more, she observed that what I wrote was mostly about Sherlock, not myself. I pointed out that my readers found that more interesting, and she said that wasn't the point. So now she wants me to start writing down something more personal, confessional, even, for a purely imaginary audience. I think she hopes when I've done that for a while, I'll be willing to tell her more about myself. But one of the problems, of course, is that I might end up telling her what I think of her. And that really wouldn't be helpful.
Ella disapproves of me, unofficially. She's too disciplined to disapprove of me officially – it's not just the army where you have to learn to control your feelings. But there is a patience about her expression sometimes that says she's only just stopping herself yelling at me for being a self-destructive idiot. I recognise that expression, of course – I wear it a lot on my own face, when I'm dealing with Sherlock.
Have I explained about Sherlock? I'm not sure that I can, or that you'd believe me if I did. So I suggest you google him, like I did. He's the world's only consulting detective, and everything he says on his website, 'The Science of Deduction', about what he can deduce is true. In fact, it's an understatement. When I finally got round to dumping some of the stuff I'd had in storage for years, he worked out my indiscretions at medical school from two minutes looking at one of my files.
"The lecture notes written when drunk abruptly stop," he commented. "The marginal doodles show a consistent taste for brunettes and a weak grasp of perspective, but you weren't wrecking pen nibs any more. You wouldn't have started surgery by that point, so it wasn't so much an improvement in your fine motor skills as you learning to control your more destructive impulses. Anything else I should have picked up?" I grinned, because it's fine when Sherlock knows that kind of thing about me. Not like with Ella.
To look at, Sherlock is tall and dark and thin and – I can't think of the words to describe how he looks, but there are lots of pictures of him on the internet, though none on his own website. He's posh, and brilliant, and arrogant, and spectacularly ignorant about some things. (I said that on my blog once – not a good move). Sherlock's also wonderful and horrible in about equal measure. And completely mad. I realise that's not an accurate medical description, but it's true. The reason a lot of people think I'm relatively normal is that I hang around with Sherlock and look sane by comparison, like those women who have ugly friends to make them look more beautiful. The reason a lot of other people think I can't be quite normal is that I hang around with Sherlock...
I am Sherlock's flatmate, friend and sidekick. I'd call myself his 'partner', but that word now implies that we're sleeping together, whereas I'm straight, and I don't like to think what Sherlock's sexual preferences are. Given his bizarre views on food, sleep and even breathing , anything might be possible concerning his attitude to other bodily functions. And while 'colleague' would sound better than 'sidekick', that gives an entirely misleading impression that I'm his equal, rather than his doctor, dogsbody, human guinea pig and skull substitute (don't ask). Also his bodyguard, when he allows it. Because despite the fact that he's six inches taller than me and knows various fancy martial arts, I've been trained to fight and kill.
The army taught me to do that, and then told me firmly that as a medic, I could only fight in self-defence. I've bent that rule a bit since I've been in civilian life, but only for a good cause: I've saved Sherlock's life several times as a result. He's saved my life every single day. By giving me back the battlefield I'd lost, the comradeship. It's thrilling, and terrible, and amazing to be with him.
It's also a lot more fun than you might expect with so many dead bodies around: we share the same warped sense of humour. I sometimes feel I can do anything around Sherlock. I had a psychosomatic limp when I first met him, but he soon sorted that out. Admittedly, he did it by a method so stupidly dangerous that I didn't dare tell Ella the details. I realised afterwards how reckless he, we, had been: you can't trick your mind and your body that way. Well, maybe you can, but you shouldn't, it can go spectacularly wrong. But just this once, it went spectacularly right. I can run, thanks to him, and I've got a reason for running again, not just sitting around, waiting to die.
Ella particularly disapproves of Sherlock. She's trying to make me normal and Sherlock subverts that. I claim that I want a normal life, and yet...I don't disapprove of him as much as I should. Perhaps because I fail at normal life myself fairly often. Like when I stormed out of a supermarket after a fight with a chip and pin machine.
I told Ella about the supermarket fiasco mainly to avoid having to discuss my nightmares again (not even Sherlock has sorted those out yet). I tried to make the incident sound harmless - couldn't get the scanner to work properly, my card got declined, I walked out without any groceries and had to go back later - doesn't everyone have days like that? But I ought to have realised she could make a big deal out of it.
"It's another pattern, isn't it?" Ella announced. "You sometimes find unfamiliar situations stressful."
"I was in Afghanistan," I pointed out. "You don't get much more unfamiliar than that."
"But you had a clearly defined role there, which helped you feel in control of the situation. At the supermarket, without that, things started going wrong. First of all, you were misinterpreting the actions of others. A chip and pin machine is not being socially judgemental if it refuses your card."
"I had worked that one out," I replied. "I know it's just a pre-programmed machine, has nothing against me personally."
"Which is why you were talking to it?"
"Possibly I overreacted."
"Because you were trying to suppress even more disturbing desires?"
"Oh God, you're not going to get Freudian on me, are you?"
"John, this isn't about repression, this is about conscious but impulsive urges to inappropriate behaviour. Or do you want to tell me that you had absolutely no wish to set about that chip and pin machine with a hammer, till there was nothing left of it but small pieces of plastic and metal?"
Despite my best efforts, sometimes Ella has worryingly good insights into me.
"Yes, but I wasn't quite convinced I could kill it with my bare hands," I admitted. "I have got problems, haven't I?"
"You will adjust eventually, I'm sure of it. But when you get into that kind of stressful situation again, you need to ask yourself two questions. Firstly, do I need to be in control here or can I just go with the flow? And secondly, if I do feel I must be in control of the situation, how can I re-establish that control?"
"Unfortunately, by the time I've analysed all that, there will be an even longer queue behind me at the supermarket, and the chip and pin machine will still hate me."
"John, I don't think you're really trying here."
Once Ella had seized on the theme of control, she kept on bringing it up, as if this was the lever that might crack me open in the way she wanted. Personally, I don't reckon I am a control freak, or I couldn't live with Sherlock. He's a man, after all, who's been known to put severed heads in the fridge, and whose actions once led to me getting strapped into a bomb jacket by a criminal mastermind. (Yes, both of these happened. No, honestly, you don't want to hear about them).
"Sometimes concern about control can get displaced," Ella announced last week, "so you need to ask yourself whether heated arguments over the kettle are really reactions to Sherlock nearly getting you killed."
"No, they're entirely justified arguments with a man who has the domestic ability of a not too bright five-year old. If he can open a safe, he is capable of making a decent pot of tea, if he just puts his mind to it."
"John, this isn't simply about tea, is it? This is about Sarah."
There are times when I don't know why I keep having the therapy, given that I don't want to talk to Ella about the war, or Sherlock, or Moriarty, or my family, or my love life, or about 90% of the other things I think about.
"I'm over Sarah," I said firmly. "I met this solicitor at an inquest yesterday, in fact. And we got talking afterwards, and I'm meeting her for coffee this afternoon. Her name's Mina."
"I see. You felt some kind of immediate connection to Mina, did you? You're hoping perhaps this might lead to something more?"
"Yes. Anything wrong with that?"
Ella smiled soothingly. "I'm just interested in exploring patterns of behaviour here, John. Your relationships with women, for example."
I deliberately tuned out at that point, because I didn't want to lose it, and end up making a scene. Behind all that professional language, I knew what Ella was implying: that I was some kind of indiscriminate, horny brute, always chasing after women. I've lost track of how many times Harry has accused me of womanising over the years. Which is completely unfair, because it's not the sex. OK, it's not just the sex. I want someone to settle down with as well, and I know the type of woman I like, that's all. I go for clever, practical, tough-minded women, like the ones I trained with at Barts, fought alongside.
So when I meet someone like that, I try and get to know her better. Mycroft's sidekick, even though I didn't know her real name. But how was I supposed to find out what it was, unless I got a chance to spend time with her? And yes, I did go out on a date with Sarah very soon after she'd hired me. I'm not one for wasting time, and the women I go for don't mind a direct approach. Well, a reasonable proportion of them don't. It's just that I always manage to wreck things at a later stage.
It's not entirely my fault. Medical school and the army are both tough on relationships, always have been, what with the hours and the pressure. You need a very special woman to be a doctor's wife, or a soldier's. Or the wife of a consulting detective's assistant. I really thought that it would work out with Sarah, though. I liked her a lot, and she hadn't been put off by nearly being killed on the first date, and me narrowly avoiding being blown up a couple of weeks later. (You see what I meant about a very special woman?) And then it all went wrong, and I'm still not quite sure why. Sarah said it wasn't about me, but about her and maybe we'd been taking things too fast. But of course I wondered if it was the sex, although I'd enjoyed it, and I thought she had. Or if I'd somehow done something else wrong.
I try to behave like a gentleman, stick to the rules, but I sometimes feel they're changing them without telling me. And so I've ended up getting nowhere with finding someone, whereas Harry - who was shagging for England herself in her twenties – met Clara, who's lovely, just the sort of girl, woman, I go for. If she'd been straight, I would have made a beeline for her. But as it was, maybe I could make a go of it with Mina, because she seemed really nice...
"John," Ella broke in, "I'm sorry if I've said something that's upset you, but blanking me out completely isn't the most productive way of dealing with that."
Oh shit. "Sorry," I said, and tried to concentrate once again on producing inoffensive and unrevealing answers.