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‘Do we all talk to ourselves, or is it just me?’ I say out loud to no one

If you are having a conversation with yourself in public, be reassured that you’re not alone – it just feels like it

This time of the year, there’s nothing like freshly boiled new potatoes saturated in a homemade French dressing with a piquant dash of Dijon mustard. That is precisely what I was thinking when I was caught talking to myself at the vegetable aisle in my local supermarket.

Fortunately, it wasn’t the men in white coats who caught the conversation. It was just a bemused friend.

“You know you were having a full-blown conversation there, Áine,” he said, smirking.



“Yes, I watched it all.”

“You watched what?” I asked indignantly.

“Well, I clearly saw you fondling a few potatoes before stripping a little plastic bag from its roll whilst nodding and moving your mouth quite vigorously.”

I know, I know. They used to say that the first sign of madness is talking to yourself. Surely, though, it is more like being caught talking to yourself. Do we not all do it in the sanctity of our own solitariness? Do we not sometimes let the ebb and flow of our brain waves wander down to our mouths and express themselves?

It is a form of expression that I learned early. So wouldn’t any good psychologist validate the practice as “normal behaviour” since it was part of my childhood experience? It’s not harming anyone, is it?

You see, I have a clear recollection of watching my late father George (former Irish Times Bridge columnist and author) standing in his string vest in front of the dappled mirror in the bathroom of our first family home in Tullamore talking to himself.

Since I live in a small town where image is everything, I have become vigilant of moving my mouth when I am having an interesting stream of consciousness in a public arena

He was shaving at the time with one of those old-fashioned cut-throat blades. As he carefully sliced the stubble from the contours of his chin and cheeks, he chatted away to the man in the mirror. Whilst the details of the subject of his conversation have faded over the years, I can say with confidence it was most likely about his golf swing or his last bridge game.

“That would have been a great shot last night, George, if only the oak tree wasn’t in the way.”

He would then pause to dip his shaving brush into an old chipped china cup of warm soapy water, and carefully paint some more sudsy cream up under his ears or under his nostrils.

Then the next conversation might start. A version of the following monologue rings a bell.

“Bridge has the bluff, the uncertainty, the thrills of poker combined with the instinct to kill of 25 and the skills of whist and solo, to make it a game that swept across the world faster than the Asian flu.”

This was part of his introduction to his little bestseller The Bones of Bridge, which – since I knew the man and his colourful foibles – was undoubtedly inspired by his conversations with himself.

Thus bringing me to the conclusion that we often have our best ideas, biggest epiphanies, most innovative thoughts, when we are talking to ourselves.

Fortunately, I am not alone in that conclusion, with some of our best literature – Joyce’s Ulysses, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, Kerouac’s On the Road – using streams of consciousness as a way of communicating inner conversations. This technique makes us privy to the inner thoughts of the characters whilst we hear their voices loud and clear.

Indeed, I am relieved to discover that there is a whole school of thought on the varying types of healthy intra-personal communication, also known as auto-communication.

Talking to myself is a form of expression that I learned early. So wouldn’t any good psychologist validate the practice?

This doesn’t mean that I wish to totally challenge the culturally accepted norm of not going around talking to ourselves whilst admiring new potatoes. Neither do I wish to hide behind the ironic humour of that image. Frankly, I was shocked and totally taken aback to be told that I was talking to myself in the middle of a busy supermarket aisle.

Naturally, I blame the pandemic and fall-out from all the time I spent alone over a two-year period.

Unsurprisingly, though, since I live in a small town where image is everything, I have become vigilant of moving my mouth when I am having an interesting stream of consciousness or intra-personal conversation in a public arena.

Since the new potatoes incident, I make sure I only express myself fully when I am walking through the woods at Westport House and there is nobody around, other than children or dogs. I am also very careful whilst meandering down the far end of the beach at Bertra when the tide is out, and other than the seagulls or cormorants, I am all alone.

It’s just in case the men in the white coats are lurking in the sand dunes.