Mad as a hatter or geniuses at work?

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Live and let live.

British eccentrics are famous the world over. We breed eccentrics and we’re fascinated by them. Eccentrics are found in all walks of life, whether they are lords or lavatory cleaners, teachers or train drivers. Some wear odd clothes, some collect to the point of obsession, while others inhabit strange environments or hold unorthodox beliefs. Provided they are in no way a threat to society, we usually just avoid them but let them carry on in their own sweet way.

Some serious research.

David Weeks, an American psychologist has conducted the first in-depth psychological study of eccentrics and has concluded that Britain’s are still the best in the world. Weeks did detailed personality tests and taped interviews with 130 eccentrics. “A true eccentric is never acting,” writes Dr David Weeks. “They are strong individuals with strange inclinations of their own which they are not afraid to express. They refuse to compromise.” He believes one in 10,000 people in the UK is a genuine eccentric, and that for every female candidate there are nine male eccentrics.

How to stay in good shape.

One of his most interesting findings was the good health that eccentrics enjoy. “Almost all of them visit the doctor only once every eight or nine years; the rest of us go twice a year.” Eccentrics tend to live longer than the rest of us. The theory is that if you have a particular obsession, whether it is eating cardboard or living in a cave, life becomes full of meaning and significance and the resulting happiness strengthens the body’s immune system. “Eccentrics are living proof that one does not necessarily have to go through life with a fixed set of rules,” says Dr Weeks. “They are their own best leaders and poor followers, and do not feel a need to possess the ordinary things of everyday life. They are prepared to stand out from the crowd.”

Hobby or full-time occupation?

Some, like botanist Alan Fairweather, a potato fanatic, have turned their eccentricity into a career – he worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as a potato inspector. He has lived for thirty years on a diet of potatoes boiled in their jackets, supplemented by Mars bars, baked beans and Vitamin C. He won’t sleep in a bed and his idea of a break is a visit to the International Potato Centre in Peru. There are others who are spare time eccentrics, like Barry Kirk, a computer technician, who likes to paint himself orange and pretend to be a baked bean.

Appearances can be deceptive.

Some of Week’s collection – such as the man who climbs down tower blocks dressed as a pink elephant – would stick out anywhere, but most are unremarkable on the surface. Weeks believes that inside lie resources of creativity and imagination that are not sufficiently used. “They are neglected, or not taken seriously, because of the way they express themselves. Often they are convinced that they are ahead of their time and that others have stolen or exploited their good ideas.”

How times change.

What counts as eccentricity varies with time and a person’s sex as well as location. Adeline Brudenwell, countess of Cardigan, was regarded as extremely eccentric in the 1870s because she would bicycle around London in tight red military trousers and a leopard-skin cape. She would also go for walks in Hyde Park wearing a blond wig, followed by footman carrying a cushion on which sat a pet dog. Nowadays people would just assume she was an actress or a singer with a new album to promote.


  • (as) mad as a hatter/March hare – extremely silly or stupid – zbzikowany
  • to breed – to keep animals in order to produce young animals – chodować
  • walks of life – people from different walks of life have different jobs and different experiences in life – zawód, środowisko
  • lavatory – a toilet – toaleta
  • to inhabit – to live in a place – zamieszkiwać
  • to conduct – to organize or do something – przeprowadzać
  • in-depth – involving or considering all the details of something – dogłębny
  • inclination – a feeling that you want to do something – skłonność, chęć
  • cardboard – thick, stiff paper that is used for making boxes – karton
  • significance – the importance or meaning of something – znaczenie
  • spare time – time when you are not working – czas wolny
  • deceptive – if something is deceptive, it makes you believe something that is not true – zwodniczy
  • to stick out – to be very easy to notice – rzucać się w oczy
  • sufficiently – as much as is necessary – wystarczająco
  • to neglect – to not give enough care or attention to something or someone – zaniedbywać
  • to exploit – to use or develop something for your advantage – wykorzystywać
  • to count – to think of someone or something in a particular way – uważać
  • countess – a woman who has a high social rank in some European countries, especially the wife of an earl or count (= man of high social rank) – hrabina
  • cape – a loose coat without any sleeves that is fastened at the neck – peleryna
  • wig – a covering of real or artificial hair that you wear on your head – peruka
  • footman – a male servant whose job includes opening doors and serving food, and who often wears a uniform – lokaj
  • cushion – a cloth bag filled with something soft which you sit on or lean against to make you comfortable – poduszka
  • to assume – to think that something is likely to be true, although you have no proof – zakładać

Na podstawie: Focus magazine & Living magazine &

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