So I’m in a delightful shop called Habadash in Castlemaine on the weekend and the town is heaving with visitors for the biennial arts extravaganza that is the Castlemaine State Festival.
I have been here before. In fact, as I discover later, there’s even a quote from moi on the shop’s home page from an article written in 2007 likening it to being inside a button box with little lollies of colour, all competing for attention, calling out “pick me, pick me”. If anything, this description is even more accurate eight years on and why what happened next was even more surreal.
A woman in her early 40s, wearing a blue dress, walks into the shop and is welcomed by owner Sonia Collard. “Feel free to touch, open the drawers, have a rummage,” Sonia invites.
“Ooh. I won’t be doing that,” says blue dress looking frankly aghast. “I have koumpounophobia.”
“Pardon dear?” says Sonia.
“Koumpounophobia – a fear of buttons.”
You could almost see little thought bubbles with question marks rising above the half dozen other heads in the shop. We edged closer, while at the same time, collectively thinking … step away from the buttons.
“What are you doing in here then?” someone asks. “Because I forgot,” replied her friend, looking rather shame-faced.
“Goodness me, how do you do up your clothes?” asks Sonia.
“I’m not afraid of buttons that are sewn on, only the loose ones. My sister is too.”
I couldn’t help myself any longer.
“Were you tortured with buttons as a small child?”
“No not at all,” blue dress replies, “although I am now. My son sometimes puts buttons in my bed as a joke. I have to vacuum them up because I can’t touch them.”
We left the shop with a new word in the vocabulary and a profound sense of wonderment.
A quick Google reveals an estimated 11 per cent of the Australian population suffers from some kind of extreme, persistent aversion to something. The friend with whom I spent the weekend suffers from musophobia – the very presence of a mouse in the house causes her to quake and cry.
Another mutual friend suffers a fear of frogs, known as ranidaphobia, while her mother actually collects them, though what came first, the collection or the phobia, I do not know.
Until now I might have fallen into the phobophobia camp with a generalised fear of succumbing to a phobia, but I’m beginning to think I may have a borderline masklophobia (fear of masks) with leanings towards automatonophobia (fear of puppets and mannequins).
As someone who will cross a six-lane highway to avoid a Wilderness Society collection koala, I can’t begin to tell you how much I dislike doing “in-character” interviews.
For a week I have been feeling sick about a scheduled phone chat with a purple puppet: a foul-mouthed piece of felt with two eyes stuck on that’s half of the comedy double act Sammy J and Randy. Randy is fairly gentle and the “interview” ends on a conciliatory note.
“Thanks for running with the awkwardness of interviewing a non-human entity,” he says.
Baby steps, baby steps.