Johnnersintheraw's Blog

May 20, 2010

Tortured Soles

Of Shoes and Fish, Your Usual Russian Epic and the Seven Wee Blisters from Minsk

You were expecting, perhaps, one of my interminable reinterpretations of a novel by Dostoyevsky or even a psycho-analytical dissertation discussing the parallels between my haunted, harrowing and putrid existence and that of one of the minor characters of Chekov?  A peasant, perhaps, one that was only glimpsed fleetingly through the winter’s blast before being cleaved in twain by one of the Three Sister’s troikas.  Needless to say, it was one of the lesser sub-plots, and the one that the artistic director of the Moscow Arts Theatre excised the minute the playwright shoved the script through the transom. No, I’m sorry, I’m thinking of the wrong play.  AND the wrong author. What the Dickens is wrong with me today.  It must have something to do with those nude photos that… but never mind.

Of course, of course, of course. It couldn’t have been The Three Sisters!  They were the ones that spent four hours of the audience’s time yearning to go to Moscow.  But – I ask myself – why didn’t they just….GO?  I mean, it wasn’t as if they didn’t have any money.  And as far as I know their suitcases had never been unpacked since the moment they first arrived at the dacha.  I mean, why else would they make the audience sit through an entire sixteen acts and eighty-one intermissions and still be wearing the same dresses?   Weren’t they smart enough to realise all they had to do was to open just one suitcase, and take out just one extra dress for each of them?  And that way, they could keep the other suitcases closed in the off-chance it might occur to them that all they needed to do in order to go to Moscow was to buy three train tickets and ask someone to give them a lift to the station.  And even if they hadn’t wanted to unpack (for surely, that would have been tempting fate), you would have thought that, being sophisticated enough to understand the concept ‘a Moscow where there were actually more than three peasants and a pet cow’, that there were also to be had – for just a few kopeks a day (plus a glass of tea and a pontchiki) – those wonderfully convenient unemployed factotums called ‘daily dressmakers’. I mean, if I was aware of them some sixty or so years later, wasn’t it possible that – not having such things as shops near the dacha – they probably had one or two extra seamstresses lurking somewhere in a back bedroom?  Or were the seamstresses the ones who had been run over by the troika?  In any case, the three sisters were supposed to have been women, and women are supposed to know everything – even if at times they try to convince you otherwise by opening their mouths and speaking.

Be that as it may, they didn’t open a single suitcase and they didn’t phone up the daily dressmaker.  They just sat and moaned and groaned and whinged about the fact that they were not on their way to Moscow. And all the time, they were wearing the same dresses.  For God’s sake, couldn’t they have at least changed their underwear?

Speaking as an audience member, it’s very boring to sit through a whole seven nights with the same dialogue being repeated over and over and over again. If I had wanted that, I would have just stayed at home and watched old episodes of ‘Friends’! At least in ‘Friends’ they did change their clothes occasionally, and if I remember correctly, Phoebe even experimented with her hairdo.  If only, the characters in ‘The Three Sisters’ had been so inventive; but, alas, it was the same people on the same stage pretending to be in the same house, and always talking about exactly the same thing night after night, and they were not even interested enough in our sanity to change their costumes at least once every three weeks.  Come to think of it, it could have been ‘Friends’ after all. But to tell the truth, after the tenth week of whomever they were still not buying a train ticket and still not changing their clothes, I started to worry about their body odour.  I mean, by the time they finally got everything sorted out, it must have been like sitting next to King Henry VIII up there on stage.

And then, for no particular reason, except by that time I had run out of ‘After Eight’ mints, I started to think about Madonna.  Not that I particular like Madonna, for I must say I am not all that enamoured of fifty-year old women doing the squats on stage and pretending to seduce males dancers who are more than seventy-five years younger than they are, but at least she does change her clothes.  And she changes he clothes very often.  For she seems to have a great many clothes – right up there on stage with her.  And if most of them are actually more like parts of clothes than they are actual clothes, at least she’s not always sitting around wearing the same thing.  Mind you, I do worry sometimes about all those clothes of hers.  They are so small, practically not there at all. And then there are her muscles, all pneumatically pumped up and looking just like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s muscles used to look, before he decided to become governor of California and turn himself into a ‘Hummer’.

Which reminds me, now that General Motors has discontinued the ‘Hummer’, have they also discontinued Arnold Schwarzenegger?  Or is he still covered by some sort of warranty or other for his spare parts.  Or was the warranty from Saturn?

But back to the problem of Madonna and her tight clothes.  How does she get them on and off?  Or does she just have them painted on so everyone thinks she has all these neat clothes into which she is always changing?  And in case you wanted to know, I am only asking this to give you something to think about while the three sisters are up on stage doing nothing except talking about going to Moscow.  At least if they had had Facebook they could have cut out the talking and just fiddled about with their laptops.  Unless, of course, they had been Skype addicts, but then there might have been a mass suicide involving audience members in the cheaper seats.

And this brings me neatly back to the question of why is it that some people say they are changing into new clothes?  What happens to their bodies?  After all, once they have changed into new clothes, what fills up the space their bodies once occupied?  They must have gone somewhere, for I am informed that nature abhors a vacuum.  Perhaps they go to that place where all the odd socks go?  Or perhaps, they prefer to go to that other place, the place where their lost shopping lists go.

Now, I am not particularly interested in the place odd socks go.  First of all, most of them are not mine, and I was always told as a child never to wear another person’s socks, if only because another person’s socks were often filled with another person’s feet, and another person’s feet were at the end of another person’s legs, and another person’s legs were on intimate terms with another person’s blessed orifices.  And personally, anything that has had anything to do with another person’s blessed orifices is immediately a suspicious character.  What I am trying to say is, where have this other person’s blessed orifices been spending their time?  And what exactly have they been doing during all that time they have been doing whatever it is they have been doing?  Besides which, isn’t it just possible that one of those ‘lost’ socks might be the very same ‘lost’ sock that had been – at one time – on the foot that had been in the male stripper’s slipper, and from which a certain fifty-year-old singer had been drinking the sort of  champagne that is usually found in a urinal?

When it gets down to it, lost socks are not very interesting to talk to.  But where is it they run off to?  It goes without saying that if I had been born a sock, I would have been angry with my lot in life.  And I would have asked my parents, “Why have I been born a sock, when my own cousin was at least born a Brussels’ Sprout?” For since nobody likes Brussels’ Sprouts all that much, they tend to live very long lives once they are put in that bottom drawer in the refrigerator – but not, of course, as long as the broccoli, which is never taken out until it turns into a blackish goo.  Socks, however, lead a thoroughly miserable life. They are the true downtrodden members of our society.  So can you really blame them if one day – as they are being taken to the washing machine to be sloshed around in dirty water with a lot of underwear that insists on showing you photographs of their favourite skid-marks – the odd socks decide to make a run for it?  Of course, by the time they run away they have been around the block a few times and have been battered and bruised by pebbles who have climbed into the sock’s personal person just to get a free ride.  And then, of course, their toes have been torn to shreds by toenails that simply refuse to cut themselves (having read an illustrated article on the cruelty of circumcision, in which the victims appear to look very much like themselves); these socks have been subjected to no end of infections, and have been forced to endure countless hours suffocating from foul-smelling feet.  So, as I said, by the time they make their move and finally run away, they are older and wiser, as well as very circumspect.  So what they do is leap from the bundle of wash that is being shoved so unceremoniously into the wash, and they run and hide behind the machine.  And when they finally hear their person leave the house to go to work, they slip quietly out the back window.  And into a waiting sock-rocket, which takes off like a flash to a destination unknown to any human (but which is possibly known to dogs).

The sock-rocket does not immediately go to the planet of the lost socks, for first it must pick up all the other fleeing socks, as well as the odd pairs of stockings and even a bedroom slipper or two.

Now, being the lowly human being that I am, I cannot fathom what a place it must be, this planet of the lost socks.  But I fancy it must be quite a conducive place, and one on which every sock from every foot from every person on earth want to be.

But how about the lost lists, I hear you say?  And why do we never see them again?  That is one question I cannot answer, my friends.  I can only say this, once I write my list and put in my pocket, I never ever see it again.  Does it go to a far-off planet?  Does it travel to the stars?  Does it frolic with all of its friends on a lagoon in the Milky Way?  Or does it like going back to the woods to see its aunt, the tree?  And does it lie at her feet for a year and a day, until it turns into mulch?  For I firmly believe that every list we do lose, is not intentionally cruel.  For every list knows, once they’re no longer around, their place will taken by the next list in the queue.  And then it is free to turn back into a tree – and unlike a sock, for which is searched high and low – a list, once it vanishes, it is as though he has never existed at all.

I wonder how many of you looked at the title of this little piece, and if you did look at it, did you ask, “how curious it is that he has spelled ‘sole’ this way?”  Or did you not notice it or did it confuse you or did you run to a dictionary to look it up.  And having looking it up – if indeed you did – did you then wonder what I really had meant to say?  For a soul that is tortured is rarely found on a shoe or in the sea.  But there is always the chance or mere happenstance that it may be found in some spelling bee.

And I wonder how many, if any, gave any thought to the play that was not?  It’s all very well to think of Three Sisters, but that was only a blind.  For although they were souls, they were not the soles I had in mind.

So let us now return to the play that was so brutally discarded by the artistic director of the Moscow Arts Theatre on that old winter morn.  He had thought he had read on the frontispiece ‘The Three Sisters’, the Chekov play that made him shudder and jerk.  But he had left his eyeglasses at home, along with his toothbrush and a comb, and his eyes they were not so good.  So what he discarded was not what he thought, but rather a masterpiece of Alfredo de Flister.  And it was not four hours long, nor even twenty-two, for it lasted thirty-two minutes, if that. It was a splendid wee saga of some soles that were gaga, and ‘twas always served up with a pitcher of stout and the sort of music that makes you stand up and shout.

So what was this wee saga of Alfredo de Flister and why did the director throw it out?  Quite simple, that is every if you’ve read each word that I’ve writ.  For whatever he had thought he had seen, it hadn’t been de Flister’s wee play, for it was not about sisters, but of soles and shoes, and about the seven soulful blisters of Minsk. But alas and alack it is gone.

While the play may be lost, and all the wisdom therein, I can relate to you now a titbit or two, but not more than a few, for the director he threw out the rest.

There once were three little blisters plus four more besides.  Their names were Soul Blister, Saul Blister, Hay Nonny No Blister, El Solo Mio Blister, Dover A. Sole Blister, Soledad Blister, and Ruth.  And they all lived under the sea, just round the corner from a shoe shop owned by Solomon Mac Solstice Solo-Terree.

Now I said up above the play it was short, so short you have just read it all. For a sole, sad to say, does very little each day, except change its posture at will.  One day it stands straight up and down like a rod, and the next it lies perfectly flat.  And when the sole finally flattens all out, it looks like a road-kill with gills. For its eyes are both atop his top side, one higher up than its mate. And if you look at its mouth, it is really a sight, and not at all pretty to see. But lest you go fainting, it is just like painting.  From Pablo, and not from a witch from Diablo.  And at the moment it is all flat, that is the sign for the old cobbler to pick up his tools. He then fits those old soles to the shoes he has made, for that is his work, my friends.

There were three sole blisters, plus four more besides, making eight minus one in all.  And when the cobbler had finished and had used them all up, he said it was time to go home and sup, and so he closed up his shop and said, “Good-Bye.”

And that, my friends, is the end of the play, there is nothing more you can read.  So why don’t you go out and buy a new book or stay at home and learn how to cook, or staple your nose to your flies.  I don’t give a damn, but please feed me no spam, nor ask me no questions today.  I have said all I’ll say ‘til the next new born day… and that, as they say, is that.


May 19, 2010

The Slurry Wagon

North Atlantic gales and collies and labradors and a moment of ecstasy.

I adopted my doggie sometime late in the springtime.  Along the ridges and through the fields and bogs the furze was cloaked with blossoms of mustardy yellow. And all along the six-foot- high dry stone walls lining the narrow boreen that started at the top of the hill and wound its way to its eventual endgame  in the ocean, blackberry brambles were sprouting pale green leaflets and the sweet-smelling wild roses – tiny, old-fashioned, single-petalled and delicately white – filled the moist, cloud-drenched island air with fragrance.  I lived three quarters of the way down this boreen – a good half a mile below the double farmhouse at the top, with its cluster of barns and tiny fields in which fifteen or twenty calves grew fat and happy grazing on the lush, emerald green grass.  Two hundred yards above me was a small sheep farm; directly below and to my rear was the sea.  And it was here – in a typically squat, determinedly ugly, and utterly sea-worthy, bunker-like cottage – that I had unpacked my bags. For at that particular moment in time, I called it my home.

Like all such bunker-like cottages built within spitting distance of the jagged west-facing cliffs, the eyes of its soul – its windows – looked eastward, towards light and the morning sun and across the endless vista of hills and bogs and faraway grey mountains. Although the view on the western side was more spectacular, no one but summer visitors would think of inserting picture windows into west-facing rooms.  The constant north Atlantic gales that sweep through such islands and which have shaped the peoples since the dawn of time, and which enshroud the hills and valleys and bogs with perpetual mist and dampness and a sense of foreboding, simply laugh at such folly.  For as soon as the visitors move into to the new holiday homes they have built, the waves crash against their west-facing picture windows to drive their point home.  However, those  souls who were born to these gales, and who have lost generations of fisherman sons to the North Atlantic swells, and who have spent half their lives in darkness – for in winter the light comes late and does not linger for more than a few hours – such light as can be had is not a luxury.  It is a blessing and a necessity. Hence, windows face east, away from the storms and towards this life-giving light, as well as towards a gentler, more pastoral landscape; in other words, towards the dawning of the next new day.

Besides, as every islander knows, what good is a window unless it faces the road?  And what good is a window unless the neighbours can see that the window is spotlessly clean, and that the seldom-used front parlour behind it is as spic and span as spic and span can be.  For if it is not, never fear – the whole village and county will soon hear of it.  “Poor dear,” the biddies will lament with glee, as they gather with others to sit in their own back kitchens and hash and re-hash the foul tragedy over plates of scones and cups of black inky tea.  “Did you notice how she didn’t get up for mass last Sunday, and how she had to be helped with her shopping bags when she got off the community bus? There will be tears and a wake within a fortnight, with a Mass on a Tuesday, so you had better be getting yourselves over to Mary’s by the Friday before.  To have your hair set early, so it will be less frizzy, you know.”

In other words, everyone judges you by the state of your front windows.  And don’t think you can avoid the issue by simply keeping the curtains closed.  For to keep your curtains closed means one of only four things:  that you’ve gone away; that you are poorly; that you are dead; or that you are dead drunk.  Now, since I am not the type to clean my windows for the benefit of others, I always kept my front curtains closed.  True, I lived in perpetual gloom – for the windows at the back were so small that what light there was couldn’t find its way into the house – but being the stubborn male creature that I am, I couldn’t see any sense in going out in the middle of a raging storm to wash the windows.  Because, you see, there was always a raging storm in progress, but nobody else seemed to find anything strange about washing one’s windows right in the middle of it.

And speaking of gales and storms and howling winds, not even a hurricane-force howler would prevent even the most desperately ill pensioner from hanging her washing out on the line if that is what she had in mind to do.  And to be perfectly candid, if anyone waited until the weather was less rowdy in order to dry their laundry and not get soaked through to their bones, it would never be hung up at all.  When I first arrived I used to wonder why and how my neighbour would rush out into the fiercest gale and hang her wash and then simply forget about it.  For if we had been anywhere else on earth, all those clothes and sheets and towels would have been blown into the next county within a second and a half.  But not so on the island.   So I asked her how such a thing could be, and she let me in on the secret:  ‘Gale-Proof’ clothes-pegs!  And to think, I had never even heard of such a thing before.  Needless to say, they were by far the most popular item (after window-cleaning supplies) in the local hardware store – a store very much like an old-fashioned general store.    

I had not been there long before I decided it might be nice to be taken care of by a dog.  I didn’t want a sheepdog, simple because they are outside dogs and working dogs and I had no work for one to do.  They are not at their happiest if cosseted on a couch twenty-four hours a day.  Yes, sitting by the Aga and living the life of Riley might please them for a few hours of an afternoon and evening, but Border Collies are not among nature’s born contemplatives.  They grow bored and they grow restive (and, believe me, nothing can look as bored as a bored Border Collie).  They look out the east-facing window towards the fields of sheep and they sigh and they moan and they groan and they whimper, and should you persist in refusing to take the hint, they finally shout, “Please give me some feckin’ work to do!  Give me some sheep that I may take care of them and herd them this way and that and worry them half to death, and if you do what I want I  promise to love, honour and obey you forever and ever. And I won’t even nip you on your heals when you get in my way!” 

But even had I wanted one of these treasures, I had to remember that I was surrounded on all sides by small sheep farms, and on each farm on lived a couple of sheep dogs, none of which would be happy to welcome a newcomer. Of course, I could have made a compromise amenable to everyone – to the neighbouring dogs and to their owners and to myself – by simply adopting a Border Collie pup.  For many of the neighbouring sheepdogs were getting on in years. A puppy can easily be integrated into an existing community; it could simply join in with my neighbours collies in their tasks, and then at such time as one of the older animals died or got too weak, it could take its place.  Also, under this arrangement, if and when I should decide to leave and move elsewhere – for I have notoriously restless feet and little feeling for a settled life if it doesn’t suit me – my dog would have a home and a job.  And everything in the garden would be lovely.

However, as much as I love and appreciate Border Collies, what I really wanted – if I wanted anything at all – was a companion dog, a low-maintenance beastie whose natural inclination was to sit on the sofa and snuggle and be a best friend.  I also wanted a quiet dog, a tidy dog, and a dog that wouldn’t eat me out of house and home.  In other words, the last thing on my mind was a Labrador.  For although when it comes to food I am extremely disciplined and rarely give snacks either to myself or to any pets I may have, a labrador’s natural-born love-affair is not with its owner so much as with the owner’s refrigerator.  They can’t help it; it’s how they are made.  Now, every once in a while every well-behaved Labrador should be taken outside and away from its beloved refrigerator and its jealously guarded food bowl – for as every Labrador owner knows, a labrador’s fulltime indoor job – when not guarding the refrigerator – is to monitor whether, in a moment of inattention, an atom of food might not have made it way into this treasured receptacle; for surely, such a morsel must be there somewhere – just waiting to be slurped up by the labrador’s tongue.  And since a Labrador has a particularly suspicious mind where food is concerned, a speck of food can only mean one thing: that another dog will appear from the depths of nowhere and gobble it up. Right in front of him.  And since he is suspicious on an equal-opportunity basis, and insanely jealous in regards to every edible thing in the entire universe, he is – it goes without saying – profoundly distrustful of the neighbour’s cats.  For all cats – no matter what colour, no matter what shape, and no matter if the cats are never let out of their owner’s house – are always covetous of a labrador’s food bowl; they will stop at nothing to lure the poor Labrador away – possibly even to its death in the bog – so that they might claim that one tiny remaining titbit that is lurking on the bottom of the bowl. And that is the truth.

But as I started to say, every once in a while, every Labrador should be torn away from its beloved refrigerator and food bowl and taken outside.  And this, to every Labrador, means just one thing.  Playtime.  And to a Labrador, playtime invariably means water and mud and poking its nose in the neighbour’s business (which, in turn, often annoys the neighbour’s sheep dogs) and, of course, it also means raiding every neighbours’ refrigerators and cleaning their cat boxes and,  just perhaps, even relieving that one neighbour of her bothersome budgerigar.

 Now, Labradors are not scrappy individuals.  They are not terriers, always spoiling for a fight.  They are simply the canine version of the happy-go-lucky village vacuum cleaner.  From the minute of their birth, they know that no one – except for you, but you don’t count because you are evil-minded, pinch-faced and stingy – can resist feeding a visiting Labrador that extra wedge of cake (the wedge that was absentmindedly left unguarded for a nanosecond); for you see, as far as the labrador is concerned, everything that is within reach of his mouth belongs in his stomach.  And as every Labrador owner knows, a labrador’s mouth is faster than a speeding bullet and able to eat entire picnic baskets without appearing to move a muscle.

Now everyone claims that Labradors are ideal kids’ dogs, for they are patient, long-suffering and they rarely if ever lose their cool.  But the only reason that any labrador assumes this living-cuddly-teddy-bear disguise is that they know that sooner or later – whenever the kid is in the vicinity of food – he (the living-cuddly-teddy-bear) will consume every bite of it.  And if a kid should get upset and end up with a second or third of even a fourth helping, the kid still will go to bed starving. Because where food is concerned, labradors know their stuff.

As regards kids and food and Labradors, we should put aside – for the time being – any thoughts we might have about taking him straight to the vets for a permanent vacation. For, although you might not have given this much thought, Labradors are extremely far-sighted.  They instinctive know if a kid has a future as a high-fashion model. And that being the case, all it is doing is preparing that kid for a life of starvation and deprivation.  And let us never when forget the starving children of Biafra and Somalia and The Congo.  Had their parents not had Labradors at the beginning of children’s lives, those children would not have been as well prepared as they are for a diet of one meal per lifetime.

But are Labradors appreciated for their childhood starvation preparation talents?  Not a bit of it.  And does it occur to any of the stressed-out dieticians and healthcare professions that deal with the issue of childhood obesity that there is an easy and cost-effective solution?  Buy each kid a Labrador, and that kid will lose all its surplus avoirdupois in a day and a half.  Unless, of course, the kid simply turns around and eats the Labrador.  But you can’t win them all.

I will admit, Labradors do have one serious behaviour problem.  Should anyone within two hundred yards happen to be taking a deep breath when a Labrador decides to fart, that person will have no chance at all.  He will be dead.

Come to think of it, with all the problems the American seem to be having with their methods of executing their death-row inmates, wouldn’t it save a lot of time simply by feeding a Labrador two kilos of corn beef and cabbage and baked beans, and then simply locking it into a small, airless room with the condemned man?

It goes without saying that a Labrador is not for me.  Besides, they all seem to wear this perpetually happy-face, and I’m just not a happy-face kinda guy.

Did I finally settle on a dog?  Yes and no, for although I settled on a member of the canine family, she was not only not a dog, but she a bitch.  For if it is a nice clean undoggy canine you want, then I should recommend a female any day of the week.  But, “What was she?” I hear you ask.

 Well let me describe her for you.  She was about thigh high and her coat was dark brown.  She had liquid, almond-shaped eyes of darkest chocolate, and the figure of a supermodel; she could run like the wind, and she was as dainty as a gazelle.  She was completely fastidious in her habits; she was hypoallergenic and had no doggie odour whatsoever.  So polite was she that she would not even enter a room without permission.  She never begged; she didn’t appear to even know what a refrigerator was.  Her appetite was tiny – less than a cup of food two times a day – and being polite, she always left that one little bit on the plate. She was incredibly healthy and always maintained her perfect weight.  She preferred me to be in the room with her while she ate, but didn’t like it if I looked at her while she was eating.  She was also incredible quiet; she never barked.  And if she had to go outside, she would simply give me a certain ‘look’, and make an almost inaudible ‘squeak’. That was her sign that she was in a hurry – and if, in the middle of the night, she heard a hedgehog snuffling about on the grass, she would squeak twice.  It was her, “Let’s go hunt a hedgehog” squeak.  I only ever heard her bark once, and that was when a hare jumped up on the window sill and looked in at her. Otherwise, she never made a sound.  

When I first adopted her, it was during lambing.  It goes without saying I did not want to take any chances that – when I took her out for a run – she might take off after a new-born lamb. After all, she was born to the chase.  And so what I did was to fasten a thirty foot lunge line to her collar and take her as far away from the lambing shed as possible – down to the far pastures on the cliff.  And there she would run.  And run.  And run.  And when she had finished she had a habit of leaping on to the top of one of the great dry-stone walls, as if to say, “Here I am!”  And there she would recline like the lady she was – not even panting – waiting to be escorted home.

The rest of the time she was a complete couch-potato.  And at night, she slept under two duvets on my bed.  She never scratched, never chewed herself, and besides having a natural tendency to sleep right up close to me for warmth – which occasionally left me with only a few inches for myself – she never, ever disturbed my sleep.

The day after I brought her home was the day the farmer was spreading slurry on the fields.  Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with this practice, let me explain.  Slurry is usually cow manure that has been left in a vat to ferment for about a year. It is an ancient method of making fertilizer and it is strictly regulated.  

On the island, because of the weather and climate, the fields normally grew at least five cuttings of silage each year.  Each time the silage was mowed, slurry would be spread on to the stubble.

Needless to say, the day the slurry was spread the smell was somewhat strong.  Personally, I like the stink; to me it  smells like the earth and nature and how things ought to be.

Now, on that magical day, my doggie and I happened to be sitting outside the front door the first time the slurry wagon passed.  And the minute the wagon passed in front of us (for the wagons themselves smell very strong), her eyes glazed over; she tilted her head back and breathed in.  It was a very long, very deep breath.  She shuddered.  Her eyes started to water, her whole body started to vibrate.  And then she sighed.

Never before or since have I seen anyone transported like that.  It was – purely and simply – ecstasy.  And when it was over, she put her head in my lap, turned over on her back, and moaned.

Over the months and years that followed, she never paid the slightest bit of attention to the wagon, and since she was very fastidious about where she walked, she didn’t even like walking down the boreen with me on days when slurry was being spread – for, of course, the spreader dribbled when it was closed and left a string of splatters on the track.

It was just that one time. The first time. When life was new, and my lovely greyhound and I were sitting on the grass in front of our cottage; everything in heaven and earth was in its right place, and as a bonus she was given a special welcome to her brand new home.  For one split second, the cosmos held its breath and time stood still – and let the slurry wagon pass and give her its blessing.

May 18, 2010

Lost in Alexandria

Prowling Around the Back Streets and Alleyways of a City of Dreams

I have a real love of public transport.  And although I miss the countryside and all that it has to offer, I do love cities.  I especially love cities that have real people living in them; in other words, cities with a good public transportation system.  Because for me, the minute a city has become sterile and its services consist of private car parks and outlet malls and fast-food franchises and botoxed faces, then that is not a city in which I can breathe.  It might have all the best libraries and museums and theatres in the world, but if there are no buses or undergrounds, I’ll go somewhere else. Because I can drive around in cars anywhere; in a city I want to see and smell and taste the city itself. I want to uncover the street life, and the best way to do that is by walking from one end of it to the other.  And yes, by taking public transport.  And, by that, I mean by exploring as much of each and every route as possible.  Because – after all – every separate route .leads to a different place. Or, if they do happen to end up at the same place, then the route by which they travel is along a different set of streets.

One of the first lessons I was given as a kid – and a lesson that has stuck with me through thick and through thin – is that  upon arriving in a strange, new city  the first thing you do is to sample that city’s sights and sounds and flavours.  And, no, this isn’t done through going to a travel agent or through a faceless concierge in your indentikit hotel or in booking a guide to take you on the ‘official unofficial’ tour – which, it goes without saying, is conducted in the back of a car or in an air-conditioned coach.  And in both cases you are at the mercy of this guide (and in the coach this factotum is certain to have a microphone turned on to ‘full-blast’). That’s all very well if you are on a package tour and have only half a day before you move on to the next city and/or ruins, or if – to  put it bluntly – you simply can’t sand another moment of ‘experiencing the Third World’.  And that’s fair enough, because it’s honest.  On the other hand, if that is all you want out of life, then why bother to visit at all – just stay at home, save yourself a lot of money and discomfort, and watch the travel channel.  Of course, that way you won’t be able to share your travel-related horror-stories with your friends, but you can’t have it both ways. But back to guides and pre-arranged tours.  What you have to understand is that nothing they will show you will resemble the city or country in which they live.  For no matter how conscientious the guides happen to be, their tour will have been designed by some expert or other who ‘knows’ what the visitor will want to see.  And you can be sure that on their list there will be nothing that hasn’t been vetted by the chamber of commerce or the guide books or the ministry of tourism. In other words, you will never even hear about the truly exasperating and shimmering parts of the city, much less the nitty-gritty areas that, for the locals, make their everyday lives come alive.

I will never say that you should not do a certain amount of homework, for every city has areas that are best avoided, just as every city has its own special secrets.  This, however, does not mean you should Google the FBI/CIA websites or stick to the news agencies of your own countries. For contrary to what you might have heard, other countries do report news accurately, and not all of them cover up the negative and the ugly. And no, not all of their news is propaganda.  And if you would rather not believe me, just remember this: every month, thousands of tourists visit dozens of countries and most of them even live to tell about it.  And also keep in mind that you are just as likely to get diarrhoea drinking bottled water in Dallas as you are eating falafel from a market stall in Ibrahimea. 

So anyway, here you are in Alexandria!  You are all squared away in your hotel, having unpacked and eaten a good hotel lunch of over-cooked chicken, and you are ready to hit the streets.  Now remember, the first thing you do is ignore the concierge at all costs.  First of all, many of them really don’t know what’s going on if it’s not already listed in the hotel’s ‘What’s On’ Guide, plus the fact that they will never ever have a decent map.  But in any case, even if all you want the concierge for is to book theatre tickets, wouldn’t you prefer to go to the theatre yourself and see what seats are actually available?  It’s not only an eye-opener to discover how much money you will save, but – and this is a real bonus – you will actually get to know where the theatre is; and wouldn’t it be interesting to discover what else is happening in that particular neighbourhood?  For, as far as I am concerned, the whole purpose of travelling – indeed, the whole purpose of life – is to be constantly surprised by sounds and tastes you have never before even imagined. And as for the theatre itself, there will possibly be other offerings not listed in the hotel’s brochure. For believe me, it is only for the ‘major’ events that the theatre or opera house will bother notifying the hotels. In other words, if the production happens not to target a higher-end audience willing to pay a lot of money, the concierge will never hear of it.  And also – in Alexandria – there is the probability that the production will have been cancelled, but since nobody in Alexandria ever notifies anyone of anything, your concierge would not have been informed. 

Another good reason to check out the theatre yourself is that you can also investigate any bus or mini-bus routes that take you back to the hotel; for believe me, there will be dozens of them.  This, for me, is extremely important.  I’m not being a cheapo here – although I admit to preferring to spend my money on something else besides a taxi. However, let’s be brutally honest; in many countries taking a taxi means one thing:  bargaining, endless whinging, perpetual wheedling, followed by yet more bargaining.  And I’m talking about bargaining that will not stop from one end of the ride to the other.  What you will discover is – yes – you may have agreed on a price beforehand, but from the moment the taxi leaves the curb (and you are deluded enough to believe that the affair of the fare has been satisfactorily settled) that’s when the driver suggests that there is, of course, the matter of the tip. And, from that point on, instead of being able to enjoy the sights and sounds and smells of the city, you will perforce listen to a non-stop whine about what a good driver he is, about how the driver has to support his brother’s sixteen children in addition to his own, and about how he has to pay for an operation for this mother. Now, what you have to remember is that the story is always the same; it is, in fact, the same story that ruined the visits of tourists two thousand years ago. And, more recently, it is why “The boy stood on the burning deck” (the boy in question being young Casabianca, the son of one of Napoleon’s admirals) chose to burn to a crisp rather than to swim ashore and risk a taxi to the Cairo Airport. For me – and I am willing to admit that it is personal – on the whole, I would rather leave two hours early and take the most crowded bus  that deal with the average taxi driver.   I’ve been there, done that,  bought the fuckin T-shirt  and, what’s more, I can repeat the spiel back – word for word (in the identical tone of voice) to any taxi driver who dares inflict me with it.  And if you take taxis often enough you will hear it in all its hundreds and thousands of variations.  And you might even hear three different versions from the same driver who picked you up from the airport, who later drove you out to Carrefour, and who – later still – picked you up at Carrefour and drove you back to your hotel.  It’s called one of the seven wonders of Egypt.  And I’m sure it’s why Marc Antony eventually committed suicide.  After all, with Cleopatra dead and unable to bargain on his behalf, he never ever would have been able to set a fare to the airport.  It was simply more pleasant to die.

Needless to say, if you ever ask an Egyptian how much you should pay a taxi to take you – say – to the Greco-Roman amphitheatre (which is has never heard of), he will immediately tell you that you can get a much better deal on a new Nokia phone at Sidi Gaber, and that the tariff to Sidi Gaber is five pounds and not a piaster more.  It is then that you laugh in his face.  Because, you see, you are not Egyptian.  An Egyptian simply gets into a taxi, gets out at the other end, pays the driver the five pounds, and slams the door.  But, as a foreigner, even had an Egyptian settled on a fare on your behalf, the minute you have left in the taxi, and your Egyptian friend is safely back on the street, your driver suddenly doesn’t remember that anything has ever been discussed.  And so the bargaining begins.

Now, I will admit here and now to having sunk to a new level of deceit.  It’s called speaking French. I simply get into a taxi next to the drive, and bark a resolute “Bonjour, Monsieur.” I have found to my great joy that this confuses the driver.  And being confused, he simply accepts whatever sum I give to him (and here, let us be fair:  although I am as skint as a bucket of skinflints, I still have more money than the average Egyptian.  Taxi drivers work very hard.  And I certainly do not expect to pay the same low, low tariff as an Egyptian).  However, I would much rather hear the whinge in French than I would in English. After all, in English I am forced to understand it.

And while we are on the subject of foreigners and bargaining – and let’s face it, there is nothing dearer to an Egyptian’s heart that proving that every foreigner is the idiot that he truly is – I have a story for you.

A couple of months ago, I became acquainted with a young student teacher from Brazil. Now, it so happened he was well-educated, well-travelled and savvy; what’s more he also knew how to use his appearance to get everything at ‘local’ prices. Because, of course, the ethnic mix in Brazil often has more in common with that of North Africa than it does with the rest of Latin America.  And because of his appearance – for let’s face it – the modern Egyptian is an homogenous blend of many different peoples – everyone in the market automatically assumed that he could be either a Nubian or an Egyptian of Sudanese descent or some other mix.  And consequently, just so long as he kept his mouth shut (for he did not speak Arabic) he always paid what the Egyptians paid for everything.  And I do mean everything.   

Now this is where is gets funny.  The other students in his ESL certification class were either Americans of European descent or Northern European themselves.  In other words, the last thing they looked like was Egyptian.  Now, it goes without saying that every one of the students was on a tight budget.  Therefore, the minute they realised the Brazilian could get things for practically nothing – whereas they always had to pay ten times as much – he would invariably end up with their shopping lists.  So far, so good; all’s fair in love and war and in saving a buck or three.

As I’ve already mentioned, this Brazilian guy knew enough to keep his mouth shut when out shopping; he would simply point to whatever he wanted, then pay and leave.  The fact that he hadn’t spoken was irrelevant.

And when he happened to be accompanied by one of his American friends, he still pointed and still said nothing.  And if for some reason, he did speak English to one of the others in the group, the stallholders still assumed that he was Egyptian.  After all, plenty of Egyptians speak at least a little English.  But then – alas – came the day when he actually needed to ask for something.  It was at that moment, of course, when the stallholder – who had been selling items to him at reduced rates for a good three weeks – suddenly saw the light of day.   And, of course, he laughed.  What a wonderful jokester the Brazilian was!  However, to cut a long story short, the Brazilian instantly lost his Egyptian status, as well as the privileges that went with them.  Knowing the Egyptians as I do, he probably ended up paying twice as much as any other foreigner. And to make matters worse, he was never again given any of the choicest fruit. But, of course, he was now a foreigner and all foreigners are stupid; he was simply being put in his place.

Now, you may recall that at the very beginning of this piece, I mentioned that – when I was very young –  I was given an invaluable piece of advice (the only one to which I have ever actually listened).  It is the key to unlocking the mysteries of any city in the world.  And it is this:  the first thing you do, upon arriving in a city – after you get settled in – is to get on the first bus you see.  And once you are on the bus, let yourself be absorbed into the life of the bus, into the lives of the people on the bus, and into the life of the passing streets.  Simply open your eyes and ears, and let yourself go.  And when you get to a place that looks interesting, simply get off and start walking.  And don’t worry about getting lost, because in a city teaming with life, there is no such thing as getting lost.  Yes, you might misplace yourself.  But even should you happen to get totally tangled up, you simply ask for directions (and having asked for directions, you will immediately be invited to eat lunch with everyone within earshot).  

It goes without saying you will have remembered to write down the name of your hotel (I least I hope you have).  And, of course, although I hate to inflict one on you in your very first day in Egypt, there’s always a taxi in case of emergencies. 

Mobile phones may be the bane of my existence, but they really can be lifesavers. And in countries such as Egypt, handsets and SIM cards are cheap.  Plus, since they are invariably pay-as-you-go, you are not going to end up with a large bill at the end of your visit.   Therefore, buy an inexpensive phone; write down the number (as well as the number of your hotel – and yes – your Consulate if you are so inclined – as well as the number of that one person in your family back home in Dundee or Duluth who is most likely to panic).

But anyway, don’t worry about getting lost.  You are, after all, in a foreign city for the sole purpose of discovering that city.  And how you do this is by taking buses – any and all buses – and then by walking and walking and walking.  And whilst you are doing this, you will meet new friends; in fact, if you are in Egypt, by the end of the first day you will have more friends than you’ve ever had in your life.

Before we go any further, here is another thing worth remembering. Each and every one of your new friends will want your phone number, and if they are male, ninety-nine percent of them will be named Mohammed or Ahmed or Mahmud. And all of them will phone you at three o’clock in the morning and invite you out to tea and sheeshah.  For in Egypt, life begins after ten or eleven at night; sitting in cafes until all hours with your friends in an Egyptian tradition.  So don’t get annoyed, and when you enter their names on your contact list, remember to add their second name as well – for in the Arab tradition, each and every person carries four names: his or her own name, followed by his or her father’s name, followed by his father’s name, followed by his father’s name. So if a new friend tells you his name is Mohammed, it will save a lot of embarrassment later on if you ask him to tell you his second name as well. That way instead of being listed as one of thirty Mohammeds, he will become known to you as (for example) Mohammed Sayed (which is easier to remember than Mohammed Number Two).  Otherwise, when you receive twelve different calls from twelve different Mohammeds at three in the morning, you will be able to avoid the usual scenario wherein whichever Mohammed it is will be hurt because you can’t tell him apart from all the other Mohammeds.

One additional suggestion.  Now I know I’ve come down hard on taxi drivers, but when you do meet a good one and he wants to give you his phone number, enter in on your phone.  Because you never know when you might need the services of a good taxi.  And if a rotten drive insists on giving you his number, simply enter it – and after you’ve gone, push the delete button.

Over the past years, because of my curiosity, I have discovered no end of out-of-the-ordinary places in Alexandria. And since the average Egyptian, just like the average Englishman or American or Frenchman or Irishman or (yes, I know, and I’m sorry) Scotsman, won’t have a clue about what’s going on in his or her country – it will be up to you to discover everything for yourself.  Now, I happen to love the local markets in the back streets, as well as the twisty-turny hidden passageways where ordinary people go to shop for special delicacies and bespoke items. I also like to know what sort of cafe is frequented by what sort of people.

For a while I used to suggest to foreign visitors that they might like to visit some of these amazing, magical places, and I always ended on the receiving end of a blank stare.  Because almost none of them ever take buses, they don’t know one district for the other, and when they do go out, it is invariably to Carrefour (which is, after all, a mall like every other mall in the world, and therefore just like home).  Either that, or they go somewhere on a set tour arranged by their school.  Having been burned, I now mind my own business.

At one point (for my sins) I taught one or two evening classes to Egyptian students.  One of the joys of this experience was to have been able to share with them some of Egypt’s cultural icons, of whom they had often heard very little.  For example, none of them had heard of Nass Makan – which is in Cairo and is the Centre for Traditional Egyptian folk music (it is, by the way, on the web – and it also has a page on Facebook). Another name with which to conjure was and is Rahnda Fahmy, who is possibly the greatest female coppersmith in the world, and whose works are displayed in every major museum and gallery and palace (and – yes – mosque) throughout the Middle East, Asia and Europe.  Her sister, Azza, is a major jewellery designer.  The list goes on and on and on… and the maddening thing was not that my Egyptian students knew very little about their own cultural treasures, but that not a single one of the people responsible for running the ESL training centre – which was supposedly guaranteeing foreign students an insight into Egyptian culture – had even heard of any of them.  Nor were they interested.

For what it’s worth, in case you ever do happen to visit Alexandria, here are a couple of places to explore:  first of all, The Friday Market, which is the most outrageously chaotic flea market you will ever find.  It is open Thursdays and Fridays (afternoons to well after midnight) and is located between Anfushi and El Max on Sharia Abaza Oshmann (and which spreads out higgledy-piggledy in all directions).  And then, of course – and this a part of the Friday market, as well – along the canal is to be found the market for new toilets.  And if that isn’t worth more than a visit to the Pyramids, I don’t know what is!  Another little gem is on the rue Nabi Daniel, near Manshea. It is a tiny market chock full of booksellers.  And no, it is not as good as the one in Cairo, nor can it be compared to the Left Bank in Paris, but I have never failed to find at least one long-forgotten and discontinued Penguins amidst the madness.  And yes, just a few minutes from the bookstalls are a couple of legendary cafes.  And while they may be crumbling and the service may be appalling, you cannot sit in their faded and dusty splendour and not be sucked back into the past, to an era when Alexandria was the Alexandria of everyone’s memory.  One more thing:  Across Nabi Daniel (and this is probably the only place in Alexandria where you can actually cross the street and not be run over) is the French Cultural Centre.  Their small exhibitions are truly wonderful, they have a full program of concerts and films (all free), as well as a small French/Arabic bookshop and a mediateque. … and, last but not least, a peaceful garden where you can sit and not be surrounded by noise.  And as a bonus, inside the villa they have well-polished floors.

If there is one thing you should embed in your psyche it is that Egyptians do not have the western concept of service.  So leave any thoughts you have about the customer always being right at home.  If you don’t, I promise you will be miserable.

And one more thing.  Egyptians are not politically correct and everyone yells at everyone else.  So for once in your repressed and frustrated and timid little politically-correct life, go ahead and yell back.  Because nobody will mind at all.  It is the Egyptian way.

Do you want to know one last thing?  I bet you I am the only foreigner in Alex who knows where a certain pet camel lives (and no, it is not the one in the seafood restaurant).  Its home is somewhere near the shipyards.  But if you want to find it, you’ll have to prowl around and find it for yourself.

May 17, 2010

Nobody Understands Us Crabby People!

Never, never look at us and cross your eyes.

“Nobody Understands Us Crabby People!” This glorious lament was wailed by none other than that indefatigable warrior heroine of the mid- to late- twentieth century, Charles M. Schulz’ redoubtable creation, ‘Lucy Van Pelt’, in his ‘Peanuts’ comic strip. To her war-cry and her memory, let me respond with a rousing, “Hear! Hear!” 

In certain respects ‘Lucy’ was very much like an American version of Sophie, the evil floor-scrubber and incubus in my family’s life during my childhood and adolescence.  The two of them certainly looked alike; they obviously had the same foghorn voices (which the ‘Peanuts’ films never endeavoured to captured), identical scowls, and identical figures.  In other words, both were round and had little definition to their bodies.  Now, of course, ‘Lucy’ was a little girl – albeit a little girl who lived in suspended animation whilst her little brothers eventually caught up with her.  Sophie, on the other hand, was permanently aged somewhere between thirty and forty; by the time I went away to school, she was closer to fifty.  But I’m sure, had ‘Lucy’ not been a little American girl with a poufy little American dress (eventually replaced by trousers), she might very well have found herself – upon entering adulthood – in one of Sophie’s shirt-waist dresses.  For Lucy was nothing if not a practical person; and Sophie was a practical, no-nonsense woman.  Both of them were fond of doling out advice – ‘Lucy’ from behind her ‘The Doctor Is In’ sign, and Sophie whenever her mouth was open (never mind if there was no one present to benefit from her wisdom).  In fact, I think the only time Sophie was not telling others what she thought, was when her mouth was engaged in chewing one of the ever-present bacon sandwiches that she carried in the pocket of her overall.

Sophie’s customary mode of dress was one of several identical grey shirtwaist frocks with horizontal brown stripes. I am only assuming that she had several (for one of her aunts was a seamstress who hired herself out as the region’s ‘daily dressmaker’ [truly a blast from the past]).  However, it is equally possible that it was actually the same (much-laundered) frock; at least it always bore the same identical tears and repairs.  And underneath, on her sturdy but surprisingly shapely legs, were the indestructible grey Balbriggan stockings (which she changed to a lighter shade when walking out with Bert from down at the local garage, and to black when she accompanied Miss Frame to church on Sundays).  It was also her custom to cloak herself in a pinkish-grey overall – of the type favoured by proprietresses of dainty seaside tea shoppes, and which were endowed with voluminous pockets – all the better for carrying around Sophie’s myriad snacks.   And at those times when she was a raving lunatic due to ‘the bleedin’ curse’, she would, of course, replace her regular hairnet with the infamous French maid’s cap.    But that is neither here nor there.  It was Sophie; she wore what she had always worn, what her mother had worn before her, and what she was comfortable in; it suited her down to the ground.  You see, Sophie was what you might call a ‘big girl’.  She was five foot ten in her stocking feet, and built like a Mack truck. And it is worth noting that none of her personal acreage ran to fat. In other words, she was fully packed and as solid as a rock. And since she had no bosom to speak of, as well as no hips, I would guess that her measurements (not that she would ever let anyone get near enough to take them) were at least a sturdy 45” – 45” – 45”.  She was incredibly strong.   

Sophie had always been a workhorse, and that was the role that best suited her.  But she was also the world’s most fabulously crabby of all of the world’s most naturally gifted crabby people.  And very, very cheerful about it.  And that is why she and ‘Lucy Van Pelt’ are more or less interchangeable in my memory’s picture album.  For you see, neither of these monuments to crabbiness had to fall back on any outside stimuli – or PMS – to come to their rescue and re-crabbify them.  They simply were glorious, natural-born, crabby bitches of the first water.  And to quote Sophie (upon entering my father’s study when he was bending over his desk and writing some research proposal or other), “Why are you always in my way when I’m after cleaning your piggery?  Haven’t you got anything better tae do?”

Now, as everyone knows, there are two kinds of crabby people.  The first kind – and the kind that is particularly tedious, is imbued with the male kind of crabbiness.  And any man cursed with this affliction is usually referred to as “that bloody old bore,” or “why can’t he give it rest?” 

Now the problem with this male gender crabbiness (otherwise known as MGC) is that it is invariably directed outwards towards external circumstances – which, when it comes down to it, have very little, if anything, to do with the old crab himself.  This means, of course, that in male gender crabbiness, politics is always a popular subject.  Especially when it involves that evil devil ‘progress’.  For crabby men tend to be conservative men, and if they could bring back the old days (inevitably back in the mists of time before recorded history) they would.  Flogging is almost always mentioned – as a very popular solution to many of society’s ills (irrespective of the fact that it had been done away with in their own father’s time). But fortunately for the average MGC, who is often behind the times, there is always a steady stream of costume dramas to yank his favourite solutions back into the present).  

Although most of those afflicted with male gender crabbiness tend to lean towards the right (possible as a result of their right testicle being heavier and more substantial than the more lightweight and suspiciously airy-fairy left one), there are also those congenital crabs blessed with a righteous leftish seething towards anyone who did not grow up in a halting site underneath a by-pass on the M1 – irrespective of the fact that they themselves grew up on the Isle of Wight and their mother was the president of the Women’s Institute.  In fact, speaking of this strange hybrid, who often devolves into the righteously leftist-though-sometimes-rightist seething variety of crabby person, I often feel that most of the ol’ crabster Rupert Murdoch’s reporters and columnists are gleaned from his own private crabby boot-camp, a hothouse founded to make already crabby people even crabbier, before he hires them.  Now, those who are fortunate enough to have graduated from the Murdoch private crabby boot-camp (whose one necessary qualification seems to be that they suffer from a severe case of penis envy), can be assured of a handsome salary providing they devote their entire career to whinging about any school or university that actually produces success stories – Eton being one of their favourite whipping-boys, Oxbridge being the another example.  What these Über-Crabby-Murdockians seem to have learned in the boot-camp is a certain sense of obligation, whereby they are obliged to drag those very twenty-first century institutions back into the dark old swamps of ‘Tom Brown’s School-Days’.  And they even manage to do it when they are dealing with such a seemingly innocuous (though possibly intolerable) subject as Nigella Lawson’s new cookery program.  

Anyway,  if you want to see what a successful male gender crabby person who has no reason to be crabby looks like, please Google ‘Rupert Murdoch’, and then look at every single back- issue of the Times published  since Gordon Brown became Prime Minister (after The Poodle finally resigned).  Let’s us just call it food for the truly crabby person’s cantankerous soul.

And then, of course, we must give a disgruntled round of cranky applause to every successful male crabby person’s role model:  The Truly Magnificently Crabby Dick Cheney.  Now he is what we might call a true crabby heavy-weight among the upper echelons of the recently unemployed crabby personalities.  And even if the mere sight of him makes you want to bomb the entire length of Chelsea’s Cheney Walk, you really must salute him.  For remember this, this crabby little street built too close to that crabby and unpredictable river, The Crabbe (the Anglo-Saxon word for ‘The Thames) was obviously named in Dick Cheney’s crabby honour long before his own hyper-crabby sub-species was even invented.  It was what they call a christening in anticipation of the blessed event. For even way back then, in commemoration of the eventual inclusion of the sport of water-boarding in the Olympics, the truly crabby Neo-Crabbyites were looking for a way immortalise one of the greatest crabby people of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  Truly, Mr. Cheney’s level of crabbiness should be an inspiration to all of those who aspire to join the crank-filled ranks of the truly crabby.  For he could actually look at you and cause the skin to peel off your face.  And that, my friends, is what crabbiness is all about!

Now, having dealt with la crème de la crème of  contemporary male gender crabbiness, I am not going to get into those by-gone titans of male gender crabbiness to whom all crabby men must owe a debt of gratitude – such demi-gods of rampage such as Hitler and Stalin and Saddam Hussein and Ceausescu and Pinochet and Robespierre – for I don’t want to get you all hot and bothered before you have even read the morning paper; in other words, before you discover that your that your team has just been demoted to the Coca-Cola Division and that David Cameron – who already had had to be smuggled ignominiously into the Scottish parliament through the basement car park (during his first visit as Prime Minister) for daring to overthrow the Scottish government with his one single Tory MP – has decided to collectivised the whole of British farming and has already published his first White Paper. It is, of course, guaranteed to outrage even the uncrabbiest of crabby people, for in it this newly ordained dictator for life (and despot of Albion) has outlined the details of his first Five Year Plan.  Why, even the normally placidly uncrabby Lib Dems are seething with crabbiness and shouting “Off with his head!” And all this in his very first week in office!  How proud he must be!

So, in summing up the whole matter of male gender crabbiness, in order to raise the hackles of the crabbiness hoards, we simply shout the following two sets of three words each in the direction on a crabby person’s ears:  ‘lefty, commie, pinko’ – which is a perfect slogan, because it can be applied to anyone out of favour with the male gender crabby lobby, followed by ‘bring back hanging.’  And then, if you’re are a prematurely crabby young and  up and coming male gender crabby person, especially one who wants to see all old people banned from driving and the motorways reserved for drivers of super cars, there is always the slogan, ‘Jeremy Clarkson for Prime Minister’.  And, I must say, that campaign might actually even attract me, especially if he bans Donald Trump’s comb-over from all of Scotland’s shifting dunes.  And buys me a Morgan roadster.  Because at least he would give us five gloriously disgruntled years of crabby wit and laughter – something that David Cameron has already banned in No. 10.

So we have all agreed that most male gender crabbiness is about externals, and especially those externals that have little bearing with his life. So let us segue to Female Gender Crabbiness (FGC for short).  As Bette Davis’ character once said in ‘All About Eve’, “Fasten your seat belts.  It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

However, before we proceed to the second major type of crabbiness, i.e. the female crabbiness syndrome, let me assure you that I shall not neglect the weighty and crab-making issues of adolescent crabbiness or of the equally insufferable midlife crisis crabbiness.  For they are both equal among the elite of the crabbiest of crabby crankcases, and to wallow in their abysmal slime at this time of the day, when many of you have not yet drunk your coffee or taken your Paxil – would only inspire you to enrol in that Jar-Head Para-Military Assassins’ Boot-Camp in order that you might join your first born – now re-christened ‘Plank’ – in his plans to overthrow that bunch of left-wing commie pinko unamurkins who have seized control of God’s Own good Amurkin gummit. So, relax.  You do not have to worry about that, or even about killing your neighbours for looking at you cross-eyed. At least not today.

So now, to the female woman’s crabbiness syndrome.

It goes without saying that every man of woman born blames everything that ever happened on his mother’s (and then his partner’s) menstrual cycle.  First of all, there is what he calls ‘that fucking smell’, regardless of the fact that the particular aroma he is talking about originated under his own armpit.  Secondly, there is the fact that, what with all her raving and ranting and carrying on, he is not being allowed to exercise the full breadth of his own male gender raving and ranting and carrying on without getting into trouble, and without her bursting into tears.  And then, of course, there is the matter of her locking the bedroom in his face, simply because he’s come home drunk from a night on the town with his mates while she has been sitting alone with her book and her cramps.  And all he said to her when he got home from his drunken reverie at Strip-o-Rama was that he needed a ‘bloody good shag’.  Even some of the ‘rough’.  Because, after all, the usual channel is none too clean, if you know what I mean.

Now, the reason it looks like I am not giving equal space to the matter of female crabbiness, does not mean I am belittling it.  On the contrary.  Whereas most male gender crabbiness is caused by an inexhaustible number of external forces which he in not able to control – such as the fucking ash cloud that has grounded his flight; the rugby team that never seems to win – even thought he has forked out his own hard-earned money for season tickets; that fucking Scottish plonker Andy Murray who has crashed out of yet another tournament, even though he is earning God-only-knows how many millions a year and, in any case – in the crab’s humble opinion –  the fucking BBC shouldn’t even be showing tennis.  For, after all, Tennis is only for rich people and wankers and is not even a real sport, such as hurling (and which the BBC has never even heard of). And then there’s fucking Kauto Star – who, in spite of this crabby punter having placed a bet the size of his annual salary on him winning the Gold Cup (a dead cert which would have paid for that special holiday in Dubai with his mates) – couldn’t even come in last.  And then, it goes without say, there’s Snooker.  In the crabby person’s opinion, it had always been broadcast in gold old black and white.  And now they have fucking well changed it to colour.  And the players are now wearing fucking makeup and hair gel.  And all of this just to spite him.

Yes, granted that some women are sport’s fanatics.  And granted that they can easily out-rant even the rantiest man. And yes, some of them are even bad drivers, and not very nice people.  However, a lot of their innate crabbiness (the crabbiness that isn’t caused by their crabby husbands and a surfeit of donuts), does stem from internal sources.  Every woman in the world knows what these are. And no man does. To him a woman’s hormones are even more of a mystery than her anatomy.  And as a man, I can say that I don’t really want to know… unless a particular woman wants to tell me (and even then I might stopper my ears).  Otherwise, as a man, it is my job to be sensitive to her needs, especially at that certain time of the month.   And if she wants me out of the way, I should to keep out of her way; and if she wants me around for support, then it’s up to me to forego one or two evenings with my mates down at the pub. And that, my friends, is why I am not saying much more about the mysterious world of the female crabbiness syndrome.  Except to say, if Dick Cheney had been a woman, probably all of us would have been bombed.

A quick final note about Sophie. Now her periods – which never seemed to end – and her PMS – which dragged her backwards through the brambles every month from the onset of puberty at the age of ten – eventually got so bad that she finally asked my mother for help.  For my mother had always had a very bad time of it, and she herself had had her first period at a very young age.  However, my mother was also a very well-educated woman and she had sought help.  Sophie, on the other hand, could barely read anything more sophisticated than the movie fan magazines she loved.  But she was terrified that, “one of these days it’s going to carry me away!”

Now Sophie was just my mother’s age.  At the time Sophie finally asked her to help, both women were in their latest forties or early fifties.  My mother’s physician had just recently prescribed a certain course of treatment for her, and it had turned her life around.

And so, she quietly told Sophie to put on her coat, and she took her to the doctor.  It took some convincing, after all, as Sophie herself said, all the women in her family “had had the devil’s own time, but they’d gritted their teeth and carried on.”

Fortunately, Sophie chose to follow my mother’s example and not that of her mother, and the result was nothing short of a miracle. In fact, it was so much of a miracle that the Sophie we had always known, was not ‘our Sophie’ anymore.  Yes, she continued to work in my grandmother’s house for a time, but gone was the French Lady’s maid’s cap, and gone was that single shirt-waist dress that had served her for so long.  And gone was her crabbiness.  Yes, she was still outspoken; she was still high-spirited; yes, she did have a temper, because after all, Sophie (and not Bonnie Langford) was still living in that sausage body.

Now, I don’t know what became of her; I don’t know whether she had a happy ending. Because by that time I was away at school and had other things on my mind. Still and all, I think it’s rather grand that she finally got some her crabbiness taken away.  And I’d like to think she had had a few years left to enjoy her freedom.             

Now, where was Mrs. Bichan in all this?  Very much out of the loop.  You have to understand that – although we are talking about the twentieth century, Mrs. Bichan and Sophie lived in a different era.   Both had been born to parents that worked for my grandmother’s family; they were deeply feudal.  Now, even though our arrangement was hardly orthodox, as far as Mrs. Bichan and Sophie were concerned everything had to be done  according to the dictates of tradition.  In other words, under normal circumstances, if Sophie had a medical problem, she would never go straight to my mother.  She would go to the person in charge of her life.  In this case, Mrs. Bichan.

But here’s the rub.  Mrs. Bichan disliked Sophie and thought she was an idiot.  And in turn, Sophie considered Mrs. Bichan to be beneath her.  Then there was the fact that Mrs. Bichan had never had a period in her life; in fact, she had had a hysterectomy at age thirteen, when she had been diagnosed with a tumour.  Consequently, she was as clueless as she was intolerant when it came to ‘female troubles’. As far as she was concerned, such things were ‘dirty’ and one never talked about dirty things.  And it seemed that for at least fifteen years Sophie had been begging her for advice, and all the ‘so-called housekeeper’ would say is, “If you spent more time on your knees praying’ and scrubbing the floors, and less time eatin’ bacon sandwiches and thinkin’ of your pain, perhaps the good Lord would help you.”

It took a good many years before Sophie awoke to the fact that, no matter how many floors she scrubbed and how many bacon sandwiches she didn’t eat in front of Mrs. Bichan, things were only getting worse.  That was when she went to my mother; my mother then put her in the car and took her to the doctor, who was, by the way, a good Presbyterian – just like Sophie.  It goes without saying that, upon being treated by this good Presbyterian doctor, Sophie was miraculously cured.  And that is when the penny dropped.  The reason for her troubles all those many years was not so much the sneaking of bacon sandwiches, but that she had been following the advice of The Scarlet Whore of Babylon.

May 16, 2010

My Life As A Puppy

Discovering My True Vocation

I’m not exactly an old hand when it comes to online dating.  In fact, I’m not exactly an old hand when it comes to off-line dating.  Come to think of it, even though I have never tried them, I might suggest that I would make less of a mess on inline skates than I have on the dating scene.  In other words, I am potentially armed and dangerous, and ready for a rumble.

 My past experience in online dating (and yes, there was only one) proved to me – yet again – that I am willing to believe anyone, and that I would fall in love with a garbage truck if it whispered to me often enough it was really a Morgan roadster in disguise.  So yes, I fell, if not in love, then into a state of near-fatal curiosity; it also cost me a fair amount of money and a lot of wasted time.  Fortunately there were no broken hearts, at least not on my side, for if truth be told even before I had flown halfway round the world I was already hearing the alarm bells clanging in my head.  And needless to say, less than half a minute after I met her, I was already re-examining my options (and yes, that entire cautionary tale shall get an airing). Fortunately for me – and, yes, it was a ‘fortunately’ – within two days she was rude to a waitress, thus giving me an out. For in spite of all my failings, if there in one thing I will not tolerate it is rudeness towards a server or a salesperson.  That being so, I simply stood up, went over to the waitress, paid her, apologised to her, and left, thus severing in the bud a non-relationship that would have been a disaster had it blossomed.  

Now, the fact that I rushed into this little contretemps was my fault. No-one had pointed a gun at my head, and in spite of the fact that the hairs on the back of my neck were not only tingling, but shrieking, I still went ahead with it, saying merrily, “Well, at least it’s another country I’ll get to know!” 

That episode aside, I have always been sceptical when it comes to dating services.   Especially one accessed over a computer, because even if you are serious about your quest and you write an extremely detailed and lengthy profile – a profile that should leave no doubt in the mind of even the mouldiest cabbage what and who you are looking for, it always appears as though the computer has not only not  looked at what you have written, but that whatever is written is is not specific enough; therefore the computer will simply ignore it; and usually being an American computer, it will decide it knows better than you do what it is you want.  Then, of course, one must take into account the inevitable fact that the individuals who are surfing through the site never bother to read any of the details which you have so carefully and lovingly provided.  But I am learning. Perhaps more slowly than most, but I am on the way.  In other words, I am now leaving absolutely nothing to chance.  And I’m also having a lot of fun.

First of all, let me say that I did check out my current dating site beforehand.  The first piece of good news is that it is free.  And by that I mean exactly what I say.  In other words, it is not one of those ‘free’ sites that professes to free, until, of course, the minute you institute a search, at which point it informs you that – oops! – it is unable proceed to the next step until you upgrade to their premium service.  As far as I am concerned, either it’s free or it’s not, and if it’s not free, it should say so on the box instead of wasting my time. 

I have been so excited (it does not take much to please me) that I almost forgot to say that this site actually vets the photographs.  So if you are looking for a man, you are not suddenly inundated by a lot of images gleaned from the Bel Ami gay porn site.  Not that I have anything against these images, but since I already know what most of their models look like (I am very thorough when it comes to research) I tend to be turned off when some forty-eight-year old bricklayer from Barnstable claims to be the owner of that very lovely and perfectly-form Croatian penis.  For you immediately suspect that he might have something to hide, such as the fact that he weighs two hundred stone, is covered with fur, and lives with his mother and two-hundred budgerigars. In a caravan. In a halting site.  Just next to the nuclear power plant.

In my humble opinion, looking for a possible long-term relationship is not like looking for a bit on the side.  That being the case, any man who feels obliged to display his wears to attract someone’s attention, is probably not in it for the long haul. After all, during a long haul you do have plenty of time to study the scenery. And in any case, since this is not a gay dating service specifically targeting the meat-locker trade, but rather caters to everyone, it’s actually refreshing to see someone’s face and discover that they actually do live somewhere and have a life. However, if you are not interested in that, but rather in salivating over a wall-to-wall exhibition of rampant photo-shopped penises, here is the URL:  http//: www.  

So anyway, what I am leading up to is this (and no, I am not an employee of the site in question and have nothing to gain from saying anything nice about it, except perhaps they will stop sending me notes begging me to “Please find someone and leave us alone!”):  it is not a porn dating site.  And if it is, its hidden agenda is squirreled away so craftily in one of their five hundred plus tests, that I have been unable to unearth it.

No, seriously.  It is not a porn site, and this to me is refreshing, simply because most of them are. I know it’s probably a case of supply and demand (or at least ‘presumed’ supply and demand). However, just as I don’t think most women are pining for men who ask the size of their breasts the first time out, any bloke who asks the size of my willy in his first message, before we have even introduced ourselves, may not get the response he is expecting (unless of course, he offers me a month’s holiday on his yacht and promises ‘cross my heart’ not to slit my throat the minute we enter International waters). But back to this pesky ‘tell us about your willy’ question.  Now, to be perfectly blunt, the reason I do not like this type of question is not because my willy has anything to be ashamed of.  After all, he is what he is and he is in his original wrapper and, all in all, he is rather a cunning little devil.  He has never had one of those ‘operations’ on his nether region or had his head chewed off or had one of those interesting and exotic infections or viruses named after Greek gods. Nor does he have any bad habits that are any worse than those of other models, either foreign or domestic.  And he has never, ever been subject to a recall.  In other words, his warranty – by some miracle – is still good.  But the thing is, a willy does come attached to a body and with a body comes a face and with a face comes a personality, and sometimes – though not always – a personality comes with a brain. Then – if you are really lucky – there will be a sense of humour lurking somewhere in the shadows.  And perhaps even a heart.  Yes, yes, yes, there is always baggage (for none of us has lived in a vacuum), as well as a few of those tricky character flaws.  And then, of course, there is always the inevitable cultural nonsense to deal with.  Yada yada yada.

Now lest you think I am going all politically correct when it comes to body shape and size and physical attributes, I am not.  For every one of us has a certain something that makes us tingle.  And there’s no point in someone trying to convince you that ‘in time you’ll come to love them’, because it’ll never happen.  And puleeeese don’t even think about bringing up the issue of discrimination, because as far as I know, a relationship is not a job offer.  Unless, of course, it is; but in that case I suggest you ring up your local MP in the middle of the night and ask him. Or her.  

But, to continue with this bothersome business of physical ecstasies and vomits, what happens if all the right boxes are ticked, but other person – no matter how fastidious he or she may been – has the wrong smell. Or the wrong body shape. Or tastes like Chicken Tikki Masala when all you like is deep-fried bacon and sausage pizza?  It’s called a physical reality.  So, yes, one has got to be straightforward and upfront – and, yes, if certain physical dimensions are important to you, you have to address them – and right away – otherwise you are a time-waster. However, please remember it’s not a porn site.  There are plenty of those available, many of which no longer come with computer worms or Trojan horses.  Not even when the models on the sites actually wear Trojans themselves. 

So, what do I want?  How do I know who I will eventually fall for?  I may like to say that I do not want a man young enough to be my grandson; in other words, a lover and companion who, while he may be physically an adult, is still – emotionally-speaking – an adolescent.  Do I really want to be his father?   That being said (and I have been there and done that and when it ended it had nothing to do with the disparity in age), chemistry is a wonderful, miraculous thing. We have to give it free-reign and let it play. For if the right person comes along – and I mean the right person – maybe it’s worth taking a chance. I certainly will.  Now, I know how old I am.  I am 62.  I do not deny it. And not only that, but I do not wish to be any younger.  For I have earned every single second of every minute of every hour of every day of my life.  And when I look at people twenty years younger – at that truly awful transitional age of 40 – I am so glad I am not there.  I am so thankful I do not have all that shite that forty-year-olds have to struggle through.  It is a morass, a swamp, a nightmare.  It is the age when you are still hanging on to your ‘shoulds’ and  ‘shouldn’ts’ and to all your illusions.  It is an age when you are still deluded enough to think that you can pass for 20 or 25 or 29 (if only you spend enough time in the gym or pumping Botox under your skin or adding hair extensions or attending the right support groups or changing all the light bulbs in your office and house to a flattering pinky-peach colour).  I was a living nightmare at that age.  And almost all of the forty-year-olds I encounter force me to remember what a miserable plank I was.  The memories make me cringe, but it is a grand thing – both for me and for the world at large – that there are a great many exceptions to the rule. And I can say this freely, because most of my friends happen to be – quite coincidentally – that exact age.

So, what is it I really want?  Initially, on one particular question in the site’s ‘personal details’ section, I had hedged.  In other words I had left too many options.  Where it asked what I was I looking for, I did not narrow the field down sufficiently.  After all, I do like women and if the right woman came along, I would say ‘yes’, and having said ‘yes’, I would be faithful to that decision. So, with that in mind, that was the only question in my ‘details’ in which I did not specify a man.  But I thought I was covered, for when it came to my profile, I was very straightforward.  Although I am bisexual, I want to live with a man.  However, because I had fudged that one particular question, the computer inevitably zeroed in on that to the exclusion of all else.  Consequently, I only got replies from single mothers looking for someone who would give them a little love.  In other words, a home.  And many of these women were desperate – at least, going by what they wrote in their profiles and in their notes.  And I am sorry, because I know (at least theoretically) how tough things must be for them.  However, to be perfectly candid, in no place in my profile did I ever mention women (except in that one fudge), and I always specified ‘no children.’

After a couple of weeks went by and I received nothing but solicitations from these single mothers (none of whom had anything in common with me; otherwise I wouldn’t have worried about it), I suddenly remembered that one single question that I had fudged.  So what I did was to un-tick that one box where I was asked if I was bisexual. And since then, every single suggestion and solicitation has been – if not spot on – at least intriguing.  Problem solved.

To get back to age.  Now, no man of 62 – providing he is reasonable fit and in good health – feels his age.  And even when he looks in the bathroom mirror to shave, he doesn’t look 62.  But, as we all should know – but choose to ignore – bathroom mirrors are liars. But even if we try to ignore our age; those younger than us certainly do not. Nor, when all is said and done do we really look any younger.  I well remember the day – a couple of years ago – when I was in Ireland and happened to run into a good friend who was just a few years older than I.  Now, she was a very good-looking woman and certainly did not look her age.  However, while we were walking down the street together, we had what you might call a reality check.  What happened was this.  In a shop window there was a very large mirror, and it was angled in such a way as to reflect passers-by.  And so, there we were, happily chatting and thinking about stopping somewhere for a cup of tea, when – simultaneously – we were confronted by these two broken-down-looking old people who were dressed in clothing just like ours.  And we even commented on it, and agreed that the two of them should probably wear something more subdued.  Needless to say, the two broken-down-looking old people were the two of us.  I really think it was one of the most unpleasant moments in my life.  Now, to be frank, the one or people who’ve known me since the days of the Neanderthals have been rather outspoken about my appearance.  “God, you’ve gotten old,” being the worst example.  Granted, at the time, I had just been crushed by a falling horse and was looking for all the world like a wrecked car, but still honesty is honesty, no matter what the excuse. 

Therefore, when someone specifies they are looking for someone, say 35 to 55, I am very cautious. I only reply if everything else looks like a ‘possible’ – but I start off by telling them my age. Because – as I have already said – we give our preferences for a reason. And, although it is hard when you get older to realise you are getting older, you’re not going to find anyone if you are not honest.  And, in any case, you are not going to pull the wool over their eyes.  And to get back to a possible scenario wherein I am approached by a twenty-one year old, I would ask one question of him.  “Yes, now it might be OK now, but how about in ten years’ time, when you will only be thirty-one, but I shall be seventy-two?”  And if he says, “I know, and I still want you,” then I would have to give it serious thought.  It goes without saying that it hasn’t happened, and I am not deluded enough to think it might.  And, quite frankly, although it was no doubt lurking in the back of my mind – in the place where all our fantasies fester – I really hadn’t given it any conscious consideration.  Yes, I am in good health, yes, I do look at a young person and admire his or her beauty.  But that’s life.  And don’t forget, in twenty years, a twenty year old will be a forty year old, whereas I will be an eighty year old.  And believe you me, when I am an eighty year old, the last thing I shall want to deal with will be a forty year old.

As you are no doubt aware, I have not mentioned the likelihood of a relationship with someone much older than I.  There is a reason I have not addressed this probability, and it’s called panic.  And it deserves – and shall get – a whole chapter of its own.  When I can steel myself for it.  And stop wanting to run out of the room screaming.  But let’s put it this way:  it has everything to do with the fact that so many older men seem to fall to bits.  And I am not sure I am ready to nurse another person through a lingering decline and death.  At least not yet.

So ANYWAY, what is it I want?  I mean, what do I really, really want?  Even setting aside all the sundry interests and activities I have mentioned in my profile, what would make my life wonderful?  Make my heart sing?  Yes, it’s all very well for me to mention National Hunt racing and sheepdog trials, and Crofting and rare-breed pigs and sheep.  And, yes, it’s important that I talk about my love of words, and comedy and Improv and storytelling.  But underneath all these things – and yes, they are just ‘things’ – what am I and what do I need?   Let me tell you.

I am a puppy.  And all I want is what every puppy wants.  A warm place to sleep, room to frolic, enough food to keep my belly full. And someone who loves me.  And who I can love in return.  Enough said?

May 15, 2010

Mrs. Bichan’s Pelvic Floor

What it was, What it was for, and What was Traditional about it.

By now, you all will have heard about Mrs. Bichan, and if you are not familiar with her actual name, you will be aware of existence, either as a compatriot of a certain Miss Frame or as my grandmother’s ‘so-called housekeeper’.  Miss Frame (who as far as I know did not have a first name), was a severe and unsmiling spinster from somewhere in the Inner Hebrides, and she dedicated much of the latter part of her life to bludgeoning our rockery into obeying her will.  A great deal of time and effort was expended in diverting a small but enthusiastically independent-minded stream so that its course might spill down an impressive cascade and into a lovely hidden garden.  And it says a lot about her strength of character that she herself transported the majority of the boulders and trees and plants to the chosen site herself,  either in  an ancient Ford tractor or when that failed her, in an antediluvian barrow.  To my knowledge, Miss Frame had only two sets of clothes.  The first of which – it goes without saying – was comprised of an uncompromising black coat and skirt, stout black shoes worn with dark grey Balbriggan stockings, a dark grey linen blouse and a simple strand of pearls.  This was, of course, what she wore on Sundays, and which she continued to wear when, late in the afternoon, she paid her regular Sunday visit to Mrs. Bichan.  Her other set of clothing consisted of a greenish brown tweed skirt and coat, which she wore with ancient brogues, the inevitable Balbriggan stocks (in a shade of dark brown), a homespun blouse fastened at the throat by a silver-mounted stag-horn broach and a battered felt hat.  Her hair was cut short and was of an indeterminate greyish brown.  As far as I know, I never I saw her in any other outfit.  That being said, I must point out that women of her generation expected to go through life with one good suit for Sundays (and in which they would eventually be buried) and one for every day, as well as, perhaps a summer frock or two (although I don’t think Miss Frame was really the summer frock type).  Stockings were well-cared for and darned; ditto underwear.  They were not of the consumer generation, nor did they have access to cheap clothes churned out in sweatshops in Third World Countries.  Everything they wore spoke of quality, and they made everything last.  And when anything finally fell apart, they would bring in that convenient personage, ‘The Daily Dressmaker’, to salvage the wreckage and refashion it into something absolutely identical.

Now, I may point out that Mrs. Bichan did not attend the same church as Miss Frame.  In fact, Mrs. Bichan was a Fraser and, therefore, a Catholic.   A very devout Catholic.  On the other hand, every drop of Miss Frame’s blood had been squeezed through a staunch Presbyterian ringer. The difference in religion was, by mutual agreement, something they never discussed.  However, as a matter of principle – although their respective churches were but a hundred yards from each other and they both lived side by side in tidy semi-detached houses – they never accompanied each other to church on the Sabbath. And they never partook of Sunday dinner together either.  This meant, that they both ate identical roast dinners prepared by their own hands in their respective kitchens; for when it came to Sunday, Miss Frame resolutely refused to break bread with what she considered the Whore of Babylon, and Mrs. Bichan preferred to share a glass of wine with a statue of the Virgin Mary and half of dozen of her favourite saints, including St. Magnus and King James VI of Scotland and Mary, Queen of Scots and William Wallace.

Neither lady officially worked on the Sabbath.  That being said, come Sunday teatime and both of them – along with the ever-present Sophie – were to be found in our kitchen, sitting round the large table and eating a robust tea. Now this was what they had done long before my parents had moved into the house; it was a tradition.  It was also their way of saying, “we are not toiling on the Sabbath, but we are here.  And should we happen to walk upstairs at dinnertime and have a tray of cold food in our hands, we shall leave it on the sideboard.”  Of course, they never did – nor were they asked to do it. That wasn’t part of their jobs. But, then again, it was tradition.

I should point out that be both my parents were extremely good cooks and that Mrs. Bichan was actually a very bad cook; not only that, but she never actually cooked for anybody except for herself, Miss Frame, Sophie (who was nothing if not a menace in the kitchen and who was a wiz at burning pots) and James, Mrs. Bichan’s much older brother.  Now as I remember it, James’ principal function was to sit in the garden, urge Miss Frame to be brave and work harder, comment unfavourably on the weather, and smoke his pipe.  He, like his sister, had been there for years, and I don’t think he had ever done anything else.  It was his life’s work.  Another tradition.

Now, James eventually overstayed his welcome and progressed from being a mere nuisance to being a health hazard.  It happened like this.  When I was of an age when my entire focus was on becoming a jump jockey, any available time I had when I was home from school was spent either in our small yard or on our gallops.  From the start I was always honest about my shortcomings, but one thing I had going for me – and perhaps it was the only thing – was that I was determined and I was extremely disciplined. However, for the most part I chose to ride out at the yard of a nearby trainer who happened to be in the employ of my father.  To be honest, he wasn’t really a very good trainer, and out horses weren’t very good horses (I’m not talking about our show-jumpers or show-horses who were).  But he was very much a gentleman of the old school and, what is more, he liked me. And so, he let me ride out every morning, rain or shine, and in return I willingly mucked out and groomed his charges; the old man also helped me learn the basics and let me know in no uncertain terms how privileged I was to be allowed to work with horses.

Whenever I was riding, whether it was on one of my show jumpers in the ménage or on one of our National Hunt no-hopers on the gallops, James liked to come and watch.  By which I mean he would transfer his bottom from the old bench on which he perched to hector Miss Frame, to another old bench facing the ménage.  Or, conversely, when I was out on the gallops, he would lean against a tree and tap his pipe against his shoe and ask me what time I was going to quit and eat lunch.

James’s most serious problem was his pipe.  The first time it came a cropper was when one day, just as I was approaching a series of hurdles, he did his usual thing and tapped his pipe against his shoes. Only this time, the tobacco in the pipe was still burning.  Therefore, when he tapped it, the burning tobacco jumped out and burnt the back of his hand.   Whereupon he flung away the pipe, started waving his hands around, went into a jig and started wailing. In the meantime, the pipe had flown across the gallops and hit my horse on the nose. The horse in question was a gelding named Hannibal Ben who was a very steady and reliable (if rather not particularly fast) hurdler who had lost many a race and point-to-point in the course of his long and easygoing lifetime.  While he tended to be very blasé when it came to moving fast, he was also a joy to ride; he leapt like a deer and was a perfect school horse.  Be that as it may, when James’ pipe hit him on his nose, Ben reared up and took off in the opposite direction – with me clinging to his neck.  He not only cleared all the hurdles and fences in record time (thus proving that he was not so slow after all) but he eventually tried to jump a very high yew hedge.  After which I flew through the air in one direction and he continued running until he was exhausted.  My father, who had watched the whole thing, marched straight in to Mrs. Bichan, who was as usual sitting in the kitchen drinking a cup of tea.  He warned her that if her brother ever went close to the horses again, he would be thrown off the property.  He also made it clear that as much as he liked James, James was only allowed to stay as a favour – because he realised that James needed looking after; but could he please leave his pipe at home?  My father obviously had no respect for tradition. 

Needless to say, the following week poor James – still carrying his pipe – wandered into the yard and accidentally set fire to a bale of hay.  One horse panicked and was injured as a result.  And James was seen no more; nor did Mrs. Bichan ever mention him again.  Now, one interesting discovery that was made as a result of this mess: it was that James was not her brother after all, but her husband. Mrs. Bichan, however, being extremely old-school, was terrified she would lose her place if we knew she was married.  It was a tradition.

It goes without saying that the revelation came from Miss Frame, herself.  For she had just had ‘words’ with Mrs. Bichan and was in a sulk.

But back to the saga of the two household fixtures (and fittings): Miss Frame and Mrs. Bichan. Miss Frame, it should be remembered, was (as they say) not like other women. She had ‘only one hole – like a chicken’, a fact that my father gleaned whilst eavesdropping in the kitchen one day, and immediately told everyone within hearing.  Now, since this deformity was never discussed in detail – at least not in front of me – I’ve never really grasped the finer points.  Instead, if ever I’ve thought of it at all, it has always been in reference to a fowl.   And to this very day, whenever that poor benighted – and utterly respectable lady – comes to mind, I immediately think of her as some sort of extremely ancient, scraggy hen, dressed in brownish green tweeds.

Shortly after my father stumbled upon the secret of Miss Frame’s never-before-mentioned nether regions, he happened to find himself in the kitchen again (probably again doing something inconspicuous such as making a sandwich or making a pot of coffee) when he once more heard the two woman whispering something in the corner.  Now, if there was anything that set his ears a’flutter, it was the lowered voices of Miss Frame and Mrs. Bichan.  And, once again, he hit the jackpot.  For this time, he heard the memorable phrase (issued with heavy breathing and great sibilance – always a sign that something important was in the offing), ‘pelvic floor’.  Needless to say, he knocked over the coffee pot and fled the room. And in so doing, he missed the rest of the conversation.  However, for the next few nights, ‘pelvic floor’ was the principal topic of conversation at the dinner table.  And it also launched a whole series of stories.  In other words, ‘The Pelvic Floors I Have Known.’

I have to admit that, in common of most members of my sex, a pelvic floor is very much a mystery.  I’m sure that if I should Google it, I would find a perfectly straightforward and boring definition, as well as a probable Wikipedia entry.  However, why ruin a good thing and take the fun out of life?

Let me explain something.  Mrs. Bichan was somewhat broad in the beam; .she had what used to be called ‘good childbearing hips’. In other words, there was plenty of room down ‘there’.  And since she was clearly never going to occupy that particular area with children (or even with a litter of kittens), I found that I could entertain myself for hours at a time simply by coming up with various and sundry practical usages for her pelvic floor, the space of which was obviously being wasted.  And since I know for a fact that Mrs. Bichan hated waste almost as much as she hated Presbyterians (Miss Frame being the only exception), I’m sure that if she were alive now, she would appreciate the time and effort I am putting in.

The most obvious use, it goes without saying, was as a dance floor.  Now, when I was a kid I knew all there was to know about dance floors for the simple reason that there was a ballroom in the house – an incredibly draughty space which was only ever used by my father when he took his morning jog in the nude. And I know he did it every morning – at least as long as we lived in the house – for I used to escort him on my tricycle.  Around and around and around he would go, his bits flapping up and down, and there I would be, peddling away like mad, trying as best I could to match his pace.  Then, of course, during the months when one of our border collies assumed I was just another variety of sheep and was in need of supervision, it would tag along beside me, biting my ankles and trying to herd me into obscure corners.

Be that as it may, having had a personal experience as regards ballrooms, I was perfectly able to translate what I knew into that magnificent space between Mrs. Bichan’s ‘hind legs’.

Now, having established that our so-called housekeeper was none other than a walking ballroom, I quickly set about arranging a few soirees, with musicians, lots of good food, and even a horse or two.  As for music, I decided that – although at the time I wasn’t sure what they were – it might be fun to have some drinking songs.  Miss Frame, of course, all dressed up as a mother hen, would be serving punch, and Mrs. Bichan herself would lead the dancing.  Although how she could dance in her own pelvic ballroom did give me a few minutes’ pause.  After which I thought: it’s my story; I can do anything I want. And if it hadn’t been for me, Mrs. Bichan might have gone to her grave without knowing she had a ballroom of her very own.

Of course, the ballroom scenario didn’t last very long, simply because it was so boring.  So for a time, I held show-jumping competitions in her pelvic floor, with my main competitors being (once again) Miss Frame – this time disguised as a Guinea Fowl who just happened to have won Best Miniature Horse at the Horse of the Year Show in Wembley. Again, Mrs. Bichan put in an appearance – this time as a judge, dressed – of course – in one of those dreadful purple velvet evening gowns they used to wear, and with a potted plant in her cleavage.  Of course, the trainer from next door was there, but only to cheer me on (something he never did in real life). It goes without saying I won all the time, so eventually it got as boring as the ballroom idea.

After the show-jumping came a women’s hockey team, with Miss Frame and Mrs. Bichan as the two opposing captains.  As I remember it, these fixtures were always extremely violent, and they would always end with the captains ganging up on me and smashing me to bits with their hockey sticks.

One thing I should mention:  Sophie was never allowed into to any of my Pelvis Floor Fantasies.  And it also seemed that, although they were always invited, my parents never actually showed.  But my brother – Ol’ Whatisname, always did.  This in spite of the fact that I never once invited him.  But there he would be, lurking behind a pillar, dressed in black bombazine and studying his particle physics.

In the end, I gave up thinking about possible uses for Mrs. Bichan’s pelvic floor, and simple rented it out as a bingo hall.  After all, I knew that Mrs. Bichan enjoyed her Wednesday night flutter at the Church Hall (an activity for which Miss Frame held her in contempt), but at the back of my mind was the realisation that Bingo Halls in fact made a lot of money.  That being the case, simply by renting Mrs. Bichan’s extra-wide abdominal cavity twice each day and with added pensioners’ specials on Monday and Thursday mornings, within a very short time I could afford to retire Hannibal Ben and buy something that might even take me to the winner’s enclosure at our local point-to-point.  And from there, my new mount and I could progress to Ayr, and from Ayr we could go to Perth, and from Perth we could go to Aintree, and from Aintree we could go to the Cheltenham … and it all would take place inside Mrs. Bichan’s Pelvic Floor.

Inevitably, as in the way of all things, the Presbyterians scuppered by plans by buying Mrs. Bichan’s Pelvic Floor and banning bingo.  Therefore, I had to be content to turning it into a student hostel, and installing Miss Frame and Mrs. Bichan as managers.  It was an occupation that suited both of them, for it allowed them free-reign when it came to uncovering the filthy habits of young people.  And well do I remember the day when they emerged triumphant from a young lad’s room, denouncing him as the Devil’s Own Seed.  For even though he had secured his backpack with seventeen padlocks, their sharp noses had sussed out his stash of ‘dirty pictures’!  Not only did they send him away from the hostel with a flea in his ear, but they wrote a severe letter of condemnation to his mother – a letter in which they also managed to cast doubt on her fitness as a mother and upon his supposed legitimacy. Upon casting him out into the cold, Miss Frame and Mrs. Bichan marched straight out into the garden.  They lit a very large bonfire, and – then and there – the ‘burnt his dirty pictures’.

Now, I bet you didn’t even suspect that Mrs. Bichan’s Pelvic Floor had a garden, did you?  That shows what you know.  For it was a tradition.

May 14, 2010

Shitting On The Doctor’s Shoes

The True Story Of My Birth

My life began, as so many lives have begun before mine and as so many lives shall begin after mine, in a hospital delivery room.  Now, typically me, I wasn’t really paying as much attention to my immediate surroundings as I should have done in order to suss things out properly. Because of that, if the physician in charge, who had taken an instant dislike to me, had sometime later in my childhood (when I could hold a pencil and had a less forthright and a more multisyllabic vocabulary) set an exam for me, I doubt whether I would have scored very high.  Mind you, I never did very well on any of my school exams, but that was without his help.  It was, rather, through practice and diligent study.  After all, with enough determination, imagination and ill-will towards men, one can actually learn to fail with such conviction that you can fool everyone. What I mean is, if you can convince enough of the right sort of people that you are a born-again idiot, they will then waste no time in convincing a great many others of the right sort of people that you’ve got the ability of a roll of used toilet paper, and before you know it, they will actually start leaving you alone and to your own devices.  The more hopeless you are, the more likely it is that they will not give you those pesky passing marks that will oblige you to carry on failing for an additional four or eight or twenty-seven years in some institute of higher learning, or alternatively, in a borstal (or perhaps, a combination  of both, for those two opposing types of institutions offer many of the same attractions, such great grub and lots of it, plenty to do to occupy your time, and it goes without saying, great-looking inmates). Having gleefully failed your miserable self and thrown you on to the academic rubbish heap, those in charge will actually discourage you from even mentioning your old school’s name on your Curriculum Vitae (I even know what that means, for I went to a good Catholic Borstal, where we conjugated Latin verbs whilst perfecting our mugging techniques).  And if you have even managed to score lower than anyone else in the history of the school – in other words at the very bottom of the ‘Imbecile Scale’ of ‘minus-one’ to ‘minus-five hundred fifty-seven point five’, the school governors will actually accord you the ultimate honour.  They shall deny having ever set eyes on you, and shall swear on a stack of Bibles that your name (“what did you say it was?”) has ever appeared on their records.  And if challenged by your long-suffering parents who, for some unfathomable reason continue to have a steadfast (though slightly diminished) faith in the unlikely possibility that your obscurely manic personality, coupled with a tendency to indulge in gracious though rabidly antisocial behaviour, might herald a promising future as an unemployable remittance man, the school governors will merely smile and say they are possibly confused.  Now, according to the Head Master (who should know), there had been a young gentleman with a similar surname, but he was obviously not who they were talking about.  In fact, this young gentleman probably wasn’t even related (if only because he knew how to spell his name correctly, whereas the other one – the one the school had not heard of – always tried out a different spelling each time he wrote a paper which he didn’t write, if only because he wasn’t attending the school when he didn’t write it).  At this point, my parents’ eyes would light up and they would say, “That just might be the one; he sounds familiar.” But, of course, by that time the Head Master was intent on concentrating solely on the other boy (you know, my brother, Ol’ Whatisname, the radish), and he would actually encourage my father to acknowledge that he only had the one son.  ‘The keeper’, as the Head Master referred to him, had distinguished himself in particle physics, as well as in good behaviour.  Could my parents be thinking of him?  “No,” my father would answer, “we can account for him; he’s the one who’s let us down dreadfully by having his doctoral thesis accepted before beginning his first year at university. A terrible disappointment, he’s been.  He’s brought shame on to the family.’’  And then he would sigh.

Having put the Head Master in his place for the crime of erasing me from history, my parents took refuge in one of those posh public houses that situate themselves opposite the front of schools such as the one that had written me off as being among the ‘never was borns’. My father, who was by that time in a more reflective frame of mind (helped no doubt, by the half-dozen water glasses of single malt he had downed) moaned and shook his head sadly and squeezed my mother’s hand, and said, “Well at least he’s as bent as a pink bendy straw.  There’s always the hope he’ll never breed.”  Whereupon my mother, who knew I blew whichever way the wind wafted, replied,   “Don’t get your hopes up, dear.  For all we know, there might even be a whole bunch of little ‘hims’ running around, even as we speak.”  That’s when my father had the idea of taking up shooting.  “Do you think we can persuade him to be one of the beaters,” he asked.

But let us return to the circumstance of my birth, and to the unspeakably condescending physician who attended my mother during her confinement. Looking back at it I still consider his attitude toward me to be distinctly ill-mannered, rude in the extreme, and quite inexcusable.  And no matter what he later claimed, his tantrum was certain not provoked by me.  After all, I had just arrived on the scene, having splapped out of my mother’s birth canal not one second before; furthermore, I was blinded by the lights, flash-frozen by the arctic winds blowing through the hospital, and I was deafened by his shouting in my ear.

You now are going to hear my side of the story.  It was in the dead of winter – a not ideal time in which to be born.  But then again, it was not of my own choosing, no matter what the physician said.  I mean, if I had had any say in the matter, I might have selected early autumn, for early autumn is always such a delightful time.  You know, what with grouse shooting giving way to point-to-point and with fox hunting just round the corner, and with  all the leaves painting themselves all shades of fashionable autumnal colours.  But could I force my way then?  No!  My mother resolutely refused to cooperate with me. She clamped her legs together, wrapped her knees with an iron chain, which in turn she fastened with one of those unpickable medieval puzzle-padlocks, and promptly sat down for the next four months. So, to reiterate, it was not my fault I was born in January.  I had tried my best and did what I could. 

The only thing for it was revenge. And, since by now I had an additional four months to plot my course of action, I came up with a cracker.

I staged a blizzard.  I’m sure, if you think hard enough, you will remember the one I’m talking about. It was the one that iced over the entire country for three and a half weeks and made the roads impassable. And this was why I wasn’t whelped at home as was my birthright, but was forced to withstand the indignity of being manhandled by an extremely cold and unsympathetic pair of hands that were more at home with the niceties of proctology than with the baser arts of obstetrics.

In other words, I was forced to be born in a hospital.  A hospital which is, I am sad to say, no longer there.  Something about a fire.  But no matter.

So anyway, the countryside was more or less locked in by the blizzard, and my father decided – because of the complications which accompanied the birth of my brother – (you know: the other one, Ol’ Whatisname – old toad in the hole) – they shouldn’t chance a home birth.  And so, when my mother’s iron chains were about to burst, he set about getting her to hospital.  And no, it wasn’t in a one-horse open sleigh; it wasn’t on a pair of snowshoes, and it wasn’t in my grandmother’s tiny little single-engine plane. It was in one of those strange vehicles called an ambulance.  They had thought about asking the postman – for in those days, the post actually did get through – but he demurred, saying that my mother was so vast what with all the water she had retained, that not only could she not fit through the door, but that she would break the springs.  And since my father held strict views when it came to throwing money away, and since the cost of an ambulance was less than that of a new van for the post office, an ambulance it was.

So anyway, there we were:  My mother on a special bed designed for the birth of Jumbo the elephant; there was I swimming about in inside her womb, happily thrashing my legs, kicking the walls of her uterus because I was outgrowing the space, and singing at the top of my lungs “Free at last, Free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m almost free at last!” And there was this niggardly physician, rolling his eyes and wondering what he had ever done in his past life to deserve this.

Now, lest you get the idea that my mother was normally the size of one of those behemoths that hovers over the pastry cooler in Asda deciding whether she should take it all with her or eat half of it in the checkout line, let me make it clear that – when not pregnant – she was a tiny little thing and that until the day of her death, she had the figure of a flapper.  And if you don’t know what a flapper is, think of Twiggy back when she was the first size zero model and was causing a sensation on the catwalk with the first miniskirts.  And if you don’t know what a Twiggy is (and no, it is not the next version of Twitter), think of a blade of grass with a head on top.  

Interestingly enough, although she beat Twiggy to the punch by a great many years, my mother wore her hair in the same Eton crop, though not because of Twiggy (because Twiggy was not yet called Twiggy and was still a schoolgirl), but because it was the easiest thing to manage with a pair of garden shears.  And on her it was always chic.

Anyway, came the big day.  There we were: my mother, a couple of nurses (this was in the days of full-employment), an anaesthesiologist, his assistant,  a couple or three nursing assistants,  the lady handing out chocolates,  and the physician, who would not have been there at all had his car not skidded into the river, where it was now locked away under twenty feet of ice.  And then, of course, there was me. But not my father.  For a start, even though my father had a medical degree and actually knew what was going on, he was still a father.  And fathers, being fathers, were complete zombies when it came to childbirth.  As far as everyone was concerned, since the fathers had already completed their part of the childbearing contract through the donation of their priceless spermatozoa, as well as through the agony wrought by the relentless pumping of their loins and by the gut-wrenching ejaculation of their precious swimmers into their wife’s vagina (followed by a debilitating nap), it was now considered their duty to pace back and forth in the waiting room, sweating profusely and smoking a dozen packets of cigarettes.  And feeling very thankful that the whole trend towards husbands assisting in the delivery of their son or daughter,  and possibly even pointing a video camera up the downspout while his beloved wife screamed and yelled and hurled curses at him, had not yet been invented.

In any case, my father was at home, looking after their other son (you know, the other one: Ol’ Whatisname – old numb-nuts).  It seems that both my grandmothers were somewhere else, possibly dispensing blankets and hot beef tea to the starving, frozen hoards taking refuge from the storm in the loft above our barn. Consequently, the only two extraneous people in the house were, Number One, Miss Frame, whose only interest was in my grandmother’s cascade and rockery, and who couldn’t even mention childbirth without lowering her voice and blushing, and, Number Two, Sophie, who was very good when it came to polishing the floors but who thought children were the work of the devil.  There was also a housekeeper or sorts, but as I recall she was ‘not to be asked’ to assume any responsibilities not previously agreed upon.

Sophie, by the way, was the one who, before entering a room, would bellow through the door in her foghorn voice – (especially during the summer months when my parents might decide to shed their clothing at the drop of a hat) –“Get your bleedin’ breeks on and clear out; I’ve got the cleaning tae do.”   And she would then give them exactly thirty seconds to comply.  Now I don’t know what other people’s experiences are with ‘the help’, but this is the reality.  The soon as you hire someone, you instantly become an interfering busybody (as well as a hopelessly incompetent know-nothing) who is always in the way and who is always deliberately making a mess right where they have just cleaned, which means that they will be forced to let their tea go cold while they re-clean the place they had just cleaned in the first place.  It’s called a never-ending cycle.  And, yes, they have all observed you on the toilet – or as they say, “We’ve seen better, dear”

Now, just so you get the picture, Sophie entered our lives by simply turning up one day; in a minute and a half she determined that my parents were as helpless as two kittens tied up in a bag, and that the house would fall down without her. In other words, she ‘took pity’ on them and proceeded to adopt them. And then in the fullness of time, she demanded to be paid for the privilege of tormenting them.  Within first day and a half (when she was “et up by the demon curse”), she decided that she would call herself a parlour maid.  Thereafter, whenever she was “et up” by PMS (which eventually became a more or less permanent condition), she    took to surmounting the greasy overall that she called her ‘uniform’ with an old-fashioned  French maid’s bonnet, which she had ‘borrowed’ from her church’s dressing-up box.  Now Sophie smoked like a chimney and swore like a navvy and was not all that fond of washing. She was also a stalwart lass and I pity the soul who came up against her in a dark alley.  Miss Frame, my father’s intrepid termagant in the rockery, was not amused by her antics, and neither was the so-called housekeeper – another frightening spinster who had previously taken my grandparents in under her fearsome Presbyterian wing.  However, my father thought Sophie was the bee’s knees and he was thrilled by her antics. After all, how many other families existing on a professor’s salary can claim to have a parlour maid (let alone a housekeeper and a gardener and a string of horses)?

That being said, my father was a farsighted man who loved his family. He was not about to venture out into a blizzard, leaving his first-born son (the one with the brain:  Ol’ Whatisname, old clam breath) in their care of this coven of witches.  After all, if he didn’t manage to get back for a week, there was always the possibility they would eat him.  So, he decided he would do the sensible thing and stay home (much to the chagrin of the coven, which always looked forward to the many opportunities offered by the absence of my parents.  After all, there were so many secrets they had as yet to uncover.  For example, there were these locked trunks in the box room in the attic, and the housekeeper had unearthed a  mysterious ring of keys…

Now, during all this time, while I have been filling you in on some of our household idiosyncrasies, my mother was still in labour.  And she was not a happy person.  And since she was not a happy person, and insisted on proving to everyone exactly how unhappy she was, no-one else was happy either. In fact, she was doing all she could to make their lives as miserable as possible.  So it was that the full complement of nurses – a good captive audience if ever there was one – plus the anaesthesiologist, his assistant,  a couple or three nursing assistants,  the lady handing out chocolates, all the custodians, the administrator, and, last but not least, the physician, (who, if you recall, would not have been there in the first place had his car not skidded into the river, where it was now locked away under twenty-feet of ice) -were all feeling distinctly sorry themselves.

Finally the moment came. The dam burst. And I arrived in a screeching, squalling gush.

Now you have to remember something.   Nowadays, all medical personnel are togged up in those lovely greeny aquamarine outfits, complete with matching disposable slipper affairs that go on over their shoes.  However, back then in the dark ages, before it had occurred to anybody that doctors and surgeons might be more comfortable and relaxed in aquamarine, they sort of wore white lab coats.  And if they were of an elevated status – in other words, if they were a male doctor or surgeon, they would wear a suit and tie (minus the coat) under their white lab coat.  Nurses, of course, wore starched uniforms and caps very much like those favoured by Sophie (because, don’t forget, nurses had originally been considered servants), except, of course, they were clean. They also had starched collars and cuffs, as well as immaculately whitened shoes.

Now, when it came to doctors and surgeons, they basically wore their street shoes.   After all, they had an image to uphold and were very much at the top of the ladder.

Now this physician, who was possessed of an extremely impatient nature, and who – even before meeting me loathed the sight of me – summarily grabbed me from my poor mother’s crotch and smacked me on the bottom.  Quite naturally, I showed by displeasure by pissing in his face and shitting all over his new handmade Italian leather shoes, and – as a bonus – by ruining the trousers of his Savile Row suit.  He claimed afterwards that I had laughed, and that – had my mother not been present – he might have accidentally tossed me out the window into the snow.

In any case, he stated categorically that he had never before encountered such a vile and ill-considered creature in all his born days, and he predicted then and there that nothing good would ever come of me.

The real reason I am bringing him into the rather sad story (besides my shitting on his shoes) was that he we later discovered that he was the brother-in-law of the Head Master who not only condemned me to a life of penury and loneliness, but who actually erased me from history.

Let this be a lesson.  No matter how you feel, and no matter what your mood is, and no matter how cold his hands are, think twice before you shit on your doctor’s new shoes.

May 13, 2010

More About NOISE: Bonkers Egypt

What is Noise, what causes Noise, and how to lay back and enjoy it!

Last time I wrote about noise and the Egyptians I was in a good mood and the whole thing was rather funny.  Well, it’s still funny, but this time I am not in a good mood.  As far as I am concerned, they can all fuck themselves. With a garden implement.  Or with one of those jagged rocks they are always throwing at each other.

At this moment in time (the afternoon of the twelfth of May, 2010) Agami is gearing up for the summer.  It is, after all, a summer resort; great globs of people will come pouring in from other parts of Egypt to enjoy the milder climate, the beautiful beaches, and the relatively relaxed atmosphere.  And Bitosh – the road in and out – will be transformed into the South Beach of Alexandria.  Without the poofters, of course… unless you count the little boys holding the big boys’ hands, but we won’t go there, will we?   Now last year, due to the monetary crisis, many if not most of the apartment buildings were half-empty, meaning that – although the entire district was still pulsating with enough noise such as would cause the Empire State Building to lose its windows, I was spared the comings and goings and trampings and yellings of other people in my own building.  And what a relief that was.  Because even though on most nights it was still like being trapped inside a jet engine at full-throttle, there was no-one above me or and no-one below to bang on their drums or to have a great fight or to play the Qur’An or to burn the garlic for their koshery during the occasional quiet moments.  

This summer is not going to be good.  First of all, the apartment owners from one end of Agami to the other have recovered the greedy glint that their eyes had lost in 2009.  That means not only are they rushing to build an extra two or three storeys atop each one of their buildings – an easy matter if you have a some concrete and a few bricks, two extra weeks and a large contingent of miracle-working Nubian construction workers working twenty-four hours a day (with no lights provided during the hours of darkness – but, then again, Nubians are miracle workers, and they don’t even stop for lunch).  And it also helps if you don’t care if the building crumbles at the end of September.  You can always rebuild it next spring.  It’s the Egyptian Way.

What has happened – and unfortunately for me, it has happened with a vengeance in my building – is that all the apartments that were empty last year have been taken for this  coming summer (which is very unfair on me, because let’s just say, I liked being spoiled).  This means one thing: NOISE!   To the left of me, the new owners are busily sawing through concrete walls and tearing up the floor.  To the right and below of me, they have been pounding on walls and the ceiling for the last week and a half, probably trying to knock the building down so they can put up another one – with smaller apartments and much higher rents – before the beginning of June.  Now, at a certain time every evening – just after the arrival of the mosquitoes and, coincidentally, after the night prayer – the families who will be soon moving in to their new apartments congregate in their living rooms; they cook dinner, and discuss everything that is going on in their lives. At full volume.  And then, of course, the television is blaring and the inevitable teenager is practicing his talking drum (which he will be later playing at a wedding).  And since no one here ever bothers to close their front doors, and since they bellow at the top of their lungs – and since the grinding and pounding continues regardless – and since they also feel obliged to play the Qur’An at such a deafening level as to be heard above all the other noises, a little (slightly intolerant) Westerner like me starts to feel a little sorry for himself.  Then, of course, this is Wednesday, which means the disco next door will rev up its engines to a ear-shattering roar at about three-thirty in the morning, and will continue on until nine, which is just about the same time as the pounding and the grinding starts all over again. Now, don’t get me wrong, the minute that  any one of these noises pauses for at least a minute, I will instantly feel refreshed and reborn – just as though I had gone on holiday to a remote little isle where there is only an Atlantic gale to disturb the peace and quiet.  It’s pathetic how easy I am to please.

The building across the street was (until they added an additional two stories during the first week and a half of this month) a nice quiet three storey affair, and the apartments in it were – for the most part – occupied by the wives and sisters and mothers and grandmothers of husbands and fathers and brothers and grandfathers who live elsewhere with their side of the family.  This is, of course, not an unusual arrangement and there’s nothing to say about it except that it is the way it is.  The family is Bedouin, and the women are an absolute delight.  It goes without saying that I can’t go over there and drink tea with them, and they obviously cannot come over here. In any case – with the exception of one of the daughters, who is about fifteen and goes to school, the women never leave the apartment.  Instead they phone local merchants – who are probably members of their extended family – and the merchants send round provisions to them.  The women then lower a basket or two from the balcony, and the merchants fill them up, after which the women pull the baskets back up again. A tidy and efficient arrangement if ever there was one.  I wonder how it would work in one of those American Golf Resorts?

Now, in spite of the fact that I cannot have any social interaction with these ladies, I have developed a most wonderful bond.  It is totally stress-free; we never argue; we never quarrel over how she burnt the garlic when she made the koshery or how she hung my washing on the line. In fact we don’t talk at all.    Our relationship can be called a ‘meeting over the laundry lines’ arrangement.  I may well have mentioned this before, but this family (at least the women) are so delightful they deserve to be given another round of applause.  For what happens is this: they spend an inordinate amount of time hanging washing from the balcony and beating carpets, etc.  It’s the women’s fulltime job. I, on the other hand – being a man – only hang a couple of things from my line in the morning and take them in at night (and since what I hang out is invariably underwear, I don’t hang it from the balcony where it can cause a kafuffle, but from a little folding contraption that cannot be seen by other apartments, and from which my knickers cannot offend my neighbours).  Every so often, it happens that I go out onto my balcony to hang my little delicates at the same time they are out on their balcony engaged in one of their many pursuits (hanging out washing, beating carpets, scrubbing the balcony, etc.).  At this point, we either exchange greetings or we don’t.  It all depends upon which other family members are in the apartment at that time.  If one of the fathers or sons or brothers or grandfathers is visiting, the ladies do not acknowledge me and I do not look over at them.  Because it is they who have to make the first move, and if one of their male relatives is present, I am strictly off-limits.  However, if none of the males are there, and the aged grandmother – who is, by the way, completely veiled – happens to be safely tucked away inside – it is safe for them to wave, after which they start jumping up and down in this deliriously wonderful Egyptian shimmy.  I then reciprocate.  And there we are, dancing and shimmying – they on their balcony across the alley and down two floors, and me across the way and up above on my little rooftop.  We only ever do this for a five seconds or less, because basically it’s not a cool thing to do. But they are so sweet. And because they are ‘good’ girls and I wouldn’t hurt them for the world, I am very, very careful.  In other words, if they do not wave first, as far as I’m concerned they do not even exist.

More and more, these ladies are being visited by a nephew – or at least I assume he’s a nephew – and he is clearly there to keep an eye on them.  Last year, when he was only about fourteen he would join in the fun, and occasionally he would even bring out his talking drum. However, he is now fifteen, very much a man, extremely macho –  which means he smokes like a chimney, looks very cool and his phone is never out of his hand;  he is very much their protector.  So when he’s out on their balcony (or even in the apartment), they are strictly off-limits to my eyes.  It is called life.  But in any case, they are a joyful little family, and just knowing they are there adds to my happiness.

Mentioning my neighbours’ method of shopping for food, reminds me of something. When I first arrived here last year, the first thing I did was to shop at all the food stalls and little grocery stores up and down Bitosh in order to make friends and establish myself as someone who was living here and not just another tourist . And believe me I am very glad I did, for I made a lot of friends.  And although on most days now, I run over to the local Fadhalla supermarket in the centre of Bianki just to save time, I do enjoy my neighbourhood shops and try to keep well in with them.  Now, the first lesson I learned was not to shop for food in the local food stalls at mealtimes.  Simply because hospitality demands that you will immediately be given the merchant’s food (which has just been lowered down in a basket from the family apartment above the shop).  Now it goes without saying there is an established etiquette to this.  For, of course, if they had their way they would really like to eat their own meals themselves.  Anyway, it goes something like this: they offer it three times and you refuse it three times, and then you buy whatever it is you wanted, drink the cup of tea you really can’t refuse, and move on.  They really are enchanting people.  If only they didn’t love noise.

Now, as everyone who has lived in a Muslim country knows, the call to prayer is sounded at several appointed times each day, twenty-four hours a day.  Now because theirs is a lunar calendar, the times of the prayers change by several minutes with each passing day.  Also, each prayer time also varies depending upon how far east or west you are.  This means that even in the mosques only a block or so away, the Azans will not be called at exactly the same times as in the mosques immediately adjacent to your building.  Now, in each block there can be more than a dozen or so tiny, storefront mosques.  In fact, within five minutes’ walk from my apartment there are at least twelve.  Now, of course, in the days before amplification, the muezzins would stand on a high place – such as a minaret – to make sure the azan was heard.  Now, let us just say that amplification is God’s gift to the Egyptian. Whereas before, the calls were lovely and mellow and very much like clarions, now – thanks to amplification – they are blasted out with a deafening wail than can sometimes cause you to spill your coffee or fall off your chair. These calls are sounded twice before each of the five daily prayers: the first time about ten minutes before, and the second just as the prayer is about to begin.

Since the azan is called from each and every mosque by its own muezzin, this collection of amplified blasts can be rather impressive – as well as intrusive.  Now I asked a good friend of mine who happens to be an Imam, why it seemed they were each trying to overpower the other. After all, all the mosques are full for every prayer, every person goes to his own mosque, and so it isn’t as though they are trying to poach from each other.  And you want to know what he told me?  He said they are simply competing to see who is the loudest.  In other words, he who has the biggest toys wins.

It goes without saying that this same rule applies to the Friday sermons. Each one is screeched through a sound system which is turned up to the volume of a blast furnace. In fact, the harangue is so loud in each case that even if you wanted to hear what the Imam or Sheikh was actually saying, you’re out of luck. However, let me say this (and I am not fudging here): it is part of the fabric of life; I’m used to it, and if I don’t like it, I can always leave.

That being said (and this I think I did mention it before), when the disco is blaring full-throttle and it’s rattling the window panes (those that are still unbroken) and the guys in the disco are holding conversations and screaming over the music while they are dancing, the mosques – when they are calling the dawn prayer – can overpower them all without any trouble at all.  And I think that is cool!  Imagine it happening in South Beach (plus, here, nobody is drunk).

In January, I spent some time taking a French/Arabic class in the French Cultural Centre (anything to actually avoid coming to grips with my Arabic).  At one point one of the more zealous of the Egyptian students demanded to know why it was against the law to play the Qur’An in one’s apartment in Paris?  And he was very, very serious about this.  Now, ordinarily when this guy got going on one his pet rants, I made it a practice to hold my tongue and to forget about it.  After all, it is none of my business.  But on this occasion, I felt it was time he was corrected on one or two counts.   I told him that anyone can play anything they wanted in their apartment, at any time of the day or night – just so long as the neighbours were not forced to listen to it in the apartment next door.  I pointed out that most countries in the west have such things as noise ordinances, and if you blasted everything out the Egypt way you would end up with a very stiff fine.  The professor, an amazing linguist from Tunisian who had lived much of her life in France and in the United States and who was blessed with a dry sense of humour, laughed and turned to me (me, who always sat up front with the woman and not in back with the men who never stopped talking all the way through any of the classes) and said with a great beaming smile, “But they like it loud!”

But then again – and this I said before – when it comes down to it, anyone’s life can be filled with a wall of sound, and you simply cut it out.  That’s what the Egyptians do.  They simply do not listen to it.  It’s sort of the local version of a noise ordinance.  How spoiled we are in the west.

Now this same guy is also the one who was lambasting the Swiss for banning minarets; he accused them of fomenting anti-Islamic prejudice. To which I pointed out, that – if he cared to look it up – there was no mention whatsoever of a minaret in the Qur’An, and that the whole injunction had to do with noise. I then pointed out (being on a teat by this time) that in most non-Muslim countries of the world the Azan was never proclaimed outside.  And since every single person knows to the minute what time the prayers are held, until recently there had never been any problem. And I did even suggest that if everyone had simply minded their manners and respected others – and had not blasted the Azans so that they caused avalanches as far away as Klosters, perhaps there would have been no ban in the first place. In which, the very lovely unamplified Azan could have blended in with the church bells in a beautiful two-part harmony.  Yes, I know life is not like that, but in my head lives such a simple world…

May 12, 2010

The Felkyo’s Curse: a peedie faerie tale

How Peedie Willy Lost His Aimer

This is a tale off an innocent young lad and an evil auld felkyo called Owld Mither Morag NicOxter-Arroo.  Every word herein is sad, and every word is truly true.

Now, many many eons ago, long before there was a sun up in the sky or an earth on down in the mud, there lived a wee peedie ting in a bog on the western slopes of a far-off island.  T’was in the north sea, somewhere between Orkney and Norway and The Rose of Tralee (which was for a time a gently mysterious floating nest of flotsam, long before it drifted in the wild Atlantic tide downwards ever downwards tae what was tae become The Kingdom of Kerry; once there, the Rose was soon proclaimed: The Fairest of all the Jetsam, and we all know the rest of that story).

This lad’s name was peedie Willy o’The Briny Breeks and he lived alone in his little croft with his mountainy sheep and his dog and his chicken and his pet herring, Misther Maet.  Now, peedie Willy had always lived alone, ever since he had found himself wrapped up in swaddling and in a basket outside his own front door.  So, of course, being the generous-hearted peedie ting he was, he had taken himself in, washed himself off, changed his little nappy, and set him down on his potty.

Now it had never occurred tae peedie Willy that he didn’t have a mither.  For he had never had one, had never heard of such a thing, and wouldn’t have known what to do with one had he had one. In fact, it was just as well that he found his own peedie self out front of the house every morn, and not a mither.  For having lived with himself for a great many years – perhaps even two hundred or more – he knew exactly what to do with his own peedie ting.  However, had it been his mither that he had found on the stoop, he would’a have been in a steer.  God only knows what me might have done if he’d he unwrapped such an awkward and not-very-nice-looking scrag from its swaddling?  First of all, she would’na been what he was expecting; secondly, she would’na been a beautiful sight for his sore eyes (he had – as ever – stayed up all night reading without remembering to light the lamp). And, if truth be told, he might’a thought she was rookel so owld, that he’d best hurl her intae the sea. And thirdly, she would’na been the same as a he. She would’a been a she. Now, peedie Willy had heard rumours tae the effect that there was such a thing as a she, but as far as he knew, one had never been seen on the far-off isles of the greatest of northern-most seas. And had it been a she he had discovered on his doorstep instead of a peedie he, what on earth would he have done? What could he have done?  For when you are but a peedie Willy, do you even know when you are faced tae face with a she?  After all, when all is said and done, you have never ever seen such a dastardly, rookel-some baste as a she?  “What is it?” you cry.   “What is it indeed?”   For as up is up and down is over there, it is not a he as you had expected it tae be?

Unbeknownst to peedie Willie, he had had a mither after all, but he had never seen her, not even once; nor had he ever set eyes upon a creature so fair and winsome as a bonny red-haired lass fae far beyond the western seas, otherwise known as the distant isles called Hebrides.  

Not that this was what his mither actually looked like.  For although I have just described what a lovely she well might’a been, I have really described another and not his own mither. No, it was not really she.  For if truth be told, his ancient mither – called Owld Morag NicOxter-Arroo – was none other than the infamous hoyden and slapper and slag, who worked fae dusk tae dawn and all through the day on the docks far tae the south of the beautiful, far-off isles of the northern-most sea.  And while she might once have been called a sturdy young heifer of a wench – that is, when the lights were set low and two bottles of Scotch were a’fermentin’ in a punter’s puggy – she was now a heuved and withered owld scrag who could fetch but tuppence three farthings when the wind was blowing fae the west and she was facing tae the east.  Owld Morag had but a single tooth in her foetid, snirly, auld mouth, and a goitre under her throat.  She had earwigs breeding in her left eye-socket and her nose drooped down like a stoat.  Not a single hair grew on her wizened head, for her dog had chewed it all off, but she did have a fine crop of fur on her crotch, in which she grew tatties and leeks and was known to hide four dozen bottles of Scotch.

Peedie Willy knew not that he had been of a woman born, and if someone had told him such a tale of woe, he would’a been aghast.  For although he had been ‘round for a very long time, and knew about the breeding of sheep, he had taken for granted that he himself was really rather unique.

It therefore came as a great surprise, when one day there on his door there came a loud knock.  The first thing he thought was that he’d be there again, to which he’d replied to his peedie self who was a’sittin on the pot, “Pray tell, but is the world soon to be completely populated by me?”

But alas and alack, that wasn’t to be.  For afore him was not basket containing a tiny, fresh-whalped peedie Willy so fair, but something that looked – for all the world – like it had been buried in shite for a very long time, and it really did give him a scare.  The first thing out of his peedie mouth when face-to-face with this felkyo so vile (for a felkyo she did indeed turn out tae be, and not his poor owl mither who she’d knifed in a fight over a sailor from some other primitive isle), was a yelp of sheer terror, followed by a none-too-friendly, “Jeezus Howlee Mither o’God!”

But after she had slapped him upside and down and narrowed her eyes tae a glint, he took a deep breath and straightened his tie and affixed a smile tae his face “Pray tell?” he asked with a shite-eating grin, “And exactly who are you?” At which point he put on his specks and examined her through and through. “And why are you so impossibly old? For as sure as there is owld crap in your drawers, you’ll never see me a’sleep with your whores.” Tae which he added, “And keep yerself far away fae me boars!” It was then he peered intae her rheumy eye, the one that’d not fallen out, and he said with a sneeze that was just like a cold, “Feckin’ Christ, what a grand sewer of mould.”  

The fact that he’d yelped, “Jeezus!” straight into her face, did nothing to improve the owld witch’s mood.  She fell intae a swoon, and when she’d revived, she clouted him round his head with her spoon.

Now here is where the tale turns sad, so listen well my friend, for the felkyo really was the vilest felkyo in the land; she’d been whelped not on a beach in the fog, but in a filthy ditch right down in a bog.  And why had she come tae torment him this way?  Simple: she wanted to marry his hog.

Now if truth be told, and it’s truth I shall tell, mankind was not always the same as ‘tis now. 

For in the beginning, when God made a man, He’d said, “Here, please use this long detachable spout.”  For it had so many uses, just like a hose, and with a small nozzle one could turn on and off at your will.  And when you had done, and you’d had all your fun, you twisted it off and hung it up high, from a nail right over your sill.

But poor Willy, he shouldn’a said those aafil words tae the felkyo.  For her spoon was a wand, and she took her revenge, by cursing all men with a blight.

And, from that minute on, instead of a detachable, utterly manageable, spout such as God had truly designed, she’d forced man tae wear a nozzle so small, that no matter how clever or how short or how tall, it could never be aimed intae anything at all.

So remember, my lass, when your lad goes tae the loo and leaves a loch greater than Ness, it was never his plan tae splash on the wall, nor for his sweenkle tae make such a mess.

For you see, though he may have the mind of a mouldering log and not as much sense as your ten-years-dead dog, when you look back in time, in your glass you shall see, the original willy was as innocent as can be. For his detachable hose it was such a joy; and fae a distance, t’was just like the Old Man of Hoy.  But alas, alack, now life is a slog.

And it’s all the fault of the baste from the bog.

May 11, 2010

The Little Wet Spots of My World

How We Got them, What To Do With Them, and Who Is To Blame

When your dog is chasing his tail round and round and round and having a grand old rumpus, and whenever people happen to be watching, there will always be at least the one imbecile who will make the following comment:  “Isn’t he sweet!  But, of course, he doesn’t really know it’s his tail, does he?”  And you sigh, and roll your eyes and swallow your reply.  For the thing is, you know exactly what would happen if he caught his five year old son whipping out his willy in Kensington Gardens – right under the statue of ‘Peter Pan’ – and was joyfully chasing it round and round a tree.

Applying similar criteria to his son to that which he applied to your dog (who in your opinion is a whole lot more intelligent), do you think for one moment that this same imbecile would say (with the approved, embarrassed, fatherly chuckle), “Isn’t he sweet? But, of course, he doesn’t really know it’s his willy, does he?” 

No, I’m afraid he would not!  And not only would he not, but his first reaction would be to smack his son’s hand, stuff  the offending willy down  his son’s trousers – possibly circumcising him in the zipper in the process –  and drag him out of the park.  And all the while pretending that it was all the boy’s mother’s fault (or that the boy had a learning disorder) and that he himself – as the father – was merely an innocent bystander.  Needless to say, the minute they got home, he would immediately put his son across his knee, wash his mouth out with carbolic, and send him to his room without his tea.  And then – ten years down the line – this man will wonder why his son has joined a terrorist cell.

Now, I know that in society children must learn to operate on a ‘higher’ plane from that of ‘lower’ animals, but for God’s sake don’t smack them in front of the statue of ‘Peter Pan’!  The only thing that will accomplish (besides inspiring him to join a terrorist cell, of course) is to run away from home. In other words, after being sent to his room – and after drinking the glass of milk and eating the digestive biscuits his mother smuggled up to him the minute her husband had stormed out of the house and down to the pub – the son will manage to sneak his pet dog into his room.  Together, the two of them will wait patiently for night to fall and for his parents to go to bed.  Once everything is quiet, the little boy embarks upon the course of action he has earlier planned.  Now, it’s not that he doesn’t love his parents; after all they did promise to buy him the latest X-Box for his birthday.  However, his father did humiliate him in front of Peter Pan. And there are other certain mitigating circumstances, as well, and these alone demand precipitate action. 

The first circumstance involves having his penis rubbed with noxious substances that make it not to wish come out and play. And while he hasn’t yet experienced this in person, his best friend has.  And this best friend is currently filing suit against his parents and has moved in with his older sister and her husband.   The second mitigating circumstance involves the sudden plan to have him sent to the Jar-Head Mercenary Boot Camp in the Mississippi Delta – an accredited K through12 academy that guarantees to turn your liberal faggot son into a brutal ironman assassin, no questions asked.

With these images spinning round his head, the little boy can think of only one way out.  And so he fetches some of his mother’s talcum powder from the bathroom, sprinkles it over his and the dog’s head and calls it fairy-dust, after which he flies out the window to Never-Never-Land.  And if you were still waiting for the first mention of a little wet spot, let’s just say you should have seen what his little willy did the moment he jumped.

Now let us proceed to the second scenario: You come home from an afternoon spent visiting the neighbours’ new litter of kittens.  Your new puppy – who is usually so ‘good’ – is so excited to see you that he momentarily forgets his manners; a tiny sprinkle of yellow liquid splashes on your new white Nikes and leaves a wet spot on the parquet.  However, since he is usually so fastidious and since you feel guilty for leaving him alone so long whilst eating your way through the neighbour’s daughter’s birthday cake, you clap your hands and laugh and clip the lead on to his collar and take him outside for a walk.  Because, after all, he is only a little doggie, he is your precious love, and – let’s face – he’s not really very bright.  And also, you are thrilled that he was so glad to see you that he actually burst his bladder.  The ultimate compliment.

Now, let us substitute your aged, senile and foul-tempered mother for this sweet little puppy.  Suppose you left her alone – under a similar set of circumstances – only you didn’t come home until after eleven that night.  Let’s also suppose that, when the old bag hears your key in the front door, she struggles to her feet – knocks her Zimmer frame over on to your new glass-topped coffee table, smashing it to bits, and then totters into the hallway to tell you just what she thinks of you.  Keeping in mind that she is not a cute little puppy (and is not nearly as bright), would you still think – even though her Tenas have overflowed, resulting not so much in a little wet spot as in a loch the size of Ness – that the old harridan is an adorable little cupcake?  Or would you hold it against her that, even though you have been out partying and getting snockered while she has been sitting at home alone, she simply refuses to take the hint.  In other words, in spite of all your prayers and your donations to the church’s restoration fund, the old termagant keeps right on living (and does it intentionally to spite you); because of this, and because she asked for it, you will probably resort to the sort of punitive action that doesn’t exactly thrill the social workers.   And due to the fact that she will then yell at you and call you an ungrateful child and a changeling, you strap her down on to her bed. And when she has the gall to demand her bowl of gruel and inky black tea, you lie to her through your teeth and tell her she already had it.  Because you know that even if you did go to all that trouble, she wouldn’t appreciate it any more than she would remember it.

Of course, once the old cow is safely in bed and her door is securely locked, you return to your lounge – the room you keep for ‘best’.  After all, considering everything you’ve been through you deserve a drink and a good sit down in front of your seventy-two-inch flat screen television.  It goes without saying that you’ve only recently refurbished this room.  It has all-white carpet, white upholstered sofas and chairs, black and white stripped wallpaper with real paintings of clowns, and – naturally – a black marble wet bar.

However, the very first thing you notice upon entering this holy of holies (which she has been forbidden under pain of death to enter) is that she’s gone and smashed your new Waterford  Crystal coffee table with her Zimmer frame.  And the next thing you notice is that she has left a very large and very noisome wet spot right on the sofa cushions – a spot that has spread to include every inch of the sofa.

Clearly, there is only one sensible thing you can do: first thing in the morning – even before getting her dressed or spooning her ounce of gruel down her gullet – you take her straight over to that nursing home – the one on the bypass that accepts walk-ins.  You leave her on the doorstep (or, if you prefer, in the middle of the street) and you don’t even bother to say goodbye – after all, what did she ever do for you except call you an ungrateful child and to wish she’d had the abortion her boyfriend had promised to pay for.  And, it goes without saying the last thing you’ll do is leave a forwarding address or her medication.  After all, even though this is ‘one of those’ nursing homes, there is still the matter of those telltale bruises and the broken arm and the fractured pelvis and the fact you haven’t changed her nappy for a good two months.  It’s a case of  “good-bye, mummy; don’t bother to wait up.”

But wouldn’t you have been saved all this bother if you hadn’t given her a home in the first place?  That way you would have had the spare room – which would, of course, be absolutely perfect for that delightful little puppy you saw making a cute little wet spot in the pet shop window.  And wasn’t he just soooo cute?

Having dispensed with the sort of large-scale wet-spot scenarios that we love to share round the barbie with our neighbours, let us get down to the ordinary, everyday, common or garden variety that are the bane of everyone’s existence.

And we shall start with underwear.  Men’s underwear, to be precise.  Now why on earth – unless you are endowed with one of those scrotums the size and weight of a bull elephant’s – should any man wish to wear underwear?  After all, it pinches, it makes you sweat, and it invariably gets caught in your arse crack and leaves embarrassing skid marks (because God forbid you – being a real man – should actually wash).

Now, let’s face it, there may be two reasons for a man to wear knickers; however, only one of them is honest.  The first one, which we shall dismiss out of hand as being unacceptable to any rugby player, is either because you are a male model – and therefore a faggot – or a premier league football player wearing it to please your sponsor.  After all, you do have that new Bugatti Veyron and the penthouse in the Burj Khalifa in Dubai to pay for.  As well as your string of newly minted pop starlette WAGS.  But, let’s face it, the minute the promotional photos are taken, the first thing you do is rip them off and go commando like the real working class lad he is.

That having been said – and believe me, although given the choice I will go commando any day of the week, there really is one good reason for a man to wear underwear:  The wet spot.  Now, let’s be perfectly blunt about this: when God created man, he included one really glaring flaw, for which – had man been a car – he would have been recalled.

The flaw is this:  no matter how hard or vigorously a man shakes his penis after urinating, there is always that one drop that waits to emerge until after said penis is returned to the trousers. And the result is a wet spot that no man can conceal.

Now, it’s not as bad for an uncircumcised male, for he can always pull his foreskin over his penis and a tie a ribbon round it.  However, if you are a real man and you are in a public convenience, and there are others around – especially that interested little specimen in the pink shirt and the champagne pompadour and the very large ex-fullback in the Security Guard’s uniform – the last thing you want to do is tie a ribbon round your willy in plain sight.

 The only other problem with the ribbon solution in dealing with that pesky wet spot is that the interior of your foreskin is, at the best of times, a moist, unwashed, rancid and foetid  receptacle for jism and other delights.  Add the wet spot to the brew and it will waste no time in fermenting and starting to smell like the den of a male lion.  And because of this, you might not ask your girlfriend to fellate you until after you’ve added a dash of cologne. Otherwise, your flavour will not be her flavour-of-the-month.

But, at least an uncircumcised man does have an option.  However, for an uncircumcised man all is lost.  You are out of luck.  There is nothing you can do about that one extra drop of urine, which will spread and spread and spread, and it will be a particularly virulent shade of yellow.  Especially if you are wearing white trousers and don’t have anything you can cover yourself with.

It goes without saying, the only solution is: underwear.  Because, if push does come to shove and you are wearing underwear when your wet spot runs amok, you can always wait until things settle down and then remove the wet-spotted underwear and bin it. This does, of course, mean bringing sixteen or seventeen extra pairs whenever you leave the house, but wa-HAY, why do you think God created rucksacks?

Now, there is one piece of good news for male underwear sufferers, and that is that the new lycra boxers are really quite refreshing to wear.  You can almost fool yourself into thinking that you’ve got nothing on at all. But then, men also believe that vegetables cause impotence.

But then, of course, if you are one of those slacker student types, your cargoes will already be so stained that a mere wet spot will be redundant.  In fact, many students – particularly philosophy majors – can piss straight through their flies without interrupting their latest discussion in the cafe, and without exposing themselves to ridicule. Because, you see, nobody will notice anything different. 

Having said all there is to say about underwear in its role as a man’s wet spot-concealer, let us segue to the role of the wet spot as the reason for the male’s unwillingness to sustain (and endure) long-term sexual relationships. Long-term meaning – in the excepted vernacular of the sexually active male human animal – anything longer than it takes for him to achieve his first organism. And let us brutal about this: it is not the fault of the man; he would be more than willing – if not to spend the entire night (in which case there’s always the danger that the woman might say, “I love you”) – but at least long enough to achieve a second orgasm (and with any luck, by that time the woman might have become desperate enough to resort to the tried and true method of clitorising herself while the man huffs and puffs  and pumps and blows his wad up her tunnel – and always a split second after she has asked him not to come inside her).  For to listen and to have sex at the same time means multitasking; something mean are not designed to do.

But now we come to the reason why men are so bad at long-term relationships.  And quite simply, it is – once again – all the fault of the woman.  For, no matter what, she makes a wet spot.  And not only does she make a wet spot, but should the man remain even long enough for a second go – thus providing the woman with a heaven-sent opportunity to finally achieve an orgasm of her own – she will repay him by moaning that he is not taking his turn to lie upon the wet spot she made in the first place.

Now I ask you, is that fair?  And do you blame a man for sneaking off at the first convenient moment (such as when she goes to the bathroom after their first go-round)?  In my humble opinion if a woman wants to keep her man for any length of time, she will train herself never to leave a wet spot, and if she leaves one by mistake, never to suggest to a man that he might trade places with her.  After all (and this is purely a physical reason), a man’s bottom is customarily hairier that that of a woman.  The sort of fluids that make up this particularly annoying variety of wet spot, tend to stiffen the delicate hairs on the man’s posterior.  These stiff, clotted hairs will, if left unattended – (as it no doubt will be, men not being particularly well-trained in the bottom-washing department) – lead to a rash.  And a rash will lead to a certain unbearable itchiness, which – after it has been sufficiently scratched through the real man’s jeans – will develop boils.

I ask you this: Is a long term relationship worth getting boils for? 

Now, we segue to the unlikely scenario that the man actually does enter in to a long term relationship which leads to marriage.

What this usually means is that a compromise has been struck.  The man sleeps in his wife’s bed, but only long enough for her to make the wet spot.  He then adjourns to his own bedroom – where he remains until such time as she has freshened up (because, after all, she is probably not smelling too good by this time) and changed the sheet. And when everything is once again bright and breezy, it is then the cue for the husband to re-enter the marital bed and start the whole thing over.  And sometimes this procedure can be repeated as many as three or four times in a given night.  Now, pity the poor man, for every time he has exhausted himself by pumping and huffing and puffing and blowing his wad, he then has to traipse all the way into the other room and take a nap whilst the woman repairs the damage that her latest wet spot has done to the bed.  And then, as if that is not enough, the man is then obliged to get himself up from a sound sleep and return once again to his wife’s side. And it is about this time that she brings up the subject of love – and sometimes even babies – and the poor man is so tuckered out that all he wants to do is go down to the pub with his mates. After all, all the sheets are dirty, and he is certainly not going to lie on them until his wife stops pouting and gets up and launders them.  And, irons them, of course, because in spite of their hairy bottoms, men are delicate creatures, prone to developing not only rashes and boils, but inconvenient chafing.  And believe me, no man wants to take a shower in front of his mates at the squash club if he has any of these conditions.  For you know full well that every single one of them will know that his wife has forced him to sleep on her wet spot, not having had either the compassion or the foresight to keep at least a dozen changes of sheets in the cupboard.

There are, of course, many, many, many other types of wet spots, and eventually I will get to them all.  This may take time, as I value a scientific approach to life above all else. This means I shall have to experiment until I have personally researched each and every species and sub-species of wet spot, all their permutations.  I shall learn all there is to know about their shapes and sizes and molecular densities, about their odours and flavours and even about their musical tastes.  For believe me, the world of the seemingly insignificant wet spot is a glory to behold.  And just so you know, I might even dedicate a whole chapter to the strange and mysterious medieval curse that condemned the feckless willy to an existence without so much as one single, perfect aim.  It is truly a sad tale, but one that is worth the telling (besides which, it has only recently been declassified).   

But for today, let us finish with a snippet of culture.  To quote whoever it may have been: “some are puddles are large; some puddles are small; but throughout it all it was the good Lord who made them all.” And when the nights are cold and you are alone in your truckle bed, please remember that “even the tiniest wet spot is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.”


« Previous PageNext Page »

Create a free website or blog at