Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The pain of loss

Courtesy of Naypong at
Four weeks ago, on a sunny Sunday morning, I watched my 24-year-old son play football (soccer) for his local pub team. It had been a while since I last attended one of Ryan’s matches. The experience moved me in a way I had not expected.

Throughout his childhood, I would routinely take him to his junior football games, stand on the side line shouting words of encouragement, and deliver a sweaty, mud-splattered boy to the safety of home. During the return journey we’d discuss the match and his performance, analysing his strengths and weaknesses. We’d share our delight about a thunderous tackle and a defence-splitting pass. We’d discuss a dubious refereeing decision or the histrionic behaviour of the opposition’s manager. Often I would nag him about trailing sludge into my car and sullying the upholstery, and he’d urge me to “chill out”.

Ryan is now over six-feet tall, with a build like a spinach-fuelled Popeye. In an entertaining game, his pub team defeated their local rivals, 4 – 2. My son impressed in the central midfield area, spraying precision passes around the field with his cultured left foot – an asset (I insist) that he inherited from his father. Ryan scored one goal, and created two others.

At the end of the game, I bristled with pride as I marched onto the pitch to congratulate him.
“Well played son; that was a great performance.”
“Cheers, dad” he replied.

And then he left with his team-mates, heading for the pub to celebrate their victory with some post-match beers and sandwiches, an enjoyable pilgrimage I had made multiple times during my football-playing days.

I returned to my car, alone. As I set off for home, a profound emptiness engulfed me. A ridiculous voice in my head screamed, “He should be with me!” The voice of reason retorted, “He’s crossed the threshold into adulthood; he no longer requires your chaperone.” My vision blurred as I struggled to see through a watery haze. I pulled over to the side of the road. The pollen count must have been high.     




Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Toilet cleaners and curiosity: a toxic combination

Courtesy of Simon Howden at

I’m at an age when I occasionally engage in life reviews, reflecting on my 56 years of meandering while trying to make sense of it all. In particular, I’ve ruminated on those times – rather more than you might think – where my actions have endangered life, either my own or that of others. One example of the former took place in the bathroom of my parents’ home 46 years ago.

As a 10 years old, I displayed an inquisitive mind; “why?”, “how?” and “what if?” were recurrent questions when faced with new situations or novel snippets of information. The brightly coloured bottles of bleach and toilet cleaners that lurked behind our lavatory had long since attracted my attention, particular that skull-and- crossbones warning about toxicity. So one afternoon, while I was home alone, I decided to investigate what all the fuss was about.

I picked up the “Domestic Thick Bleach” and “Ajax Powder” and proceeded to read the warnings on the two toilet cleaners:
Do not ingest – I looked up “ingest” in my pocket dictionary. Eating or drinking toilet cleaner! Did they think we’re all stupid or something?

Avoid contact with the skin and eyes – Fair enough; even as a young boy, I assumed that spillage on bodily parts might sting.

If accidentally swallowed, contact a doctor as a matter of urgency – I did wonder whether anyone would still have the power of speech to call emergency services in such a scenario.

Do not, under any circumstances, mix with other toilet cleaners – This warning intrigued me, triggering all my “Why?” and “What if?” queries. Frustratingly, no explanation was offered on the bottles. The labels’ failure to inform, along with my emerging interest in science, conspired to motivate me to conduct an in-house chemistry experiment.

I inserted the plastic plug into the bathroom washbasin and sprinkled a few layers of Ajax powder into the porcelain bowl. As I reached for the Domestos, my pulse accelerated with the excitement of discovery. I removed the red cap (the child-proof variety had yet to be invented), dispensed a few generous splashes of the viscous liquid onto the powder in the washbasin, and leant over to observe.

At first nothing happened and I recall feeling a sense of anticlimax. But then the mixture started to hiss, spit and bubble, while emitting a vapour which spiralled upwards towards my overhanging nostrils. The initial snort knocked me backwards, and I had to steady myself on the side of the bath. The bathroom filled with a dense fog. My legs crumpled and my breathing became laboured. In a daze, I crawled out of the bathroom on my hands and knees to reach safety.

Subsequently, I learnt that the green-white vapour was chlorine, one of the first poisonous gases to be used in warfare. My ad-hoc chemistry experiment had inadvertently transformed the family bathroom into a trench in the midst of the battle of Ypres in 1914.

By the time my parents returned, the chemical reaction had fizzled out. They said they could detect a stale smell throughout the house and accused me of smoking. I claimed that one of our neighbours had been burning rubbish in their garden and that this must be the source of the pong. They seemed to believe me; after all, it was a more plausible tale than the idea of some lunatic mixing toilet cleaners in the bathroom washbasin!            

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The day I almost killed my brother

Courtesy of Rawich at

Sometimes I find I get to thinking of the past. Reflecting on my boyhood, it is astounding that I, or my sibling, survived into our teenage years, yet alone middle age.

My infancy was littered with stupid deeds, too numerous to list in their entirety. But a few remain at the forefront of my memory, not least because each could have led to a fatality. Like the time I nearly killed my brother.

“I wonder if I could fit inside that suitcase,” said Tony, as we both lay on the floor in our parents’ bedroom one rainy afternoon, wrestling with boredom.

Tony is my older brother, five years my senior, and (on the evidence of this story) just as dumb as me – perhaps stupidity is in the genes! The “can we fit in a suitcase” game seemed appealing to my five-year-old mind, so I squealed with enthusiasm at the prospect and instantly rose to my feet.

“No, I’ll go first,” said my commanding big brother; I knew from previous experience that there was no point in arguing with him. I watched, admiringly, as Tony climbed inside the suitcase, adopted an extra-coiled version of the foetal position, and asked me to shut the lid. “But whatever you do, don’t lock it.”

Perhaps a child psychiatrist would today label my behaviour as indicative of “oppositional defiant disorder,” but I often found that a request not to carry out a specific action immediately induced an urge to do so. I dutifully closed the suitcase.

“Told you I could do it.” The muffled sound of my brother’s voice, seeping through the lid, was almost inaudible.

“What would happen if I pressed this metal thingy on here?” I asked.   

Fifty years on, I think my brother’s retort was, “Nooooooo…,” but I can’t be sure, as the sounds leaking from the case seemed distorted and breathy. Anyway, I pushed one of the two metal fasteners on the case and it clicked into place. I immediately tried to unlock it but by my five-year-old mind did not have the wherewithal to realize that, to achieve this aim, I would need to slide the catch outwards with my thumb. Instead, I tugged at the fastener, but to no avail.

The indistinct sounds from inside the case rose an octave, and were accompanied by repeated knocking noises. I think I recall hearing “I can’t breathe” and whimpers that seemed to originate from miles away but were, in retrospect, coming from the locked valise in front of me. I tried lifting the unlocked end of the lid, and wafting my hand under its lip while repeating, “Have some air,” but the panicky cries from inside suggested my actions were not having the desired effect.

When my brother could no longer be heard, I ran downstairs to find mum who was washing clothes in the kitchen.

“I think Tony’s dead,” I said, standing guiltily in the doorway. Mum sped upstairs, immediately recognized what had happened – as mum’s do – and flicked the suitcase catch to release my brother. As he gingerly got to his feet, I recall his ashen features. Copious amounts of sweat and tears rolled down his cheeks, and he was panting in a way that reminded me of how our dog behaved after a long walk on a sultry day.

But mum seemed unfazed, as if her heroics were all part of a typical day – perhaps they were. “Keep out of the suitcases,” she said, nonchalantly, as she returned to her dolly tub and mangle (wringer).

As for Tony, he continues to have a fear about confined spaces; strange that!    

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

A birthday to remember

I recently celebrated my 56th birthday. Maybe “celebrate” is the wrong word; once you reach a certain age, the central function of birthdays is to act as a reminder that you are another year closer to oblivion.

Throughout my life, I’ve never attached much significance to birthday cards, sending or receiving. On the occasion of my 56th, three of them landed on my doormat and it later struck me how their content seemed to capture – albeit in an offbeat kind of way - the essence of my current situation.
Courtesy of David
Castillo Dominici at

Card number 1 was from my 20-year-old daughter. The envelope was addressed, “To the old man”. Emblazoned on the front of the card was, “Happy 60th birthday”. I suspect she has always viewed me as her “old” dad since she popped into this world two decades ago. And at least she spared me the “old git” jibe that has decorated some of her previous communications.  

Card number 2 was from my parents, both now in their mid-80s. The picture consisted of a bright red racing car, the sort of card you might send to an 18-year-old boy-racer shortly after he’d passed his driving test. The age-inappropriateness of the birthday greeting indicated that they still view me as their youngest child, their baby, despite the fact that I’m not far away from drawing an old-age pension.

Card number 3 was from my wife. The verse within was beautiful, proclaiming her unstinting love for me over the 33 years we’ve been together. Reading it moistened my eyes. That was until I noticed that the front of the card read, “Happy anniversary to my wonderful husband”. She had purchased the card on the day we had been out together in Manchester city centre, wining and dining, leaving me in the pub while she nipped across the road to the card shop; a combination of moderate alcohol intoxication and long-sightedness had led to the error.

My 23-year old son didn’t send a card. When he (coincidentally) called round later in the day, he confessed that he had forgotten it was my birthday. “Happy birthday, paps”, he said, as way of atonement when I reminded him. “Are you going to treat me to a couple of pints?”

On the night of my birthday, just prior to switching off the lights, I gazed at my three cards on the shelf above the fireplace. In an inspirational instant it struck me how love can be expressed in a multitude of ways. I smiled, turned and went to bed. I slept well.     

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

What does a 56-year-old man worry about?

Courtesyof pixtawan -
During infancy, my central concerns focused on the risk of humiliation at the hands of my school teachers, some of whom deployed bare-bottom spanking in front of the whole class as a punishment; even at the tender age of six, the prospect of botching the arithmetic test and my arse being exposed to 30 of my peers was a disturbing prospect. By the time I reached my teenage years my worries centred on whether I’d win the affections of a pretty girl in my class (and perhaps glimpse her arse) rather than losing out to one of my mates.

Early adulthood evoked anxieties about college examinations and career prospects. Then parental responsibilities arrived, together with ongoing fears about not having enough money to pay the bills at the end of each month. As my affluence increased, the day-to-day worries of a responsible job, alongside the toxic office politics, grabbed centre stage.   

Now at 56, and having recently opted for early retirement with a generous pension, what is there left for me to worry about? My 33-year-old relationship with Mrs Jones is stronger than ever. My two adult children seem to be maturing into decent, independent human beings. There is nothing around to disturb my mental tranquillity.  

But the human psyche, in its wondrous complexity, seems to find things to fret about even when life is good. Listed below are the top 10 worries that have pushed into my mind over the last month:

1. The inward journey of my toe-nail
Despite regular attention from the clippers, the big-toe nail on my left foot seems determined to get more acquainted with the neighboring soft tissue, and is burrowing into the flesh like a scene from Alien on reverse play.

2. My daughter driving her Mini-Cooper
The occasional disturbing image of my precious princess travelling at speed in such a frail shell alongside all the 4 x 4s and juggernauts, while casually twiddling the dial on her car radio.

3. The kink in my willy
It might have been my overly tight classic briefs, but when I was in the shower a fortnight ago I noticed that my most precious appendage had an almost 45-degree kink in it half way along its length. For a few nervous moments I feared that any future intimacy would require Mrs Jones to be out of sight and in a separate room.

4. My football club suffering a humiliating defeat
Following promotion to the Premier League of English football (soccer), my small-town club, Burnley, are this season competing against giants like Manchester United and Liverpool. More than once I’ve awoken abruptly from a nightmare as a 10th goal sails into the Burnley net.

5. Dying slowly with a degenerative brain disease
Sadly, my mother-in-law is afflicted with senile dementia; her faculties and personality ebbed away some time ago. I fear such a gradual, undignified demise. When it’s time to meet my maker, I hope for a sudden death; a massive coronary during one of my early-morning jogs would be ideal.

6. Whether my knee joints can hold firm
Speaking of jogging … throughout my menopause-fueled pursuit of fitness, my knee and ankle joints regularly creak and threaten to give way altogether. As such, I’m prone to catastrophic images of being wheel-chair bound before the age of 60.
7. Self-mutilation from trimming my bush
I increasingly like to keep my intimate vegetable patch neat and tidy, a practice encouraged by reading that shaving makes your manhood look bigger. But the ever increasing depths of the folds in my dangly bits means that completion of the procedure with my Remington 3-speed trimmer is fast developing into a bloody business; I fear one day that the process will leave the shower resembling the iconic scene from Psycho.

8. My son’s lungs
At the age of 22, for some inexplicable reason, my son Ryan decided to start smoking. At times I’m disturbed by the image in my head of his sooty lungs, spluttering to inflate.  

9. The passage of time
It is unsettling how quickly time passes: I’m not far off 60; my parents are in their mid 80s, and my “kids” are both 20-something. Bereavements are imminent. But perhaps even more unsettling are the little losses and endings: no more family holidays; no more teaching my children to drive; selling our house so as to down-size; and no longer in the role of my children’s taxi driver - all life chapters that will never be repeated.

10. My hemorrhoids
Despite previous assaults with ointments and the surgeon’s knife, my resilient little buddies continue to strive for daylight. Although painless, the blood-stained underwear can sometimes appear as if … … But I’ll spare you any more detail; I wouldn’t wish to worry you!  

And who said the life of a 56-year-old early retiree was an easy one?

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A table for one

Courtesy of Debspoons -

Last Saturday afternoon, I attended a beer festival in a neighbouring town and, as it was a pleasantly warm evening, decided to walk the four miles home rather than order a taxi. As is often the case, my five pints of fine cask ale had induced a mellow mood and I welcomed the opportunity for reflection during the homeward hike.

When I reached the half-way point on my journey, around 7.30 pm, I passed an Indian restaurant. The sweet smell of chicken tikka masala caressed my nostrils and triggered a hollow, burning sensation in the pit of my stomach, so I decided I was in urgent need of a curry.

Despite the restaurant seeming less than half full, several minutes elapsed before the manager greeted me.
“Good evening, sir”, he said, while glancing over my shoulder, as if searching for my dining companion. “How can I help you?”
This struck me as a bizarre question; I resisted the urge to say that I’d like to buy two litres of matt emulsion and hog-hair brush.
“A table for one, please.”
“Have you booked?”
“No, I’ve dropped in on the off-chance” I said, while scanning the empty tables around us.
The manager seated me near to the exit, directly across from the ladies’ restroom. A swift swoop of his hand cleared away one set of utensils, leaving the undersized table set for one diner.

As I read the menu, I could not help but notice the reactions of other customers to me, Billy-no-mates, sitting alone. Two young women exiting the toilet seemed to stare at me as if I was a reincarnated version of Ted Bundy. A couple entering the restaurant looked, and looked again, as if they had observed something ghoulish. I reassured myself that I must be succumbing to paranoia, and that it was all in my imagination.

Once the food arrived, the process of eating only amplified my self-consciousness. The crunch as I bit into my poppadoms seemed to reverberate around the restaurant. Despite my best efforts, my lamb bhuna insistently dribbled out of the corner of my mouth. After all, eating out is a social activity, where food intake should be punctuated by conversation and the exchange of pleasantries; but without anyone opposite me, to distract and
shield, I felt exposed.

Towards the end of my meal, two children, a boy and a girl both aged about 6, appeared in front of me. I nodded and smiled; thankfully they smiled too. Suddenly, their mother appeared, glanced suspiciously in my direction and, without any word or gesture of recognition to me, grasped their hands and led them quickly away. I felt like the child-catcher from Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang intent on snatching children off the streets of Vulgaria! I stifled an impulse to scream, “Come along my little ones; come and get your lollipops.”

It is rare for me to eat out alone in a restaurant, particularly in the evening. My impromptu stop at the Jewel of Bombay provided me with empathy of how single people might feel when in the same position. I wont be repeating the experience in a hurry; thank goodness for Mrs Jones!


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Six things men dread to hear from their wives

Women are wonderful. Without a daily dose of their feminine charms men’s lives would be impoverished. But the mind of the female is a labyrinth of baffling complexity that is beyond the comprehension of the average fellow.

Mrs Jones has been my other half for over 33 years, so our compatibility is beyond doubt. Nevertheless, there are a number of her day-to-day utterances that continue to disturb me, crashing into my emotions like a brakeless juggernaut careering down a one-in-three incline and evoking some combination of fear, hopelessness and despondency. Here are the six comments I most dread to hear from my wife; I suspect the bulk of the heterosexual male population will concur.

1. “I need to get myself a new top”
Usually stated in the prelude to a night out, this innocuous-sounding phrase triggers expectations of imminent bankruptcy along with the immediate urge to convey all our furniture to the pawnbroker’s shop. Of course she can’t wear the expensive top languishing in the wardrobe as she’s worn it before and there’s a chance that one of our friends might remember it from an earlier social get-together. And we both know that the clothing bill will inevitably stretch to more than the cost of a blouse; matching skirt, shoes and handbag are absolute necessities. As I fumble on my laptop in search of our current bank balance, I seriously consider the various income-generation initiatives needed to fund the looming clothes-fest, including selling my body for sexual favors on the street corner (which might raise the cost of her pantyhose if the sailors are in town, the liquor is strong and the light is poor).

2. “What time did you get home last night?”
You’ve been out for a couple of beers with the lads, time flew and you arrived home a tad later than anticipated – OK, three hours later – crept into the bedroom and slithered into bed, unnoticed, next to the beautiful, snoring wife. Or so you thought. Her question belies the idea that she is ignorant of the previous night’s arrival time. She knows what time you got home and disapproves. Her question is a test to determine whether you will tell the truth. There’s no option but to come clean: plead guilty and hope for a less severe sentence – perhaps a disapproving glare rather than hours of the silent treatment and a suspension of sexual cooperation.

3. “Are these trousers a bit too tight?”     
Oh God, please don’t ask me! This puts men in a classic catch-22 situation. Any affirmative response ignites the fireworks of indignation: “Are you saying I’m fat?” While any attempts at reassurance, that the trousers don’t look tight at all, is instantly dismissed: “You know nothing; I don’t know why I bother asking you.” The optimal strategy is to pretend that you haven’t heard the question, and remain silent behind the newspaper.

4. “The bedrooms are looking a bit drab now; they need brightening up”
This is female code to inform you to cancel all further engagements for the next six months as throughout this period, with the exception of toilet breaks and an occasional micro sleep, you will labor with paint brush in hand splashing matt emulsion on an expanse of walls and ceilings. Once the upstairs rooms have been decorated they will, by comparison, starkly indicate that the downstairs rooms also require some attention. To add to the pain, the bank balance will probably take a further hit when she decides that new furniture is a must in order to complement the new color scheme. And as the fireplace is “so old fashioned”, brace yourself for major house surgery.

5. “Can we have a quick look around the outdoor market?”   
Outdoor markets are how I imagine Satan’s garden to be: grubby, noisy and inhabited by a raft of ex-convicts trying to sell you crap. But my lady loves “pottering” around them. And her utterance is not a question; it is a statement of intent. My expectation had been to nip to the book shop in town and then find a cosy restaurant for a slurp of wine and a chicken fajita. Instead, she spends the next 2 hours rooting through the junk on each stall while I walk three yards behind her, cursing under my breath, as I bob and weave to avoid being shunted by the multitude of prams and motorized wheelchairs.

6. “First, I need to wash my hair”
Courtesy of Vlado
The idea had been for us both to pop out, on impulse, to enjoy a couple of drinks at the local tavern. Of course, washing hair in this context does not solely mean washing hair, but includes: achieving the correct arrangement of towels; applying shampoo and rubbing to achieve a lather; rinsing with clean water; applying shampoo again; lathering again; rinsing again; applying conditioner; rinsing again; drying off with towel; blow-drying hair (layer by bloody layer); application of curling tongs; and faffing about in the mirror until it “looks right”. By the time we step through the front door I’ve grown a beard and seem to have aged ten years.

There you have it; six things no man (or at least no grumpy, middle-aged man) ever wants to hear from his lady. So come on girls, give your guy a break. Pledge to not use any of these statements (or derivatives thereof) for the next 12 months. You know you can do it. 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

A tribute to my willy

As I proceed through the sixth decade of my life, I’ve got to thinking more and more about my willy.
Courtesy of Ambro

I’ve tried to recall the first time I contemplated my most valuable organ. One contender is an early memory of when my father announced at a family gathering that, within days of my birth, when my naked baby-body was held aloft for inspection, uncle Ronnie gasped and said, “Bloody hell, he’s well hung; that boy will never be the first out of the shower!”

I was definitely aware of my dangly bits at six years old when our teacher insisted that her pupils, comprising both boys and girls, change into their physical education gear  in the classroom before proceeding to the gym. "Underpants and knickers must be removed” Mrs Fenwick would shout. Giggly and nervous, we all used our desks as shields as we shed our school uniforms and wriggled into our PE kits. I still recall the awkwardness at the prospect of a girl (God forbid!) glimpsing my willy while, at the same time, harbouring a stirring curiosity about the secrets residing under the desk of the blond girl sitting in front of me. 

Speaking of PE, it was during one such session three years later that I learned about the ecstasy my willy could deliver. Half way up the climbing rope, my legs wrapped tightly around that rough, braided helix, a wondrous sensation spread from my loins.  Eyes closed in rapture and, with chin crumpled against the rope, I hung there for as long as I dared, resembling a dog on heat humping its owner’s leg.

Then I entered the self-abuse phase. Between the ages of 12 and 14 my willy got more hand-hammer than a mechanic’s workbench. In my imagination I humped every girl in class, one by one on consecutive nights, even the big lass with yellow teeth and bad breath (although that one necessitated a southerly approach).

As an adult my willy seems to constantly demand attention, and I think about him every day. After showering I inspect him in the mirror, from several angles. I’ll be forever grateful to him for delivering the seeds that grew into my two beautiful children. In contrast, we’ve shared life’s most painful moments; the time I was struck full in the cockpit by a high-velocity cricket ball is particularly salient, as is the occasion I snagged my foreskin in the zip of my Levi jeans – I never went commando again after that mishap.  

Apparently, three quarters of all men believe their willies to be smaller than average. I’m one of them. I soothe myself with platitudes. Size doesn’t matter, as the lady’s tingly bits are on the outside. And, of course, your own always looks smaller in comparison to others as you only ever view it from above. Plus, not forgetting the maxim that sex is 90% in the mind and 10% friction, so physicality doesn’t contribute significantly to carnal satisfaction. Am I convinced? No, not at all. So when I stand in front of the mirror my first wish to any fairy godmother that might be brave enough to stray into my bathroom would be to grant me the todger of a Viagra-fuelled donkey.

But I shouldn’t speak too harshly about my most valued appendage. On most occasions he has successfully stood to attention, proud and dandy, as and when required. I forgive him for the occasions when, like a balloon without helium, it has refused to rise, most notably with a cougar in 1978 - but she did possess talons for fingernails and was carefree about which bits of me she scrunched.  

It might not be the biggest, but it’s mine. And although it sometimes seems to possess a mind of its own, inflating at inopportune moments - the vibrations associated with an internal combustion engine being a potent catalyst, resulting in some interesting moments on public transport - my willy and I have been intimately connected for 55 years. Barring any catastrophic accidents, it will be a partnership that will endure until I die, and that’s something to cherish. 


Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The circle of life

In February of this year my only son, aged 23, left home. Two
Courtesy of samandale -
months later my father almost died. So around the time that my child instigated the final phase of his transition to full independence, I nearly lost the man who, for my 55 years of existence, has admirably performed the position of male role-model. It was almost as if Life had decided upon a quid pro quo: if one young man is on the cusp of full autonomy, it is time for one old man to depart. 

My 83-year-old dad had been suffering abdominal pain for a few days. Typically a fit and active man who walks his boisterous golden retriever three times per day, when I called round on one of my weekly visits it was sobering to discover that his discomfort had rendered him almost incapable of leaving his bed. Why hadn’t you called me earlier, or (even better) rang for an ambulance, I asked. We didn’t want to make a fuss, my dad and mother replied.

I helped dad into my car and drove straight to the Urgent Care department of our local hospital. During the journey he insisted on telling me the whereabouts of his will and testament – apparently in the bottom drawer of his dining room cabinet, in a green cardboard folder – and asked if I could “keep an eye on” mum (his wife for the last 62 years) should anything happen to him. I smiled and urged him not to be so bloody morbid, while wondering whether the old fella had some sort of intuition that his demise was imminent.

I booked him into Urgent Care, asked the receptionist for a vomit bowl (dad was retching by this time), and emphasized that I believed my father’s condition to be a medical emergency. She instructed us to sit in the waiting area along with about two-dozen other patients, most of whom seemed to be suffering cuts and sprains. Two minutes later my father lost consciousness and slumped across me. Six nurses descended upon us from all directions, lifted my father onto a trolley and rushed him into the resuscitation area; there is nothing more effective than a dramatic collapse to propel one into pole position in a hospital waiting room.

Throughout the afternoon his condition oscillated between apparent improvement and episodes of mental confusion. Various tests and x-rays revealed an obstruction in his bowel; surgery for cancer several years earlier had left scars (“adhesions”) which had caused his intestine to twist like a balloon and cause a complete blockage.

By 8.30 pm, the medical specialists decided they would have to operate immediately. Although not explicitly stated, the indications were that we should prepare for his demise: the senior consultant surgeon was called to perform the operation; she insisted on speaking to me and mum beforehand to emphasize the seriousness of the situation; and we were led to the Faith Room to await the outcome of what they anticipated to be a three-hour procedure.

Alone in the Faith Room, mum and I sat in front of a broad bare window, allowing a view of both the lights of the nearby town on one side, and the sun sinking below the bleak Lancashire hills on the other. At first, we did not speak. I stared into the gloom outside, striving to comprehend the prospect of losing my dad, while (I suspect) mum quietly prayed to her God.

I remembered that I had not updated my only sibling about our father’s deterioration, so I rang him on my mobile and outlined the events of the day.
“I think we might lose him, Tony” I said at last, tears escaping for the first time at my explicit acknowledgment of the likely outcome.

When I returned to sit with my mum the quality of our togetherness seemed to have changed following my acceptance of the possibility of the big man’s death. We talked with a depth of familiarity only close family members can share. We laughed together as we reminded each other of family holidays, including the time he insisted on carrying both huge suitcases into the hotel only to become wedged in the swing- doors. We reflected on some of his foibles – how he doted on his dogs, his unintentional heavy-handedness with his grandchildren when wrestling with them on the carpet, and his habit of grasping stinging nettles with his bare hands to eject them from his garden – as we shared an unfamiliar intimacy, I wondered why mum and I didn’t make time to share this closeness more often.


My father survived. The bowel operation was a success and, after four weeks in hospital (two in intensive care) he was discharged home on the 12th May. Ten weeks later he continues to improve, although he remains 30-pounds lighter than his pre-operative weight and his mobility is currently restricted to short, tentative walks with his dog!   

During the crisis I glimpsed the gut-wrenching prospect of losing my dad, the unique quality of love that binds family members, and the circle of life whereby our children mature into full adulthood while our parents edge ever nearer to oblivion. Intriguingly, my visits to mum and dad have now increased to twice per week. 


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

My hi-tech doctor

Photo courtesy of Niderlander
-Dreamstime Stock Photos

At 55, I am meandering into the stage of life where the finishing post is beckoning on the horizon, hopefully some distance away but definitely within view. As I shuffle ever closer to oblivion, there is growing awareness of events that might catapult me to the end point ahead of the older runners in front of me. One such issue relates to the prospect of a serious illness.

I’ve been aware of the two brownish lumps on my skin for at least three years; in all likelihood these moles will have been my companions for much, much longer but I’ve paid no attention to them. But recently I’ve been submitting them to daily inspections in the mirror. The larger one is about one centimetre in diameter, located on the side of my face. The other is narrower but slightly raised, bravely lurking among the undergrowth of my abdominal hair.

Armed with the partial knowledge accrued from Google searches for “melanoma” and “skin cancer”, I’d detected ominous signs that both my blemishes were two-tone and the one on my gut had a crusty top, with a blood droplets oozing from beneath it. I decided to get them checked out.

Having not visited my local doctor for several years, I was initially impressed to find that he had apparently embraced the technological age. I booked an early appointment online and, when I arrived at his surgery, I registered my presence via the touch-screen, thereby helpfully avoiding any interaction with the medical receptionists (or “bulldogs” as they are known locally). Within minutes, “MR BRYAN JONES” flashed up on the big screen, instructing me to make my way to the doctor’s consulting room.

I knocked and entered. The doc, a mountain of a man with chunky spectacles, hands the size of frying pans, and an enormous belly straining at the lower buttons of his polyester white shirt, did not look up, his eyes (magnified three-fold) remaining fixed on his computer screen.

“What can I do for you, Mr Jones” he asked, head still bowed, his voice betraying the boredom of routine medical practice.
“I’ve a couple of skin aberrations I’d like you to check.” (I always use big words when speaking to doctors to try and counter feelings of inferiority).
The description of my complaint seemed to ignite his interest. "Let me have a look” he said, springing to his feet and prising under-sized latex gloves over his bulbous fingers.

I pointed out the location of the moles. His eyes flitted between my face and my exposed belly, as if he couldn’t quite decide which interloper to confront first. He then swooped to inspect my abdominal savannah and prodded it with his forefinger.
“That’s just a pimple” he said, his voice tinged with disappointment. He then proceeded to pinch the mole between his thumb and digit and, in one swift movement, ripped off the crusty scab.
I whimpered, like a whipped puppy.
“Did it hurt?” he asked.
“A tad.”
“It’s bleeding a bit” said the doc, apparently surprised, “I’ll cauterize it with silver nitrate.”
That must be a sophisticated medical procedure, I thought. Wrong! The doctor pulled out an implement that resembled a large spent match and then pressed the hot, blackened end into my pimple. The bleeding stopped, the skin around darkened with a ragged sooty deposit.
“As for the one on your face, I’ll need to remove that under local anaesthetic in my minor surgery clinic and send a bit off for analysis. I’ll book you in.”

Subsequently, I’ve fantasised about my doctor’s minor surgery technique. I’m tormented by a recurring image of a hatchet-wielding crack-addict in an abattoir. I maybe a 55-year-old hypochondriac but I’m still vain; the mutilation of my Richard- Gere, baby-face features is not a welcome prospect. I think I’ll risk the cancer.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A muse

Would you have?

I admired you from afar. Your loveliness,  splendor, inner confidence all nourished me as I longed, unnoticed, from an inferior point in the room. Your proximity froze my breath, evoked an urge to swallow and rendered me wordless. Through the years, we met - again and again – albeit briefly; as acquaintances, as colleagues, as two among many, when we’d nod, smile, and I’d perform, again the role of indifferent bystander.

I played it safe, remained aloof, pride shielding me from the savage slash of rejection.

Three decades on, we occasionally meet and we nod and smile. Two contented people with separate lives, shared with loving partners. Two people harboring a plethora of life’s indentations – joys, achievements, losses, failures – that will forever remain hidden from the other.  But tell me, what if I’d asked? What if I’d risked? What if I’d plunged in and expressed my yearning?

Would you have?

Friday, 13 June 2014

Procrastination? You'll go blind!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles –
As I move through middle age, I reminisce more and more about my schooldays. One salient memory involves a terrifying science teacher and a gaggle of semi-illiterate chemistry students

It was spring 1972, and examinations were looming; important ones that could determine our academic futures. Sitting in the chemistry laboratory along with my 14-year-old school mates – almost all boys (it was an age when girls rarely studied science subjects) – I awaited the arrival of Mr Webster, the head of the science department.

Mr Webster terrified any pupil who ventured within 50 yards of him. He didn’t need to shout; one look sufficed to instil bowel-blasting dread in even the bravest of teenage students. So when he entered the classroom at 9.00 am sharp on that sunny April morning, the chatter amongst us instantly ceased. He strode to his desk, turned to face us, and his laser-gaze scanned the arc of potential victims who were all head bowed, avoiding his stare. Suffocating silence lay over the room like a huge polythene blanket. It must have been 30 seconds before Mr Webster spoke; it felt much longer.


Nobody responded. All one could hear was the faint whistling of Bunsen burners from the adjacent laboratory

Mr Webster grimaced, grabbed his white chalk, turned to the blackboard and wrote:


He turned to face his perplexed class, pointed at the board and asked, “Anyone care to comment?”

I later realized that the point he was trying to make related to our lack of revision for the imminent examinations, and how we were all putting off until tomorrow the work we should have been doing today. But, at the time, none of us understood what the word meant; we were all 14-year-old scientists, not English scholars! I sneaked a peep inside my chemistry textbook to see if the definition of procrastination lay in the same chapter as the one describing distillation, evaporation and condensation, but to no avail. For one terrible moment I wondered whether he was privy to our solitary night time practices, and had concluded that our daily “cranking the shank” was impairing eye-sight to an extent that interfered with our ability to name the elements in the periodic table.

Frustrated by our lack of comprehension, Mr Webster threw the chalk onto the table, commanded us to "look the word up in a dictionary," and walked out of the classroom, leaving us  teacher-less for the remainder of the session. He was a strange, strange man.

Ah, happy days!   

Thursday, 22 May 2014

What to say, and not to say, to your man – a tutorial

Contrary to popular female perception, we men are sensitive creatures. Beneath those steely exteriors cower vulnerable boys, scanning their environments for morsels of evidence that we are valued. Our partners provide the richest, and most potent source, of information to shape our conclusions as to whether we are wimps or alpha males.

So ladies (at least those involved in heterosexual relationships) you have the power. One utterance from those glossy lips can energize or destroy the man in your life. A casual comment can deflate your mate into an impotent quivering piece of blubber, or transform him into a strutting, testosterone-fuelled superhero.   

As I enter middle age, and beyond, I’ve been reflecting on four decades of interactions with women and can now deliver the definitive tutorial, entitled, “What to say, and what not to say, to your man”.

Scenario 1: Man buys woman a gift, or shows thoughtfulness by cooking her favourite meal.

DEFLATE response: “Ah, that’s sweet of you.”

BOOST response: “You’re the best.”

The “sweet” comment, much used by the fairer of the species, is sickly and patronising; the kind of thing one might say to a 2-year-old niece when she offers you a suck of her lollipop. In contrast, telling your man he’s “the best” taps into his primal need to be head of the pack, reassuring him that (at least in the eyes of his partner) he is number one and will later have his pick of the on-heat females (which, of course, will be you). 

Scenario 2: Showing the family photograph album to your offspring.

DEFLATE response: “Your dad used to be a good-looking man.”

BOOST response: “Your dad’s still a good-looking man.”

OK, the hair might be greyer, the body less toned, but the first response might as well scream “useless has-been”. Being told that you were once good-looking, but no longer are, is more damaging to the tender ego of the male than accepting that one has always been battered with the ugly stick. Alternatively, we vanity-bloated men love to believe we are still attractive to the female form, albeit in a more sophisticated way. The boost response will typically lead to a puffing up of the male plumage, involving chest expansion, an erect back and a bounce in the stride.

Scenario 3: Man flirting with women at a party.

DEFLATE response: “You sad, old bastard; still thinking you’ve got a chance with women almost half your age.”

BOOST response: “I’ll have to keep an eye on you with all these young women sniffing around.”

Ladies, we know that the chances of women lusting after blokes two decades their senior are as likely as their developing an aversion for chocolate. But men like to delude themselves that at least one or two fillies within the vicinity just might be thinking, “wow, that man is triggering spasms in my lady bits.” Deny us this fantasy and we’d stop showering and never change our underwear.    

Scenario 4: Man undressing in aroused state in anticipation of rumpy-pumpy, and having just unleashed his front-room furniture.

DEFLATE response: “Ah, how cute!”

BOOST response:  “Be gentle with me.”

Men are obsessed with the size of their willies, and subject them to frequent inspections in front of the mirror (or is that just me?). Things described as cute tend to be small, so the deflate comment will activate the man’s doubts about the adequacy of his nadger, inevitably impairing his sexual performance. In contrast, the boost response implies that his weapon is at risk of causing damage, thereby promoting virility and confidence in his ability to satisfy.

Scenario 5:  During the act of love-making

BOOST response: Gasps of orgasmic pleasure (manufactured or otherwise).

DEFLATE response: “Are you in yet?”

No commentary necessary.   

So there you have it, the definitive guide to how men tick. Ladies, the power is with you; use it wisely.

*** Personal note: Due to my father’s illness, over the last few weeks I’ve not maintained my usual level of activity in the blogosphere. At the time of writing, my father seems to be improving and, tomorrow, I set off on a 15-night Scandinavian cruise (yippee!). So I expect my usual input to blogging will resume from around the middle of June.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Things Mrs Jones would not have said 30 years ago

Courtesy of rosezombie -

Relationships evolve over time. Thirty-three years ago, the future Mrs Jones and I met in a social club at the hospital where we both worked. Like any couple in the early stages of the mating ritual, we were each on our best behaviour: no farting in front of each other; swearing restricted to exclamations; and bowel references were no more graphic than the occasional mention of an ‘upset stomach’.

Nowadays we are less inhibited. I share the following scenarios as illustration:

  1. Mrs Jones returns home from work and enters the living room where I’m tip-tapping away on my laptop. My attention is drawn to the twitching of her nostrils. She looks directly at me, accusingly, and asks, ‘Have you shit?’

  1. Together on the settee, watching television.
‘I wish you’d stop fidgeting’ I say.
‘I can’t’ she says.
‘Why, what’s the problem?’
‘My arse is stinging like a wasp with a cob on.’

But last week, while we were sitting at the table eating our evening meal, Mrs Jones made a comment that indicated to me how three decades of co-habitation had transformed the nature of our relationship. The rhythmic clicking of stainless steel utensils on ceramic plates, mixed with the occasional slurping of wine, were interrupted by the never-to-be-forgotten comment:

‘Move the condiments nearer to me; my tits keep flopping in my Bolognese sauce!’  


Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The advantages of being a menopausal male

My status in the blogosphere must be rising! Today, I'm thrilled to announce that I am guesting over at Menopausal Mother, one of the many rib-ticklingly funny homes for the work of the multi-talented Marcia Kester Doyle.

Marcia is my blogging soul-mate who hilariously captures the essence of the ageing process from a female perspective - or as she describes it, 'The good, the bad and the ugly side of menopausal mayhem'. Marcia is also a staff writer at In The Powder Room and a contributing author to What The Flicka. She wins awards for fun, her blog recently beating all-comers to win the Top Hilariously Funny Blog VoiceBoks 2014. Her work has also been featured on numerous sites, including: Scary Mommy; Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop; Suburbia Interrupted; Mamapedia, Midlife Boulevard and Aiming Low. If you are not familiar with her work, I urge you to drop in on one of her blogs and see for yourself.

My guest post is highlighting the (albeit few) advantages of being 55. Please come over and tell me what you think. The link is:

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

It's floppy!

For the first time in my blogging career, I'm thrilled to announce that I've been asked to guest-post. (I know, some of you guys do it every other week, but this is virgin territory for me).

The invite has come from a giant of the blogging world, non other than Starr Bryson at The Insomniacs Dream. The multi-talented Starr is wonderfully versatile and can write on any topic from humor to erotica to serious stuff; she can inform, arouse, offend or tickle, depending upon which mood she is in. So pop over there and read her stuff on You will not be disappointed.

My guest post recounts a tale from when I worked as a sex therapist - now that surprised you, didn't it - many years ago in the pre-Viagra days. Please pop over (via the link below) and give it some attention and comment. Otherwise, Starr will not be happy and, quite frankly, I'm scared of her!


Saturday, 1 February 2014

A ball-ache at 48

Courtesy of stockimages -

As I zipped up my trousers, my physician peeled off his latex gloves. ‘In light of your age, I’ll refer you to urology for tests’ he said. We can’t be too careful.’

It was 2006, and my 48-year-old right testicle had begun to ache several weeks earlier while watching a TV program about how men are prone to neglect their health, particularly if the problem relates to their dangly bits. I clung to benign explanations for the pain: perhaps my budgie-smugglers were too tight, or maybe I had unknowingly crushed the sensitive orb when I crossed my legs?

When the pain persisted, my hypochondriacal curiosity prompted me to enter ‘testicular cancer’ into the search engine. Reading the symptoms – a lump in part of one testicle, a dull ache, or a heavy scrotum – triggered several days of cupping, prodding and mirror-gazing that only aggravated my pain. I relented and visited my doctor who in turn was now propelling me towards the specialist.     

Three weeks later I am sitting in the urology waiting room at the local hospital, fearing the worst, and visualizing malignant cells multiplying and stomping, jackbooted, into the neighbouring testicular tissue like the Nazi invasion of Poland.

‘Mr. Jones, please?’

I turn to see an attractive young woman in a white coat smiling, and beckoning me to follow her. She has sallow skin and ebony hair, tied back in a bob. I follow her like a faithful puppy-dog to the consulting room, feeling a rising sense of unease in anticipation of my indecent exposure.

Once inside, after exploring the history of my problem, she rises from her chair, moves a couple of yards away from me, motions me to also stand, and asks me to let her ‘have a look’. I lower my denims and briefs to allow the front-room furniture to swing fee. Standing there exposed from waist to knee, I fidget, not knowing where to put my hands. She peers at my genitalia, ‘to check for symmetry’ – apparently, observing whether my right ball is hovering at a different altitude to the other. Disturbingly, as she scrutinizes, she purses her lips and tilts her head. I conjure up lusty thoughts to try and inflate the pipe-work a bit but, alas, all in vain; in the cold consulting room my meat and veg resemble Bob Cratchit’s turkey, the last one in the shop.   
Courtesy of hyena reality

While I remain standing, she approaches, squats before me and digs her finger into the suspect testicle.
‘Does that hurt?’ she asks.
I yelp, providing her with an answer. She continues the examination by manipulating each ball between her thumb and forefinger, and cupping each in the palm of her hand (presumably checking for the diagnostic heaviness – if not, I’d been the victim of sexual assault). After returning to her full height she instructs me to lie on the bed. Any embryonic ember of sexual excitement is immediately quenched by the comic image in my head of my shuffling across the room, hairy arse on view, trousers around knees, like a floundering contestant in a sack race.

A male colleague with cold hands joins us and more prodding ensues. At the end of the examination I’m told that my testicles feel ‘totally normal’ but, in light of my age, they will arrange for me to return to hospital for an ultra scan ‘just to be on the safe side.’

Two weeks on, I am laying on a bed in the X-Ray Department, ubiquitous blue gown raised to my hips, while a black man, with hands the size of pit shovels, moves a wand-like object three inches from my gonads as if searching for precious metal. His verdict: ‘apart from a slight, non-significant aberration in the right testicle, they appear perfectly normal.’ He also tells me that the pain is probably due to ‘post-vasectomy pain syndrome,’ a discomfort experienced by one-in-three men years after the operation – a fact denied to me when I had the snip a decade earlier.  
‘If this was your testicle, would you choose to undergo any further investigation?’ I asked.
‘No,’ the radiographer replied, ‘I’d leave it well alone.’
‘That’s good enough for me,’ I said while rising from the bed, thoroughly reassured.


Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The day they arrested my dad

Last Saturday I attended a football (soccer) match with my 82-year-old father. I remain unsure as to the trigger – maybe a gesture or a comment –but while sitting together in the main stand, I relived an incident from almost half a century ago when my gentle, fair-minded dad evoked the wrath of the local police force.  

On a Saturday afternoon forty-seven years ago, the rain pummelled the window pane as I perched on the sill waiting for my dad’s return from work. The previous evening he had suggested we attend a football game and now, barely an hour prior to kick-off, he had yet to arrive.

My dad laboured all week in the engineering factory at the end of our road. To boost his take-home pay, he would often work Saturday mornings as well so as to benefit from the time-and-a-half hourly pay rate. When he clocked off at 12 noon he and his work mates would head for the Rose-and-Crown pub to imbibe a ‘bit of throat lubricant’. As I loitered at the window at 2.00 pm on this watery Saturday afternoon, I visualised him standing at the bar, tankard in hand, oblivious to his commitment to escort his 8-year-old son to the football.

His invite to attend a game together had startled me. Burnley, the team we (and several generations of Jones) supported were playing 250 miles away on the south coast, so we wouldn’t entertain travelling on such a pilgrimage. It would have to be a visit to our local (and bitterest) rival Blackburn Rovers. Nor did I usually go to the football with my dad, my companions being either my older brother or my uncle. Maybe my dad’s invitation had been fuelled by guilt at his perceived failure to fulfil his fatherly duties.

At 2.15 a car pulled up outside; my dad had persuaded a work mate to drop us at the ground. Climbing into the back seat of the Ford Corsair, I caught a whiff of alcohol, thereby confirming my earlier hunch of their pre-match stop at the Rose-and-Crown. As we queued to enter the ground of our loathed adversary, torrential rain lashed into our faces. My dad handed over his hard-earned cash at the turnstile and we found our seats in the stand. The pitch itself, clad in a collage of water-pools of various shapes and sizes, appeared unplayable. Yet at 3.00 pm the referee blew his whistle to start the proceedings. At 3.03 pm he blew it again to abandon the game due to the water-logged pitch.

My dad, with me clinging to his arm, strode immediately to the ticket office to seek a refund of his money only to be informed that, as the match had started, no reimbursement would be given. An agitated crowd gathered outside the ticket office, demanding that the directors of the club leave their plush boardroom and explain why they can’t have their money back.

My father is a peaceful man, but on that day he transformed. Maybe due to alcohol- powered disinhibition. Or the frustration of a premature abortion of a rare football trip with his son. Or the fact that heinous Blackburn was responsible for the gross injustice. Whatever the reason, maybe a combination of them all, my dad (together with his clinging 8-year-old son) gravitated to the front of the baying mob.

 A few minutes later the police arrived. ‘Move along now sir, you’re causing an obstruction’

‘I’m going nowhere until I get my money back’ said my dad.

The officer put a guiding arm on my dad’s shoulder. ‘Come, come now; you don’t want to set your lad a bad example, do you?’

Patronising comments now an additional factor in the already incendiary mix, dad shoved the policeman away. The crowd, some yards further back, cheered at his defiance, thereby providing further encouragement to continue with what was, by now, a one man protest.

The police superintendent appeared. ‘Move on or you will be arrested.’

My dad leaned in towards the superintendent, wagged a finger at the stripes on his uniform and said, ‘Just because you’ve got that bird crap on your shoulder doesn’t mean you can tell me what to do.’  

But it did. The police yanked my dad (together with me, his appendage) into the back of the police car. He avoided a night in the cells (probably due to the presence of a minor) but received a fine of £10 for ‘disturbing the peace’.

On the bus journey home, my father pleaded with me not to tell my mother (who would have, no doubt, castrated him for his hooliganism). A loyal son, I didn’t grass him up; well, at least not until a decade later!  And now, almost fifty years on, I’m announcing his aberration to the world.