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 - FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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: