Thursday, 8 January 2015

My bicycle fantasy

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Two years ago, while clad in a burgundy onesie that my daughter had bought me – she’s always had a devilish sense of humour - I glimpsed my 54-year-old torso in a mirror. The grotesque sight of my beer gut, shrouding my waistline like a wobbly canopy, shocked me into action. The potent mix of onesie and male vanity compelled me, for the first time in a quarter of a century, to enter into a regular exercise regime and, as a result, I have since shed 25 pounds.  

Part of my workout involves three 30-minute bursts per week on a static bike – I’m too wimpy to ride a real one. Although effective in maintaining fitness and burning off blubber, heavy-duty pedalling alone in our back room is a tedious affair. As such, my wild and fantastical imagination is an asset … …

I’m back at my old workplace and it is the annual charity event. My team has selected me to represent them in the ‘static-bike challenge’. At 56, I’m the oldest competitor. My friends at work express respect for me for ‘giving it a go’, despite their belief that I have no chance of winning this test of endurance.

A huge and boisterous crowd, almost exclusively comprising of attractive females, has gathered to witness the contest. As I walk – nay, strut – to my bike, wearing my knee-length navy shorts and white vest, I overhear two vivacious blonde girls talking about me:
‘Wow, how fit is he!’
‘Just look at those muscular legs, and his firm, chiselled torso!’

There are five other men in the competition. One of my opponents is Mike, 20 years my junior and an arrogant nob-head from the neighbouring office. I dislike him intensely, and always have done. He smirks when he sees me. ‘I hope there’s a defibrillator handy,’ he says, evoking laughs from the few cronies who have accompanied him. I ignore him, maintaining my laser-like focus on the task in hand.

We mount our bikes and, at the starter’s command, begin to pedal vigorously. The decibel level in the arena rises to a point where everything sounds distorted. After 15 minutes of frenetic pedalling, my rivals start to drop out, one by one, each exhausted and spent. Twenty minutes, and only Mike and I remain in the contest. As I pump the pedals, the rhythmic thrusting of my thighs has not gone unnoticed by the ladies in the front row.
‘He’s so powerful!’
‘Goodness gracious, that man oozes testosterone!’
'What a gladiator!’

Giggling, they share crudities about what they would like to do to my body. They yearn to be the bike under my pounding limbs. Their lady-bits moisten. They stare at the bulge in front of my shorts, imagining a truncheon-like phallus lurking within. They redden at the awareness of their own arousal.

In scenes unwitnessed since Beatle-mania, swooning girls, overcome by my athletic beauty, are helped from the stadium. While being lifted onto the stretchers they cry, ‘We love you, Bryan! We love you, Bryan!’

After 25 minutes, Mike crumbles over the handlebars, wheezing like an asthmatic 19th-century steam locomotive, defeated. A crescendo of cheering greets my resounding victory. To humiliate him further, I continue to pedal for an additional five minutes as the ladies scream their approval. As I dismount, triumphant, I’m swamped in a surge of adoring female flesh.

 ************

Alone in the austere back room of our house, I tentatively get off the bike, feeling groggy and on the point of collapse. I almost slip on the puddles of gooey sweat on the floor-tiles under each handlebar. My haemorrhoids are stinging like a swarm of vindictive hornets. I head to the bathroom, undress and inspect myself in the mirror. I resemble a withered Dumbledore after a fruitless night scouring the earth for Horcruxes. The grey hairs on my chest spiral downwards, limp and aimless. My trouser-snake appears to have tunnelled into my abdomen, rendering my genitals concave. I smell like a vagrant’s arsehole.

Ah well, I’d better get showered; I’ve got the weekly shop to do.    

 
PS
A bowel-blastingly funny e-book will shortly be published on Amazon, titled 'Does Not Write Well With Others'. Together with some of the zaniest bloggers on the planet, I have contributed to a compilation of hilarious stories that may well evoke incontinence in the unsuspecting reader; you have been warned! Watch this space for further details.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The pain of loss

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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

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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

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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.
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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?



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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

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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!