And here’s a word from a friend of mine, about soap ..
And here’s a word from a friend of mine, about soap ..
Three authors are abroad, visiting an international school, in a beautiful old European capital. Their hotel is out of the historic centre, and a little short on character, but perfectly pleasant. Everything that needs to work, works, and the bar is cheap. Two of the authors visit the third in his room, before the three of them set out for a night of competitive anecdotage. Their intention is to chivvy him along a little, but they also have that urge to make sure he hasn’t been given a slightly better room than theirs.
He opens the door to them, shirtless, and dank from the bathtub, but decently draped below the waist. There’s no awkwardness: the authors have bonded on the trip. One of them offers up the observation that the German word for nipple translates as ‘breast wart’.
And then one of the authors, conscious of the attentions of a temperamental prostate, asks to use the bathroom. What confronts him there takes a moment or two to absorb. Before the lavatory there lies a pair of underpants, squinting up into the bright fluorescence of the recessed bulbs. And upon the pants, an iPad. There is insufficient room for the visitor to attend to his micturational needs. Does he edge the little sculpture away with his loafer? Does he attempt to pee crosswise, from the side, risking collateral damage, or casualties from friendly fire? I’ll leave you to conject.
Anyway, he emerges, looking thoughtful. He decides that the least embarrassing thing would be to mention the bathroom ensemble. There is a moment of silence. It’s impossible to know how this will turn out. But then, something unspoken passes between the authors. Some understanding that human frailty and vulnerability have been captured by the pants, the iPad, the lavatory pan, the pee. And with this comes the knowledge that this frailty and vulnerability are not the markers of the absurd and the ludicrous, but the sublime: that we are not brought low by such things, but exalted. The eyes – pale blue, dark blue, hazel, moisten. Had one of the writers not still been naked from the waist up, there might have been a Tellytubby-style group hug. But these are three English authors (although one claims to be 5/7th Irish), and so they go to a bar and get rat-arsed.
I’m aware that many of you have come to rely on me for practical advice about household matters. It’s a duty I take very seriously. And I’m delighted to be able to recommend the JLWM1200 washing machine from John Lewis, one of which was delivered to us on Tuesday. What I particularly liked about this model is that it was the cheapest one they had. And I can now confirm that it does, actually, clean your clothes rather well – you could eat your dinner off my underpants.
There’s only one small worm in my cherry. When I was trying to fix the old machine, I got it into my head that there might be some sort of blockage in the pipe into which you plug the hose thingy at the back of the machine, to carry away the dirty water: that touching human soup of life’s exudations, secretions, accidents. Anyway, the bit of bamboo that I used to poke about in the pipe broke in half and fell into the hole. And then some more bamboo that I used to try to fish out the first bit of bamboo also fell in the pipe. Despite trying for an hour, I couldn’t get them out, party because I’m not bendy enough to get into the right position, and partly because it’s just really hard to get sticks out of pipes in awkward to reach corners of your utility cupboard.
The John Lewis men came round to install the new machine, and I meant to tell them about the bamboo, but I just couldn’t do it. I knew they’d think less of me, as a man. I’d become, in their eyes, not a fellow horny-handed toiler, practical, and cool under pressure, but the sort of person who lost bits of bamboo in the plumbing.
And so they’re still there, those two lengths of bamboo. And I think about them all the time. They come to me in the night, like Banquo’s ghost, or Hamlet’s dad, or Lucy Westenra, imploring, yearning, fatal. And I’ll never be free of them.
Last week on holiday I decided to write a little fairytale for my daughter to soothe her in the deep black of the Brittany night. This is what emerged.
My daughter required of me a mermaid’s tail
To froth the spawny bubbles of her bath.
I found a textured rubber one for sale,
At John Lewis – it summoned forth her wrath.
And so I ventured out in search of one
Whose fishy loins would satisfy my child.
I caught a dolphin, spinning in the sun,
And lopped its flukes: they left her unbeguiled.
And then I chartered an unholy barque
And years I lived on cold beans spooned,
Until I found her on a barren rock,
And her white flank I tenderly harpooned.
When I returned, my daughter had outgrown
Her mermaid phase (she now liked boys),
The rotting tail out with the trash was thrown,
Abandoned with her other childish toys.
And in old age, alone, no siren here
To murmur ocean music in my ear.
The seasmoothed scallop shells that were her bra
Now catch the falling ash from my cigar.
Death by Water
There’s a new indoor water park thingy near where we were staying last week in Jugon le Lacs, in Brittany. I took the kids, hoping the wear them out so they wouldn’t be bothersome during the evening’s cider drinking. Marching out of the changing rooms (troublingly omni-sexual, by the way …) in my traditional baggy swimming shorts, I was told a firm ‘Non!’ – there was no swimming shorts rule. I was instructed to go and buy some Speedo-type things at the reception. The poor girl there pointed me towards various trunks, most looking like the sort of thing used by David to hurl his stones at Goliath. ‘Plus gros’ I kept saying ‘plus grande’. Eventually she disappeared into a back room and came out with a pair of XXXLs, that still seemed pretty flimsy. Anyway, I put them on and wobbled out, greatly amusing my children. I kept catching glimpses of myself in various reflective surfaces, and to my eyes I looked quite naked, as the trunks were enveloped entirely by fleshy overhangs and lardy extrusions. They were also, paradoxically, a little loose, and I kept having to pull them up, and tighten the shoelace arrangement around the waist.
Fortunately, the kids were soon distracted by the watery slides and tunnels and so forth, and I took a turn around the pool, doing my usual stately strokes – the reverse humber, the slaint, the breast nurdle. Eventually my daughter came and insisted that I have a go on one of the slides, and I allowed myself to be dragged up the hundreds of steps to the top. She gave me a friendly shove, overcoming my hesitation, and down I hurtled, blinded by the spay, but not neglecting to scream like a schoolgirl. About half way down I realised why the trunks were supposed to be tight. My brief-yet-saggy ones were shipping water, inflating, like some obscene balloon animal. I tried to rectify this, by squeezing the water out, but the gravitational forces generated by the slide were too great. And then I realised that things were becoming critical. A hull-breach was imminent. My yelps became ever higher in pitch … By the time I reached the bottom, closely observed by some hundreds of fascinated Breton teenagers, puzzled toddlers, and mirthful adults, my trunks had been radically relocated, and all of my reproductive equipment was entirely on the outside of the fabric, lying like melancholy roadkill or, no, like some mutant sea creature washed up on the Breton shore – part squid, part bleached sea anemone, part dead guppy, with a grey-brown fringe of weathered bladderwrack.
Sensing the guards approaching, I hurried back to the polymorphously perverse changing room, and then out into the steady French drizzle, where I threw the stupid trunks out into the muddy lake waters; and, when a hand neglected to come forth and take them down into the depths, I hurled stones at them until a grizzled fisherman asked me to stop , as I was ‘bouleverser le poisson’.
And, at last, an excuse to show off the Japanese cover of Shark Adventure …
For reasons I don’t want to go in to now, I was sitting on a bench in the middle of Coventry eating a foot-long Subway sandwich. At the start of the, er, process I had a large, rather loose, sticking plaster on my thumb. By the time I’d finished the sub, I noticed that the plaster had gone. It took me a second or two to realise that I’d eaten my own plaster, incorporated, somehow, into the sandwich. I found this rather distressing. Usually, when I’m on one of my downward swings, I look for some marker that indicates that I’ve reached the lowest point. Truly, I hope that this is it.