A Jagged Edge

My mother told the A and E receptionist ‘He’s sustained a bad a cut.’ I leant in to the window and corrected her. ‘Actually, I’ve been stabbed,’ I said. It’s possible I sounded irritated, but I was speaking the truth. My sister had stabbed me in the upper left arm with a long, white-handled kitchen-knife. I had a small towel wrapped around the wound to soak up the blood. Continue reading

The Strangest of the Strange

What does it actually mean when a person says that so and so was ‘born into the wrong body’? I’ve heard the expression several times and, strangely, always on the topic of sex-change surgery, never any other topic.

I’ve never heard a fat person say they were ‘born into the wrong body’, or the parents of a child racked with cancer.

Is it possible to be ‘born into the wrong body’?

I think it is impossible.

The expression presupposes that consciousness can exist independent of the brain. There is no reason to think this is true, though there are many reasons to hope it is true.

The topic of sex-change surgery is not a religious or spiritual topic, yet the idea a person could be born into the wrong body probably reveals more about the person who says it than it does about the person who wants the surgery.

Society is where the problem is. Every person who has ever been born, whether transgender, or disabled – or anything else – was born exactly as they were ‘meant’ to be born; which is to say they are a product of their genes, their DNA, and not everyone born will fit into a little societal box, ready for labelling.

A teenage boy who says he’d be happier being a girl might well be right. He could easily be much happier after all the surgery and the rest, and I would hope he was. But a simple point needs to be made. That the boy would be happier as a girl doesn’t mean he is biologically faulty. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with him; the reason he might feel different is that society creates boxes for people and somebody who doesn’t fit is said to be ‘different’ but this is really a euphemism for ‘faulty’. The only thing ‘faulty’ in this context is the logic behind the idea.

Children should not be given this surgery. Let them wait until they are adults. Some men don’t realise they are gay until their thirties, for example. All through their teens and twenties they think they’re heterosexual, then realise they were wrong about that.

Imagine the teenage boy who thinks he shoud be a girl, has the surgery in his teens, then realises in his thirties he was wrong about that, and realises nature had things right all along.

The idea of being ‘born’ into the correct body is garbage; the idea of the ‘wrong’ body assumes more than the God-created soul-making machinery in the soul-packing factory exists, it assumes that equipment is malfunctioning.

Think about it.

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NOTE: ‘The right to be ourselves’ means something other than what it says. Being ourselves isn’t a right. We have no choice but to be ourselves, because we cannot ‘be’ anyone else. I wonder what Theroux really means? We all have the ‘right’ to demand surgery to make us happier? I can’t read his mind, alas.

With One Look

Fair is my Love and cruel as she is fair;
Her brow-shades frown, although her eyes are sunny.
Her smiles are lightning, though her pride despair,
And her disdains are gall, her favours honey:
A modest maid, deck’d with a blush of honour,
Whose feet do tread green paths of youth and love;
The wonder of all eyes that look upon her,
Sacred on earth, design’d a Saint above.
Chastity and Beauty, which were deadly foes,
Live reconcilèd friends within her brow;
And had she Pity to conjoin with those,
Then who had heard the plaints I utter now?
For had she not been fair, and thus unkind,
My Muse had slept, and none had known my mind.
-Samuel Daniel

 

Recently, I wrote a little retrospective appreciation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel, It. I thought it timely since it had been thirty years since the book was published, and it’s a “fan favourite” as some people say. When I was re-reading the piece I stopped and stared at this short passage:

Many of us enjoy regressing to childhood. We look at pictures and video from when we were kids and indulge our sadomasochistic side by going to the “school reunion”. Childhood is idealised in our memory and children, especially babies, are cooed at and fawned over. This might be why so many of us are wet and feeble weaklings when we grow up. The Romans, not fond of children, thinking them rather gross and needy creatures, used childhood as the time to train and prepare for adulthood, without the cooing and fawning. Who would argue Roman men weren’t made of “sterner stuff” than us males are today?

The problem was that, seven days prior to forwarding the piece, I had myself attended a “school reunion”. I had seen the advertisement on a popular “social media” site and thought it was something I wouldn’t be going to. I did think a lot about this, changing my mind each day, depending on my mood. I saw a school-friend in the supermarket and asked him about it. Would he be going? Phil barely thought before answering.

‘No mate, I’m not going to that. Why would anyone want to go back to all those feelings of inferiority?’

I knew this was just what I wanted to hear, so I jumped on it, not really remembering what I’d written about It (the book) but probably having it in mind somewhere.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘that’s it exactly. It’s like regression. Who’d want to go back to that? All the cliques, and the social complexes…no thanks.’

I was pleased to have found a kindred spirit, someone about whom I could think and whose name I could use when telling my subconscious mind that no, it wasn’t only me, I wasn’t a pathetic wimp, I was an intelligent adult who didn’t need to “do” reunions. I even managed to tell myself that it wasn’t a “reunion” to begin with because there had been no “union” in the first place; therefore – and goodness me! – what a lot of low-brow nonsense it all was.

My inner snob timed its rescue perfectly.

I didn’t want to go because I was scared of what others thought of me while I was school, and scared of what they might think of me now. There was nothing concrete to this fear, it was just a fear, sat in the gut, spinning and twisting.

I first thought it was a “guy thing” and that these fears had their root in the not only hair-raising, but terrifying things many teenage boys are duly terrified by; namely, teenage girls.

But I didn’t think that was precise enough. I fiddled with the idea an all-boys school would have been an easier place to be, then realised that such were the joys of being a teenage boy, a single-sex school would have made nothing easier, then or later. It remains my unshakeable belief that the greatest joy to be had from being a teenage boy comes from knowing it has to be done only once.

It seems to me teenage girls realise the power they have over teenage boys too late to make the best use of it. This is lucky for the boys. I wonder what school would be like for thirteen, fourteen, fifteen and sixteen year-old boys if the girls realised the power they have, and what they can do to those boys, with one look.

(And what can they do? Imagine the mind of a forty year-old woman in the head of a fifteen year-old girl and you’ll get the idea. One actually shudders at the thought.)

The girls have an opportunity, narrow in time, to assert their natural dominance, and they should take it, because it doesn’t take us boys long to catch up. When we’re fifteen or sixteen, we might inwardly howl that we like girls, we just wish we could talk to one; by the time we’re eighteen or nineteen, we’re complaining that although we like girls, we could never eat a whole one.

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“Hot is my Bird” – or

“A Translation Flowing to the Estuary”

By JDA aged 42 years and 3 months.

The bird I fancy is hot, but she’s a bitch in equal measure;

She scowls a lot, but she’s got nice eyes;

Her smiles are thrilling, but her snobbery fucks me off;

She dogs me up, but not all the time;

Not a showy bird – butter wouldn’t melt!

She’d never shag about cuz she’s totes too young and innocent;

All my mates want to bang her;

She’s hot right now – she’ll get promoted when she croaks!

Frigid, yet fuckable – a problem for most birds –

Is something of which she aint bovvered;

She’s got no sympathy for her position,

But if she did – why bother moaning about her?

Y’see, if she was a minger – and therefore a bit nicer,

I wouldn’t have given a shit and written this!!

 

 

 

Fighting the Inevitable

Many of us thinks that the ‘I’ they use to refer to themselves is separate from their physical self, and perhaps takes the form of a little person who sits inside our head, looking through our eyes the way Captain Kirk looks through the screens of the Enterprise. Those who think this way are likely to be mistaken, but the mistake is a common one, and many people make it without knowing they’re doing so.

Many persons are more religious than they realise.

A person said to me recently, on the topic of what some call ‘gender reassignment’, that some of us are ‘born into the wrong body’. This is a common expression, used by persons to explain what causes a person to want to change their gender.

The idea that a person can be ‘born into the wrong body’ is physically, chemically, biologically, and philosophically illiterate. What makes the expression an interesting one has nothing to do with the ‘truth’ it contains, but rather what the expression presupposes.

The following isn’t perfect, but it will do. Imagine a factory, in which bodies are on a conveyor belt: robot arms insert the conscious mind into each head. Now imagine a fault in the celestial software which makes the belt lurch forward, throwing the bodies out of synch to their mind-inserting arms, and what is presupposed becomes clear.

Persons are not ‘born into’ their bodies at all. It is impossible, therefore, for a person to have been born into the wrong body. Every person is as nature ‘intended’.

(I marked the word out because I’m aware that ‘intention’ presupposes agency – which is obviously nonsense – but the expression is another good example of how our thoughts are saturated with the idea that consciousness can exist without the brain.)

Under ‘born into the wrong body’ is that very idea – that consciousness can exist without the brain.

What is under that idea?

Under that is the belief that we survive death.

And what is under that?

Under that, motivating everything else, is the fear of death.

Could it be that, a person can make a ‘throwaway’ remark on a topic about gender surgery, and what motivates it is a fear of death – something we weren’t talking about?

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Priests versus Nurses

The news review magazine, The Week, once had a front cover depicting a nurse running through a hospital ward, obviously in a terrible hurry and clutching an armful of books and university diplomas. She was ignoring the patients, and who could blame her? She had degrees to earn. The point was to suggest that making nursing a profession which required additional academic excellence might dissolve a basic human element from that profession: Caring for others. That cover caught my eye and pulled certain memories from my psychological hard-drive.

When I was nine years of age, my GP diagnosed me with appendicitis and told me that I needed to go to hospital where ‘they’ might need to ‘operate’. I had been to hospital for different things – even by nine – so had no fear of hospital, but I had never been ‘under the knife’. Sat in the GP surgery with my mum, I fought the urge to cry and won. Just.

The hospital was only a five minute walk from the GP and we walked there. I was in agony, bent-double, wondering how a mild stomach-ache could become something quite so red, sharp and nasty.

The casualty department was stuffed with humans, all rushing about, going about whatever their business was. The doctors wore white coats, the nurses wore proper tunics with those paper hats pinned into their hair, and the porters were dressed like prison officers; wearing those thick, military style jumpers with patches on the elbows and shoulders. There was chaos, certainly, but underscored with efficiency, and the efficiency came before compassion and being ‘nice’. Some of the nurses – those in dark-blue uniforms – seemed quite strict and unable to suffer fools. Somehow, I was processed into the system and found myself lying on a bed in a cubicle with my mum next to me on a plastic chair. A man came and took some blood. He needed to do this to ‘count the cells’. A little later I was wheeled up to the ward – a ward for children – and settled into a bed to wait to be wheeled to the operating theatre.

After I awoke, perhaps still a little confused, I asked a nurse if I had had my operation. She said I had. I touched the area on my stomach and a small white plaster covered the area. All done.

The nurses were the opposite of the one from the magazine cover. Not once did I get the sense I was being looked after in an icy, academic environment. The nurses had plenty of personal warmth. They would come and take my temperature and slip a small glass thermometer into my mouth. ‘Under the tongue, Poppett,’ they would say. I’d watch as they held my wrist and stared at their strange upside-down watches which they all had pinned to their tunics. I didn’t know what they were doing. After this was done they would take the thermometer out of my mouth and flick their wrists – I supposed, to re-set it, then dropped it back in the plastic holder above the bed. This seemed to happen time and again. It broke up the day.

Waiting for a visit was never pleasant. I would ask a nurse (as if they would know) when my mum was coming, and they’d say ‘It won’t be long, angel’ or ‘she’ll be here soon’. They always reassured and smiled when they did it.  I’d hate watching the doors onto the ward, though. When they opened my eyes would flick up from a comic or open from a doze to see if the person coming in was visiting me. When the person coming to see me – either my mum or dad – had managed to get through the doors and a little way toward my bed without me seeing, and then I looked up, that was always the best way to notice them. That way made it a surprise. It was better somehow.

The care was excellent: straightforward with no fancy procedures or obsessions. I was looked after in a compassionate, yet ‘no nonsense’ way. It worked.

One afternoon, the local Catholic Priest visited the ward. My mum and dad were both visiting. Fr. O’Sullivan. He was Irish. He placed one of his hands on my head and spoke some words. I cannot remember the words but they were some kind of blessing, a request for a full recovery. My dad shook his hand and thanked him. (My dad is a baptised Catholic. Though a none confessing and significantly lapsed one.) I made a full recovery and left hospital. A week or so later I was visited at home by the district Nurse who removed the stitches. (This is an entirely separate story. The procedure was very painful and this woman, I hope, is still burning in hell.) That, I thought, would be the end of the matter.

My dad, however, had other ideas. I was listening to him talk to my mum and he said “I owe him, I owe him” several times over. I put it together he was talking about the Irish Priest who had blessed me and asked God for a full recovery. Well, a full recovery was what I got, so why not? Sensible if you’re a catholic, I suppose. His attitude seemed to me, however, rather dismissive of the efforts of the medical persons who sorted the problem. These include the GP, Dr Preston, who sent me to hospital; the surgeon – a Polish fellow called Dr Spit – who performed the operation, and a ward full of nurses who made sure I was fed, watered, cleaned and, generally speaking, looked after, while I was their guest. There must have been others who helped without me being all that aware of it or them. (The anaesthetist who calculated the correct level of anaesthetic to knock me out and managed to get it right so I am here to type these words twenty-six years later comes to mind.)

My mum took care of this point, however. On my last day on the ward, when I was dressed and ready to leave, she gave me a thank you card to take to the ward Sister, a friendly blonde lady. I gave it to her and her words to me were: “thank you, sausage.”

To date, I have not been Baptised and remain significantly unCatholic. I have, however, a healthy interest in nurses with blonde hair.

The Single’s Singularity

When I separated from my children’s mother and left the family home in June 2011, several well-meaning friends suggested I could now live ‘the single life’ because I was now a ‘single man’. This phrase – single man – still has the ability to irritate me. I have always been a single man, I would tell them.

There has only ever been one of me.

I took a strange enjoyment from the look of confusion and mild-hurt which usually followed. The idea of rejecting a simple attempt at a kindness from a friend has, more than once, made me wonder whether I might be insane. Another occasion of this ‘kindness rejection’ happened recently.

I had been seeing a woman for some weeks when she (on March 20th, to be precise) cancelled our relationship for reasons which are still unclear to me. I was telling a friend about it at work, and the brief conversation ended like this:

‘Well, it’s her loss, Johnny,’ Yvonne said.

‘I think you’ll find it’s my loss, Yvonne. Not hers.’

‘Well, yeah – I know what you mean, like – but it’s her loss too.’

‘She hasn’t lost anything, she’s gained something. She’s gained the thing she wanted – a life without me in it.’

The look of confusion at my rejection of her kindness crept over Yvonne’s expression. In about two or three seconds, I guessed, confusion would be followed by mild hurt. It was then I realised I didn’t want her to feel that hurt because I have too much affection for her.

‘I’m just trying to…’

‘I know you are,’ I said, cutting in quickly, ‘and thank you. But logic wins every time.’

Indeed it does.

(I once was asked to read an account of a funeral procession, written by a person in the crowd. This account was said to be a ‘moving account’ and a ‘heartfelt piece’ and so on. I remember the first words of this account of the soldier’s funeral:

“Silence descended as a bell tolled…”

That was as far as I got.

If a bell is clanging, I wondered, what sort of bloody silence is that? Like I said, I have questioned my sanity more than once.)

And never more so than on the evening when I – and another ‘single man’ – walked into the sealed-off function room of a waterfront wine-bar in central Bristol, for a ‘singles night.’

I have been brought up to believe that cutting one’s own throat in despair is not to be done in public. So I knew I would have to endure several hours of utterly absurd, contrived, false conversation; where the best opening line – ‘hiya, what’s your name?’ – couldn’t be used because the women who had ‘organised’ this exercise in humiliation had given us all little white stickers with our names written on them. Adam – the fellow who had sold the idea to me the day before at work – seemed oblivious to my pain, and was looking to become (his words) ‘knee-deep in clunge.’

The problem with ‘singles nights’ is obvious – at least to me. There are actually two problems. First, there is nothing on offer at a ‘singles night’ that isn’t on offer on a normal night out (If that is not true, then why do persons have affairs?) and second, personal relationships could be described as an upside down pyramid. In other words, a relationship needs to start somewhere in order to branch-out and widen later on. What is that ‘singularity for singles’ which moves them from one state into a relationship?

It is sex. I mean to say, how many persons start a relationship because of a shared love of flower-arranging or a mutual respect for Nelson Mandela? When you build a house you don’t start with the roof.

Personal relationships start with sex, so it would be less contrived, and therefore more honest, if the organisers of these events lined all the men up in a smart row, lined all the women up opposite them, and collated who would be prepared to have sex with who, and then the conversations could start. The setting for this travesty didn’t help, either.

The wine bar was the epitome of the over-priced, city-centre social scene: neon and chrome along with bare-wood floors and leather sofas; with a cold, technical – almost laboratory-like feel to the place which did nothing to draw-out the correct mood, based on personal warmth and closeness, which is required for me to relax.

In short, just after arrival, I hated it. Could things get any worse, I wondered? I thought probably not, and that allows for a certain relaxation, actually. Then things got worse.

I was stood in a loose-group, just listening to conversations and dropping in the odd word here, the odd line there, though paying attention to the door which I could see out of the corner of my eye, wondering who might be coming in next. I noticed a group come in and walk over to us, on the way across the room to find a corner of their own. I turned to have a look and was face to face with my mother.

Now, what were the odds of that? She offered a quick ‘hello’ and told me the names of the two women she was with. (She needn’t have bothered, I could read their names on the white sticker-labels.)

That did it for me. I now had lots of question from my little group asking if it was true, was my mother really here as well? Yep, I confirmed, it was certainly true. Lots of jolly, cocktail party laughter ensued. Marvellous, darling.

Adam saved me and introduced me to a woman he’d met at the previous week’s ‘speed dating’ event – a French lady, multi-lingual, who worked as an interpreter and would have been extremely interesting to talk to, but she was monopolised by Adam (who probably wanted her sodomised, not monopolised) and decided to have a conversation with Tanya – a nurse, Jewish and half Greek – who was stimulating company and extremely pleasant. She began by telling me what my name in Greek was and how to pronounce it, and I got her a drink and we moved to a sofa for a conversation which involved the degree she holds, the degree I’m studying for, the compromise of relationships, the tranquillity of solitude, God, The Cosmological Argument, demons in fiction, Kant, how an atom’s volume means solid matter is mostly empty space, and then her mate, Debbie, asked to join our conversation because the one she just left was about ‘dogging’ and ‘fingers up arses.’ It was good to know there was a healthy mix of topics up for discussion if the philosophy and science ran dry.

I had to question why I had agreed to go to a function which every fizzing atom in my body told me to avoid; though it was, perhaps, worth it for the realisation that wanting to be wanted is a different proposition from wanting a relationship, though the difference doesn’t make the realisation any easier to cope with. The proposition affects one in the gut; it acts like a form of shock, solidifying the gut, causing tightness, tension. It’s the moment one realises there forever remains a part of us which needs that skin on skin cuddle which our mothers first gave us. Perhaps wanting to be wanted is rooted in a desire for safety and security? In any case, my mother was sat over in the corner so I should have gone and asked her for one.

As time progressed the numbers thinned out and it became obvious I could drag Adam away without too much complaint. It was arranged that I would sleep on his sofa so it would have been counter-productive to drown him in the harbour. We walked across the city and I have never wanted to be at home, in bed, tucked-up and warm quite so much.

I was once so utterly drunk, vomiting in a toilet cubicle in a bar in Brussels, my vision black and white as the cubicle rapidly span, that I would have given a million pounds to have been transported home at that moment. (That feels pretty awful at any time of the day, but it’s worse somehow at 8:30am.) But the singles night was worse even than that horror; and to spend the night shivering under a rizla-thin sleeping bag, in the coldest flat I’ve ever been in, was not the most agreeable end to an evening’s socialising.

I’ve vowed never to go to another of these events. Adam, however, swears by them and no doubt will be back again in the hope of meeting a lady with whom he can form a meaningful relationship. I’ll stay as I am, a single man. In fact, I’ve always been single.

There has only ever been one of me.

Behaviour Injurious

I am trying to guess how many drunken nights out with the lads I have had. Actually, I have no idea, but one night’s drunken antics is much the same as another’s. One particular session does stick in the mind, if only for the miracle of escaping a nasty accident alive.

I was in my favourite position within any pub or night-club: propping up the bar with a ciggie dangling from my lips (John Major was PM, Big Brother hadn’t got in yet), pint in hand, looking at the women wandering and dancing about, wondering if any of them had recently read any Dickens and would be happy to recommend something. I was stood with a friend, James, and he was looking around at the women as well, no doubt hoping to find a fan of Jane Austen to chat to and tell her what his favourite passages were. There were more than the two of us out together. The other guys – at least three, I remember – were around in the dark somewhere, buying crappy cocktails or playing hit the ceiling in the toilets (a great drunken toilet game that all men should have a go at. There is also ‘swords’ and ‘piss flush’: the latter of these being my own creation, but these wonderful, urine-based games are taking me away from the point). The bar we stood at was a half-circle, sticking out from the wall like a huge neon tongue. Where the bar joined the wall on the left side were the doors to the male and female toilets. On the right, where we stood, was one of the fire exits: a big green sign across these double doors invited anyone interested to push bar to open.

A fellow James and me both knew, Simon, spotted us in our corner and decided to come over and say hello. Well, that was what he thought he would do; but his mind, pickled in alcohol, was having none of that. We heard him before we saw him, his shouting grabbed our attention. What he shouted I don’t know, it was lost in the slurred, drunken delivery and the loud music.  Whatever it was, it made sense to him at the time. We recognised him instantly as one of our tribe and our defences were relaxed. Shields were down. Closer he came, a big wobbling mass of drunken blubber, arms outstretched, ready for the few seconds of male bonding that would commence when he reached us. I was smiling, and James probably was to – we knew the guy and liked him.

There is a bizarre visual effect created when strobe-lights flick on and off quickly. If you watch someone dance or wave their arms when this light is on them, they appear to be moving in slow-motion. A similar effect must have been created as Simon came closer, either by the lights, the darkness or the cigarette smoke. Something conspired against us because we both underestimated the speed at which he approached. When he was only a few feet away, he was close enough for us to hear his voice over the music.

What he was shouting, when translated into sober English, would have been something like: ‘I say, I really have a great deal of affection for you two splendid chaps.’ As it was, a rush of hot air with the distant promise of a syllable was all we got. A second later he charged into us like a pissed-up Sumo wrestler. James and me were shoved backwards with surprising force. We stood no chance. All three of us smashed into the fire exit, and the double doors gave way as soon as we hit the bar.

On the other side, at the bottom of thirteen cold, unforgiving concrete steps was the scene of the accident. Simon somehow managed to stop himself taking a dive, proving beyond doubt there is no fucking justice in the world. James and me were lumbered with the thin end of the wedge, or rather, the bloody sharp edge of the concrete. Not only did we crash down the stairs, we had the pleasure of setting off backwards.

The fall must have taken no more than two or three seconds in reality, but in my mind it lasted a little under six months. Each impact was felt and considered in detail. Every lump of flesh that left my body was felt as it was gouged out. Patches of skin on my elbows, shoulders, shoulder-blades and neck were worn away to damp red patches of raw, weeping flesh.

My head was my brake, but the momentum meant my legs wanted to keep going. Had I been in the same position, but laid comfortably on a sofa, it may have looked like I was trying to kiss my own penis.

James was the first to stagger to his feet. ‘That was fun’ he said, and I’m sure I could hear sarcasm in his voice. I flopped over and groaned, slowly got up, and felt the pain running up my spine and across my shoulders.

We trudged up the stairs back to the bar. Security didn’t seem too bothered; the club staff didn’t either. Simon was nowhere to be seen, but the rest of our friends and forgotten their crappy cocktails and toilet games, and wanted to know what had happened. One guy, Chris, had seen it all happen from a distance. He stopped laughing after roughly an hour. ‘I wish you could have seen your faces,’ he said, tears streaming down his, ‘I would give a million pounds to see that again.’

Simon eventually showed himself; his eyes blood-shot, not from booze but from laughing so hard. I showed my friends my injuries and this caused more laughter. I can’t complain, I would have laughed the hardest and longest if I were in their place.

The pain was subdued by the alcohol in my system. I dread to think what the experience would have been like had I been sober. I would have tensed up much more; maybe the booze relaxed me enough to prevent a fracture or two?

Had I picked up a fracture or a breakage I would have coped admirably, I’m sure. I have experience of dealing with injuries and trips to the hospital.

My first bit of accidental bone damage came from kneeling on a plastic train while at play-school. I chipped a small piece of bone, and can remember kneeling down onto it but not much else; I would have been about four years old when I did this so I have forgiven myself the lack of details. A little while later I managed to break both my arms – at the same time, by the way – by jumping off my garden wall.

I stood on it, looking down at the grass. It was no more than a five foot drop, and five measly feet, let me tell you, is fuck all  to a reckless little boy. The best jumping from that wall could be had by starting the run-up from across the road. I used to sprint across, right foot hitting the top of the wall (which from the road side was only about a foot high) and launch myself over. The drop to the grass was the best bit: the second and a half of flying through the air then landing perfectly, rolling over and legging it back up the garden steps to have another go.

My family seem to think I attempted a somersault from a standing position atop the wall, landed badly and broke my arms; this is untrue. I did jump from a standing start, but attempted a mid air-pirouette, not a somersault – the rest they had spot on. The hospital plastered both arms.

August of 1979 I was hit by car and got myself a broken leg for my trouble. I simply walked out into the road without looking. My sister yanked me backwards and the car hit my leg rather than dragging me along under it or flipping me over the top. I remember one visit from the woman who was driving – but there may have been more – to check I was okay and apologise for running her half-ton death machine into me. (She had nothing to apologise for, obviously.) The hospital plastered my leg. The plaster-cast was drawn on, signed and decorated by family and friends. The only message I remember is my Uncle Doug’s effort. He wrote: Johnny car-basher – black belt! He drew a car chopped in half which had jagged edges where the two halves were once joined.

Not all injuries I inflicted upon my self when a child needed plastering up. We had a tree in our back garden and climbing the thing begged to be done. As I shuffled along an upper branch, reaching for my next hand-hold, I missed the grip I was going for and fell out of the damn thing; landing, quite safely, on my head. I opened my eyes to see a man wearing a dark peaked cap staring back at me. I heard the sound of an engine and knew I was in ambulance on my way to hospital. I assume the hospital plastered my head.

Our bathroom faced the rear of the house and my dad was in there at the time I fell past on my way to head-butt the ground. Lucky for me, I think. (Years later I fell from a considerable height from a tree in a school-friend’s garden. I hit every branch on the way down and landed on his neighbour’s wall without so much as a scratch!)

Trees were only one danger, though. Bikes and go-karts could be lethal as well. One lad who lived across the road from me, Brett, had a go- kart and we all took turns in it. The best turns were when you could get another kid to push you. Fast. And those turns were even better when the driver, and the scruffy, two-legged engine behind you, had someone to chase!

This type of game is great fun when you’re in the driving seat, but a bit rum when you are forced to sprint for your life, or at least your ankles.

I recall racing down a steep footpath in a church-yard close to my house. This path was two long straights, joined by a vicious hairpin corner halfway down. Take this corner too fast, and you were over the edge onto a steep grass slope with a grave as a landing mat.

Once – but only once – I took this corner too fast. I yanked hard-left on the steering wheel and the go-kart tipped up onto its right-side wheels. I parted company with the vehicle and was sent down the grass slope toward a grave which I thought was about to become my own. Sliding flat on my stomach, one arm outstretched like Superman, the palm of my hand ploughed a furrow in the grass as I went, slowing me down to a stop before I cracked my head on some poor corpse’s headstone.

This steep pathway / race-track was for those people too scared to take the steps – the quick way down to the grave yard’s lower level – but I had no such problem. No-one ever suggested driving the go-kart down the steps – they were very steep – we had to take this challenge sensibly. That meant stealing a green bread tray from the back of the supermarket, flipping it upside down, and using it as a toboggan!

Clack-clacking down, with your head flopping about as you picked up speed with each step, and praying (while grinning) to keep the thing straight long enough to reach the bottom without crashing over the edge, was a great way to pass the time. It seemed normal. That was what fun was made of for me – speed, danger, thrills and excitement.

I am amazed I didn’t kill myself when I was a child (actually, I would have if my sister hadn’t saved my life by yanking me out the way of that stupid car), and it came close a few times, but I had only one genuinely serious accident.

It was a race, and I was racing a girl, Samantha, and racing a girl meant I had to win. I’m powering down a hill on a borrowed BMX – in the middle of the road, naturally – I kept taking quick glances to my right to see how I was doing against my enemy. I was peddling like a lunatic and my right foot slipped off the pedal and my foot was scraped along the floor, causing a wobble. Then, avoiding the warning signs, and after skillfully (or luckily) regaining control – I did it again. The second time was bad news. The last thing I remember was the road rushing toward me as I soared over the handlebars. Luckily for me my landing was cushioned by my face.

The walk from the scene of the accident back to my house would have taken no more than ten minutes, and I have no recollection of the first nine. My memory starts as I approached my house, with no idea how I got there, dripping with blood and my head feeling as if it was on fire. I had taken an almighty whack. I was a very unhappy eleven year-old.

Samantha won.

Sometimes, however, jumping off a moving bike was the point. The game Ghost Rider is the perfect example of this type of fun.

All you need is a grassy slope, an old bike, and, as I found out to my cost, balls of steel. The trick is to get the bike up to the perfect speed: fast enough for the thing to keep going after you jumped off the back, but not so fast that you couldn’t get off in the first place. I took my go at the top of a hill in a local park. Two friends, Darren and Chris, stood behind waiting to see if I could get the thing to run along on its own for longer than they had managed. Off I went, peddling down the hill. As I reached the optimum speed for the bail-out, I made sure the handle-bars were straight because the bike would roll along further if they were, then I jumped off the back. Everything went wrong from that moment.

The tatty pair of jeans I was wearing became caught – unseen by me – around the saddle. As I jumped backwards, a few strands of denim made sure I didn’t get very far and the rear tyre did its best to grind my testicles out of existence. Suffice to say I suffered in those few seconds before the front wheel hit a tree and what was left of my testicles hit the seat post.

Darren and Chris were curled up on the grass in fits of laughter. Chris wouldn’t laugh at me again with such teary-eyed enthusiasm for another decade, when he would claim watching me and James fall backwards down a flight of concrete steps was the funniest thing he’d ever seen.

Having these accidents can be character building. You can learn you are capable of great agility; you can learn your head is a lot harder than you think, and your face will grow back if you scrape half of it away. Hanging and dropping from trees may not be good for your ankles, but it is good for your heart.

The Non Miracle

I have had the experience of watching two children born, and while the experience is interesting, to have it twice is probably twice as many times as a fellow should have it. I mean to say – and this has been said many times before – there really isn’t much for the man to do, and the event seems best left in the hands of the womenfolk.

What was certainly agreeable about the two births I’ve witnessed was that they took place in the labour-rooms on the maternity wards of hospitals. This is where the next generation should be born. Not being a cretin, I don’t consider conception, gestation – and certainly not the birth itself – as ‘miracles’ or any sort of spiritual occurrence. I confess to being irritated by those who do. As would be expected of someone with my crusty, old fashioned views (I am elderly 41 year old) I’ve no time for the sandal-wearing vegetarians who want ‘baby’ (where’s definite article?) to be born at home in a birthing-pool filled with natural yoghurt while dad – naked himself, obviously – offers bowls of lentil-soup to his mother and his wife’s lesbian ‘birthing-partner’. If common sense prevailed the father would at his club sinking a few snifters with the chaps, or at least down the pub with the boys.

The first of the births witnessed by me brought with it auditory hallucinations of crying babies which lasted for several days after my son’s entrance into the world. The first occurred in the labour room prior to his appearance. The midwife had suggested the female might want to stand up (a gravitational ‘helping hand’) for a few moments. She duly did, and as she did so I looked sharply over my right shoulder, into the opposite corner of the room, for the source of the crying. I had heard it as clearly as I heard the midwife’s voice. Before the little one made his entrance, I turned – it was almost an automatic reflex action – several times, looking for the crying baby in the empty corner of the room. The mind does play some odd tricks. Here’s another one: we had been told that the female was carrying a girl and we had told friends and family what we were expecting. After his entrance I looked at my son thinking ‘Aw, how cute, a girl with testicles…’ It took several moments to realise a girl with testicles was actually a boy.

The little one had been home for a few days when – with the female out of the house – I heard loud crying coming from the (there’s the definite article) baby’s room. I took the stairs two at a time, muttering to myself ‘okay, okay – give me a second’ while the crying got louder, and I opened the door to find the room in darkness and silence. The little chap hadn’t stirred at all. I had been convinced the crying was real; so certain, in fact, that the darkness and the silence rendered me speechless for a few moments. I have no idea if these odd hallucinations were due to some part of my mind being anxious about something, but by the time the second one was due I was laying in the labour-room sucking on the gas and air that was freely available from above the bed.