Saturday, November 19, 2005


My father collected me from the station in what is by far the swishiest car our family has owned. It’s what I guess, you would call champagne coloured and has a computer that tells you if your seat belt is undone, the temperature outside and inside, a camera to show you the view when reversing and a soothing lady’s voice that tells you where to turn off for Mutley Plain. I am not sure it’s my favourite family car. I loved being able to ride in the boot of the orange estate car, imagining myself to be some kind of pedigree dog and I always felt super cool in the sporty two door turquoise number with black interior. Incidentally growing up I never had a problem being in the back seat of a two door car but as I have matured (Who snickered?) I have become increasingly claustrophobic, and now spend journeys worrying about being able to escape through the small rear windows in the event the car should be involved in an accident.

My mother greeted me at the front door with the words, “Terry, his hair has grown, he looks like Jesus.” I took this to be a complement as my mother always has some comment to make on my appearance, and I know in her books Jesus isn’t half bad. I think she is still reliving the time I came home with a nose stud and a chin piercing. That time she opened the door and gasped, ushering me quickly into the house with the words, “Did the neighbours see you? What have you done to yourself?” I managed to string them along for an hour before removing the magnetic studs, they were not as amused as I had anticipated.

Since both my parents have retired the diner conversation no longer is peppered with anecdotes about the boat building industry or the demise of Plymouth’s fashion retail industry. Certainly on my first night it seemed to be a catalogue of their friends’ ailments and treatments. As we ingested our Four Cheese Ravioli I listened politely to the discussion of Dennis’ triple bypass operation, Jan’s grandson’s cleft palate operation, and Davy’s lung cancer diagnosis. However, I had to stop Pat when she began to go into details about her hairdresser’s husband’s problems. He had cancer of the penis and because the surgery was so complicated he had to be taken up to Bristol hospital where there was a specialist. There had been complications, and not only had the surgeon been forced to remove half his penis, but he had to remove lymph glands resulting in a loss of feeling from thigh to waist and a build up of fluid. However he felt the aftercare in Bristol was so poor, he had discharged himself and had returned to Plymouth. By now I was starting to gag, I am not used to my mother use the word penis quite so liberally, and the cheese sauce was starting to feel thick and gloopy in my mouth. However, the tale was not finished and Pat began to describe how the two consultants the poor man had been seeing argued over the merits of childhood circumcision. One had said that he had never treated a circumcised man for that form of cancer the other (apparently the wife of the first consultant) said that was “poppycock!” My mother explained that it was fortunate in this case that the man had not been cut a t birth because the clever surgeon had been able to use part of the foresk… “Stop, stop, stop!” I exclaimed, by now I was not only about to vomit at the table but my mothers sudden liberal ease at discussing male genitalia had caused my father and I to flush bright red. “Please, can we not discuss this any further at the dinner table?”
My mother looked shocked, “Well, I never knew you were so sensitive about things.”
I explained “How would you feel it we suddenly started talking about labia at the table?”
“If it was in context, I wouldn’t mind.”
My father coughed quietly. I don’t think he had ever imagined he would have to be confronted by foreskin and labia at his own dining table.

The following day, the weather was beautiful and so we walked along the coastal footpath, watching the ships and yachts sail in and out of Plymouth harbour. It was as calm as a millpond and we all recollected on the times I had spent hurtling around in a Mirror dinghy with little control of direction or speed. We laughed about the time I managed to get caught in a tidal current and got stuck behind the harbour wall for an hour and a half and had to be towed back by our instructor ( in a canoe). Then there was the occasion where we had being doing capsize drill in the harbour and I had managed to right the boat but because of the weight of water in my clothes, my plump teenage build and the awkward life jacket I was unable to climb back aboard and had to swim back to shore towing the dinghy. No one talked about genitals the whole day.


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