Where’s Willy?

I lost my penis again last week.  To be fair, it is that time of year, but it’s always disconcerting nonetheless.

I was seventeen the first time it happened.  I’d just got back from a school exchange to Germany, utterly bowled over by the experience of another family’s life.  Klaus, my exchange partner, was blonde, blue-eyed and rode a motorbike to school.  His mother wore platinum-blonde hair and a housecoat which somehow emphasised her 1950’s breasts.  His father drove a Mercedes, looked like he could wrestle a bull (or had just eaten one perhaps) and disapproved of everything that didn’t involve hard work.  The whole family was so utterly big and German that just being around them made me want to invade Poland.

But it took me no more than a week to discover what made them so imposing.  Meat and bread.  Bread and meat. Every morning and every evening we’d eat cold meats and schwarzbrot, toastbrot, vollkombrot and weissbrot.  At lunchtimes we had pork or beef or lamb with potatoes or dumplings or green vegetables or all three.  All with a good slice of heavily buttered bread.  Never in my life had I been so completely fed and when I got back to grey England I discovered something shocking.  When I stood to urinate, if I looked down, gasp!  I couldn’t actually see my penis.

Now, naturally, if you suck in your belly you can probably always see your little fella.  (I say ‘probably’ because there’s this bloke at work, and I’m telling you, unless he has a handy assortment of mirrors, I reckon he’d struggle to pick out his todger at a line-up.)  And, after a certain age, of course, the belly-suck is an involuntary muscle reaction, like the gag reflex or turning down loud music.  Even if there’s no other person or reflective surface in sight, I just need to pull at my t-shirt and ding, my well-hidden abdominals have crushed my lunch uncomfortably inwards.

So, when judging whether I need to worry about my belly, I have to breathe deeply, relax my stomach without pushing it out, look down calmly and…oh bugger, where’s he gone this time?

Naturally, this happens every Christmas and holiday.  But when it happened last week, I had a strangely worrying thought.  What if it didn’t matter any more?  What if (adopt Carrie Bradshaw voice): in a world where the whole point is being happy with yourself, can you, at last, let yourself go?

It’s very tempting.  When I was seventeen and winky first disappeared, I think I may have missed a between-meal snack and, er, gone for a walk.  Hey presto, I was flat-stomached again.  Roll on thirty years and I’m looking at 12km of pavements twice a week.  Unless, of course, it’s time to become a mamil?  Surely not. Now, I don’t know if the Middle Aged Man In Lycra thing is big where you are, but it’s massive in Sydney.  You can’t drive to Dunkin Donuts without passing flocks of fit fellas in their forties and fifties, wearing matching pinks and shouting ‘tour de this’ and ‘tour de that’, pedalling for their lives as if they can speed away from the next prostate test.  The threat of road-cycling is hanging over me like golf and gardening.  I know I’ll have to like it in the end but I’m just not ready yet.  Maybe I’ll just get fat?  Maybe I’ve earned the right to sit on the sofa and watch the cricket over a beer balanced on my belly.

Maybe.  But then Saturday came round and, despite the rain, I didn’t want to be the first to chicken out of surfing.  Which was when it happened.  Face in the ocean, arms and legs pulling me towards the rain-sodden sunrise, air and spray in my face and eyes and ears and boom!  It was like an evil spell had been broken – the bucket of water thrown over the witch – for suddenly I could see the truth.  We don’t keep running and swimming and cycling and gyming and whatever-it-is-you-doing because we want to look good.  We do it because it feels so bloody fantastic.  Oh yeah, baby.  I’m going to be fit forever.  With or without willy in view.

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Dude!

Are you a dude?  I bet you are.  I bet you’re such a dude you don’t know what a dude you are.

When we were moving to Australia, I remember watching Finding Nemo on the plane.  Or, I should say, I think I remember that.  Increasingly, these days, the senior partner tells me I’ve inherited one of my mother’s strongest tendencies:  to never let the truth get between me and a good story.  It’s a curse, or maybe a gift, at the very least a family trait.  And, no, it’s not lying.  It’s just a trick of the memory which makes facts fit a better story.  So maybe it wasn’t actually on the plane but it was certainly around that time.  I know that for sure because it’s bundled closely with my perceptions of what I wanted life in Australia to be .  I wanted to become like Crush, the surfer-type turtle who helps Nemo’s dad find his way down the East Australian Current.  I wanted to be a dude.

I love the word ‘dude’.  I particularly love it when it’s used genuinely and without affectation.  During beach volleyball games there is an unwritten rule: if a hottie walks past, the game can subtly pause so all players can have a good look.  Fair enough.  It’s normally the server who introduces the lull, as otherwise your wandering attention could lose you a point.  I was once about to serve when a really hot bloke crossed the sand in an appropriately tight pair of shorts.  My team-mate that day, who clearly didn’t know me very well, looked at what I was looking at and swung round confused.  ‘Dude!’ he yelled.  ‘That’s a dude!’

Another occasion which springs to mind was when a friend rescued me from One of Those Days, got me stoned and took me to play crazy golf.  This, by the way, is a highly recommended rescue-plan.  We were on Hole 8, trying to get the ball through the spinning windmill, onto the hippopotamus and down the winding path (at least that’s how I remember it), when the kids behind us started to play through.  There were six or seven of them, excited ten-year olds who just needed telling how to behave.
‘Dude,’ said my friend,  ‘that’s not cool, just wait up, yeah?’  And then next time it happened:  ‘Dude!  Just wait back!’
‘Don’t call me a dude!’ said the affronted ten-year old.  And then, as he turned away to his mates, we heard him say.  ‘What does that mean, anyway?’

Which says a lot really.  You see, the word ‘dude’, so often confused with coolness, is actually sadly out-of-date, like a teacher dancing at a school disco.  You can only use it ironically.  Which comes to my other favourite use of the word.  It’s when I go to the ocean with my mates, who politely ignore the fact that after four years of trying I still can’t really surf.  ‘Dude, surfs up!’, as an sms, is a wonderfully sympathetic invitation.  (Isn’t it?)

But the ten-year-old golfer asked a good question.  What is a dude? Well, it’s not what I thought it was when I first saw Finding Nemo.  Crush is a dude, but not because he says things like ‘Tja’ for yes, or can surf the current, or is sleepy-eyed or low-voiced or slow-thinking or cool.  You can be all of these and still not be a dude.  Like a guy I used to know.  This guy is six foot something, slowly spoken, an awesome surfer, a gnarly mountain-biker, a fearless snowboarder.  He’s quiet, extremely good at fixing things and almost always half-stoned.  ‘Whoa’ I thought when I first met him.  ‘What a dude.’  But I was wrong.  Because, long story short, this guy turned out to be a bit of an arsehole.  And you can’t be an arsehole and also a dude.  Cool is cool, but decent is way cooler.

And that’s why Crush is a dude, because he helps Nemo’s dad find his way to his son.  And that’s why all my mates are dudes.  Some might surf better than others (most don’t surf at all), some might smoke more weed than others (I’m clean six months, two weeks and six days today!) and some of them might even be cool.  I, personally, will never be cool.  I have many qualities, but coolness is never going to be one of them.  But I will cross the street to help a stranger, I’ll always avoid a fight and I will even, if it makes the world a better place, shrug my shoulders and let myself be wronged.  All of which makes me a dude.  Because, basically, a dude is like an old-fashioned gentleman.  Or even better, it’s a modern gentleman, without the brylcream, the bias or the bullying.  And if you’re reading this – and I hope you are – then you’re probably a friend of mine and you probably behave this way all the time.  So chill out, man.  You’re a dude.  Even if you’re a chick.

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Mid-Life Soft-Top

Have you had your mid-life crisis yet?  Oh wow, you’ve got so much not to look forward to.

You know, I used to object to the phrase ‘male menopause’ because ‘menopause’ means you stop menstruating, and of course men never start.  Which is half the problem if you ask me.  If we started bleeding between our legs at thirteen maybe we’d grow up a bit quicker.  But in fact ‘menopause’ is quite a good analogy, although ‘manopause’ would be a better word for what happens.  Actually, that’s great, TM it right now.  In your early forties (if not before) you go through this hell called a manopauseTM.  As in, you stop, and pause, and think about the man you wanted to be, and what you’ve actually become.  That’s an awful thing to have to do.

When I was going through my own protracted manopause, I decided that a lack of height, youth and athletic-ability was no barrier between me and elite beach-volleyball.  During this sand-blasted and frustrating time, a coach taught me a wicked little trick.  ‘If the opposition is serving well,’ he said, ‘go and ask them how they’re doing it.  “Man, that’s a great serve you’ve got going on there, what are you doing exactly?”’.  I did this a few times and it never failed.  Ask someone to concentrate on what they’re doing and of course they’re going to mess it up.  Same goes with adulthood.  One minute you’re middling along in your average job with an okay life, next thing you start examining it and everything falls apart.

My manopause started at forty-one.  The first symptom was an inability to listen to music on the radio.  Anyone who got played on the radio was younger than me and – by default of being played – more successful.  Why would I want to be confronted with that when I’d never achieved anything in life, never reached my full potential and might as well have been buried at thirty-two?  I write those lines now and smile, but at the time it felt very real.

Of course, the ‘bling’ factor kicks in massively during the manopause.  Not that my bling is the same as yours.   Mine was a strange obsession with ‘cool’ (see how mad I was?) sports and glamorous travel.  Yours might be a convertible car (what the senior partner calls a ‘mid-life soft-top’) or an inappropriate blonde.  A sudden urge to visit a gym, or get a tattoo, or wear clothing you can’t afford.  Whatever symbolises what you thought you were going to be.  Because, let’s admit it, we all thought we were going to be either Jonathan Hart or Captain Kirk or James Bond or Indiana Jones or, or, or.  The list of unlikely candidates is endless.

And it really doesn’t help that whoever writes movies and TV shows clearly despises us office-workers.  As a result, we are portrayed as either evil in dramas, or losers in comedies, or both in both.  Name a profession where you actually know what a person does all day and that’s different.  Be it a bin-man or a doctor, those people are venerated in popular entertainment.  The rest of us, shirts and ties, we’re just schmucks.  Look at me, I work in an office, I could have done so much with my life.

I hope you’re not reading this thinking I have any advice.  I really don’t.  Other, perhaps, than to recognise the manopause for what it is, and grin and bear it whilst it lasts.  It starts with 1) realising you don’t really care about the meetings you go to, then moves onto 2) realising no-one else does either  3) this isn’t what I wanted 4) is this all there is? 5) why did I just buy a Porsche?

But don’t worry.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  One day you wake up and suddenly it’s all fine again.  Just like that (if ‘just like that’ denotes between six and twelve months of insanity).  Yes, this is all there is, but that’s all there ever was.  The only difference is now you know the price of things, and you can decide if you want to pay it or not.  Yes, a job / marriage / lifestyle, but maybe not this one, or maybe – all things considered –  this one’s not so bad after all.  Hart, Kirk and Bond were always fantasies, and even Richard Branson thinks he could have done something more with his life.  So don’t worry, things go back to normal.

All you need to do now is pay off that Porsche.

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