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.