Trapped in a toilet turnstile

The ear of Dionysus
Photo by Serena Koi on Pexels.com

I’m down on my hands and knees trying to escape from the men’s urinal at the Neapolis Archaeological Park by squeezing myself underneath the turnstile at the exit. I’m trapped in a toilet turnstile.

I’m going out the way I came in not because I’m playing a perverse version of Parkour or because of a silly bet but because the exit gate, which should swing open automatically is jammed, its electronics misfiring as badly as an Alfa Romeo sports car made in the swinging sixties.

I want to leave the loo upright

I would prefer to be leaving this lavatory in a more conventional and dignified way. Upright on two feet, flies zipped up and trousers splash free. ‘Standing tall’, as John Wayne might have said. But, right now, my white linen shirt is snagged in the turnstile and I’m trapped like an angry worm wriggling through a small, unyielding hole.

I pray no one comes in and sees me while I sort myself out. A demeaning picture like this – ‘Boomer with Beer Belly Trapped in Toilet Turnstile’ – could go viral in minutes and leave my children no option but to change their surname and sever all ties with me.

The hand-written note on the exit gate should have been a warning. It said ‘Don’t push this gate. It will open automatically.’ Only, it doesn’t.

I’m piffling away my life

I’ve just piffled away ten minutes of my life patiently pressing and repressing the exit button while nudging the door with my thigh. But each time the door swings open a few tantalising inches, it shuts again, as heartless as Priti Patel’s Nationality & Borders Bill.

Less than 100m from this malfunctioning urinal is the tomb of Archimedes, the ancient Greek mathematician who calculated Pi. What would he do if he saw me now? Laugh, I guess, that 2,500 years after he invented the screw pump, mankind still can’t build a functioning door to a public convenience. Ecce homo. Ecce man in the middle.

I have made a couple of half-hearted attempts to climb over the gate, but it’s hip high and getting my leg over it (so to speak) without emasculating myself is risky. I’ve considered ‘Doing a Sweeney’ and kicking the gate off its hinges, too. But there were a couple of fierce looking Carabinieri nearby when I entered this purgatorial pissoir and, I don’t think they’d approve of me vandalising their public loo.

My wife is buying a cappuchino

More importantly, nor would my wife. She’s buying a cappuchino at the Park café, the other side of this tyrannical toilet turnstile, and expecting me to join her soon. If I turn up arm in arm with a couple of Carabinieri on my way to the local police cells, she won’t be amused. Not least because it would disrupt the schedule for the day and we haven’t yet seen the Ear of Dionysus, where the ancient Greeks sought Godly advice, or the Nymph’s Grotto. Both are on today’s bucket list and must be ticked off or else.

I wonder if she will wait for me? I wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t. This Sicilian trip is meant to be our first empty nester, post Covid holiday as well as a postponed wedding anniversary. But that doesn’t mean she’s got to waste it hanging around waiting for me to escape from a lavatory. There may come a time when she chooses to help her husband in and out of the loo, but that time isn’t now.

Two giant Trump supporters stand over me

I realise there may be more at stake than my personal dignity. I take a few deep breaths and slowly unpick my shirt from the gate and then thread my body carefully through the turnstile. I’m about half-way out, when I see two large Americans, staring down at me.

‘You OK, buddy?’ asks one.

‘Perfectly,’ I say.

‘Re-enacting ‘Escape from Colditz’?’ asks the other and laughs.

Both are wearing MAGA baseball hats. Just my luck. When you need someone with a heart along comes a Trump supporter.

‘More like ‘Escape from Brexit’,’ I say, a little breathlessly. He laughs.

‘Hear that’s not going so well, either.’

‘You want us to pull you out?’

Pray to the Ear of Dionysus

The shame of being saved by two Trump loving Americans is more than I can bear. Silently, I call on Dionysus and all the nymphs, fauns and holy whatnots who have ever lived in this Park to help me out of this pickle.

‘There,’ I say, staggering slightly as I stand up. I wave the Americans through the turnstile.

‘All yours,’ I say.

‘Have a good day,’ they say, as they slip their large buttocks sideways through the turnstile.

As I hurry to the Park café, I wonder if I should warn them about the broken exit door and the trouble they too might have exiting the urinal. But I’m more worried about catching up with my wife and forgetting this undignified episode so don’t.

‘Where next?’ asks my wife, handing me my coffee.

‘The Ear of Dionysus,’ I reply. ‘I’ve got to thank him for something.’

‘Thank him?’

‘Yes. He just got me out of a really tight spot.’

 

 

A version of this blog has appeared in the Chiswick Calendar.

 

Mother the matricide

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Mother and I are answering a questionnaire called ‘Getting to Know Me’. It’s designed to give the staff at her new nursing home an insight into her history and her likes and dislikes. She moves shortly. 

The questionnaire is a multiple-choice version of the BBC TV series ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’. Most of the questions are straight forward. No, Mother does not like beer festivals, carpentry or rock climbing. Yes, she does like tea, films and reminiscing.

Mother won gold at reminiscing

There are boxes for you to make additional comments which might help the staff better understand what makes their future residents tick. In the box next to ‘Do You Like Reminiscing?’, I write: ‘Won a gold medal for GB at the Moscow Olympics’. 

Other questions are more tricky.  Next to ‘What makes you Happy?’ Mother asks me to write down ‘things that money can’t buy without having to work too hard’. I don’t know if this is her old sense of humour back for a moment or the dementia responding.

Unfortunately, her hearing is very poor. She mishears. She’s already mistaken ‘Do you like bread making?’ for ‘Do you like bed making?’ and ‘Do you like dog petting?’ for ‘Do you like God petting’, which really ought to be an Olympic sport.  

Do you like rug making?

‘What was that question?’ she asks. She sounds offended.

‘DO-YOU-LIKE-RUG-MAKING?’ I repeat slowly for the third time.

She shakes her head in disbelief.

‘In the name of God, what sort of place are you sending me to?’

I am also bemused why the care home think she might want to take up rug making. Perhaps the Government has decreed that old people should pay for their social care by weaving rugs? I imagine knuckled nonagenarians at long benches hand weaving Union Jack rugs humming along to the ‘Best of Gracie Fields’ underneath a giant poster of the Queen.

‘Do you want to try Rug Making?’ I repeat, wearily. There are 50 more questions to be completed.

‘At my age? The idea is disgusting.’

‘Have you ever tried it?’ I ask.

‘Of course. What do you think you were? An immaculate conception like Jesus Christ?’

My Mother has misheard rug making for love making. She thinks I’m sending her to a care home for Swingers.

‘I meant R-U-G making,’ I say. ‘The things you put on floors.’

‘Oh,’ she says.

A silence falls

We decide to let the embarrassment fade away over a few silent minutes. She looks out of the window. I pretend to study the questionnaire.

‘Here we go,’ I say. ‘The food section should be more fun. Do you like BBQs?’

‘Too rowdy,’ she says.

‘Sherry Afternoons?’

‘Can’t think of anything worse.’

‘Wine tasting?’

‘I’d prefer a pedicure.’

Her sense of humour is returning. The rug making faux pas waves goodbye.

‘Favourite foods?’

‘Porridge.’

‘Anything else?’

‘Chips.’

‘And?’

She pauses.

‘Whelks.’

I haven’t seen her eat a whelk in 60 years.

‘Why?’

‘Chewy and very tasty. The wine gums of the sea.’

Would the Whelk Marketing Board would be interested in buying this slogan from her?

‘We ate whelks every Saturday,’ she says. ‘With a bag of chips and vinegar. Outside the pub while we waited for my parents to come out.’

The net curtain flickers

She stops and stares at the net curtain rising and falling like an echo from a distant universe. Is this the start of a story or end of one? It’s not easy to know. Sometimes her stories stop abruptly like a path at the edge of a cliff or picked up again like a spoilt child returning to a half opened present previously tossed away.

‘The first time I tried to kill my mother was on St Patrick’s Day 1934. I was ten years old at the time. Or maybe eleven. But it was definitely St Patrick’s Day,’ she starts up.

‘On Paddy’s Day she drank from dawn to dusk. It was always the worst day of the year. She went from pub to pub until she could barely stand up. Then she came home, spitting like an angry dragon, lashing out with her fists, pulling at our hair.’

She lifts up her right fist and clenches her fingers together  like a claw. Her fist shakes. I can’t tell if she is re-enacting the moment her mother tugged the hair from her scalp that dreadful evening or if this gentle movement is just the incontinent tremor of old muscles.

This is the moment to end it

‘I remember her on her bed almost unconscious from all the day’s drinking. She shouted at me to bring her a cup of tea. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. None of us had. And she was there dead drunk, screaming at me to bring her a cup of tea. I thought this can’t go on. This is the moment to end it. She’s so drunk she won’t feel anything. I can just put it in her tea, and it will all be over.’

‘Put what in her tea?’

‘Stuff from the chemist.’

‘Stuff?’ I ask.

‘Cleaning powder. The chemist kept them in beautiful blue and green bottles. They looked like jars of sweets.’

‘You mean bleach?’

She nods.

‘We were houseproud even though we were poor. We were great ones for cleaning everything. We wanted to keep up with the Joneses.’

Mother hated my grandmother

I’ve always known my Mother disliked her mother. But not that she tried to kill her. Twice. I’m not sure what I feel about it. Curious? Yes. Ashamed? No. Shocked? No. Should I report her to the Police? No. The ‘Who Do You think You Are’ questionnaire is morphing into a Netflix crime confessional.

‘I gave her a dose thinking it would knock her out forever. But it didn’t. She was so drunk she just slept it off.’

‘You could have gone to prison.’

She shakes her head.

‘No one would have sent me to the Police. Anyway, I was so good at pretending and who would believe a ten-year old would poison their mother?’

‘Lots,’ I say.

Mother shrugs her shoulders.

‘Is that the end?’ she asks.

‘There’s a section called ‘My religious and spiritual beliefs’ left to do,’ I say.

‘I’m feel there is something out there,’ she says. ‘But I’m too tired to discuss it.

 

This blog appeared first in the Chiswick Calendar.

Pigs in the Park

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

I’m at a festival called Pigs in the Park. Or something similar.  It’s one of those faux festivals, where there’s no sex or drugs or rock ‘n’ roll. It’s as close to the real thing as a tour of Madame Tussaud’s. The scent of marijuana has been replaced by the smell of BBQ pulled pork.

The only achievement of Pigs in the Park is to violate an elegant historic building and its gardens by turning it into a souk of concessionary food stys, where people stuff their faces with mini-burgers or fish goujons served in baps. The aesthetic impact on the historic house is ghastly. Imagine Colonel Sanders had redecorated Blenheim Palace like a KFC franchise and you’d be close. The impact on the cholesterol levels of the punters at Pigs in the Park is equally ugly.

Why does all the food have to be served in baps? What happened to the bun and the baguette? Did they do something wrong? Are they’re locked away in a mouldy dungeon for badly behaved bread waiting to be torn up and fed to the ducks?

Whatever. The British bap is now the uncontested king of the foodie festival. Even the trendy ciabatta takes the knee to the bap now. We’ve finally taken back control of our Bread Bins. Baps are snacking click bait. They imply so much artisanal skill and wholesome provenance that you could serve sheep shit in them and they  would sell like, er, hot cakes. In fact, someone should try selling hotcakes in a bap. They’d make a killing.

Has climate change killed the ciabatta?

I’m anxious. And not just about the decline in buns and baguettes. I’ve been shuffling around like a pig in the park for an hour and I’m getting more and more irritated by the DJ who keeps asking everyone if we’re feeling ‘alright’. Is ‘alright’ the best he aspires to inspire in us? Perhaps he doesn’t really care? I suspect his question is a limp piece of crowd fluffing, a stale bap of bonhomie tossed together at the Subway bar of his own insincerity.

If he really wants to know if I’m feeling alright, the answer is no. It’s baking hot and my temperature’s rising. I’ve only had one pint of lager and a hake bap and I’ve got a headache brewing behind my eyes.

My mood isn’t being helped by the fact that I’m as ill equipped for this hot sunny afternoon as Captain Scott was for the last leg of his assault on the North Pole. Everyone else is sensibly dressed in summer shorts and flip flops. But I’ve forgotten my sun hat, shades, and suntan lotion.

Worse, I’m broiling in black jeans and Blundstone ankle high boots. The Blundstone boots would be bearable if it were mid-winter or I was trekking to the North Pole. But, in this heat, they’re a sweaty breeding ground for foot rot and something which my father used to call ‘toe jam’, that fluff that mysteriously forms between your toes when damp wool socks make love with fungal spores.

My feet are rotting beneath me

Frankly, I’m as inappropriately dressed as a man in denim dungarees at the State Opening of Parliament and my feet may be Ground Zero for the next outbreak of Foot & Mouth disease.

I sit cross legged on the picnic rug and try to stay calm. But there are three men standing less than three feet behind my back talking loudly over the DJ’s tunes and swilling beer. I feel like a zebra at a waterhole surrounded by strange and dangerous animals.

A man in tight white shorts comes onto the stage. He too is concerned about our wellbeing and asks ‘how we’re feeling’.

‘Pissed’ shouts a man behind me. ‘Bring on the band.’

Aside from British baps, the other essential ingredient of a faux festival is musical nostalgia. A chance to sway down memory lane or revisit the mosh pit of your past. Pop baps served up by retiring rock stars paying down the last instalment of the mortgage on their Tuscan villa or by bands called ‘Bored Again’ or the ‘Rolling Drones’, who do replica music in replica costumes.

They move toward the band. I move away

The sound from the main stage sounds like the opening to ‘Waterloo’ by Abba. Much of the audience waddle down the slope towards the stage, like geese hearing the food pellets rattling in a farmer’s pail.

Behind me the queues at the food stys are growing longer. The first rubbish is beginning to sneak out of the rubbish bins. The drunk are getting drunker and louder.

I hear a friend next to me say the thing she enjoyed most on her recent sabbatical was the chance to do what she wanted every day and not to have to do things which she didn’t.

A small boy walks in front of us with his fingers in his ears.

I get up and head home.

At the exit, a human sized bap-man is handing out free BBQ pulled pork. In a bap. I take one and walk on, wondering if I have let myself down by doing so.