My Aunt once got upset with me for using the word “shit”, but to me, that’s how her macaroons tasted.
I’ve got some great news for you all – Macaroons have changed, they’re nice now.
As a child, if someone offered me something that looked like a biscuit then you took it as a given that it was ‘guaranteed’ to be delicious – that was until I discovered macaroons. Macaroons made me WARY of biscuits. Back then they were just big coconut scabs – all dry and thin like a pensioners kneecap.
“Don’t make a fuss James! They’re just “nut flavoured” biscuits” people would say,
But why then, did they taste of sadness and dog’s balls?
And the horrible taste lingered, If I try really hard, even now, I think I might still be able to taste my first one.
But yesterday my friends, I had a 21st century macaroon and it was different. Gone were the overriding flavours of melancholy and canine genitals and in their stead was a moist coconut delicacy. The beige dandruff cookie of my childhood had transformed into a seductive beauty, it didn’t have that dreaded arthritic snap that I remember, instead it parted slowly, coyly, like a sweet charmed maiden up for some barnhouse fun. And the colours! Magenta! Pistachio! Yellowish!
Go forth today my friends and find yourself a 21st century macaroon* – you will not regret it!
Unless you have a nut allergy*
As a parent you give up nappies like you give up cigarettes – you wait till the end of the packet. So when we reached the end of my son’s nappies there was a sense of sad theatre in throwing the green plastic away – another little chapter gone forever.
But I’d failed to consider the chapters that follow – the “pull-ups and potty” period and the less familiar “portable potty” period.
At home, it’s all very straightforward, but when you are out and about it becomes more interesting. For a start, it meant carrying a potty around with me whenever we left the house, one that could be deployed at a moments notice, always ready for action: much like the SAS. As you can imagine, it was a socially awkward period: my son would suddenly shout “Poo Poo coming!” and wherever we were, within 20 seconds, he would be naked from the waist down and sitting on a potty that appeared as if by magic. Wherever we were. Like a Formula 1 pitstop. The whole process was slick, we each knew our role and you get so used to doing it that you rarely stop to think whether the location might be anything less than appropriate. Y’know, for an impromptu dump. Occasionally it took bystanders by surprise. One moment we are a normal looking family and the next one of us has shouted “poo”,we’ve pulled a mobile toilet out of thin air, stripped a child to the waist and are ready with moist and dry wipes for the clean up operation. It’s the sort of behaviour that has, in the past, put other diners right off their tapas. We are “no longer welcome” at La Tosca. But we don’t care – who dares wins.
The potty itself resembled an upturned plastic cowboy hat, and once full, I would carefully wander the streets with it held at arms length, looking for somewhere safe to empty it. That was my least favourite part, trying not to spill anything in a shopping centre or supermarket whilst affecting an air of nonchalance, “Sure I’ve got a white plastic Stetson full of autumnal colours – what of it?”. I even stopped wearing checked shirts for a while, suspicious, that to the general public, I looked like some kind of awful country and western busker.
Anyway, we turned the page on another chapter of childhood (although no doubt my daughter will enjoy the freedom of flash dumping in the near future) and he now insists on using “big boy” toilets. Which, for me, is much worse…………
We’d found a passable public toilet which lacked glamour but more importantly – occupants. There were just 2 cubicles. We picked the one on the left. Now you and I know that there is an etiquette, that once in a cubicle, you remain, vocally at least, silent. Let me tell you right now that it’s a social convention that 3 year olds do not respect. Perhaps it’s because usually there are 2 of us in the cubicle? I honestly don’t know. Whatever the reason, my son has failed to adopt my long held belief that there is no need for commentary of any kind, that under the circumstances narration is, at best, distasteful. I am not taking confession. Anyway, I was waiting patiently to hear the words “I’ve finished” in amongst the usual toilet waffle and reading a particularly surreal piece of graffito when I heard the door outside slam open and somebody rush in to the cubicle next to ours. Without being able to see who had just burst in I knew we were in for an unpleasant experience: being out of breath through exercise and being out of breath through “panic” sound very different. What I could hear next door was beyond “need”, it was hyperventilation through sudden glorious proximity to a toilet, that most dangerous time when the body thinks it has reached the finishing line but has failed to take into account those precious few seconds required to undo belts and jeans and get any underwear well out of the way. I could hear as they struggled with their belt, the desperate snarl of frustration that such a simple garment could betray them like this. “GAH!!”
I moved my son’s legs and my own away from the shared wall. Unconsciously I took a deep breath. Our new arrival was actually whispering to himself. His mouth and brain were begging the body for a few more seconds. And then. And then we heard the metal of the belt hit the tiled floor, followed by a whimper of gratitude to God, followed by pure evil. Liquid wrongness, and then a relentless stuttering mixture of liquid and gas: like somebody refused to believe they’d come to the end of a squeezy Ketchup bottle.
“Aw dad somebody’s doing a really long blow off aren’t they dad”
“Yes. Yes they are Alex”
“I don’t do that dad”
“No. No you don’t Alex”
“You sound funny dad – is because you are holding your nose?”
Satan’s expulsions had suddenly stopped next door. I could hear the sort of silence you get when a person’s entire being is clenching, having realised they are not alone.
“Have you finished Alex?”
“No dad – it’s gone back up”
“Oh okay – shall we go then?”
I had Salmonella poisoning but I didn’t know it. The violent effects of this condition had left me sore, dehydrated and waiting to see the annoyingly upbeat Doctor. With clenched and scalded buttocks I waited for my turn. I dared not look at anyone – 3 days of violent diarrhea doesn’t fill you with much social confidence. I sat on my hands keeping my poor ringpiece off the hard plastic chair. Bored, I texted my wife “ At the docs – wish me luck!”. Eventually my name appeared and I lifted myself off the chair and waddled in. I told the GP what was wrong with me. He smiled but didn’t shake my hand. After examining me he passed across a small tube and asked me to “step outside” so I could fill it. I must’ve looked slightly shocked.
“I’m afraid we’ll have to take a stool sample!” he beamed.
I held up the tiny see-through container.
“In this?” I said.
“Yes!” he chortled.
I looked at the doctor but it was clear he was serious. The diameter and length of the tube were not best suited for the collection of stools, let alone unstoppable splattering pints of hot liquid shit.
“Erm you want me to fill this?” I asked
“If you can!” the Doctor smiled
“If I can?” I thought to myself “If I could “aim” I could fill this a hundred times over in a tenth of a second”.
I said “Can I have a glove please”
“Of course!” he chuckled, “Take two!”
I stepped outside, the toilet was adjacent to the waiting room so I hid the tube in the palm of my hand and, trying to appear normal, I walked past the large group of patients and ducked inside. The cubicle was empty but I was acutely aware that I could hear the waiting room outside. I could hear the rustle of magazines and the coughs. I could hear the receptionist. I needed to be careful. Sighing, I took down my trousers and went to sit down. Then stopped.
There was a wasp in the toilet.
It looked dead, but to be certain I flushed again. But after the water had settled, there it was, still floating on the water. As wasps go it was quite big and I stared at it nervously for a good 30 seconds before, satisfied it must be dead, I lowered myself over it. I’m sure it’s not just me, but I have a real problem with wasps near my scrotum.
Actually, scratch that – any animal, not just wasps. Put me in a pair of jeans and I will happily fight most creatures, but with exposed testicles I feel far too vulnerable for any form of combat. I think I would rather fight blind folded and fully clothed against two chimps and an angry beaver than naked against a goat or a ferret. It’s a major flaw in men – it’s our Achilles ballbag.
By the way, if you’re reading this and don’t have a ballbag of your own then relax, you probably have an equivalent female weakspot. A weakspot that animals, particularly in a fight, could exploit. By which I mean sting, bite, squeeze or claw. Actually maybe I’m being kind, you girls don’t have anything that “dangles”. It’s the danglies that make you properly vulnerable.
Anyway, I lowered myself down on to the seat, hearing the coughs and sniffles outside the door. I couldn’t help but think that people were listening. You may call me paranoid but if it were me outside then I’d be listening. Minutes passes and nothing happened. I just couldn’t let go. It’s very difficult to let nature take it’s course when you have your trousers round your ankles and a big wasp near your arsehole, but I am nothing if not persistent so I decided to wait it out. Sometimes waiting it out is all you can do. Further minutes passed and I thought of the smiling Doctor waiting in the adjacent room. I looked around – but there was no reading material. Even if there had been it would’ve been tough to read, don’t forget I was doing this one handed, my other hand, double gloved, was poised to collect “the sample”.
Sitting there in a trance, pondering the horrors of being stung on the balls by a massive wasp I suddenly heard a loud buzzing noise. THE WASP WAS ALIVE!
“JESUS SHIT!” I shouted, so frightened by the buzzing beneath me. I leapt up.
I looked down and the wasp still lay there, drowned in the toilet and definitely not buzzing or trying to sting my ballbag.
BZZZZZZZ the noise went again, which is when I remembered that my mobile was on vibrate and in the pocket of the jeans around my ankles.
It had gone very quiet outside the door and the fact that I had just shouted the phrase “Jesus Shit” in a toilet next to a silent waiting room hit me.
It also occurred to me that the doctor had probably heard me shout this after 5 minutes of trying to provide a stool sample.
I reached into my jeans pocket (with my double gloved hand) and read the text from my wife,
“Good luck honey!”, it said.
We were running a little late for a wedding. At some point that morning we had lost the huge head start that comes with children that wake up at 5.30am. We had somehow squandered our time advantage, which meant my wife and I were both a bit snappy and the children seemed to be using every means at their disposal to delay us.
“Did you charge the SatNav?”
“We don’t need the SatNav”
“When was the last time you went there?”
“5 years ago”
“We’ve moved since then”
“But the church hasn’t?”
“Fine, we get lost, you die”
“Fine. Actually we’ll take it just in case”
“Right let’s get in the car”
“I need my blanket”
“Where is it?”
“I dropped it”
“Down the toilet”
“Right, put your shoes on”
“Can I hold the car key?”
“If you’ll put on your shoes”
“Here. Now put your shoes on.”
“I can’t. I’m holding the car key”
“Fine I’ll do it – give me your foot. NO THE OTHER FOOT! WHY MUST YOU ALWAYS GIVE ME THE WRONG FOOT!!”
“Right. Jackets on – let’s go!”
“Where’s the car key?”
“I’ve lost it Dad”
“You are still sitting on the same step. How could you possibly have lost it?”
“That was ages ago Dad”
“IT WAS 10 SECONDS AGO!”
Eventually we were all in the car and on our way. The journey was uneventful. The outside world blurred passed us unobserved, the tormenting weather and our collective irritations had steamed up the windows and cocooned us in our own special misery. Nobody spoke, the windscreen wipers ticked away the time like a grandfather clock, a constant reminder that we were late. My wife used the motorway’s inertia to put on make-up, the children played legroom tetris and dozed in the back. About halfway there I realised that I’d left the camera at home but decided not to mention it, it would be a shame not to have it, because we were all looking “wedding” nice, but a much bigger shame to admit I had forgotten it. We’d dressed for the wedding in team colours, my pink tie matched my wife’s handbag and my daughters skirt and the trim on my son’s blue jumper – little splashes of colour tying us together in a crowd of strangers.
As we got closer to the church we realised that we were still late and were now trusting in the bridal traditions of tardiness. It was going to be close. My wife woke the kids and made preparations to make a run for it, I agreed to park the car, get the parking ticket and follow on behind. Seconds were precious. As she set off for the church with the pushchair, dragging my son by the arm, I realised something, I wound down the window and yelled.
“Wait! I don’t have any change for parking!”
She rolled her eyes, took her handbag from her shoulder and threw it through the window.
“My purse is in there!” she yelled back and then she charged off.
I parked quickly and started to look for the ticket machine. There was only one and it was on the other side of the carpark. As I started heading for it I noticed that another man was also heading towards the machine and although he was approaching from a different angle we would arrive roughly at the same time. Our eyes met. I suddenly knew that he knew what I knew – it was a carpark ticket machine race!
Now usually I don’t partake in carpark ticket machine races, I will deliberately saunter so that I am arriving as they are leaving the machine, but today I was late. Today I didn’t fancy waiting in the rain holding my wife’s handbag whilst somebody fished around for the correct change and tried to remember the numbers on the number plate of a car they have owned for 3 fucking years.
Today, I would race!
Shit! Every second counted. Now, in situations like this, the rules are that you cannot sprint, (in fact if you are a man carrying a handbag then running is always a bad idea) you must walk just slightly faster than normal but nothing too obvious. It must appear a fluke of natural pace that you reach the ticket machine first. So I put the pink strap over my shoulder, held it close to my side and (head held high and mustering as much dignity as the situation would allow), I started to walk very quickly. I started to “mince”.
Which is when it happened.
Having seen me increase my speed the other guy ignored acceptable norms and did the unthinkable: he broke into a little jog! Our eyes met again. What manner of man was this? The sheer cheek of it! My nemesis was overturning years of male carpark ticket machine race protocol? I was incensed (and I was late and it was raining), I clutched my handbag a little closer and (may the good lord forgive me) broke into a run.
As a man, sprinting in a busy carpark with a pink handbag is tricky to pull off. For one, someone might shout “stop thief” at any moment (which is a factor worth considering under normal circumstances) but beyond that, there’s no getting away from it – it’s just plain undignified. It is as far from “Chariots of Fire” as it is possible to imagine.
As carpark ticket machine races go – it was a thriller. For we were two mavericks, breaking the rules. A battle between two loose cannons who were willing to do whatever it took to get our carpark ticket first – no matter what it cost us in dignity.
I bloody won though.
The thrill of victory lasted about 5 and a half seconds and we then had to pretend that neither of us were out of breath and that nothing was amiss as we exchanged awkward smiles and I rummaged through my pink handbag looking for change. In fairness, I had the change in my hand but couldn’t for the life of me remember the numberplate of the car I’ve driven everyday for 3 years. Long awkward seconds passed. The rain fell. I risked an apologetic glance up and met my enemy’s eyes, he pointedly looked at my handbag and smiled in a way that said “Nice handbag twatface”
I smiled back and nearly said out loud “It’s my wife’s bag” when I realised that my wife was nowhere in sight and, much worse, THE HANDBAG MATCHED MY FUCKING TIE.
It looked like I was accessorising!
There was no way he’d believe it wasn’t mine.
I collected my ticket, thinned my lips, put the strap back over my shoulder and sashayed back to my car.
Feeling less like a loose cannon and more like a loose woman.
How did you see in the new millennium? I was asked this the other day and I didn’t know what to say……….
I was single, she was single. She was with a group of friends, I was with a group of friends. My plans to spend the end of the millennium somewhere “cool” lay in tatters so I was at a nightclub in Maidstone called Ikon. That’s not a typo by the way, that’s how they spelled it and should give you some idea of how unbelievably shit it was. It was the sort of nightclub that has lots of pictures of attractive people having fun on all the walls but if you took the time to look at the “actual” people around you they would bear no relation to these pictures (a bit like Facebook then?). In the real world it looked a lot like Mordor. Mordor with Robin S. The dancefloor was always packed because, away from it, the carpets seemed to be made of flypaper or jam or superglue. Maybe that’s why the queue at the bar moved so slowly?
Through some licensing quirk they had to serve “food” so there was a brightly lit corner selling dirty burgers to people who really should have avoided both fast food and bright lights. The music was loud and the booze was cheap and although I now cringe, back then I thought it was okay.
I was a bit drunk and we’d danced together and “done a get off” or a “frenchie” or whatever we called it back then. Kissing with tongues. It was a result – I’d “pulled” and that didn’t happen very often. Except that I was definitely on the rebound and she seemed very keen and at one point she mentioned “our future” and I suddenly realised that I didn’t want any commitment. For the first time since I was 6 years old, I didn’t want a girlfriend. This revelation came to me as I was at the bar getting her a drink and I had a only a few minutes to concoct an escape plan. Whatever I said would seem weird and unreasonable, I had seemed “keen” only moments before. How to go from canoodling in the corner to cooling things off without making her feel bad?
Then suddenly it hit me, a way to make us both feel good – it was a great plan.
I sat down and passed across her drink.
“Look I really like you but I’m not sure this is gonna work because one of my other friends has fancied you for ages and I just can’t do that to him. I’m really sorry, it’s not you. It’s him”
“Oh” she looked quite taken aback at my massive lie, “okay”,
I gently shook her knee in sympathy and tried to look “forlorn”.
She took a sip of her drink. It was cheap and white, like my shirt, like my lie.
“So…. who is it that likes me so much but has made no move on me?”
Shit. I hadn’t really thought about this bit.
“Well please don’t say I said this because he’ll kill me but it’s Matthew”, I gestured over to Matthew Manson who, blissfully unaware , was talking to a very pretty girl.
“Which Matthew?” she asked
“Y’know Matthew, Matthew Manson, he’s always fancied you. And we’re mates so it wouldn’t be right”
“Matthew Manson fancies me?”
“Yup, always has done, he just can’t tell you. You know how shy he is”
“My cousin Matthew?”
“Matthew is my cousin, you knew that right?”
Shitshitshitshitshitshitshit why did I not know this? WHY HAS NO-ONE EVER MENTIONED THIS!!!
She looks confused and a bit sick.
My brain says “you are a fool Conmy, tell her the truth, admit to her right now that this is a cheap attempt to distance yourself from a scenario which you are probably reading too much into anyway. She’s not proposed! She’s a sweet girl who seems to like you, so tell her that, no, you didn’t know that Matthew was her cousin and it was a stupid stupid thing to say”
I take a deep breath.
“Yes. Yes I did know that Matthew was your cousin” I shrug “and that’s why he’s never told you”
So now you know how I saw in the millennium – accusing a good friend of mild incest.
Being the parent and having to be “grown-up” all the time can be exhausting and can often lead to moments where we swing wildly the other way………
Through some quirk of fate I have been left alone in the house without a list of things to do. This is great news because it means I don’t have to be the sensible adult for a few hours. The possibilities swoon before me. Although I am the oldest person in the house I am now also the youngest. Left to my own devices I change. For example, I go up the stairs on all fours. I don’t know why I do this, it is not something that can be easily explained. In my defence I only do it when the house is empty and I have to go upstairs anyway. I don’t want you to think that I just climb the stairs on all fours for no reason – that would be mad. Perhaps going up the stairs like a dog is my way of saying “screw you maturity”? I honestly don’t know.
Upstairs, a great idea comes into my head so I unspool vast quantities of toilet roll and get a continuous sheet going along the floor, out of the bathroom and all the way down the stairs to the front door. I draw a cartoon ghost on the bottom sheet then I run back up the stairs (on all fours) and settle one end just above the water. Later, when the kids arrive home and before my wife comes in, I will wait until they are through the front door, race upstairs, flush the toilet and watch it being gobbled up by the flush. The children, gobsmacked, will witness a long white 3 ply streamer race back up the stairs as if by magic before being flushed away and I will pretend not to have noticed this “miracle”. Later, when my wife asks what they are going on about, I will deny all knowledge of the toilet roll ghost and she will shrug her shoulders and say “kids eh?”
On a whim I rearrange the fruitbowl so that a banana and 2 satsumas are a little more erotic to look at and as I am doing this I notice the helium balloon. Once proud and thrusting , the balloon now hovers a mere inch from the floor. It’s diminishing powers of levitation are over a week old and it needs to be thrown away – a saggy balloon is depressing, we all know this. And not just because it supposedly looks like an old woman’s tits, which I think is unfair (and inaccurate in this case unless the old woman in question has green foil peppa pig tits), but because a balloon is a metaphor for our own inevitable physical decline, they are our gentle reminder at birthdays that life is finite and therefore precious.
But who can just throw away a balloon filled with fun gas? Certainly not me. That would be a waste, for who amongst us could resist the lure of Helium? The second most abundant element in the universe, an element forged in the stars through the thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen and used by the people of earth, principally, to make their voices sound funny.
I make a small hole and inhale deeply…….. just as the phone starts ringing.
I stare at the phone with the balloon still at my lips. I probably should just leave it.
But I’m not that guy.
I pick up the phone.
“Joe Pasquale here” my voice is incredibly high and tight, it’s perfect so I let out a little giggle.
“May I speak with the owner of the house please?” says a man’s voice.
I think to myself – bloody coldcallers.
“Yes it’s me, Joe Pasquale, can I help you?” giggling, I take another deep breath of helium.
“I came round the other day to give you a quote on those fencing panels?”
Double shit – it’s the fencing man!! A big humourless lump of a man. A Northerner! A man I have already told my wife we are going to use!
I cough a bit but it’s no good the high voice remains.
“Oh Mr Tate yes. I was going to call you”
“Are you okay Mr Conmy, your voice sounds funny?”
“Yes I know. I’ve erm just…….. been…… doing a bit of helium?”
Later, when my voice and maturity levels have returned to normal, whilst my son keeps ranting about a ghost stealing toilet roll, my wife, pointing at the sexy fruitbowl, asks me what else I did today.
I think about that sandwich I invented whilst watching “Jumanji”, about putting that ant on a crumpet to make him think he was on the moon and all the other stuff that happened.
“Y’know, just a bit of paperwork” I say “just grown up stuff”.
It’s your birthday. Looking out on the sparkling city nightscape you bite your lip in indecision, will it be the delicate gluttony of foie gras?, the opulent smoulder of wasabi laden sashimi?, or perhaps the soft littoral tang of ceviche? Waiters appear: silent as smoke, attentive as a courtesan, they bustle softly, ready to translate your wishes into the toil of hidden scullions – your pleasure is paramount, is everything. The restaurant is full but it’s just the two of you, eyes darkly complicit, knowing. The lighting peach soft, yet exquisite moats of shadow make your pool of light intimate. Murmurs of pleasure trickle through the room like champagne bubbles, this isn’t a meal – this is foreplay.
And we know what that leads to.
Which is why, yesterday, walking in to the same restaurant at mid-afternoon with a screaming baby, a harassed wife and a mischievous 3 year old was a rather different restaurant experience………….
“Hello, we’ve not eaten here for a while, do you cater for children?”
“Of course Sir, we have a Michelin starred organic vegetarian a la carte children’s menu or we can provide smaller portions of everything on the main menu, except, of course (strange laugh) the Chateaubriand”
“Do you have crayons?”
“We cannot eat here if you don’t have crayons”
“I can check with the……chef?”
We leave and walk into the next restaurant, it doesn’t have a Michelin star but it does have free crayons and fishfingers – no contest. The restaurant is busy, we are shown to a corner table with a garden view; alongside, a canoodling couple are sharing a dessert, flaunting their young love by feeding each other and y’know – smiling ‘n’ shit. I am fairly sure my wife doesn’t spot their special moment as she moves cutlery aside and starts to change my daughter’s nappy. The waitress is surprised at seeing a pair of tiny al fresco buttocks next to the “specials” and I use her social paralysis to scan the children’s menu. As she gathers herself to leave I stop her with the children’s order, “IT IS VITALLY IMPORTANT YOU BRING THEIR FOOD AS SOON AS POSSIBLE” I add in a half jokey – half desperately serious way. She pulls my hand from hers and hurries away, either she understands the urgency of the situation or, more likely, she wants to put some distance between her nostrils and the contents of my daughter’s nappy. It must be bad: on the next table the lovers stop eating their dessert and ask for the bill; I look at their abandoned profiteroles and think how cruel fate can be. Without looking up my wife passes me the full nappy, I am so used to this kind of olfactory Hiroshima that I barely notice anything but the heat, it reminds me of walking back from the fish ‘n’ chip shop as a boy – although “open or wrapped” is not a choice a nappy changer ever has to make.
God I’m hungry.
I wander past scores of gagging diners and eventually find the toilets and a bin with that all important lid. Whilst washing my hands I notice a vending machine that that sells flavoured condoms – this is, after all, a gastro pub. The only flavours are sweet though, which is a shame because at £3 a pack they might’ve made a nice starter. I return to our table and find everyone is settled. My wife is cleaning the high chair and my daughter is eating off the menu. By that, I don’t mean “a la carte”, I mean she is happily licking the remains of a satsuma from the menu which has served as a sort of impromptu plate. We settle in. Our waitress arrives with the food and looks surprised again, the area is barely recognisable: we have already used all the napkins in a four table radius and the table decorations and cutlery have been stacked up out of reach of chubby fingers. Our pre-meal detritus litters the surrounding tables which are now all empty. There is satsuma peel on the window sill. My son has drawn a picture of a “pregnant skeleton robot” on the specials menu with the one crayon that hasn’t been broken and crumbled and is now loudly singing “Hakuna Matata” with his eyes closed.
Which, nowadays, is very much our philosophy when dining out.