Man flu: the facts

"You couldn't just pass me the remote..."

“You couldn’t just pass me the remote…”

New Year didn’t happen for me this year. From the Saturday after Christmas to the following Sunday, my body was involved in a titanic struggle to overcome the most deadly of diseases: man flu. Yes, I can feel the sympathy flooding in. I don’t know why but for some reason man flu, out of all the deadly infections, is treated with amusement, if not ridicule, from a certain segment of society. It is very odd. I’ve never heard people say “he’s making a meal out of this ebola virus”,  or “it’s lucky men don’t have babies, the fuss my Alf is making about the plague”, yet these are the very same phrases men hear daily when combatting man flu.

To help overcome these unnecessary prejudices, here are some facts* about man flu.

1. Man flu is not the same as the common cold

Survey’s have shown that half the population believe man flu is just another term for the common cold. This is not true. The male immunity system is over 50% more effective at battling viruses than its female counterpart, meaning only the most virulent, and potentially deadly bugs make it through. However, this is good news for women, because when an outbreak occurs many females succumb to the milder form of the disease, and in the same way as having cow pox gives immunity to small pox, having the milder form of man flu gives females immunity to the more aggressive version. Sadly, men do not have this option and therefore have to suffer the virus in full.

2. Man flu alters brain chemistry

Earlier this year, a team of scientists from Zurich lead by the renowned Dr Weicheier, published a paper in Nature magazine on their discovery that the brain chemistry of a patient suffering from man flu is subtly different from that of a non-sufferer. The effects of the altered brain chemistry were similar to those seen in the victims of brain trauma, changing the patient’s personality leading to bouts of snappishness, grumpiness and a general bad mood. The good news was that the study showed that in over 80% of survivors, these effects are short-lived. The number may in fact be higher but for some patients in the study it was difficult to judge a significant difference in the before and after behaviour.

3. Man flu attacks the spinal cord

Another common symptom of man flu is the loss of movement in the legs. This is because the virus attacks the sheath around the spinal cord, causing swelling at the base of the spine which blocks the brain signals required to activate leg muscles. This is why when a sufferer says that they cannot get out of bed to get a drink, they are telling the truth. For reasons as yet unknown, this symptom can be sporadic, coming and going at random times during the infected period, causing patient anxiety when they are told off for being able to walk to get the remote control but then can’t get up to make a cup of tea.

4. Watching favourite DVD’s can help alleviate the symptoms

While it may be seen a s a cliché, scientists have recently discovered that watching DVD’s stimulate the pleasure centres of the brain, helping to alleviate some of the symptoms of man flu. The study, which conformed to the Loreal standard of 31 participants, showed that patients showed particular progress while watching films by Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal .

5. Man flu is real

And just in case there are some of you that still believe man flu doesn’t exist, here are articles in the Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Daily Mirror on a recent breakthrough proving it does (and none of them are dated April 1st).

*These facts may not in fact be facts but opinions, flights of fancy and occasionally lies – except for point 5 which is real. The author is not a trained professional and at no point should these facts be seen as the truth. If you are suffering from man flu, please visit doctor.

Merry Christmas to you all

Every writer's Christmas list (image source: on-the-write-track.blogspot.com)

Every writer’s Christmas list (image source: on-the-write-track.blogspot.com)

It is officially Christmas Eve. I’m not sure how many pretend Christmas Eves there are, but this one has a little blue badge on twitter. Santa has the elves on overtime, which is a nice boost for those on zero-hour contracts worried about whether they would have to visit one of the many food banks that have sprung up in Lapland since the family business of Santa Toymakers & Deliveries was bought out by venture capitalists, their first step in a planned global holiday monopoly once their acquisitions of Hanukkah and Diwali are completed.

Here at chez Hearn we are almost ready. The presents have been bought (no need this year to print photographs of undelivered presents) and the pre-Christmas cull of tat, detritus and unloved toys from the boy’s playroom to make room for all the new things that Santa may bring, is complete. We just have to collect the pre-ordered fruit and veg from our local greengrocers (yes, some do still exist) and we can relax.*

I just wanted to wish everybody who has visited my blog over the past few months a very Happy Christmas, or happy holidays as you prefer; a happy winter solstice to the pagans and to the more po-faced non-believers a happy Newtonmas (I’m a non-believer myself but isn’t publicly promoting a made up holiday over Christmas period being just a bit self-righteous, like celebrities saying they do charity work but don’t like to talk about it).

When I started this blog I had hopes that one or two people might visit and possibly like the strange mix of stuff and nonsense that they found (with the odd serious post just to keep you on your toes). What I didn’t realise was that quite so many of you would not just visit but show interest, comment and be so supportive (even the self-confessed cat-killers). I would especially like to thank the many fellow bloggers who have welcomed me into the blogging community with open arms. Your ongoing support, comments, as well as your own excellent blogging has been a real inspiration. You are all so very kind.

I won’t be posting between Christmas and New Year, but I promise to return in 2014 with a fresh batch of made-up flummery for your entertainment.

All the best,

Dylan

*well, as relaxed as you can be with two young boys bouncing around the house in a pre-Christmas frenzy

You may feel a moment of discomfort…

Don't worry, you're in safe hands... (image source: surgicalimagesomaha.blogspot.com)

Don’t worry, you’re in safe hands… (image source: surgicalimagesomaha.blogspot.com)

“So as you see, this is a routine procedure that I’ve given thousands of times. I’ve even had it myself so there is no better reassurance than that.”

It had taken over two years of conversations for me to be here, pretty much since the birth of our second child. I had argued my corner, from  “what if you change your mind and want another?” to “if things get bad you could be depriving us of a source of income”, but finally I had come to the conclusion that after 13 years of marriage it was about time I took on the burden of birth control.

“So is that all clear,” asked the surgeon “or do you have any concerns?”

“Only that you’ll sneeze as you make the incision.”

Within minutes I had changed into a surgical gown and hopping up onto the theatre bed, pausing briefly to be introduced to the two theatre nurses. Once I lay comfortably the surgeon asked me to pull my gown to my waist. It was then I learnt the true meaning of the phrase ‘feeling exposed’. I’m sure the room was warm but it felt strangely chilly below. Everything had happened so quickly, so lying there, balls to the wind, the realisation of what was about to happen finally struck home.

It’s fair to say that I felt a little uncomfortable of all the attention. I knew that the team had seen it all before – that if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all – but despite trying my best to be blasé about the whole thing I felt very self-conscious. The only way I could overcome this feeling was to stare at the ceiling, refusing to look the nurses in the eye. That way, if I didn’t see them looking, then they weren’t looking. It was an absurd argument but it worked.

As the surgeon examined that everything was where it should be – “I’ve been doing this a long time, so despite what you may think it’s always best to check” – the two nurses started talking about Christmas, possibly sparked the similarity of the exposed part of my body to a plucked turkey. The surgeon applied the antiseptic wash – a little too workmanlike for my liking – regaling me with the time he’d had his operation. The other surgeon was a friend, who instead of warming up the solution, had placed ice cubes in it instead. “I yelped,” he said, before adding that they had to make the incision in his armpits because that was where his testicles now resided. I laughed, feeling at ease for the first time since laying down. Then the surgeon said those words of dread: “Now you may feel a moment of discomfort…”

It was at this point I learnt that the body has more reflex points than I’d realised. I knew if you hit the knee with a small hammer below the kneecap, the leg automatically springs up. Well apparently, if you map a needle into the base of somebody’s penis, their knee shoots into the air. The surgeon was obviously aware, dodging said knee with the grace of Muhammad Ali in his prime; and the nurses were aware, suddenly mopping my brow with a cool cloth they had prepared earlier; but it was all a big surprise for me. Still, the surprise was short-lived and within moments the surgeon started his work.

I’m not a squeamish person – I once watched a doctor sew up a gash the size of my fist in my leg, marvelling that you could see the fatty layer under the skin – but this time I decided to lie back as the surgeon cut a section out of my vas deferens (my editor thought it was the name of some expensive trainers). Before I realised that he’d finished he’d moved over to the other side of the bed. I was prepared for the ‘discomfort’ this time. My knee didn’t shoot up but my body may have resembled a person undergoing electro-shock therapy. As you may have guessed, I’m not great with pain.

Pending testing, my membership of club jaffa is approved (image source: nick-ontheblog.blogspot.com)

Pending testing, my membership of club jaffa is approved (image source: nick-ontheblog.blogspot.com)

And then it was over. After a few minutes I felt well enough to sit up and after a few moments more I walked with my newly found John Wayne gait to the recovery room for tea and biscuits, my darwinian role to pass on my genes a thing of the past. As I sat there I say a friend had texted me to wish me luck. I texted back to let him know that it was all over and everything ant fine. “The hair growing back is the worst,” he replied. “If it’s worse than the injections I’ll be in real trouble,” I said.

It just remained for the nurse to hand me some paperwork describing post-surgical care and a sample pot for a few weeks time. On the journey home I felt every bump but two days later I’m sitting here, a little battered and bruised but basically OK. I just need to be tested in 14 weeks time before I’m given the all clear, although my last conversation at the surgery has me a little worried”

“You need to phone the lab to let them know you’re dropping off the sample,” said the nurse. “They don’t have any facilities there, so you’ll need to produce the sample at home, but it’s important they don’t receive it any later than 45 minutes after it was produced. Do you live far from the hospital?

“About 40 minutes away.”

“Oh well, try not to get arrested.”

Christmas shopping survival guide for men

Last year was terrible. You had thought you had everything under control. You knew what you had to buy – which was a bonus on previous years – you knew where to get it and you even knew what size. You were a champion of men and you had this Christmas shopping lark cracked. Yes, it was the 24th December. The shops were due to shut in half an hour but you were in control. You were cruising. Steve McQueen would have given you a nod in recognition of your cool demeanour. By this point you were
in full hunter/gatherer mode. You entered the shop and located the garment with laser precision. This is too easy, you thought as you swaggered up the rail. That was when your mouth went dry. Beads of sweat gathered on your forehead. All extraneous information evaporated as you zoned in on the key information, checking again and again, fingers fumbling as you flicked the hangers back and forth in the vain hope of finding the elusive size 12 when there were only size 6 and size 24 left. It is then that you lock eyes with the man beside you, his grey complexion shiny with sweat under the striplights, a rictus grin on his face; only to realise that you’re staring into a mirror.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Here is my handy guide on how to not just survive, but to conquer Christmas shopping.*

The best way to shop this Christmas (image source: http://talkbusinessmagazine.co.uk/men-christmas-shopping/)

The best way to shop this Christmas (image source: http://talkbusinessmagazine.co.uk/men-christmas-shopping/)

1. The Internet is your friend

It was not so long ago that in the hours leading up to Christmas Eve closing you would find herds of men flitting from perfume shop to perfume shop, looking for that special gift and hoping not to have confused their partner’s favourite scent with that of their mother’s. Not any more. A quick Google search will bring up thousands of lists of the perfect gift for ‘her’, complete with links to buy it online. And if you order it too late? Print off a picture and stick it in their Christmas card (you did buy a Christmas card, didn’t you?)

2. Ask her best friend for help

Some of you may be organised enough to know that a present is needed but haven’t a clue what to get. It’s the age old problem, what to buy for the person who has everything (i.e. you). Never fear, help is at hand: her best friend. Now I’m not for a minute saying you should ask outright. That would be crazy. But you could try this:

You: “I’ve been struggling to find that gift (add partners name here) has wanted for so long.”

BFF: “Wow, you’re finally going to buy her a (gift name)?”

You: Coughs at the thought of how expensive (gift name) is. “Yes, that’s the one. I just can’t find it anywhere?”

BFF: “You’re such an idiot. They’re selling them at (store name).”

You: “They wouldn’t happen to have a sale on?”

BFF: Laughter/dirty look depending on whether best friend thinks you are good enough for your partner. “No.”

You see. A short conversation and you have all the information you need.

3. Look in her wardrobe

Some of you may have partners that suddenly discover clothes that they had forgotten they had bought. You know the ones, they tend to look expensive and when you ask your partner when they had bought it they tend to blush as they reply that they had found it in the back of the wardrobe (along with Narnia, given the amount of lost clothes she tends to find). Well have a hunt yourself. Look for something that looks pristine, may still have a price tag, and has definitely been hidden back as far in the wardrobe as possible. Then wrap it and give it back on Christmas day. She’ll be delighted.

And if all else fails…

All you need to make the perfect Christmas gift (image source: http://blog.incipeindustries.com/dremel-4000-precision-multitool)

All you need to make the perfect Christmas gift (image source: http://blog.incipeindustries.com/dremel-4000-precision-multitool)

4. Make something

Yes, she may have hinted at a new top (you remember the hint, the photograph she had cut from a magazine and left on your pillow with “BUY ME THIS FOR CHRISTMAS” scribbled at the top) but you saw the look in her eyes when her child/nephew/niece gave her that scribbled on toilet roll tube with bits of glitter and coloured wool stuck around the sides. Imagine the love she would feel when she sees the necklace you make her out of a piece of string, some offcuts of wood and a dremel. It’s the type of act that can make this Christmas one to remember.

*If you are female, you may be wondering why I am posting this guide so close to Christmas. Surely all the shopping is done by now? You are giving the male species far too much credit. It’s not even a week before Christmas. Most men haven’t even started thinking about gifts for anyone else (although they will have their eye on a PlayStation 4/new TV/barrel of Winter beer for themselves).

Little Challenges

I recognise this (source:www.shopmasc.com)

I recognise this (source:www.shopmasc.com)

This morning, something miraculous happened: I had a shave without cutting myself.  Well, when I say not cutting myself I mean not cutting myself badly enough to need a little square of tissue paper to staunch the blood flow (I think I may be over-dramatising things with that phrasing, but you get what i mean.) You might think that after over twenty years of shaving, I should be more accomplished by now, but as any man who wet shaves will tell you, it’s not as simple as all that. Most days after shaving, I look as if I’ve just been thrown through a car windscreen.

As you may be able to tell, having a shave without cutting myself has made me very happy, not just because I have more iron rich blood travelling my veins than most mornings, but because it is one of my little challenges; the things I do to help make the day more interesting. Occasionally, like today, they come from every day tasks (although shaving for me  stopped being an every day task when I gave up work) but most of the time I make them up. Let me give you an example.

They haven't stopped, they are just moving forward very slowly.

They haven’t stopped, they are just moving forward very slowly. (source: sustainableexchange.wordpress.com)

Sometimes, when I drive, I try to do so without bringing the car to a complete stop until I get to my destination. I’ve driven over 300 miles in one go before without ever stopping. Even in towns. Traffic lights are a particular challenge. If the lights are red I slow down to a crawl and try to judge how much space I need between me and the car in front that will enable me to keep moving at the slowest possible speed before the lights turn green and the queue starts moving. Sad, isn’t it. Yet I get inordinately happy whenever I get it right. If you ever travel to Istanbul you will find the taxi drivers do the same thing, because if their wheels aren’t turning the meter doesn’t turn either.

Another little win when I was at work was to start my computer up, go downstairs, boil the kettle, make a cup of tea, then return, all before the computer had finished booting up. Another involves pasta. If I weigh out pasta I have to get to the target weight without stopping the flow prematurely, but I lose if I over-pour. This is particular challenging with electronic scales. I think you get the gist.

At this point I would just like to say that a part of me is dying inside telling you this.

So my question to you, my dear reader, is do you set yourself any little challenges, and if so, what are they? I’d really love to know, just so I don’t feel so alone.

Plus, I’m always looking for new ways to challenge myself…..

Ten more signs that you are approaching middle-age

Fancy a holiday?

Fancy a holiday?

Something strange happened to me last week. My blog exploded. I got more visits in one day than I normally get in a month (well three weeks to be exact.) After a bit of hunting I found out that my blogpost Ten signs that you are approaching middle-age was posted on The Afterword website by a nice person called Skirky. Thank you, Skirky and thank you to all who visited!

While I’m naturally delighted by all the new visitors, the best part was to read so many other suggestions for signs that you are approaching middle-age. So rather than keep these to myself, I thought I’d share them with you. A number of the suggestions have come directly from the comments on The Afterword, others were sent to me via Facebook and Twitter. I’ve even thought of a few more myself. Many thanks to everybody for the suggestions. I’ve named the individuals concerned where appropriate. If you think of any more, please feel free to add them in the comments below. Enjoy!*

1 The oofHelena Handcart The oof is something familiar to all middle-aged people. It is the sound you make when you sit down on a sofa, or the sound you make when you get up from the sofa. Bending down to pick something up, or putting your shoes on elicits an oof; so does picking up heavy objects. It is a little known fact that the single biggest reason for people leaving the SAS is the oof. Not so good when you are creeping up on the enemy. If you make a funny sound when you sit down, it’s a sign you are approaching middle-age.

2 Falling asleep on the sofaOn the Fence I’m not talking about the 5 a.m crash after a hedonistic night out. The danger times for the middle-aged falling asleep on the sofa tend to be, but aren’t exclusive to, 2:00pm after a large Sunday lunch, or mid-week around 8:00pm. The key point about the middle-aged falling asleep on the sofa is that it catches you by surprise. If you find yourself opening your eyes and realising that the film you had started watching has finished, or the people you had been talking to have all disappeared, and you know that nobody could have spiked your drink with Rohypnol, then the chances are it’s a sign that you’re approaching middle-age.

3 When your broad mind and your narrow waist change placesTwang This really doesn’t need any further explanation. Lovely phrase.

4. Parker PensPencilsqueezer “If when those seductive adverts for life assurance flicker across ones consciousness and one finds oneself thinking “Ooo that nice Mr Parkinson wants to send me a free Parker pen, that would come in very handy for filling in the coffee break crosswords in Puzzle Monthly”. You are middle aged and can feel the chill hand of the Grim Reaper upon ones shoulder. It’s all Perry Como and slacks for you matey from now on.” – Thank you Pencilsqueezer, I couldn’t have put it any better

A fine figure of a sportsman

A fine figure of a sportsman

5. Golf Golf is the epitome of a middle-aged sport. For a start, you don’t require any athletic prowess. I saw a photograph of the winner of the open the other day and that man is not an athlete. In fact, looks more like somebody who’s been asked to take up a sport to get his cholesterol levels down. Then there is the fact it is based around going for a walk, a most middle-age pastime. Finally, and most damningly, there are the clothes. Slacks, a polo shirt and comfortable shoes. I rest my case.

6. You find yourself listening to Radio 2Emma For those of you not living in the UK, Radio 2 is the music station where youth presenters go when they get too old. It’s like the elephant graveyard of radio stations. Now I’ve been told many times by friends that I should give Radio 2 a go because “it’s much better than you think.” This isn’t true. Every time I’ve listened to Radio 2 the DJ has either been playing something by Andrew Lloyd Webber, or Keane. If you find yourself tuned into Radio 2 on a regular basis, it’s a sign you are approaching middle-age. As for me, I’ll stick to 6Music thank you very much (waits for the comments that 6Music is just another station for middle-aged music fans.)

After winning Le Tour, Chris Froome let's things go a little

After winning Le Tour, Chris Froome let’s things go a little

7. You take up a sport to keep fit Many of you used to play sport for fun as kids. As you got older, some of you may have continued to play, but many stop, filling your time with other interests like going to the pub, or sitting in front of the TV. Then, as you approach middle-age, you realise that if you want to live a long life it’s not a good thing to be out of breath after walking up a flight of stairs. So you decide to take up a sport to keep fit. Notice the difference there? Not to have fun, but to keep fit. So now our parks have become clogged with fat, balding men, red faced and sweating as they try to complete a circuit. Our streets are filled with lycra wearing cyclists with arses so large they look like they are sitting on a stick. Finally, kids are forced to use just half the pool to go bombing or petting, or any of the other things on the poster, because some overweight 40 somethings in speedos need to complete their lengths. Don’t try to kid yourself that the urge to exercise isn’t age related, not even if you combine all three and enter triathlons. It is a sign you are approaching middle-age.

8. The allure of the caravan As you plan your summer holiday, you think back to the fun camping holidays you had as a kid. You want to do that again, possibly with your own children, to take them to the places you went. Then the reality bites. Camping is uncomfortable. Camping can be cold, or hot, or very, very wet. It may sound fun cooking on a little gas stove and sleeping on an air-bed, but after two weeks of this you’re likely to be in hospital or in a mental institute. That’s when your mind wanders to the caravan***. What could be better? You have all the fun of the outdoors, but with the comfort of indoors. It’s so practical, and a cheap way to holiday. What could be better? If your thoughts are heading this way, it’s a sure sign you are approaching middle-age.

9. You sneer at lists like this in the belief that they don’t apply to you because you are still too cool for school, but they do, maybe not every point, but somewhere deep inside it twists like a knife that you know you are approaching middle -aged conformity and there is little you can do about it

10. You overreact to criticism This may have something to do with point 9.

*Disclaimer: This list is not a comprehensive list of signs that you are approaching middle-age. If you are looking for a more comprehensive, evidence based** list of factors, I suggest you try the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, by the American Psychiatric Association. Issue 5 has just been released. It’s a blast.

** This in itself is highly contentious. For more information read Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test. Fantastic book.

*** This includes trailer tents.

Ten signs that you are approaching middle-age

Dad, is that you? (source: now.msn.com)

Dad, is that you? (source: now.msn.com)

There is no official start date to middle-age, so how do you know when it hits you. I’m in my early forties but I don’t think of myself as middle-aged, yet recently I’ve realised, how should I put it, that I’m displaying characteristics one could, possibly, associate with middle-age. It got me thinking. Maybe we should produce a checklist to help those of us to realise we aren’t young any more. Here is my first attempt at this list. If you have any others, please feel free to comment below.

1. You correct people’s grammar

You are walking down the street when you hear somebody say “I didn’t do nothing.” If the first thought that came into your head wasn’t “I wonder what they’ve done,” or “What’s going on here,” but “I didn’t do anything. If you didn’t do nothing you did, in fact, do something. It’s a double negative,” you are on the road to middle-age.

2. You don’t know who is in the charts

When I was younger I used to follow the charts avidly. Even though I hated most pop music, I knew who all the bands were and what the latest songs in their latest releases. I remember being thrilled seeing Nirvana on Top of the Pops as it was a sign that I wasn’t the only one who liked this type of music. Moving on to today, I was at a school fayre the other day (a middle-aged activity if ever there was one) which had a DJ to entertain the kids. At one point my wife came up to me and said “Did you know this is One Direction?” I hadn’t a clue. I’ve heard of One Direction and know they are big in the US, but I couldn’t have told you what they sounded like, which is a sure sign that I’m approaching middle-age.

What do you mean, this is inappropriate for my age? (source: webpronews.com)

What do you mean, this is inappropriate for my age? (source: webpronews.com)

3. You start to shop at clothing stores your parents shopped at

It starts off innocently enough. You need some new socks and you just want some that will last. Instead of going to one of the high street fashion stores, you find yourself in a department store, or even worse, Marks and Spencers. As you walk through the clothes section a shirt catches your eye. It’s just the type you like, in the colour you like and similar to one you already own. You then see another shirt, then another. Suddenly you realise that unlike the shop you used to shop in, you don’t need to filter out three-quarters of the clothes because you’d look like mutton dressed as lamb. No, in this shop the clothes don’t make you stand out, they make you blend in, and this feels good.

4. You’ve had the same haircut for at least ten years now

Short at the back and the sides, a little longer on top. I’ve said these twelve words in every hairdresser’s I’ve visited since I was in my mid-twenties. Now there may be a little less hair at the top to keep long, and the colour may have changed slightly, but my haircut is the same one I’ve been happy with for over ten years. The only time I don’t say those words are when the hairdresser says “Your usual?” That’s if they need to ask anymore.

5. You enjoy gardening

I’m not talking about the young tyro’s who have been brought up with dirt between their fingernails. If you’ve always loved gardening this isn’t for you. If, however, you’ve suddenly discovered the pleasure of mowing a lawn, maybe even with stripes, or you find yourself pulling the odd weed from your decorative border when in the past you used to strim down the waist high grass only when you wanted a barbecue, then it’s another sign you are approaching middle-age. If you have rented an allotment however, there is no doubt.

6. You start to desire a simpler life

When you were younger, every evening used to be full, whether it was playing a sport, going out drinking with friends, clubbing, weekends away; there was never a dull moment. Nowadays you could at home watching a re-run of Magnum when a text comes through asking if you fancy going to the pub. If you have to think twice because getting your arse off the sofa and putting some shoes on is too much bother, you’re approaching middle-age.

All ready for a nice walk? (source: belfasttelegraph.co.uk)

All ready for a nice walk? (source: belfasttelegraph.co.uk)

7. You go for a walk for the sheer pleasure of it

Walking used to be a means to an end. The only time you used to walk is if you wanted to get somewhere. That was it. Now, however, you could find yourself looking outside after a good lunch and realising that it’s such a nice day that it would be great to go for a walk. Not to anywhere, but because it seems a nice thing to do. You may even have a regular walk you go on whenever the desire hits you. This is not a young person’s thoughts. You are approaching middle-age.

8. Clubbing is something that happens to the young or arctic seals

Have you had the pleasure of going to a club recently and ended up wondering why you used to think it was fun to stand in a converted warehouse space where young women walked around in semi-naked groups to protect themselves from the meerkat-like packs of young men, desperation in their eyes, hunting for mates in a room where the music is so loud you have to shout in the ear of the person next to you to be heard, and you pay three to four times as much for a drink than the pub next door. Then you realise that most of the clubbers are avoiding you in case you report what they were doing to their parents. If this has been your experience then it’s time to admit that clubbing is a young person’s game, or for Canadians*.

9. Hangovers last three days

There was a reason I was sober in the nightclub. When I was younger I used to drink all weekend, have about four hours sleep, then turn up for work the following week fully fit and able to function. About four months ago I decided to stop drinking alcohol because even one beer would give me a hangover, and a few would leave me suffering for days. If this has recently happened to you, you’re approaching middle-age.

10. You look in the mirror and see one of your parents staring back at you

For the past few years you have only looked in the mirror to check an aspect of your appearance; is your hair OK, or have you got spinach between your teeth? Then, one day, you have a proper look at your face for the first time and to your horror you see one of your parents staring back at you. Unless you are the natural son or daughter of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, this is going to be a bit of a shock.

* Before you shout, yes, I know seal culling takes place in Norway, Greenland, Russia and other arctic states, it’s just most of us associate it with Canada. Sorry. It’s nothing personal. If you want somebody to blame, blame PeTA

Well, there goes summer

Its back to thick stockings for you (source: guardian.co.uk)

Its back to thick stockings for you (source: guardian.co.uk)

I know I may be being a bit premature, but with a thundery last hurrah (or just thunder to you and me), our lovely British summer is coming to an end. Wait, I hear you say. It’s not even August yet. How can you be so sure that the British summer is finished for this year? Well there are a few pointers.

Don't forget to stop using that hosepipe (source: the sun.co.uk)

Don’t forget to stop using that hosepipe (source: the sun.co.uk)

Let me take you back to April 2012. The south of England was parched. There had been no winter rains for the previous two or three years and as is traditionally the case, the water companies decided to enforce a hosepipe ban. That will work, they thought, and it did, because they had forgotten about the special English summer weather magic and tragically imposed a hosepipe ban on the same day the cricket season started, and even worse, the day I bought a brand new barbecue. Thus, on the very first day of the hosepipe ban, it started raining and didn’t stop (except for a couple of weeks in July for the Olympics) until December, when the rain changed to snow. 2012 is officially the second wettest English year on record.

Now let’s move forward to June this year. After what seemed the longest winter in living memory more rain set in. The average temperature in June was around 15 Celsius and letters were sent to newspapers bemoaning the lost balmy summers of our youth (otherwise known as a figment of the imagination.) Then, just as all hope was lost, some long term weather forecasters claimed that Britain would suffer from wet and cold summers for the next 10 years. The English summer magic stirred into action once more and a heatwave enveloped the nation. Cue panic.

A light, summer meal? (source:Telegraph.co.uk)

A light, summer meal? (source:Telegraph.co.uk)

You see, the British aren’t built for hot weather. We don’t eat the right foods for a start. Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy are not a summer food, and as I’ve said before, we aren’t that great at barbecues. We sunburn very easily, usually in those hard to reach places that never see the sun for 48 weeks of the year, e.g. the backs of your knees, and our homes are insulated to withstand the damp of winter. Air conditioning is for supermarkets and office spaces. After a few days the newspaper headlines screamed that the heatwave was deadly, demonstrating just how deadly with pictures of ladies in bikinis in parks and on beaches around the country. With temperatures reaching heights only seen in places like France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Greece, the USA, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, China, India, Thailand, Australia and so on, Britain’s infrastructure started to crack. The M25, the busiest road in Europe, melted and train tracks into London buckled. Even the crowd levels at one of golf’s most prestigious events were lower than expected because of the hot weather. It didn’t take long for the moaning to start.

Well, the good news is that all this is about to end. For a start it’s the beginning of the school holidays. Nothing is guaranteed to stir the weather gods than the desire of children to burn of energy by playing outside. It is no coincidence that the storms started today. Then there is the cricket, a sport so sensitive to the weather that like vampires in sunlight, umpires have been known to combust at the first sign of rain. England have a chance to whitewash the Aussies 5-0, so at least one, if not the next three games will be rained off.

Another, more personal reason, is that we have decided to holiday in the UK this year. If you live anywhere near the north of Wales, start filling your sandbags and readying your flood defences, as we will be visiting mid-August.

Finally there are the weather forecasters, who all agree that the coming storms indicate an end to the heatwave and back to more changeable weather.

I’d better start bulk buying the sun cream now.

Why men are confused: 5 rules of manliness

source: lolsnaps.com

source: lolsnaps.com

A friend recently wrote in her blog how her partner had ended up with a bad case of sunburn. We’ve all done it, you might say, but it got me thinking. You see, I knew exactly why her partner ended up sunburnt and it has nothing to do with the strength of the sun (we live in the UK which is on the same northerly latitude as Newfoundland in Canada) and everything to do with falling foul to the way men must judge their own behaviour. These rules, these unwritten rules, are known to every man in the country and if we don’t meet them, we start to question our masculinity. Of course, they are, frankly, rubbish, as you are about to find out, but every man (like my sunburnt friend) has fallen foul of them at one point or other.

1. A man must use the lowest factor sunscreen available

Using suncream is not manly. Luckily, the years of health education have finally sunk in and men are now aware of the dangers of skin cancer. We now protect ourselves from the sun like the other 51% of the population. However, anything with an SPF over 9 is seen as for wimps, because real men have skin thicker than a Rhino’s backside. Factor 50 is for kids, anything else is for women or weaklings. That is why my friend spent the night whimpering in the foetal position as each bead of sweat scored his sensitive skin like a branding iron. He fell foul of rule no.1.

2. A man must order the hottest dish on the menu

A Chicken Korma is a food for wimps. So is a mild chilli or wood-smoked chicken wings. You are not a man unless you eat food so spicy that it causes your brain to pour from your ears. I once went to a restaurant in the US where their speciality was called “Atomic Wings.” These innocent looking chicken wings had been coated in a substance similar to napalm. One taste numbed my tongue and the skin started to peel from the roof of my mouth. Within seconds I needed water but I couldn’t see where my cup through the tears in my eyes. If this food had been found in Baghdad by Hans Blix, nobody would have argued against the Iraq war. Yet that one taste brought me a newfound respect from my colleague. Crazy.

3. A man must be able to drink at the same rate as their friends

I’ve never been a big drinker. Being skinny with a high metabolic rate doesn’t give you a high tolerance to alcohol. When I was younger I always struggled to keep up in a round. The first beer would be OK, but even then I would start to get bloated. The second would arrive just as I was two-thirds through my first, so I would have to quickly finish that before I lagged too far behind, but as I would start the second, the third would arrive. This was not going out for a nice drink, this was drinking the foie gras way. Yet if I fell behind, I would be ridiculed for the rest of the evening.

4. A man must be able to cook with fire

The barbecue is a man’s terrain. This is because cooking with fire is manly, taking us back to our prehistoric roots. Men who wouldn’t be seen dead in a kitchen are more than happy to don their Hawaiian Tropic SPF 1 oil and stand in the baking sun cooking meat. On Charcoal, because gas barbecues are not manly. And by cooking, I mean converting protean to carbon in the quickest way possible, because cooking meat on a low heat, regardless of whether it makes the food taste better, is not manly, because if you’ve been waiting two hours for the barbecue to get hot, you’re buggered that you are going to let it cool down a little before cooking.

You won't find one in our house (source: easy.com)

You won’t find one in our house (source: easy.com)

5. A man must be able to fix things

How many of us remember our father or grandfather building or fixing a broken toy. Now how many of us can remember a favourite toy being broken apart because it was “making a noise” only for it never to materialise again. If you do, this is because your father / grandfather (but let’s admit it, your father) had fallen into the trap of rule number 5. You see, a man must be able to fix things. It doesn’t have to be the big things. Many men reluctantly are happy to call in a professional if the boiler breaks or the roof has blown off, but if it looks achievable, we naturally think we can do it. This is because we are men. I’m as bad as anyone with this. If you ever come to visit my house, please don’t bring a spirit level and place it on any shelves, and if you want to play with a fisher price cash register, I’m sorry but you’re out of luck.

Things were so much easier for men in the Victorian era. Of course, when I mean easy I don’t mean standard of living, age expectancy, mortality rates or anything like that. What I’m talking about was their understanding of what it meant to be a man. I don’t for a minute believe we should return to the sexist, misogynistic behaviour of that era, just that we take a leaf out of Rudyard Kipling, who famously explained what it was to be a man in his poem, If. Think of the money we would save on aftersun.

My entry in the Daily Post Challenge

5 Reasons the British should celebrate the 4th July

Come on, let's celebrate together

Come on, let’s celebrate together

Today is Independence Day in the USA, a day in which our cousins across the pond celebrate the founding of their nation by drinking beer, letting off fireworks, having barbecues and watching sports. Now I love the USA; I’ve been to the USA many times and half my family live there. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the USA at this time of year and whenever I’ve talked to my American friends about Independence Day the conversation goes one of two ways:

Conversation no.1: We kicked your ass!

Conversation no.2: Do the British celebrate Independence Day too?

Now, the logical response to these points should be 1: You did, and 2: Have a little think about that (see conversation no.1), but I strongly believe that the British should also celebrate Independence Day and here are five reasons why.

English: Thomas Paine statue, Thetford, UK

English: Thomas Paine statue, Thetford, UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1: It was our idea

This may come as some surprise to many people (especially in the UK), but one of the strongest advocates for an independent USA was Thomas Paine, born in Thetford, England, who in 1776 had only been in the US two years when he wrote “Common Sense”, the best-selling book that advocated colonial America’s independence from the UK. The book was so influential that John Adams said “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.” 

2: We got to keep Canada

For those of you who laugh, I think we got the best deal*. Remember, this is the land that has given us William Shatner, Neil Young and Terence and Phillip from South Park among many others. Well, when I say we got to keep Canada, I mean the Queen is their head of state, and when I say Canada is ours, it is ours in the same way that Jaguar is ours (owned by Tata of India), Land Rover (Tata), Rolls Royce & Bentley (VW of Germany), Harrods (Qatar Investment Company). And I know I’m ignoring Quebec. But you get the point.

3: Curry

By allowing the USA to declare Independence**, we were able to concentrate on our other colonies, including the jewel in the crown, India. It can be argued that without the wealth generated from our colonies in India, there would be no Great in Great Britain, but for me the most important point is that if we hadn’t been able to focus on India, there would be no Chicken Tikka Masala, the UK’s favourite dish***, so thank you, you American militias!

4: It’s the only date in the calendar year the Americans say correctly

I worked for an American company for many years and one thing that bugged me was having to change my spellings for any presentation**** that would be sent to the US. However, it was recently pointed out to me by a friend that on one day per year the Americans say the date correctly. For 364 days in the year, our American cousins say April Sixth, or February Eleventh. It is only on this special day that the date is pronounced correctly: the fourth of July. Now if we could only persuade our cousins to honour our standardised way of spelling, it would make this one English pedant very happy.

5: We remain competitive at the important sports

In the early colonies, cricket was the most popular sport. After the War of Independence, Baseball became more popular and participation in cricket slowly died out, to the relief of British cricket fans. I mean, it’s bad enough being beaten by Australia, India, The West Indies and South Africa at cricket on a regular basis. Can you imagine how dominant the US would be if all 400 plus million people loved the game?

So, rather than ignoring the 4th July in the UK, we should embrace it by ignoring the rain and start up our BBQ’s, pour a nice warm pint of bitter and light the fireworks to give thanks to our forefathers for screwing things up so badly that they turned a happy, contented colony into a hotbed of revolutionary zeal. Despite everything, it was one of the best things they ever did.

* If you are still laughing at this, remember Canada is the only country to have burnt down Washington DC

** OK, this is a lie (see conversation no.1)

*** Chicken Tikka Masala was created in Glasgow and is as Indian as Spaghetti Bolognese is Italian

**** I didn’t have to, I did it out of politeness in the typically British way of preferring to cause pain to one’s self rather than impose on others