The month of August this year has been a busy one for me. Not only did I have my Leaving Party in the Causeway Club on Thursday 7th August, it was also my sixtieth birthday party on fourteen days later. My best mate and bromance partner, Andy Baker, wrote some terrible things about me which are simply not true, and which he read out to all assembled. What follows (for anyone who is interested) is a sort of edited mash-up of the two speeches I gave on those two extremely enjoyable nights. I hope you like it.
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, when I was in the RAF, I wrote a short story about the death of my grandfather and I gave it to one of the civilian women who worked in the next office to me to read. When she’d finished it she gave it back and told me that she thought it was very moving and that it had actually made her cry. But then she said, “What really amazed me about it, though, was that I couldn’t quite believe that someone as course as you could write something like this.”
Now, I’m not one for sitting on the fence – I’m opinionated – I say things as they are and I’m not afraid to upset people. In fact, sometimes I deliberately take an opposing view – even though I agree with what the other person saying just to wind them up and see what reaction I get. It took me years to figure out why I was like this and in the end I realised that it could only be one thing – it’s because I’m from the North of England. People where I’m from are not like our soft, shandy-drinking Southern counterparts – and by South I mean anywhere that’s beyond the river Mersey. We’re plain-spoken, simple people who like nothing more than to put on our clogs and go out on a Friday night for a few pints followed by fish and chips and mushy peas.
I’m going to speak plainly now and I’m going to start by saying that if I told you that I’d had a good time in my six years in Saudi Arabia I’d be lying. I’ve not had a good time – I’ve had a fantastic time.
But, it’s the people I’ve lived and worked with that made everything worthwhile.
Houseboys have always been a source of amusement. When my houseboy, Gulam, went out to do some shopping for a particular item for Jackie he came back with a bunch of flowers.
“Are those for me?” she asked.
“Yes Madam,” he replied – and then he smiled and handed them to her, “Party Flowers.”
Now, in itself that would have been a lovely gesture, had it not been for the fact that Jackie was cooking a curry at the time and had actually asked Gulam to get her some Chapatti Flour.
As well as the people I mixed with there was the family holidays.
Bahrain is always a good destination if you want an injection of pork and real beer to make you feel like a normal human being again (unless, of course, you’re a vegetarian teetotaller). I remember our frequent Men Only pub crawls into Bahrain where we invariably ended up totally pissed in a bar called Diggers, which is the only place I know where prostitutes are used as wallpaper. Our boss at the time, Kev Jones, was always the first one at the bar, usually accompanied by Pete Tomkinson, who had such a brilliant knack of blowing all our kitty on rounds of stupid cocktails that someone remarked on a night out that he suffered from Alcohol Tourette’s. What he meant by that was that Pete would go up to the bar with all the right intentions and say, “I’ll have four pints of Stella, two pints of John Smith’s and . . . and . . . ah fuck it – twenty Bullfrogs and fifteen flaming sambucas!”
My wife and I have been to some fantastically erotic (sorry, exotic) places while we’ve been here – South Africa, India, Eastern Europe, Egypt, Indonesia, Wales – unfortunately we had to take our teenage children with us. Teenagers, as you’re probably aware, don’t appreciate anything. But where did it all go wrong? I remember as a teenager growing up in Blackpool and the furthest my parents took me on holiday was Morecambe. Morecambe, for those people here that didn’t grow up in the UK, is a town in Lancashire where they have to prop dead people up in bus shelters in order to make the place look busy. I have a photograph taken on a holiday in Egypt at the Valley of the Kings, where everyone is smiling except my son Ollie who looks bored out his mind, and recently I saw one of my friends Brian, Helen and their teenage son Matthew on Facebook – they’re standing in front of the Eifel Tower – Brian and Helen are both looking happy standing in front of this iconic landmark, but Matthew is standing as far away as possible from them (without actually disappearing completely from the photo) and looking like he’s having the most miserable time of his life. And that got me thinking that we should photograph our teenagers standing in front of a blank screen and then photo-shop them into pictures of any iconic landmarks that we’re planning to visit on our next holiday. That way we can leave them at home playing on their X-Boxes and PS3s, while we go away for our holiday of a lifetime.
I’ve always had this fantasy where I would get revenge on my kids for all the torment, frustration and worry they put me through as they were growing up. I’ll wait until they get married and then I’ll visit them one day, but only when it’s raining. The first thing I’ll do when they open the door and say, “Hi, Dad,” will be to mutter something unintelligible to them, before taking my coat off and just dropping it on the floor for them to pick up. Then, still wearing my shoes, I’ll walk into the lounge, leaving a trail of mud and whatever I’d trodden in on the way to their house, and climb all over the soft furnishings. After that I’ll go into the kitchen, open the fridge door and drink all the milk and eat all the cheese until I feel sick. When they pour me a drink I’ll put it down on the floor next to my foot and then accidentally on purpose I’ll kick it over, spilling the contents all over their brand-new cream coloured carpet. And when they complain I’ll mutter something else unintelligible and wait for them ask me what I just said, at which point I’ll shout, “I SAID I’M SORRY!”
My youngest boy, William, likes to tease me by doing a hilarious impression. It goes something like this: “Dad, dad – who’s this? I’m an old man, I am.”
“I don’t know, William. Who is it?”
And now, here I am at the ripe old age of sixty – and what advice can I give any younger people for when they reach this age? The first thing that springs to mind is this: growing old is shit, isn’t it. Yeah, we have more money than we had when we were younger, but what we’ve gained in wealth and possessions, we’ve lost in basic bodily functions. A friend of mine, who was about the same age as I am now, said to me one morning, “I pulled an all-nighter last night.” What he actually meant by that was that he had spent all night in bed without having to get up once or twice for a piss.
These days I can’t help falling asleep at odd moments, I involuntarily grunt when I’m getting out of chairs and my eyesight and has started to get worse. My wife suggested that I might want to make an appointment with the optician after she found me reading a book that I’d fastened to a long pole and when she asked me to go to the Pharmacy to get her some Eurax I thought it was an odd request as I’d already had a vasectomy. I’ve spent every night of my adult life sleeping naked, but I was told to stop doing it just recently by one of the Emirates flight attendants.
At the age of 50 I began thinking that we all live our lives the wrong way round, especially where sex is concerned – when I was younger I had the stamina but lacked the knowledge and experience, but now I’m old and I do have the knowledge and experience I no longer have the stamina. I’ve been living on my own in Saudi since my wife went back to the UK a year ago to study Fine Art at the University of Cumbria and I’ve found that even having a Tommy Tank has become difficult. I recently found an old Thunderbirds annual and discovered to my surprise that the pictures of Lady Penelope turned me on almost as much as they did when I was thirteen. Unfortunately, as all the pages containing her image are now permanently stuck together, all that’s left to look at are pictures of The Hood – and I have never fancied bald men with big eyebrows – although a propensity for world domination can be surprisingly sexy.
Fortunately, growing old has not had any effect whatsoever on me being opinionated. In fact I’ve become more opinionated as I’ve grown older. You can get away with more things as you get older, because younger people seem to think that you are somehow wiser than they are simply because you are older. I’ll let you into a little secret – we’re not. You only have to look at me and my best mate and bromance partner, Andy Baker, to see that.
But are there any good things about getting old? Well – I can go on a Saga holiday and spend some quality time with people my own age (physically, not mentally); insurance companies let me pay less for their services because they assume I’m going to die sooner rather than later; I can send texts like: Just heard your mum’s dead LOL without feeling guilty; I’ve found that sanitary towels are not just useful for “Madam’s dirty time” as a male Saudi cashier in a supermarket said to me once, but are also good at soaking up other liquids, thus affording me a full night’s sleep after a heavy session in the Causeway Club; and I can fart loudly in public without giving a shit whose behind me, although having a shit at the same moment is a distinct possibility as I get older.
I’m going to end this with something that I heard the great stand-up comedian Bob Monkhouse once say when I saw him live back in the 1990s, which was, “When I die I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my dad – and not crying and screaming like the passengers of his bus.