The other night I was eating tea while watching television.
I know I shouldn’t do this, indeed my father would turn in his grave. Eating tea while watching the box was an unforgiveable crime in my dad’s eyes. Indeed I feel pretty sure had I returned home one evening and confessed to robbing a bank and shooting the manager through the head with a sawn-off shotgun, he’d reply, ‘that’s all very well but your mother’s made shepherd’s pie, now turn that TV off and come sit at the table’.
Each evening come what may during my childhood we gathered as a family in the kitchen.
“But dad,” I’d whine, “Pete Battersby and Nigel Ruecroft are allowed to eat in the lounge and watch Neighbours every night.”
‘That’s very nice for Peter and Nigel,’ my dad would patiently reply, ‘but in this house we eat our tea together, in the kitchen, with no television. And if you stop talking and eat your peas then you’ll be able to get back to the TV a bit quicker.’
My dad was spot on of course and now I’m a father myself I do usually insist we all sit and eat at the same time and do quaint old-fashioned things like talk to each other.
On this occasion, though, the kids had been playing up, which is now a daily occurrence as Mary is at an age where everything is an issue.
(Sample conversation…Me: “It’s time for tea Mary”.
Her, smiling and happy: ‘Good, I’m hungry’.
I put her in her highchair.
“It’s fish-fingers, your favourite.”
‘I don’t like fish-fingers.’
“You do, you have them every week.”
“No, you do,” I reply, trying to supress the rising frustration while realising that I, a 43-year-old man, am having a row about fish-fingers with a two-year-old.
‘Don’t want them, I’m not hungry. Can I have ice-cream?’
“No, Mary, you can’t have ice cream. It’s fish-fingers or nothing,” I say in what I hope is a very patient and calm tone so that Mary will get the message, realise I am right, and will, at this very moment, begin to eat her fish-fingers like a well-behaved and good little girl.
Mary screams, picks up her bowl and lobs it on the floor.
I count to 10 and attempt to stop myself from picking up a fish finger and shoving it into her face).
So because it had taken an age to get the children fed, we delayed our own tea – salmon, potatoes, broccoli and beetroot since you ask - until after they’d gone to bed and were so shattered that we took it into the lounge, put the tele on, and kind of zoned out in the tired, disillusioned and fed-up way that parents all over the country do.
As I mechanically moved the fork towards my mouth, which I find is always necessary in order to eat, I felt something drop off. I looked for it on the lounge floor for around a minute, eventually resorting to getting on my hands and knees and peering under the settee in case it had kind of spun backward, but I couldn’t see it, which was odd. I felt mildly puzzled about where my food had gone but, given it was hardly worth ruining the night over, I carried on with my evening.
It was about two hours later as I shifted in my chair that I felt something wet near my groin. I reached in to my pants and felt something odd (maybe on reflection I should re-phrase that sentence). It was a little chunk of beetroot which had fallen not onto the lounge floor but with spectacular precision into the leg of the shorts I was wearing and then worked its way down towards the groin.
I fished it out, cursing slightly, inspected it for a moment, then popped it in my mouth (waste not want not), and thought nothing more of it.
Later that evening when I eventually managed to lever myself off the sofa, I walked upstairs to go to the toilet.
I heard a gasp from behind and turned around to see Mrs Canavan gawping at my bottom.
Now to be honest this didn’t come as a total surprise. At the risk of sounding immodest, I do possess a very attractive and pert behind and indeed in my 20s – and you may recall this for it was front page of the Daily Mail – I was voted North West Rear of the Year, beating off strong competition from Coronation Street’s Sarah Lancashire (I must say she was very gracious in defeat and our bottoms have remained close friends ever since).
But then I saw Mrs C’s face and realised it was etched not with admiration or appreciation but horror.
“What’s up?” I said, concerned.
‘You … you,’ she said, stuttering from shock. ‘You need to go to a doctor. Now. You’ve got … [dramatic pause] … anal bleeding.’
I looked over my shoulder and saw a bright vivid red mark on the back of my shorts.
Good god, she was right.
For one long moment I was horrified and began frantically googling the emergency out-of-hours number for my local GP.
Then, amidst the mad panic, I suddenly remembered what had happened while eating tea and it dawned on me that what I was looking at wasn’t blood but a food spillage stain.
“It’s beetroot, thank god, it’s beetroot”, I blurted, at which Mrs Canavan looked very puzzled and I then had to launch into a lengthy explanation.
When I told her she seemed disappointed it wasn’t actual blood, as if she’d been hoping it was a life-threatening condition.
Anyway, the upside for me, if not her, is, I hope, that I’m not about to die. The downside is even after seven washes with the finest Persil Non-Bio money can buy, I still can’t get the bloody stain out.