I always knew her as Nan. Her real name was Mrs Anne Brown and she wasn’t my Nan. My Mum paid her to look after me whilst she, my Mum that is, worked as a hostess in the nightclubs. But I wasn’t to know that, I believed she was my real Nan. She lived at 116 Barry Road in East Dulwich and kept lodgers there. It was an old fashioned house: the iron was made of iron and heated on the coal fire, there was a mangle in the garden, a rockery, a po under the bed and the kitchen sink, and a zinc bath hung on the outside wall. I was constantly regaled with stories about the Nazis (pronounced Nazzies), doodlebugs and bombsites and how the Italian Prisoners of War on Peckham Rye were treated so much better than our boys over there.
At a very early age I had instilled in me a dreadful fear. This was the fear that waterfowl, probably mallards, wanted to eat my penis. On bath nights, as I’d stand up in the old zinc bath in front of the fire ready to be towelled dry, Nan would look at my penis and say, “put it away before the ducks get it”. So, they didn’t just want to eat it, they were actually on the look out for it.
One fine day, I was making use of the po underneath the sink in the kitchenette. The flush lavatories (both inside and out) were considered too grown up for a little boy and a waste of water to boot. You tinkled in the potty and poured it down the drain outside the door. Now, I don’t want to blame anyone but maybe my fear of mallards gobbling up my genitals caused me to tuck my winkle away with a little too much haste and not quite enough care and attention. On this occasion, as I zipped up my fly, my little penis popped back out of my pants, and I closed the zip around it. My piercing screams brought Nan bombing into the room. “Oo-er!” She ejaculated as she clapped eyes on my swollen and mangled foreskin. ‘Pppppllwwwhhshh’ went one of her famously wet farts as she bent over for a closer inspection.
“I’ll go and get the matron from next door”.
The matron from the old peoples’ home next door made Peggy Mount look like Shirley Temple. I was scared of her at the best of times and now Nan had returned with her to ‘see what she could do’. Even at the tender age of seven, I instinctively knew she wasn’t a medical professional but merely a battleaxe in nurse’s overalls. Rubbing her hairy chin, she surveyed the problem, trying to appear to be giving it some thought. “Let’s just try this” she said, putting her full, not inconsiderable weight on the zip pull. I emitted some more high-pitched screams and begged her to stop. She did eventually, after “one last try”.
The tip of my foreskin now resembled a small bunch of tiny red grapes, bursting with juice. There was some blood. The matron nipped back to the old people’s home to call a cab to take me to the hospital. It would have been nice if she had done that in the first place, I thought. The cab arrived and I was bundled onto the back seat with a blanket draped over my embarrassment. We headed to King’s College Hospital.
The next thing I knew, I woke in a hospital bed with Nan and Mum smiling down at me, and my nether regions swathed in bandages. There was some amusement in my mother’s eyes, “What haff you done now?” She laughed. Maybe she knew what was in store for me. I made friends with the curly-haired boy in the neighbouring bed. He had fallen off a slide and broken his leg. That evening we rigged up a length of Hot Wheels track between our beds and ran the cars to each other. It was like having a brother and I was sad to find out that I’d be going home the next day and he would be staying. I was rather jealous of him.
Steel teeth no longer ensnared my penis but I was still in a lot of pain. I’d never had a nasty injury before and couldn’t work it out. I didn’t understand about the pain of healing. The first time my mother came to change the dressing, the heavy scab that had developed on my little helmet, my glans penis, had melded with the bandage. The removal of which sent me into hysterics. Not the good ones, I hasten to add. When it eventually healed up, I couldn’t understand why it looked different. Why the bit I’d recently discovered to be a lot of fun to play with, had gone. No one explained the procedure or how it might affect me. I didn’t even know that I’d been circumcised or what it was until I went to grammar school. I learnt in the showers after rugby that I wasn’t alone in the world. I slowly became interested in myself again.
I guess in the long run my accident had its upside. For instance, smegma is known to me by name alone. On the downside, I’m horrified when bored girlfriends suggest that we go to St James’s Park to feed the ducks, and I have a lifetime aversion to calamari.