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Sunday, 23 February 2014

Tell me more

My son has a new girlfriend and it looks kinda serious. They've already done that Facebook "In a relationship with ..." thing, which pretty much amounts to plighting your troth these days. 

I must admit I'm worried. I don't want him to make the same mistake I did. But it's quite likely because of the way boys pick partners. 

Here's my own set of criteria nowadays: 1) nice tits 2) makes me laugh.

Now I know what you're thinking. 'How crude and unsophisticated'. And you're right of course. But it's a huge advance on what I used when I was younger: 1) nice tits 2) makes me cry. 

We guys are slow learners. It takes a lifetime to make a little progress and we hardly ever use sensible standards like pleasing personality, compatible attitudes and lots of compassion. So what we get, very often, is five minutes of dynamite sex followed by a hundred years chained to a rock while an eagle eats our liver.

I don't want that for my son. Neither would you. But there's not a lot I can do about it. Boys don't talk about their relationships or seek mum and dad's approval, the way girls do. Nor do they take advice well, especially if they're fit, intelligent and good-looking. Why should they?

Here's the entire conversation he and I have had about his new friend.

"I'm going to see somebody in Carlisle at the weekend."

"She nice?"

"We get on well."

"What's she do?"


"Tell me more."


"Awright then."

Susan and her daughter talk more about relationships in one day, every day, than my son and I have shared our whole lives. 

I guess I should have started when he was younger, so that he would take my advice now. But we were too busy talking about art, science and music, and making each other laugh. You can't do everything. And who says my advice would help him anyway?  

So I await developments with interest. I expect I'll get an email in a few years saying their eldest daughter is graduating from Harvard with a degree in modern art and musicology, and I'll wander along and introduce myself.

In the meantime, since I was told recently that my weekly musings - which I see as profound perspectives on the human condition - were "useless drivel", here's some useful advice on mate selection from my friend Iain, who has studied psychology and knows a thing or two. 

Dating agencies use a range of indicators, he tells me, over a pint of Landlord in the Old White Horse Inn. "But if you're a guy looking for a good relationship, you need to focus on three in particular."

"Say on, wise one," I tell him, sipping my hoppy bitter with satisfaction. They know how to make good beer in Yorkshire. Been doing it millions of years.

"Kids," he says. "Does she want them? Do you? Can you agree on discipline and behaviour? Differing attitudes to kids is what causes most fights in a marriage."

"Makes sense," I say, writing it down in the little reporter's notebook I carry at all times.

"Then there's ambition and careers," he says. "If she's a high-flyer and you're just looking for an easy life, it's probably not going to work."

He leans back in the old wooden armchair, takes a long pull of his beer and sets the half-empty glass on the table. 

"That's only two," I tell him, my pencil poised. "What's the third?"

"Nice tits," he tells me.

Friday, 21 February 2014

They'll be back

"You have to vote," I tell my son over coffee in the kitchen of his flat.

"No I don't," he says. "It just encourages them." 

"That's a cheap joke and the opposite of the truth," I say. "If good people don't vote the extremists get in and we're all screwed." 

"There's no evidence for that," he says. 

"There is," I tell him. "It's how the Nazis came to power. After the First World War, the Germans were totally fed up with politicians, so the numbers voting plummeted every year. By 1933 only one person was voting in the whole country. Guess who."

"No idea."

"Hitler's mum."

He pours me a thick black espresso that could have boiled up from the Athabasca tar sands, and shakes his head.  

"It is pointless though," he says. "No matter who you vote for you get Tories. Cameron - Tory toff. Blair - Tory slimeball. Major - Tory twit. Thatcher - Tory twat." 

"You forgot Brown," I say.

"Who doesn't?" he says.

"Alex Salmond isn't a Tory," I tell him. "So you have to vote in the independence referendum. It's our one chance to get a country that isn't run for City of London mega-criminals."

"So what do you think will happen if we vote Yes?" he says.

"We get to live in a social democracy where the poor and sick are supported," I say. "Instead of abused by rich politicians and their media poodles."

"Good speech but no chance," he says. "The Tories will take over and we'll be back to square one."

"They can't," I say. "Tories in Scotland are like the dodo."

"Bald and stupid with a fat arse?"


"Don't you believe it," he says. "Tories don't go extinct. They're just hiding."

"Where?" I say.

"All over the place," he says. "Caves, marshes, woodlands." 

"You're thinking of the Picts," I tell him.

"They were Tories," he says.

"You're obsessed," I say. "You're seeing Tories everywhere."

"They are everywhere," he says. "Soon as we declare independence they'll slither out their holes and take over the country. Did you know that 99.9% of Scotland's land is owned by 0.1% of the population?"

"You're making that up," I say. 

"I'm not," he says. "And guess what all those big landowners are."

"Tories?" I say.

"Correct," he says. "So we declare independence, first thing they do is put high fences around their land and herd us all into Glasgow."

"We'll climb out again and reclaim our country," I say.

"You won't be able to," he says. "They're taking the pound off us. You'll be so weighed down with two-pence pieces you can hardly move, never mind climb fences. We'll all be stuck in here."

He sips his coffee and shakes his head again. "Five million people trying to get a drink in Sauchiehall Street on a Saturday night," he says. "Bedlam. Is that what you want?"

"I guess not," I say.

 "Well don't vote then," he tells me.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Scent of a woman

I would love to be able to identify the perfume a woman is wearing instantly, the way Frank Slade does.

"Mmm, Fleur de Rocaille," I'd go and she'd be so impressed she would leave her husband, who makes millions in the bond market but neglects her needs, and come away with me to have my babies.

Unfortunately I have the same problem with perfume as I do with classical music. I recognise lots but the names elude me. There are only three scents I can identify with certainty. And one of them is engine oil.

It's what my dad smelled of, so I still like it. Then there's Chanel No 5, my mum's favourite fragrance. And Coco, also by Chanel, a spicy scent my sister used in her thirties.

So when I join my former colleague Gabrielle at the corner table in CafĂ© Andaluz, I am pretty sure the expensive perfume that wafts my way is Coco. But just as I'm about to do a Frank Slade and say so, the doubts assail me. 

What if it isn't? Instead of sounding sophisticated I'll just seem crass. Plus Gabrielle and I have never had the sort of sub-sexual relationship in which I complement her perfume and she likes my after-shave. What we have is entirely professional and based on mutual admiration. I admire her enormously and so does she.

I'm kidding. Gabrielle is a modest, soft-spoken, slightly-built sort of person, all of which is surprising for someone in her position. I always pictured newspaper editors as large, loud and abrasive - the sort of guys, if you came up short on a story, who would chew three legs off a chair before beating you to death with the fourth.

Gabrielle is nothing like that. Nor does she resemble my previous female boss, who survived in the hard male world of engineering by being extra smart and wearing tight, red skirts around an ample bum. If the brains didn't give her the upper hand at a tough meeting, the body would.

Gabrielle follows a third way. Her combination of charm, intelligence and hard work won everybody over. Except maybe me. She and I travelled the same road mostly but there were a couple of bumps along the way. In the end she used a word about me I couldn't forgive. She said I was sensitive.

See, in the West of Scotland it's fine for women to be sensitive. It means they like Dolly Parton songs and don't beat their men up more than once a week. But when it comes to guys, sensitive is a euphemism.

It means soft, effeminate and temperamental. Gabrielle let slip once that I was one of those writers who had to be "handled carefully". I guess she had a point. I blame Albert Einstein. 

I'll spare you too many details, but I wrote a piece about science education that included a footnote linking to an explanation of an aspect of relativity I'd written for young learners. It got praise and I was pleased with it. 

A few days later, faster than light neutrinos filled the media and folk were lining up to say relativity was busted. Gabrielle suggested deleting my footnote. I told her relativity was a bedrock of modern physics and had survived so many tests this one was almost certainly wrong. And even if it wasn't, = mc 2 would survive unscathed. 

But my footnote did not appear and when I emailed to ask why, she replied that someone on television had said something different to me. "Tough decision," she added, which I read as sarcasm and my head exploded. 

I seethed and simmered, called a meeting and asked why it was so obvious that the opinion of some random TV punter, filtered through her non-scientist ears, was much better than mine. The expression in her eyes, even before she spoke, told me I'd got it wrong. 

"It was a scientist from CERN," she said. "I really meant it was a tough decision. I never do sarcasm. Ever."

I believed her and apologised. But from then on I had a label on my forehead that said "Fragile, handle with care." 

You know what it's like when you've got it wrong with somebody. It makes you nervous. So I sit down, we order a selection of Andaluz tapas and I suppress the urge to mention her scent

And what do you know? She mentions mine. "It's Lynx, isn't it?" she says. "My son used to wear it when he was sixteen."

"You like it?" I say.

"It's lovely," she tells me.

Footnote. Another of Frank Slade's skills is dancing the tango. Here's me doing it, with my sensitive side showing, as seen by my niece.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Ball game III

Reading poetry always makes me feel like I'm watching Zinedine Zidane in his prime. Even in the slow motion replays, I can't see how he did it.

It's frustrating. Prose flows freely from my fingers. But I couldn't write a good poem if you promised me endless wealth and nubile women for doing it. Yet my sister turns out wonderful stuff, especially now she's retired from the classroom.

Then there's Gregor Steele, who I'd expect to possess similar skills to mine, since he's a physicist, teacher and writer too. But Gregor is a published poet, something I will never be. He's even been interviewed about his poetry, during which, when asked where he had grown up, he replied: 

"Have you read my poems? I haven’t grown up yet." 

And that got me wondering. 

Perhaps - though I can see my mum's eyebrows rise at the thought - I am too mature and sensible to write poetry. Maybe you have to look at the world through the eyes of a child to do it well. 

I know it's true in science. Kids are curious and creative, the traits a scientist needs most, and lots of scientists have childlike qualities that annoy their husbands, wives and partners.

My son tells me it's also true in art and Pablo Picasso agreed with him. "Every child is an artist," he said. "The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” 

So this morning I asked my sister to talk to me briefly about the process of writing a poem, and with some reluctance she did so. Helen has this paranoid fear that I'm going to write down everything she says.

"I'm often inspired by something visual," she tells me, stroking the cat in her lap to help her think. "So I try to paint pictures and make connections using the absolute best words I can find. 

"That's not what all poets do, mind you. A lot of poetry is about introspection and emotion. I'm interested in emotions but not to the same extent as many poets."

"Do you try to see things through the eyes of a child?" I ask and she hesitates. 

"I'm not sure about that," she says. "Poetry writing is quite artificial. There's craft to it as well as art and you have to learn to do it well. Kids can reel off rhymes and it's a great way to teach literacy. But it's not poetry." 

"Now I'm confused," I say, scratching my head to emphasise the point. "What makes the kids' stuff just rhyme while yours is poetry?"

"I didn't say they couldn't write poetry," she says. "They can learn and I used to love teaching them. You get amazing stuff out of kids' heads. As I said, it's about trying out words and phrases, choosing the best and connecting ideas." 

"So once you've got a piece of writing, is there something you can point to that makes this one a poem and that one just a rhyme?"

"See now you're asking me the same question you keep asking Dug," she says, shifting in her chair and getting a dirty look from the cat. "'What is art?'"

"I know and he's getting impatient with me too," I say. "Last time he said it would take too long to explain, because I'm not an artist. And he didn't want to try because thought can hamper creativity."

"That makes sense," she says. "Self-consciousness is good but not too much of it. Words and phrases often pop into my head from who knows where. Dug talks a lot about flow and I know what he means. Don't you?"

"I do in football," I say. "But when it comes to poetry I don't even know where to look for the tap."

She glances down at the cat, scratches his ear, then looks up and smiles. "Let me explain it using something you understand," she says. "You like that Ridley Scott film Black Rain, don't you?"

"I do," I say. "Great soundtrack and I love the bull-at-a-gate way the hero goes at problems."

"What's that line of his I've heard you quote?" she prompts and I play a few in my head and choose the likeliest.   

"'Sometimes you got to forget your head and grab your balls,'" I say.

"Go away and try that," she says. "And stop asking so many questions."

Sunday, 9 February 2014

A big boy did it and ran away

Stout denial is one of the first survival tactics you learn as a kid growing up in Scotland. "It wisnae me" is an ancient cry that can still be heard in our streets, homes and schools.

It rarely worked when I was a boy, since parents and teachers then had no qualms about punishing the innocent and often used a deterrence method from the football field, known as "get your retaliation in first."

But it can be effective in soft modern times, as my son demonstrates over a late breakfast in Charlie Rocks, when Rachel starts talking about the time he spent, on first moving to the city, as a tenant in her Glasgow flat. 

"Do you remember leaving that half-eaten meal in your bedroom drawer for weeks?" she says. "We got complaints from all the neighbours and a bunch of cats camped outside your window and partied all night long." 

"It wisnae me," he tells her firmly. 

"Of course it was and what's more ... " she says, then shakes her head and takes a diplomatic tack. "Did you know they've found a connection now between creativity and poor memory?"

"I didn't," he says. "But it makes sense. They tested me at art school and said my short-term memory was crap. Can't remember what they said about my long-term memory."

"They also said you were highly intelligent," I say. "So what do they know?"

"Yeah, yeah," he says. "Can I borrow your vacuum cleaner? Mine's broke."

"It's not Spring. Why do you need a vacuum cleaner? You having guests?"

"Might be," he says, looking away. 

"Who?" I say.

"None of your business," he says.

"Is it a woman?"

"No it's a Thai lady-boy. Of course it's a woman. You think I'm going to hoover my flat for Michael Gibb and Jamal Khan?"

"I was only asking. Tetchy little bugger, aren't you?"

"No I'm not," he says. "I just don't like being interrogated about hoovers, women and old breakfasts. How's your porridge, by the way? It looks kinda camp to me."

"I was thinking that," I say, lifting a sprig of green leaves from the centre of the summer fruits the Charlie Rocks chef has sprinkled over the surface of the good old Scottish staple. "When I was young, porridge was a much more manly meal."

"You and your ten brothers share a tin bath full every morning, before going out to fight the Vikings?" he says.

"We did. And if it turned out too thick to eat, because my mum never looked at recipes, we'd fasten it to the end of a hazel branch and use it as a club. The vikings never stood a chance. Versatile stuff, porridge."

"That is true," Rachel says, bringing us back to a reality neither of us has much time for. "Oats are a kind of superfood according to the research. They help prevent cancer, regulate your immune system and lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels."

"That's interesting," he says. "I know I feel a lot better if I eat oats instead of wheat." 

"They're also great if you're trying to lose weight," she says. "They release energy slowly in the body, which makes you feel full for longer. A lot of the benefits come from a soluble fibre called beta-glucan."

"Fascinating," I say. "When my Dad was a lad, Scots mums in the country, he used to tell us, would fill their dresser drawers with porridge and cut big slices off, for the men to stuff in their pockets and take to work in the morning."

"Aha!" Rachel says, turning sharply to my son and making him jump. "That must have been what you were doing with your breakfast in my flat."

He meets her gaze with studied calm. "It wisnae me," he tells her.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Use it or lose it

One of my regular readers told me the other day that there's a lot of sex in my writing, and I was reminded of the man who goes to a psychiatrist and is given the Rorschach test. 

Asked to say what he sees in a series of ink-blots, the guy finds female body parts or couples copulating in every one. So the doc soon brings the test to an end. 

"It's not hard to tell what your problem is," he says. "You're obsessed by sex."

"I'm obsessed?" the guy says. "You're the one with all the dirty pictures."

So I'm quite sure the title of this piece will mislead that reader into thinking it's about sex too. It's not. It's about writing. And what brought it on was reading Gregor Steele's description of his own excellent blog as "vanity writing."

It's an easy mistake to make. "No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money," Samuel Johnson said, which makes Gregor and me both blockheads at times, although we have earned a fair bit of money from writing, over the years.

Johnson was always smart but sometimes wrongSo here, for Gregor and anyone else who thinks writing blogs makes us blockheads, is a piece I wrote in summer, to remind myself why I write every day:

"I've tried all the usual remedies this morning - coffee, yoga, calisthenics, pacing up and down, deep breaths, shallow breaths, Talisker, Glenlivet, kicking the cat and banging my head against the bathroom wall.

I now have a sore head, less whisky and a cat that's out to get me*. What I don't have is the first line of the article on education I’m committed to writing for tomorrow - and if you don't have a first line you've got nothing.

(Which reminds me for no good reason of a Jock Stein comment on a Scotland-England game, in which the auld enemy was struggling badly. "England have lots of guys who can run around all day," Stein said. "But if all you've got are guys who can run around, you've got nothing.")

Some writers are happy to breeze along without a first line they like, confident that once the whole thing's written the elusive line will write itself. I can't do that. I breeze along for a while then get a maddening itch in my head. If I ignore it and keep on breezing it just gets worse.

It's a queasy, uneasy, exposed sort of feeling, like the one you get when you sleep through the alarm and rush out with no underpants on. (Come on, you must have done.) A sense of space where there should be restriction, of airy freedom where constraint ought to be.

You think you're making progress, the sensation is saying, but one more mistake son, and you'll be out there flapping around in the sunshine.

On the few occasions I've tried to write without a good first line, or get through the day with no underwear, I've always given up and gone right back to the start.

So here I am, trying out first sentences by the dozen, all of which could come from the pages of "What I did on my holidays" by Annabelle, aged 6¾.

The problem is that last week’s southern sun has sent my writing brain to sleep. A planned week of working in London became transformed somehow into lazy days of picking plums, tending vines and rides on combine harvesters. 

Take it easy, they said. It's good to recharge your batteries, they reassured me. You're going to be twice as creative when you get home, like fields that have lain fallow, they whispered in my ear.

So I went along with them. I believed their blandishments. And here I sit on a dreich Sunday in Scotland, relaxed, suntanned and fallower than I've ever been. 

Green fields all around me but not a crop in sight. Weeds, grass and birdshit as far as the eye can see.

I have learned my lesson, fellow writers, and so should you. The world is full of people who want to write but don't. Soon after you stop writing you stop being a writer. 

Fallow is for fields, friends. Keep on writing.

*Note to animal-lovers, of which I am one. No cats were harmed in researching this piece. I don't have a cat and if I did I wouldn't kick it. I might give it a dirty look once in a while, but cats like that. It makes them feel they're doing their job.

Advice on writing from those who should know.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Douglas the Hippo

You'd think enough had recently gone wrong in my life to satisfy the most vengeful of Old Testament gods. 

But no sooner have I caught up with all the back admin, whose omission had plunged me into a cold bath of chaos, than another thunderbolt strikes.

Douglas has changed sex again.

Hang on a minute I've lost you, haven't I? Let me step back a pace and see if I can get a little logic and sound story sequencing into this one.

A few months ago, Glasgow Science Festival kindly helped me adopt a baby hippo, which had been found orphaned last February, at just two weeks old

It's a process that is easier and carries less responsibility than you'd imagineYou don't actually have to raise the little guy, teach him the difference between right and wrong and get him into a good university. 

All you do is send £5 to £65 a month to help with his care, protection and, if all goes well, reintroduction to the wild. In return you get photos, an adoption certificate and regular updates on the progress of young Douglas - for that was his name - at the Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust, on the banks of the Luangwa River in eastern Zambia.

But a recent update came as shock to me and his other adoptive parents. They had chosen the wrong name for the little hippo, they told us. Henceforth he was a she and her name, god help us, was Douglina.

Around this point I began to lose confidence in the assorted vets and conservation people in Douglina's entourage, having previously assumed they knew what they were doing with young hippos. If they couldn't even tell the boys from the girls, how expert were they?

So I did a little research and found a good reason for their failure. Male and female hippos are hard to tell apart, even for experts, and especially when they're just little shavers.

As you know there are lots of lies, damn lies and statistics out there on the internet. An oft-repeated claim about hippos is that they're the most aggressive and dangerous animal in Africa, responsible for more human deaths than lions, leopards and other big cats combined. It's an assertion that raises plenty of questions in my mind. 

What are the relative numbers of these different groups, how close do they all live to humans and, critically, what were the humans doing to provoke the attacks?

Most often, it seems, the attacker is a mature bull hippo or a mother, because the bulls are aggressive in the mating season while the females are "quite protective of their young calves."

Show me any male and female mammals who aren't.

Another blindly-repeated claim is that hippos are not sexually dimorphic, which means males and females are identical in all observable respects. It's not true. The behaviour of male and female hippos is quite different, and so too are some aspects of their size and structure.

Mature male hippos tend to be larger and heavier and have longer teeth than females. They also have undescended testicles, no scrotum, and penises they keep in their pants till the time is right.

All of which brings us back to Douglas or Douglina, as they've been encouraging us to call the poor little bugger. 

The latest news, believe it or not, is that the experts now admit they've got it wrong again.

Douglina has been having an "amorous encounter with a water barrel", and they have the photographs.

During this episode it became evident to onlookers, they tell us with restraint, "that boy bits were involved." So Douglina is Douglas again and will remain so, they insist, for all time

I have my doubts. Watch this space. 

I will keep you posted.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Shock to the cistern

"You ever walk into a ladies' toilet by mistake?" Al asks, as we're towelling down in the changing room at the gym after a fairly ferocious workout. Al is more competitive than he likes to admit. 

"Do I take it you have?" I say.

"Too often in recent months," he says. "I have a theory that it's not my fault. So I was hoping it had happened to you too."

I pull my trousers on and zip them up. "Let me get this straight," I say. "You've started strolling into ladies' toilets but you're not to blame. Are we talking aliens and mind control?"

"Eyesight and stupid signs," he says. "Sailors and mermaids, senores and senoras, damas and caballeros."

He shoves open the outside door and we emerge blinking into a deceptively sunny day, with a hard bite to the air. "Steers and heifers, for heaven's sake," he says. 

"Then there's those modern, trendy, abstract, stupid wiggly little fuckers," he says. 

"Even if I didn't need reading specs, which I do, I'd have to peer at those for ages, trying to figure out what sex they're supposed to be."

"On the plus side, you're still outside the toilet," I say. "I'm not seeing how you take the plunge and get it wrong." 

"It's like falling between two stools," he says. "You know when you miss a three foot putt and get the same shot at the next hole? You don't want doubts creeping in so you rush it, the ball goes four feet past and you miss the return?"

"Of course."

"So now you're steaming. Panic sets in. Your ears are ringing and you've lost all touch and feel."

"Nice sporting analogy," I say, turning up my jacket collar and sinking my head down against the cold. "But I don't see the connection." 

"It's not difficult," he says. "While I have my nose hard up against a door, trying to figure out from some ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic if it's the Gents, bloody woman barges past me and mutters 'dirty old pervert' under her breath, because it's the Ladies.

"Twice," he adds.

"Same woman?" I say.

"Different woman," he says. "Different toilet." 

"Unpleasant," I say.

"Very," he says.

We concentrate on the traffic coming fast from three directions, to negotiate Roman Drive, then pick up the chat when we're safely back on the pavement.

"So next time you rush it and get it wrong?" I say.

"I do," he says. "And it isn't a particularly hard sign either. Angels and demons." 
"I've seen that one and you're right," I say. "Not hard if you're thinking clearly." 

"I'm not though," he says. "And it takes me too long to realise how badly I've got it wrong."

"I'd have thought the absence of urinals would have made it obvious," I say.

"Nothing's obvious when you're brain's just going through the motions," he says. "First I notice the walls are pink. Never seen such a pink place in my life. Then there's the flowers in jugs behind the taps. 

"Finally I realise there's nowhere to take a piss and at that moment the door starts opening inward, and all the blood rushes to my head."

"Bloody hell!" I say. "What happens next?"

"I nearly get it wrong," he says. "My first thought is to hide in a cubicle. Then I realise I could be stuck in there for ages if it gets busy."

"And you'd have to listen to women in a toilet," I say. "Could scar you for life. What's your second thought?"

"Brass it out and walk past her," he says.

"I'd have done that," I say.

"I nearly did, but at the last moment I dodge behind the door. The woman comes in, heads straight for the cubicle and I start to sidle out. But you know what they're like. Asking a woman to walk past a mirror is like asking a guy's eyes to stay away from cleavage."

"She sees your reflection?" I say.

"She does," he says. "But a couple of brain cells flicker belatedly to life and I go, "You'll be all right now, madam. I've got the cistern working again."

"Smart," I tell him, as we turn into the drive of the Bearsden bungalow Al has lived in for 40 years. "Nice recovery."

"But how do I stop it happening again, as my brain slows and my eyesight fails?" he says.

"Don't drink," I tell him. "Avoid public toilets. Get a guide dog, a catheter or a kind lady to take you by the hand." 

"There is always an answer, isn't there?" he says.

"There is," I tell him, as we step inside his house. "Why does your toilet have TOILET in huge letters on the door?"

"You don't want to know," he tells me.