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Thursday, 24 April 2014

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My gran was right, there’s always someone worse off

It’s what you don’t see that makes the difference. That which is hidden tells the real story of the highs and lows of a person’s life.

Like their quiet acts of kindness, secret generosity, bravely borne sorrows... and their bottoms.

“There’s always someone worse off than you are,” my lovely Geordie grandma would tell me when I was in one of my complaining childhood strops.

And it didn’t help a bit.

“So? Let them complain about their problems and I’ll have a sulk over mine...”

Naturally, I was smart enough never to say anything out loud. She was a good-hearted, God-fearing Methodist woman, my gran.

She was also a dreadful cook. And she couldn’t be doing with kids who answered back.

This week I could sense her smile and almost hear her “What did I tell you?” drifting from leaden skies of impenetrable clouds, as I considered the subject of bottoms – even though, to the best of my memory, we’d never discussed a backside in any of our frequent heart to hearts.

I’ve never liked my bottom. Though the two of us have been inseparable for as long as we’ve known each other, we’ve always had a difficult relationship.

I have been known to paint my fingernails with a new polish and ask: “Does my bum look big in this?”

Trying on a skirt in Debenhams, I once mistakenly consulted my soon to be ex-husband.

“I really like this but does it makes my bottom look fat?”

“No love. Your bottom makes your bottom look fat.”

I divorced him. I was stuck with my bum.

But, though less than perfect, it is at least the way nature – and a largely sedentary existence – intended.

And that’s more than can be said of a young man who, for the purposes of this cautionary tale, we shall call Nick.

Nick is a bright, young, creative, local man who is the apple of his girlfriend’s eye. He and his friends set out on a lads’ sunshine holiday. South of Silloth obviously – Ayia Napa or similar.

On return, he was openly aghast at how expensive it had all been.

Suffice to say there’d been precious little sightseeing or deeply cultural study. But the partying had cost a pretty penny and then there was the art. Body art. Tattoos.

To cut an unhappy story relatively short, Nick’s was the familiar experience of a young man too quick to trust his friends and too drunk to know when not to.

The collective plan had been for all the chaps to invest in a bit of tasteful decoration.

But collective plans have a way of unravelling in the heat of the booze-soaked moment and though the others bottled out, they volunteered to guide young Nick through the process by giving detailed instructions to his tattooist.

It was the morning after the night before when he knew – by virtue of a certain soreness – all was not as it had been in the area of his once pristine derriere.

It took only scant examination to reveal the reason why.

Across Nick’s bottom – both cheeks, mind you – were inked the first names of his seven friends, contained, expertly and not unattractively, in a perfect heart.

Phlegmatic about the whole thing now – well, what else could he be? – and finally accepting of his unconventional adornment, Nick needs no moralising or tut-tutting from the likes of me.

There’s possibly a bit of an issue in relation to his girlfriend’s impression of a man carrying reminders of seven other men on his bottom for the rest of his days. But no one likes to enquire too closely about that. Love will find a way.

The moral of the story is split two ways and understood differently by two people unlike in every possible respect.

Nick carries the indelible badge and constant reminder of a party that ended just an hour after it should have done.

For me, there’s a greater gift – the returning sweet smile and gentle voice of my darling Dinah, dearly missed grandma and great friend.

“There’s always someone worse off than you are.”

She’s so right. I’m just a big-bottomed girl... and finally I know I can live with that.

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