Former PN writer and Falkland Islands resident Mark pens his popular column from Devon in UK.

AS I have teenage children, the subject of embarrassment often comes up. As in, they find me a dreadfully embarrassing figure, as is right and proper. My son’s best friend, I am informed, recently said, “The thing I like about your dad is he is like totally cringe, but he owns it.” This is about the best verdict a middle-aged man can hope for from a teenager, I suspect.
Of course, sometimes I embarrass my children deliberately, as it is an invaluable weapon in any parent’s armoury. They try it with me too, just in a different way. I am merely myself, while they must put more effort in, as they did yesterday when I took them to a Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-through, and when we were asked for our order they shouted, “Three Gregg’s sausage rolls! One deep pan meat feast!”
Whereas all I have to do is relate the events of my week, and they want to curl up and die on my behalf. This week I was able to tell them that I had gone into a public toilet cubicle in a shopping centre because I had a bit of an uncomfortable tum. Once I got in there I relieved the pressure, and I should add at this point that this is the appropriate venue for this activity, not like when MLAs release a squeaker during Legislative Assembly and then try to look innocent. I was in the right place to let loose. Blaaart! I went. Parp!
Then I opened the door and saw there was a barrier across the toilet entrance. Everyone else had been cleared out, and there was a cleaning team waiting for me to vacate the cubicle. They had all stood there in silence, listening to my windy serenade. I gave them a nod and a wink as I passed by, remembering to sustain a limp because I’d gone into the disabled cubicle.
Also, I was in a charity shop this week and an old lady was tidying a high bookcase, and she knocked over a book, initiating a domino effect that ran to my end of the shelf, where an F. Scott Fitzgerald fell onto my head.
“Oh Christ!” she said.
I picked up the book. “It’s okay,” I said. “It was only The Great Gatsby. Tolstoy might have killed me.”
Also, this week I was lying on my back reading like some sort of Marxist, and I caught movement under my book. A big meaty spider was positively pounding its way up my torso. I swear I could hear its footsteps.
I swiped once with my book. Missed. Again, missed. It was still pelting facewards. I jumped up, beating myself about the body like I was on fire. The worst part is I literally said “Eek.”
These were, as far as my children were concerned, all humiliating incidents, and I think I would have felt the same at their age, and a good few years beyond. Why then, did I feel nothing of the sort at the time, and have no qualms about sharing with you now? I guess at a younger age you’re still clinging on to delusions of dignity, the idea that in some way you might actually be a cool dude.
By the time you pass 50, life should have taught you that you are no such thing, and neither is anyone else. And if you are still clinging onto the notion that you might somehow be an exception, then you are the worst of all. You are like totally cringe, but you are not owning it..
Here in the UK the prospect of reintroducing military conscription has risen like a Lovecraftian monstrosity from the eldritch depths. This is largely because the media has been casting around for something else to talk about after the International Court of Justice decided Israel does indeed have a case to answer on the charge of genocide. Incredible that the defence case of ‘Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes’ didn’t pass muster.
But as part of the Columnist Guild I am required to talk about conscription instead, which is definitely a real thing that is going to happen, because we have about six months until Putin decides Russia’s western border should rest on the Portuguese coast.
Highlights for me include the news that the upper age limit will be 60. Is that what the military really wants, I wonder? Hordes of beer-gutted vein-faced divorcees reporting for duty with our blood pressure and knackered knees? I’m as prone to fantasies of heroism as the next gammon, and indeed in my 30s completed Devon’s ‘Commando Challenge’ three whole times in a row, but if you try to put me through basic training at this point I fear I will simply cave in like a pierced balloon full of golden syrup.
Various MPs and columnists have been slightly less realistic, declaring that they would absolutely love to be legally forced to become members of the armed forces. I saw some fellow who was once on The Apprentice making this claim on breakfast television, but nobody asked if you had to have a chin to be in the army, because let me tell you, if you do, he is entirely out of luck. Boris Johnson, our former glorious leader and now Daily Mail columnist, was keen to say that he would be frightfully keen. Let’s pause there for a second to imagine Boris attempting some sort of obstacle course. I hope there’s no zipline, because I think we all remember what happened last time he tried his luck on one of those.
Looking forward to my own term of National Service, my best hope would be to get stationed somewhere I wasn’t expected to move much. Barrage balloon doesn’t sound that nice, so maybe something where I could just write cutting things about the enemy, and point out where they’d contradicted themselves. I could do that, and while experience suggests it would have no discernible effect on their behaviour, it might well lead to repeated public paddies that are really embarrassing for everyone to witness. This seems to be my talent, and you’ve got to go where you are of most value to the war effort.
It’s been nice to spend some extra time with you over this Christmas and new year period, but I am reliably informed that Penguin News has now managed to get its new team together. Therefore you are all released from experiencing my deep insights/deranged rants (delete as appropriate) on a weekly basis. I shall return to my fortnightly missives until Lisa sends an assassin to kill me. I hope the new guys Paula and Katharyn realised that’s the only exit when they signed their contracts. It’s in the small print: you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.