The time that I saw my balls on a giant television

How do you tell a stranger, "I have too many balls"? Paul Dean has the answer.

Today I am going to tell you about the time that I saw my balls on a giant television.

This story, which I am telling for a very important reason, begins in a shower in Hammersmith, west London, where you find me wet and cupping a fine sack of manliness and doing some very simple mental arithmetic. Naturally, you take a moment to imagine how supple and virile I look as the water courses down my body but, ultimately, I must draw your attention to the very serious topic that I want to address here. That topic is me, a man in a shower, discovering that he has too many balls.

Let’s be absolutely clear here. By balls I mean testicles. Gonads. Scrotum spheres. Those fine sacks of manliness that I never leave the house without. I know my balls like the back of my hand and so it makes no sense to me, a then thirty-year-old man, that there are more of them today.

My first response was one of uncertainty, of self-doubt, because at no point do I remember adding an extra ball in there, or going shopping for any, or getting blind drunk one night and thinking it would be hilarious if I stole someone else’s balls and packed ‘em in. Everything down there looks pretty normal and I see no signs of tampering.

So I leave it for a day and keep occasionally checking to see if anything has changed. I have another shower (this time I look even sexier and there’s frothy gel all over me) and, yes, there’s still something strange going down there. I’m now not quite sure if I have more balls or if I just have bigger balls, but something’s not right. I consider that the latter is an outside possibility, but worry I might start to intimidate ladies with what seems to be some sort of expanding virility. Would that be too much for them to handle? After all, I am already pretty good at doing the sex and know both positions.

I have no choice but to Take Things Seriously and so I book myself in to see my local GP and mentally prepare myself for a situation where I’ll have to look a stranger in the eye and whisper "I have too many balls." I suppose an alternative to this might be to Do Nothing, but this doesn’t seem very wise to me. After all, my undercarriage itself is at stake here and I like the pants cannon assemblage I’m packing. I’d rather a trained weaponsmith checked it over.

When I go to the GP I get to read a really good Stephen King short story in the New Yorker while I wait, then I meet a woman I’ve never seen before (or since) who listens very calmly to my story about there being too many lumps in my love pudding. She then tells me she’ll have to verify this, which I figured was going to happen and which, really, isn’t very much of a problem. This is, after all, going to be confirmation from a professional that there is something strange happening down in my man basement.

However, what she asks next does surprise me a little. “Would you like me to call a chaperone in here?" By that she means a third person, in case I’m worried something untoward might happen. I’m not worried that anything untoward will happen because I’m at the doctor’s, though for a second I do consider the possibility of just saying “Heck, let’s invite everyone in to watch me get my gentleman’s wallet fondled." Then I don’t, because that would be silly.

It doesn’t even take a moment and the doctor tells me I’m right: someone’s pocketed too many reds in this corner. It needs more inspection and I’m booked in for another appointment at a nearby hospital, a few days hence, where more strangers will look at me in greater detail. The doctor also commends me for getting all this looked at very quickly. She tells me that, yes, there is a possibility that a man my age might develop testicular cancer, but if I have and if it’s caught this early, I’ve saved myself a whole host of problems. The chances of remission are extraordinary low, with a 98 per cent chance I’ll be Just Fine and never bothered again. Treatment will be quick and simple. “If you’re going to have cancer, it’s the best cancer to have!" she says, in a way that feels a bit too excited.

As I walk home I wonder if I have the Best Cancer, the optimal form of a disease that has killed two of my uncles and one of my aunts. I wonder how that works out, or what it’s like to lie there in a cancer ward and have the person next to you ask what kind of cancer you have, only to reply with "The best!" I think about the relatively simple operation that would remove a ball, since the whole ball has to go. I imagine doctors and nurses intimidated by the raw power of my removed ball and having to bury it somewhere, like nuclear waste, or blow it up in a giant controlled explosion in a quarry, with the aid of the Royal Engineers and a Major with a large mustache who tuts and shakes his head.

Instead, what happens is I go to a hospital, get into a small examination room and I lay down on a bed that, I’m disgusted to discover, is far more comfortable than the one I have at home. A man I’ve never met before then tells me he’s going to take an ultrascan of my balls to see exactly what’s happening in the wine cellar. This is the same sort of thing that allows people to see their unborn babies, except I’ll be seeing my testicles. My gonads.

He adds that, first of all, he’ll have to apply some gel to my skin for this to work. He adds at the gel is “a little cold" and this is a bald lie, because the gel is freezing and for a moment I’m not at all aware of what he’s looking at because all I know is that someone has dunked my scrotum in an ice bucket. This is a new experience for me, as that part of my body is usually only used to landing in warm baths, giving my bum about a half second warning of the sort of temperatures it’s going to meet.

But then, suddenly, there they are. There is a large, large screen in this room and there’s nothing being displayed on them but a great big image of my balls. My balls. For a second I’m not sure if I hear a gasp from the man with me who may well be impressed by the sheer balliness of my balls. He wiggles his scanning device over me and we get to see my balls from different angles. They pose, coyly. It’s way better than looking at some crummy baby.

It doesn’t take him long to see what the problem is. Cysts, he tells me, and large ones too. In fact, there’s one cyst on each of my testicles and they’re about 2cm in size, which explains why I had too many guests in my nightclub. Cysts can be common, he says, can be a pain, and can go away by themselves fairly quickly. It’s nothing to worry about, he says, and would I like to dry my balls off now? I would, though I’d also like to ultrascan every bit of my body.

There’s no epilogue to my story, no postscript, except to say that this whole process was incredibly quick and simple and easy. It was also less embarrassing than tripping in the street and certainly less stressful than trying to talk to a lovely lady in a bar.

Among the things that men as a whole are shit at doing is taking this sort of thing seriously, but what goes on down about your crotch is serious business and, at the same time, often very easy to get sorted out. If you worry that there may be something going wrong there, your chances of nixing whatever problem you might have depend on how soon you talk to somebody about it. Make sure to do it soon and your prognosis is beyond excellent.

I’m telling you this story because there’s no better time to do so. The Male Cancer Awareness Campaign, which works hard to remind men to be attentive to issues like this, is running a fundraising drive where they hope to collect £100,000 “To build a fully operational hot-air balloon in the shape of a huge scrotum to challenge the taboos & embarrassment surrounding testicular cancer." They want to build a giant floating set of balls because making people laugh is a good way of raising awareness. Also, the balloon is an investment, something that will last them at least ten years. Floating balls for ten years.

I think you should help them out. I think you should also take a few moments now and then to examine yourself for lumps, just because there’s nothing wrong with checking what treasure is in your Bag of Holding, and I don’t think you should feel at all bad or embarrassed about having to go to see a doctor if you have any concerns. After all, you’ll never look as silly as a person who just wrote 1,500 words about seeing their own balls on a big TV and then put it all on the internet.

This piece was originally posted on Paul's tumblr, and has been reposted here with permission.

Balls. Photograph: Getty Images

Paul Dean is a freelance writer living in Lewisham and writing primarily about games, whether on consoles, computers or the living room table.

He's the co-creator of the board gaming site Shut Up & Sit Down and the writer for the indie game Maia. You can follow him on Tumblr or follow him on Twitter.

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What I learnt when my wife and I went to Brexit: the Musical

This week in the media, from laughing as the world order crumbles to what Tristram Hunt got wrong – and Leicester’s big fall.

As my wife and I watched Brexit: the Musical, performed in a tiny theatre above a pub in London’s Little Venice, I thought of the American novelist Lionel Shriver’s comment on Donald Trump’s inauguration: “A sense of humour is going to get us through better than indignation.” It is an entertaining, engaging and amusing show, which makes the point that none of the main actors in the Brexit drama – whether supporters of Leave or Remain – achieved quite what they had intended. The biggest laugh went to the actor playing Boris Johnson (James Sanderson), the wannabe Tory leader who blew his chance. The mere appearance of an overweight man of dishevelled appearance with a mop of blond hair is enough to have the audience rolling in the aisles.

The lesson we should take from Brexit and from Trump’s election is that politicians of all shades, including those who claim to be non-political insurgents, have zero control of events, whether we are talking about immigration, economic growth or the Middle East. We need to tweak Yeats’s lines: the best may lack all conviction but the worst are full not so much of passionate intensity – who knows what Trump or Johnson really believe? – as bumbling incompetence. The sun will still rise in the morning (as
Barack Obama observed when Trump’s win became evident), and multi­national capital will still rule the world. Meanwhile, we may as well enjoy the show.

 

Danger of Donald

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t deny the risks of having incompetents in charge. The biggest concerns Trump’s geopolitical strategy, or rather his lack of one. Great power relations since 1945 have been based on mutual understanding of what each country wants to achieve, of its red lines and national ambitions. The scariest moments come when one leader miscalculates how another will react. Of all figures in recent history, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, with his flamboyant manner and erratic temperament, was probably the most similar to Trump. In 1962, he thought President Kennedy, inexperienced and idealistic, would tolerate Soviet missiles in Cuba. He was wrong and the world only narrowly avoided nuclear war.

How would Trump respond to a Russian invasion of the Baltic states? Will he recognise Taiwan as an independent country? Will he scrap Obama’s deal with Iran and support a pre-emptive strike against its nuclear ambitions? Nobody knows, probably not even Trump. He seems to think that keeping your options open and your adversaries guessing leads to “great deals”. That may work in business, in which the worst that can happen is that one of your companies goes bankrupt – an outcome of which Americans take a relaxed view. In international relations, the stakes are higher.

 

Right job, wrong time

I rather like Tristram Hunt, who started contributing to the New Statesman during my editorship. He may be the son of a life peer and a protégé of Peter Mandelson, but he is an all-too-rare example of a politician with a hinterland, having written a biography of Engels and a study of the English Civil War and presented successful TV documentaries. In a parallel universe, he could have made an inspirational Labour leader,
a more thoughtful and trustworthy version of Tony Blair.

No doubt, having resigned his Stoke-on-Trent Central seat, he will make a success of his new job as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. If nothing else, he will learn a little about the arts of management and leadership. But isn’t this the wrong way round? Wouldn’t it be better if people first ran museums or other cultural and public institutions and then carried such experience into parliament and government?

 

Pointless palace

When the Palace of Westminster was largely destroyed by fire in 1834, thousands gathered to enjoy the spectacle. Thomas Carlyle noted that the crowd “whew’d and whistled when the breeze came as if to encourage it” and that “a man sorry I did not anywhere see”.

Now, with MPs reportedly refusing to move out to allow vital renovation work from 2023, we can expect a repeat performance. Given the unpopularity of politicians, public enthusiasm may be even greater than it was two centuries ago. Yet what is going through MPs’ minds is anyone’s guess. Since Theresa May refuses them a vote on Brexit, prefers the Foreign Office’s Lancaster House as the location to deliver her most important speech to date and intends to amend or replace Brussels-originated laws with ministerial orders under “Henry VIII powers”, perhaps they have concluded that there’s no longer much point to the place.

 

As good as it gets

What a difference a year makes. In January 2016, supporters of Leicester City, my home-town team, were beginning to contemplate the unthinkable: that they could win football’s Premier League. Now, five places off the bottom, they contemplate the equally unthinkable idea of relegation.

With the exception of one player, N’Golo Kanté (now at Chelsea), the team is identical to last season’s. So how can this be? The sophisticated, mathematical answer is “regression to the mean”. In a league where money, wages and performance are usually linked rigidly, a team that does much better than you’d predict one season is likely to do much worse the next. I’d suggest something else, though. For those who won last season’s title against such overwhelming odds, life can never be as good again. Anything short of winning the Champions League (in which Leicester have so far flourished) would seem an anti­climax. In the same way, the England cricket team that won the Ashes in 2005 – after the Australians had dominated for 16 years – fell apart almost as soon as its Trafalgar Square parade was over. Beating other international teams wouldn’t have delivered the same adrenalin surge.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era