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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Guns and bullets and nothing more: The Syrian Kurds fighting Isis

They are the US-led coalition's main ally in the fight against Isis, but as Turkey keeps bombing them, the sense of betrayal is growing.

A sense of a betrayal pervaded the funeral, giving an angry edge to the mourners’ grief. The Kurds were used to the Turks killing their people. It was almost expected. What was different in their attitude to the killing of the 14 men and women buried that hot afternoon in the cemetery at Derik, among 20 fighters killed by Turkish air strikes just three days earlier, was that it had occurred under the watchful auspices of the Syrian Kurds’ big ally: America.

So when a US armoured patrol arrived at the edge of the cemetery in northern Syria, the American troops had been met with sullen stares and silence. I watched Aldar Khalil, one of the most influential advisers with the local Syrian Kurdish administration, approach the US army officer while a cordon of armed YPG fighters surrounded the patrol to keep civilians away.

“I told the American officer how angry people felt,” he told me afterwards, “and advised them that as soon as they had achieved what they wanted to at the funeral they should go. Emotions are high. People expected more.”

The air strikes had been far more significant than anything previously visited by the Turks on the YPG, the Syrian Kurd fighting group that has become the Americans’ primary ally in the forthcoming battle to capture the city of Raqqa from Isis. Operations to shape the battlefield around the militants’ capital are ongoing, and some sections of the front YPG units, the mainstay of the anti-Isis alliance, are now less than four kilometres from the outskirts of Raqqa.

However, the entire operation was thrown into jeopardy early on the morning of 25 April, just days before US officials confirmed that President Donald Trump had authorised the direct supply of weapons to the YPG. Turkish jets repeatedly bombed the YPG’s main command centre on Qarachok Mountain, just above the small town of Derik, destroying ammunition stocks, a communications centre and accommodation blocks. The dead included Mohammed Khalil, a top commander involved in planning the Raqqa operation.

The attack immediately drove a wedge between US troops and the Syrian Kurds, who felt they had been knowingly betrayed by the United States, which had acted as the YPG’s ally in the fight for Raqqa with the one hand while allowing its fellow Nato and coalition member Turkey to stab the YPG in the back with the other.

“There were a couple of days after the Qarachok strikes when several of our leading commanders, and many of our people, put on the pressure to withdraw our forces from the Raqqa front altogether and send them to protect our borders with Turkey,” Khalil, the Syrian Kurd adviser, told me. “They wanted to stop the Raqqa operation. We had to explain very carefully that this was [the Turkish president] Erdogan’s goal, and to persuade them to continue.”

Senior YPG commanders suffered deep personal losses in the Turkish air strikes. Among the mourners at Derik was ­Rojda Felat, a joint commander of the overall Raqqa operation. Standing beside the grave of Jiyan Ahmed, one of her closest friends, she clasped a portrait of the dead woman in her hands.

“She survived fighting Da’esh [Isis] in Kobane, in Tal Hamis and Manbij,” Felat said. “She survived all that, only to be killed by a Turkish jet.”

Later, illustrating the fragile contradictions of the coalition’s alliances, Felat explained that she had gone to sleep in the early hours of 25 April, after finishing a series of late-night planning meetings with British and US officers at the forward headquarters she shares with them on the north side of Lake Assad, Syria’s largest lake, when word of the air strikes came through.

“It was very clear to me that the Americans I was with had not known about the air strikes,” said Felat, 35, a legendary figure among Syria’s Kurds whose role models include Napoleon and the socialist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg. “They could see how upset and angry I was to learn in an instant that so many friends had been killed, and the Americans dealt with that compassionately. I was extremely distressed, to say the least,” she added, looking away.

Within a few hours of the strikes, Felat was on a US helicopter alongside US officers flown to Qarachok to assess the damage in a very public display of US-YPG solidarity.

The Americans were quick to try to mitigate the damage to their Kurdish allies. A further 250 US troops were sent into Syria to run observation patrols along the Syria-Turkey border in an attempt to de-escalate the tension, bringing the number of US troops there to more than 1,200. In addition, US weapons consignments to the Syrian Kurds increased “manifold” in a matter of days, Felat said.

Yet these measures are unlikely to stop the fallout from a strategy – that of arming the Syrian Kurds – which risks broadening Turkey’s overall conflict with the YPG, unless certain crucial political objectives are attained parallel to the push on Raqqa.

Turkey, at present regarded as a mercurial and mendacious “frenemy” by Western coalition commanders, perceives the YPG as a terrorist organisation that is an extension of its arch-enemy the PKK, a left-wing group demanding greater auton­omy within Turkey. Hence Ankara’s deep concern that the YPG’s growing power in Syria will strengthen the PKK inside Turkey. The Turks would rather their own proxies in Syria – an unattractive hotchpotch of Syrian Islamist groups mistrusted by the West – reaped the rewards for the capture of Raqqa than the YPG.

Although US commanders find the YPG more reliable and militarily effective than the Turkish-backed Islamist groups, the Syrian Kurds are a non-state actor, a definition that ensures B-grade status in the cut and thrust of foreign policy. Nevertheless, recalling the painful lesson of 2003 – that military success is impotent unless it serves a political vision – the US should be devoting energy to imposing conditions on the supply of arms to the YPG as a way of containing Turkish aggression against their ally.

Salient conditions could include the YPG disassociating from the PKK; a cessation in repressing rival political parties in YPG areas; the withdrawal of YPG fighters from northern Iraq, where they are involved in a needless stand-off with Iraqi Kurds; and an agreement by the YPG to withdraw from Raqqa, an Arab city, once it is captured.

As a quid pro quo, and in return for the YPG blood spilled in Raqqa, the Syrian Kurds should have their desire for autonomy supported; have the crippling trade embargo placed on them by the government of Iraqi Kurdistan lifted; and, by means of buffer zones, have their territories protected from further attacks by Turkey and its Islamist proxies.

So far, none of these measures is in play, and comments by US officials have only strengthened a growing suspicion among Syria’s Kurds that they will be discarded by the US the moment the YPG have fulfilled their use and captured Raqqa.

“We have not promised the YPG anything,” Jonathan Cohen, a senior US state department official, told the Middle East Institute in Washington on 17 May – a day after President Erdogan’s visit to the US. “They are in this fight because they want to be in this fight. Our relationship is temporary, transactional and tactical.”

Cohen further said: “We have the YPG because they were the only force on the ground ready to act in the short term. That is where it stops.”

The sense of betrayal felt by the mourners at Derik was perfectly understandable. But Syria’s Kurds should not be so surprised the next time it happens. America, it seems, has promised them nothing more than guns and bullets. 

Anthony Loyd is a war correspondent for the Times

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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