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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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.