Life's A Gas

The day my dad cleared an entire beach of people stands vividly in my memory. One moment, Felixstowe's cobbled beach was filled with happy families revelling in the summer sunshine. The next, my family sat in hazed isolation, trying not to breathe. My dad gave a whole new meaning to the term windbreak.

The heat and the unusual lack of sea breeze rendered the beach uninhabitable for a good half hour. We remained on the shore with my dad, paralysed with embarrassment. I recall the delighted shrieks of arriving families as they rushed onto the unexpectedly empty beach, and their gasps of disgust after their first inhalation of the not so fresh sea air.

Why I should recall this particular incident so clearly, I don't know, as my father was an act to rival Joseph Pujol, the famous Le Petomane.

Like le Petomane, my father's legendary proficiency as a fartiste included the ability to produce a recognisable renditioning of the national anthem. Sadly, such was the pungency of his overtures that nobody made it through the opening bars - not if they were in the same room, anyway.

Le Petomane's expertise resulted from his unique ability to draw air into his lower bowel through his anal sphincter. This led to no olfactory insult to those around him, whereas my father's accomplishments, brought about by his beer-enriched diet, were both noisy and noisome.

He was exceptionally proud of his foul talent, though I can't imagine it made him many friends, and it certainly reduced the number of my friends I was willing to invite to our home.

As you can imagine, going out in public with my dad was fraught with humiliations.

As all heads swivelled in our direction after one of his inevitable unleashings, Dad would clasp me to his chest : "Well done, lass!" or infinitely more excruciating: "Don't worry darling, everyone will think it was me!"

It couldn’t be described as a happy childhood.

It seemed that I had escaped any genetic connection with my father's abominable abdominal anomaly, until, at the age of 25, I became pregnant with my first born.

Be warned, all you naïve nulliparas out there, this is not something they mention in the pregnancy books or mother and baby magazines. Oh, they make sly reference to the foul truth: trapped wind, indigestion, constipation, piles, but there is no direct mention made of the, when you think about it, likely side-effect of this abdominal upheaval. It certainly came as quite a surprise to me – not to mention my horrified husband! The hours of daylight weren’t too bad, but come nightfall… Well, I must have been more relaxed.

I would often awake to find my husband sleeping peacefully, his head pillowed by the sill of the open window.

It was not so much the unheralded frequency of these flatulent events, but the awesome pungency that made life so difficult to endure. With all the other discomforts of pregnancy to contend with I wasn't overly affected, but it obviously had a terrible effect on my poor beleaguered spouse; he actually dreamt that I gave birth to a flock of demons.

One evening, I came into the bedroom to find Stephen regarding the bed – more specifically, the duvet. He looked at me: “Can you get these things fitted with a flue?” Oh, the ignominy!

Needless to say, the situation grew worse over time. I had no control over the situation and … It’s a harsh thing when one's beloved threatens to buy a canary.  “Well, admittedly, it’s more sulphur dioxide than methane, but why take chances.”

I found that there were advantages to be had with my new-found skills. You lot know what you do. You’re sitting on the train to work. A pregnant woman gets into the carriage and you pretend to be myopically engrossed in the newspaper – or asleep. Not for long, matey. I had a weapon the likes of which none of you could withstand. Within one stop, a plethora of seats from which to choose.

You will all be pleased to learn that this skill/affliction/call it what you will lasts only as long as we are with child and, between pregnancies, we women revert to our usual protocols.

Clearly, I am not easily embarrassed, but there is one anecdote that still causes me to blench...

At work one day, I walked into the lift, nose in a book as usual, and pressed the button to the fifth floor. I turned to face the closing doors. The lift travelled upwards. Unthinkingly, I broke wind. It wasn't one to make the walls bulge, neither could it have been mistaken for the squeak of the sole of a shoe on a polished surface. The doors opened on the fifth floor and I got out. Had I been alone? I didn't know. But the thought that I might not have been haunts me still.


This was my speech for the annual humorous speech contest. Eight competitors, a few of judges and hardly any club members, though quite a few guests. I enjoyed the speech, but did my usual thing: took my notes with me and found myself referring to them half way through. Doh!

Guests and Club Members' Comments

"A brave subject - well told - wonderful vocabulary. Less use of notes would be an improvement"

"A gentle funny speech that was amusing, but I think you needed a little more material to broaden it." (What? In seven minutes?)

"Well done - lots of energy and very humorous. I like the way you personalised your speech"

"Found somewhat subdued - can do with more punch. 5/10"

"Topic was not very clear"