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 people 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.  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 that of  the famous Le Petomane.

Like le Petomane, my father's legendary proficiency as a fartiste included the ability to produce a recognisable rendition of the national anthem. Sadly, such was the pungency of his overtures that nobody made it through the opening bars.

You see, 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. And he was exceptionally proud of his foul skill, 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.

Fortunately, I didn’t inherit my father’s intestinal talents – or so it seemed, until, at the age of 25, I fell pregnant .

Be warned, all you naïve nulliparas out there: although a little personal research will reveal that this not an uncommon side effect of the condition, it  is not something they mention in the mother and baby magazines you will use as your bible. Oh, you will read the odd paragraph about  indigestion, perhaps, or trapped wind, but these merely allude to the foul truth. 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.  And the problem grew worse over time. I had no control over the situation. I’m not convinced Stephen was wholly joking when he mentioned buying a canary. Admittedly, it’s more sulphur dioxide than methane, but why take chances.

The most embarrassing episode occurred one day at work. 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, but neither could it have been mistaken for the squeak of a shoe on a polished surface. The doors opened and I got out. Had I been alone? I don’t know – but I still think about it.

There were advantages to be had with my new-found skills: I always got a seat on the train. So next time you see a pregnant woman getting into the carriage, don’t pretend to be asleep, or myopically engrossed in the newspaper – give the lady your seat and get the hell out of there!