Game of Public Thrones

When I turned sixty-five my doctor gave me three pieces of advice.

  1. Never knowingly walk past a public loo.
  2. If you think you’re going to pass wind, don’t risk it.
  3. Should you get an erection, use it.

Sound ideas, I thought, except perhaps the final one since an irregular heartbeat already deprives my brain of oxygen-laden red cells and redirecting yet more blood might make me pass out.

The first suggestion was the most useful. I’m now in a steady relationship with public loos. I do knowingly walk past them, but never without adding their locations and opening times to my mental map – an imprint which includes cafes, bars, hotels and any stores with toilets the public can use. A relief map, so to speak.

The map for my home town of Ledbury is of course complete, as are outline maps of nearby towns Hereford, Worcester and Gloucester. Further afield, Birmingham City Centre and London Paddington Station are fairly well plotted, and having spent a great deal of my life in Brighton I’m confident about its layout too.

Does that mean more than one men?

Does that mean more than one men?

Where there’s a choice, the quality of premises counts. For example, my map shows that the men’s loo at Gloucester Bus Station is no-go for hygiene and feel-good, whereas Wetherspoon toilets are generally well kept. And whilst the loos of most Ledbury cafes might be all potpourri and frilly flowers, there’s one hotel that could do a good trade selling surgical masks in its men’s toilet.

Then there’s the question of payment. Perhaps once or twice in my life, in desperation and not without a good deal of resentment, I’ve paid to use a loo. The idea of charging originated in major railway termini, perhaps using their captive market to tempt people with a more attractive alternative than toilets on trains. Admittedly they are very clean. Thirty pence a go, it is – free for moneyless people whom I’ve often witnessed climbing in through the exit turnstiles with practised ease.

Charging has now become more common. McDonalds has coded loo doors – you have to buy something to get a code. I’m told that in Amsterdam nightclubs you have to pay each time you go to the loo or buy a night pass for 3Euros. A while ago Michael O’Leary floated the idea of charging customers to use the loo on Ryanair flights. And many local Councils in the UK, where they haven’t actually closed toilets, have started charging – supposedly a fund raiser in these hard times.

Fact is you shouldn’t have to pay once you’ve developed a mental map. There’s always a free alternative nearby, more often than not sponsored by the very places charging. Pubs and cafes in the retail ‘villages’ on major railway stations are a good bet. And some Councils promote so-called Community Toilet Schemes where Marks and Spencer, Wetherspoon and the like are encouraged to give free access to their loos.

I contend in any case that charging to wee is proportionately unfair on us ageing men. We can’t help how our bodies change. “Slo-flo” and “little and often” can be part of daily life. Should we really have to pay over the odds for nature’s shortcomings?

Fortunately I’m able to laugh along on that subject. I remember a work colleague at an English Heritage site pointing to a cow in an adjacent field and wistfully saying, ‘I wish I could still piss like that.’ And whenever I’m out with my teenage daughter I come to expect her cry of, ‘Not again, dad! You’ve only just been!’  I even enjoyed a younger friend’s inadvertency at a Brighton and Hove Albion soccer match. The half-time scrum in the men’s urinals involved banking up behind existing stallholders, creating a second row as it were, then stepping up when the man in front had finished. On returning to his seat my friend said, ‘Trouble is, you get stuck there for ages if you land up behind some old bloke with a prostate problem. You wonder if he’s ever gonna finish!’ Yeah, thanks for that, Buzzer. It was probably me.

Yet, charging to use loos might be better than shutting them altogether. Closing public toilets in tourist towns like Ledbury, Hereford and Worcester is a bad plan. Such places are a mecca for day-trippers who add life to the streets and money to the economy. Visitors need wooing. Throughout the year I see coaches dropping people off on Ledbury High Street for a two-hour stopover. Who are these people?Elderly People sign Well, like me, they’re part of the growing elderly population that has time on its hands. And what’s the first thing they might want when they’ve been stuck on a coach for the last hour or two? Visitors often stop to ask me where there’s a loo. When I worked in Ledbury Library we were asked every day. At the moment I can still point to one that’s open, but for how long I don’t know.

As a visitor to Malta last Christmas I was relaxing in glorious winter sunshine on Sliema harbour front when a group of elderly tourists came tottering towards me. Led by a cheerful if mechanically-spoken lady sporting a blue Saga badge, the dozen or so newcomers moved at the pace of the couple bringing up the rear – dead ringers for the Highway Code road sign. Saga specialises in holidays for the over fifties, with a majority upwards of seventy-five. One of the company’s routines is to run a local orientation walk on the first morning. In a small Majorcan resort, when the rep pointed out the chemists, supermarkets, churches of various denominations and public toilets, I remember thinking how sensible this was for new people in unfamiliar surroundings, particularly the most elderly and those with special needs.

In Sliema the group stopped alongside my bench while the leader waved her arms semaphore-style, like the cabin crew doing safety drill on an Airbus 300.

‘In the likely event of you getting caught short,’ she said loudly, ‘there are public toilets therethere – and there.’

Indeed, Malta is proudly endowed with public loos, and I’d formed an excellent mental map by the end of my first day. I thought it ironic that a country perhaps second only to Britain in Britishness continues to recognise the importance of such public investment, made by the British, while back in blighty governments now deem public toilets surplus to requirements. Perhaps we can learn from this former British colony. How nice it would be, say, to find that my local Council had printed ‘GO’ at the end of its welcoming HEREFORDSHIRE – YOU CAN logo – and meant it.

I mean, we all have to.herefordshire-road-sign

And when you’ve gotta go …



Copyright © Paul Costello    January 2015

Utterly Undiscovered by Paul Costello. A hilarious Bed and Breakfast memoir set in deepest Shropshire. Order through bookshops or direct from

Website:                 Twitter: @PaulCostello8



When She’s 94

In A Last Banana I reflected on my feelings when Dad died. Too often it’s only after such loss that we feel able to express our emotions – when, perhaps, it seems safe and normal to do so. So this New Year I write a living tribute to my Mum, alone seven years aged ninety-four …

… whose brilliant smile welcomes me in when we’ve not met a while. Who in all sorts of weather sets pots of pink fuchsias and waves of white heather. Who daily ticks the Guardian Quick. Who knows all the scores – Wimbledon, Old Trafford and Lords – and still bowls a winning wood indoors. Who correctly predicts the winner of Strictly, and “did all those dances with Dad in the fifties”. Whose diary is filled with visits and trips. Whose faithful old heart is put to the test, just like her bus pass getting no rest. Who stumbles and falls, yet hauls herself up, with a thin-blooded bruise. Who sings all the hymns on Songs of Praise and polished pews. Whose spirit nourishes the branches beneath her. Whose Thursday perm rests on my chest when she squeezes goodbye with a hug so strong it lasts long beyond my departing.


Copyright © Paul Costello  January 2015

Utterly Undiscovered by Paul Costello. A hilarious Bed and Breakfast memoir set in deepest Shropshire. Order through bookshops or direct from

Website:                 Twitter: @PaulCostello8

Out of my Way! I’m Old!

Like a hatching chickI break out from my curled-up comfort. My head emerges first, before I unfurl my back, straighten limbs and tumble from the protective duvet. Like a dishevelled fledgling, I then take the first tentative steps.

There the likeness collapses. The baby bird will soon be hopping its Duracell way through the day, whereas I tackle my tottering with a line of tabs, each colour shoring up a different part of the body.

It’s a wonder

I ever come out of

the foetal position.

I sleep eight to ten hours a night, topped up with daytime naps. Friends worry; they think I should see a doctor. Some suggest it’s a waste of life. But this can’t be true if it’s something I really like doing. I’ve enjoyed this amount of sleep since I was a lad. I mean ENJOYED! I love the act of falling asleep – a surgeon’s ideal patient!

I’ve always asserted that sleeping and what some see as ‘doing nothing’ are life’s entitlements. Sitting on a park bench people-watching, or just thinking and snoozing are stimulating and rewarding pastimes, as is daytime television. Legitimate and deliciously self-indulgent.

When I recently retired, the most annoying question was:

‘What will you do now?’

Oh, COME ON! Spare the cliché. Okay, when I’m not doing nothing I’m obviously going to sleep more! In fact my avowed aim is gradually to sleep a greater proportion of each twenty four hours so that by the time my body finally pegs out I probably won’t notice. Seriously, that is a crass question. Although many retirees don’t have a plan, it’s never long before their hectic life spawns the other cliché:

‘I don’t know where I found the time before.’

For me, retirement means more of what I love – exploring, writing, singing, drinking tea, going to the pub, seeing friends and yes, sleeping and doing nothing. Perhaps doing something charitable. Definitely having a nice run out on the bus (free) or train (third-off), knowing that on the train I can now gloat when I see sweaty executives slaving over tablets and laptops and taking and making numerous calls about  sustaining and maintaining and finding a window, being needlessly noisy about bottom-line prices and blue-sky b****y thinking.

A friend of mine approaching 60 says he’ll never retire – loves his work too much. His wife who is retired is as driven as him. I get exhausted watching them overstretch themselves, and wonder if they’re really fulfilled. But that is no more my business than it is for others to comment on my idleness. Everyone is different. This is not a blueprint for retirement or growing old; it’s simply my take on it.

Being idle is great!

Every day, as I squeeze out of my foetal wrap, I think:

‘What shall I do today?’

Starting with:

‘When shall I get up?’

And later, in my dressing gown:

‘Is it worth getting dressed now that it’s dark?’

Such luxury! I’ve spent forty-five years earning my modest pensions, thirty as an employed slave, fifteen grafting for myself. I now have freedom to decide.

I shall do anything and nothing.

Because I can.

Given that I’m into the last third of my life, I have thirty or so years still to indulge this passion for freedom – that’s assuming I don’t go early. I’ve never been afraid of dying. Que sera, sera. Okay, I might have ideas about good or bad ways of going, but since it’s a hundred percent certain that I will, I’ve never felt inclined to spend my waking life worrying about it. That’s for others to do, and I offer you my condolences in advance – you’re all fab, and do sell this article to fund the celebrations! Hey, I really am a surgeon’s best friend – I not only love going to sleep, but if I happen to die on him it’s no great shakes! Perhaps I should make that clear on the disclaimer. What a way to go – gently into eternal sleep.

I doubt I’ll age with dignity.

My dad did, bless him. To his dying day he was the cee aitch in charm. Yet he wasn’t beyond a trick or two. I remember him saying how, when he wanted to cross the road, he’d wave his walking stick (which was for comfort not necessity) high in the air, and the traffic would grind to a halt with drivers acknowledging his oh so innocent smile.

My mum, mid-90s, is more ‘say it as you see it’. I heard somewhere that the first brain cells to die are those that help you respect social norms. Inhibitor cells, perhaps? Without these, in a room full of pink-haired people you’re allowed angrily to declare:

‘I don’t like pink hair!’

Or in a TV lounge, yell:

‘Why are all the Arsenal players black?’

What a great excuse! No-one can possibly take offence.

‘It’s just my inhibitor cells!’

If you can’t speak your mind at that age, when can you? See it as alternative humour; there’s far more offensive material on the comedy circuit.

I have these joys to come.

I too shall raise a stick to traffic. I too shall greet people with, ‘How lovely to see you again’, even though I can’t remember who the hell they are. I too shall berate the lawn man who doesn’t trim my edges neatly. And I too shall growl, ‘Out of my way!’ to innocent pedestrians as I mow them down on my mobility scooter before freewheeling home down the centre of the road with my legs in the air.

I shall say ‘pah’ to Michael Parkinson for asking me to fork out my funeral expenses up front when people could perfectly well club together after I’ve gone. ‘Yah boo’ to the stooges on McCarthy and Stone hoardings who promise ‘A Greater Life in Later Life’ if you buy one of their apartments. (Yeah right). ‘Grrr’ to Saga Magazine for overusing both Angela Rippon’s smile and the term ‘Golden Years’. And I shall yawn openly at bronzed elderlies who mechanically recite their tick list – Australia, New Zealand, Tibet, Argentina, Brazil, China and Borneo ‘done’ so far – or bang on about Glucosamine Sulphate and Condroitin, or have dinner at exactly 6.30 every day and lunch at 12.

Each day I shall decide what I’d like to do. If anything. Because I can. For the next thirty years I’ll feel as free as that young chick – as I slowly shrink, and stoop, and bend, back towards the foetal position where it all began.

Copyright © Paul Costello May 2014

Related blogs:  A Last BananaThe Commandments for Older People – Thou shalt …Warfarin Junkie;  Programme Notes from Les Miserables.

Related material: Chapter titled: Caught Napping, in my Bed and Breakfast memoir Utterly Undiscovered.

Latest Project:  Terms and Conditions Apply – a play by Paul Costello. A sharp-witted comedy about a 5-year coalition government, seen through the eyes of ordinary, suburban households and, in stark contrast, the rose-tinted spectacles of politicians. Director Bob Maynard. Ledbury Market Theatre 31st July to 2nd August.


Note:  Any promotional material that appears below this article has been placed independently and is unrelated. I have no views on its content.





Warfarin Junkie

‘Did you feel a flutter just then?’ said Alice, softly, as she leaned across me on the couch.

‘Can’t say I did,’ I replied, cautiously keen. ‘My heart didn’t skip a beat, if that’s what you mean.’

‘It did actually,’ she said, snapping the suction pads off my chest. ‘The ECG shows you’ve got atrial fibrillation.’

So, at 65, I find I have atrial fibrillation, or put simply – an irregular heartbeat. No underlying heart disease according to subsequent scans; just a creaky pump. For all I know, it might have been there for years before Nurse Alice stumbled upon it during an MOT to check light-headedness – which turned out to be harmless; yet another symptom explained away by: ‘It’s your age.’

Atrial fibrillation occurs when different places around the atrium (the upper chamber of the heart) produce electrical impulses over and above the natural ones needed to make the heart beat. These erratic impulses make the atrium quiver or twitch, which is known as fibrillation.

I’d never have known this was happening. I didn’t twitch or quiver. There were no other symptoms to make me think something was wrong. Changes in general demeanour were down to my right to become angrier and madder with every passing year – not a quivering atrium. Only now, when I feel my pulse and know what to look for, do I realise it beats smoothly for, say, a dozen beats, then misses one. And after a further ten beats it may do three beats in one.

Four out of every hundred people over 65 have atrial fibrillation. It’s a fact – I asked ninety-nine other over-65s in my part of town: ‘Have you got atrial fibrillation?’ Just so as you know, the other three are Betty Jones (75), Marshal Ginster (70) and the Vicar, Henry Harmondsworth (83).

So – what’s the problem? Well apparently I’m at greater risk of a stroke. With fibrillation, the erratic flow of blood causes turbulence, making the blood form small clots which could move to the brain and cause a stroke. To reduce this risk, they prescribe warfarin (rat poison) to thin the blood so that it won’t clot so readily. It’s a little disturbing that rats are expected to go away and die somewhere after warfarin, yet there’s nothing in the box’s information leaflet saying: ‘Likely side effects – some people may go off and die somewhere.’ There are, however, hundreds of other possible side effects, getting all of which would mean you’d be dead anyway. I guess they know what they’re doing.

Since we all have a different metabolism, the amount of warfarin is determined individually, using a recognised coagulation measure called INR (International Norm Ratio). Typically they aim for your blood to take two to three times longer than normal to coagulate. To ensure the right level, I attend a regular warfarin clinic at my local hospital. A pinprick of blood is sucked from my thumb and a sophisticated machine reads its coagulation factor. Several of us see the bloodsucker at the same time, and our readings are entered in a Yellow Book handed out at the first visit. Looking rather like a Building Society Passbook, we have to keep this with us at all times in case of accident or trauma, so that the emergency services are aware of our warfarin level and current coagulation count. Bleeding – inside or out – is the biggest risk.

These sessions are like a society meeting – Warfarins Anonymous. We all know why we’re there, and empathy is rich. The bloodsucker calls out people’s results as a sort of ice-breaker.

‘You’re 2.6 today, Marshal.’

‘Oh, that’s pretty good,’ he replies.

I’m not sure how this public information sharing fits with patient confidentiality. I’ve never experienced a GP sticking his head round the waiting room door to say:

‘Listen up, everyone. I’ve just got Mrs Maxwell’s urine test results, and her pH reading is down to 7. Good, eh?’

When I raised this privately with the bloodsucker, she said that no-one else had questioned it in her entire sucking career. Probably scared of her.

I’m proud of my Yellow Book – it’s like a badge. I stand out from the rest. In the pub, I ‘accidentally’ leave it on the bar, and people seeing the dash of colour realise they’re drinking with a man of distinction. Great that I can still have a drink, actually – I’d been led to believe alcohol was a no-no if you’re on warfarin, but the nurse who sees you privately after the bloodsucker assured me it wasn’t a problem.

‘Stick with whatever you’re used to,’ she said. ‘We’ll make sure the warfarin level matches your normal lifestyle, but we suggest you don’t binge drink if you’ve not had alcohol for a few days. And the only thing you mustn’t have is cranberries, and possibly grapefruit.’

‘Great!’ I said. ‘I’ll wean myself off cranberry juice, but carry on with the eighteen pints of Carlsberg a night.’

In the high street I parade with the top half inch of my Yellow Book peeking from my jacket pocket like a handkerchief.

‘Wow, that man’s got a quivering atrium!’ I overhear from a passer-by who’s spotted the tell-tale yellow sliver.

‘2.7 in case you wondered,’ I call out.

‘Wonderful news!’ he says. ‘No need to go off and die somewhere!’

And I’m not the only show-off. Of every ninety-nine over-65s I pass daily, three have a yellow sliver about their person. Even the local Age Concern office has got in on the act, a notice in its window saying:

Come and chat about your INR measurement here

Yes, I love my Yellow Book.

But soon I’ll face the greed of the insurance man. I see his pointing finger hovering above me like the Uncle Sam recruiter, saying:

‘YOU have atrial fibrillation! Yes, YOU! Don’t deny it! Hand over £8,000 for your car insurance NOW – or go off and die somewhere! And £5,000 travel premium for your day trip to Calais – because YOU have atrial fibrillation!’

I don’t care. I shall live as long as anyone else. Yes, I have atrial fibrillation, but taking warfarin for life will protect me. I simply have to take a few milligrams a day. Which makes me officially a warfarin junkie.

Paul Costello © August 2013


Utterly front cover - final 30.5.13

Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions

A fabulous holiday read!


Utterly Undiscovered – On Yer Bikes

Extract from my comic Bed and Breakfast memoir Utterly Undiscovered

My Basil struggles to deal with teenage mountain bikers obsessed with fitness.

To keep themselves in tip-top racing condition, these lads have a strict eating regime, with carbohydrates the main component. I’m closely interrogated as to what I can offer. None of it is a problem for My Basil, but the way it’s demanded is.

‘Haven’t you got any brown rice?’ says Lee, a particularly stroppy adolescent.

‘Only baked beans?’ says his mate, Marvin. ‘I need pinto beans to maximise my energy level.’

‘I didn’t realise teenagers had an energy level,’ says My Basil. ‘By the way, I just went and scratched your bike.’

‘I’ll see what I can find,’ I say.

‘I’d like my porridge and yoghurt at 8.43, an hour and seven minutes before my first race, to yield maximum energy per unit of oxygen I consume,’ says Lee.

‘Will you be up by then? I thought all teenagers stayed in bed till lunchtime.’

‘I’ll see what I can do.’

I feel used and abused. But that’s not the end of it; the Reading Room has turned into a harem. While one lanky lad has his legs over the arm of a chair, presumably at the prescribed angle for perfect blood circulation, the other chair is being used as a massage couch. Leighton lounges in underpants while his girlfriend Jackie (his support team) lubricates his thighs with what smells like Ambre Solaire. Little grunts trip from his lips with each upward thrust, and his legs jig uncontrollably. I daren’t look too closely but he seems really happy. It’s a lot for a forty seven year old to have to deal with in his own home.

‘Take your hands off that boy! This is not a brothel.’

Paul Costello © January 2013

You can read more about the outrageous bikers in:

Utterly Undiscovered by Paul Costello. Illustrated by Emma Hames            

Out spring 2013    Fineleaf Editions

ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2

Website:   Twitter: @PaulCostello8