Man in the Middle 76: The Ear of Dionysus

Man in the Middle is the fictional diary of a Boomer coping with the demands of an ageing mother with dementia, his millennial children and his own impending obsolesce. Bowed down by Brexit, Covid and self-pity, all he wants is more ‘me time’. Will he succeed? Or is he destined to be stuck forever in No Man’s Land in the war between the generations?

If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read No. 1: The Letter here

No 76: The Ear of Dionysus

I’m on my hands and knees trying to escape from the men’s urinal at the Neapolis Archaeological Park in Sicily by squeezing myself underneath the metal turnstile at its entrance. I’m going out the way I came in.

This is not a perverse game of Parkour. Or a silly bet. I’m going out the way I came in because the automatic exit, which should swing open, is jammed, its electronics misfiring as badly as an Alfa Romeo sports car made in the 1960s.

I would prefer to be leaving this lavatory in a more conventional way. Upright on two feet (not all fours), flies zipped up and trousers splash free. ‘Standing tall’, as John Wayne might have said.
But, right now, my white linen shirt is snagged on the turnstile’s post and I’m trapped like an angry worm wriggling through a small, unyielding hole. I pray it’s a temporary setback and no one comes in and sees me while I sort myself out. A demeaning picture like this could go viral in minutes.

The hand-written note on the exit gate should have been a warning. It said: ‘Don’t push this gate. It will open automatically.’ Only, it didn’t. I know because I just piffled away ten minutes of my life patiently pressing and repressing the exit button waiting for it to fully open on its own. Each time the door swung open a few tantalising inches it shut again, as heartless as Priti Patel’s Nationality & Borders Bill.

Less than 100m from this urinal is the tomb of Archimedes, the ancient Greek mathematician who calculated Pi. I wondered what he would do if he saw me now? Laugh, probably, at the thought that 2,500 years after he invented the screw pump, mankind still couldn’t build a functioning door to a public convenience. Ecce homo.

When I first realised that there was no way out through the automatic gate, I thought I would climb over the exit door. But it’s hip high and getting my leg over it (so to speak), let alone heaving my beer belly, without emasculating myself seemed very risky.

I also considered ‘Doing a Sweeney’ and kicking the gate off its hinges. But there were a couple of Carabinieri hanging around nearby when I came in and, besides, Gareth Southgate would not approve of this type of Loutish Englishman abroad behaviour.

More importantly, nor would my wife. She’s buying us both a cappuccino and a panino at the Park café the other side of this toilet turnstile. But I can’t expect her to wait for me for long. We haven’t seen the Ear of Dionysus, where the ancient Greeks sought Godly advice, nor the Nymph’s Grotto. They’re on her bucket list and the list must be obeyed.

And why not? This Sicilian trip is a child free, Covid postponed wedding anniversary. But that doesn’t mean she’s got to waste it hanging around waiting for me. She could plough on by herself expecting me to show up later at the hotel.

I take a few deep breathes to calm me down for the struggle ahead. I untangle my shirt slowly from the gate post and have shuffled my body half way through the turnstile, when I look up to see two Americans looking at me from the door of the convenience.

‘You OK, buddy?’ asks one.

‘What you doing? Re-enacting ‘Escape from Colditz’?’ says the other and chuckles.

Both have MAGA branded baseball hats on. Just my luck, I think. When you need someone with a heart you find yourself in a toilet with a Trump supporter.

‘Escape from Brexit more like,’ I say, with a weak smile.

He laughs.

‘Hear that’s not going so well, either.’

‘Do you want us to pull you out?’ says the other.

The thought of being saved by two Trump loving Americans is more than I can bear. Silently, I call on Dionysus and all the other old spirits, nymphs, fauns and other holy whatnots who have ever lived in or near this park to help me stand on my own feet without them.

‘There,’ I say, staggering slightly forward as I squeeze through the turnstile. I wave them through. ‘All yours now.’

‘Thanks, Buddy. Have a good day,’ they say and slip one after the other into the loo.

As I hurry to the café, I wonder if I should have warned them about the broken exit door and the trouble they might have on exiting. What the hell. if they can break into Capital Hill they can break out of a Sicilian loo.

‘Where do you want to go next?’ she asks, handing me my coffee.

‘The Ear of Dionysus,’ I reply. ‘I’ve got to thank him for something.’

‘Thank him?’

‘Yer. A little favour he did getting me out of a tight spot back there a moment ago.’

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the previous one – Man in the Middle 75: Who do you think you are?

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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