It's a Guy Thing

Classic Cries

By Ian Kirke

Twitter @ianjkirke

I cried the other night. Nothing unusual in that, other than it was at the end of a predictable rom-com whilst sitting in the lounge only forty-eight hours after I had become teary over a song that I had played on YouTube whilst shaving. At 57, I appear to have become a serial blubber probably crying more so now than I can recall when I was a much younger adult. The earliest significant cry that I can remember occurred when I was running along Longfields, Bicester in my grey shorts, to meet my friend Alan who was waiting for me at our primary school gates. Tripping on something or other I was propelled forward ripping open both kneecaps. If I pull the skin taught today I can still locate the scars.

That hurt, and the tears that followed were examples of emotional tears as opposed to basal tears, which protect the eyes from foreign objects such as dirt or a blasted midge, and reflex tears that form when you peel an onion or when, as the Platters sang, “smoke gets in your eyes”. Culturally I wonder how many times I hid an emotional tear by pretending that it was reflex or basal? Being British, I had been indoctrinated in the ‘stiff upper lip’ posture where crying was almost considered a sin, especially after you had left the confines of the playground. This is somewhat bizarre since research into crying babies (Wolke, D., Bilgin, A., & Samara, M. The Journal of Pediatrics, 2017) places the United Kingdom as top of the weeping chart alongside Canada and Italy whilst newborns from Denmark, Germany and Japan are by far the most stoic. As I have advanced in years, I am relieved to have abandoned my cultural heritage although I struggle to pinpoint the moment of change when I ditched the ridiculous fortitude test of the country of my birth. Perhaps it was a collection of experiences that has led me to this present point and although I am willing to disclose a handful of my classic cries they do not represent the complete story since crying isn’t always done in public. Sometimes the only way to adequately deal with private grief is in isolation. It should be noted however, that crying is by no means exclusively attributable to misery and my personal meander through the waterworks of life seeks to shine a light on the other triggers with the sincere hope that what the majority of us did pretty much routinely and with great skill when we were born still has a place in our adult lives outside of tragedy. More so for men, as according to the figures, women cry emotional tears between thirty to sixty-four times a year compared to the pitiful five to seventeen for men. Come on fellas, up your game! From a health perspective, its good for us too since crying emotional tears releases important chemicals which make us feel better and actually ease the associated physical and emotional pain.

Our first-born, Lucy, made her stunning appearance at Heatherwood Hospital, a stone’s throw away from the famous Ascot racecourse, on July 11th, 1990. I was twenty-seven and was present during the birth holding my wife’s hand and uttering reassuring words of wisdom that on reflection probably enraged Theresa as she heroically negotiated childbirth alongside the most amazing midwife ever. If I had been the one giving birth, I would have demanded an industrial epidural and nitrous oxide by the lorry load whilst floating in a birthing pool listening to real whales. I was so glad that this part of parenting had been contracted out to her since I figured that if men had been given the responsibility the human race would have ceased to exist millennia ago. When Lucy eventually decided to put in an appearance I felt overwhelming relieved and exhausted. The former because our daughter was beautiful, perfect in every way and had a pair of lungs on her! On her introduction to life outside she totally claimed the monopoly on the crying front. In relation to the latter goodness knows why I felt devoid of energy since I had done, in the grand scheme of things, fuck all! As the main event drew to a close I remember seeing what Theresa had to endure post scene as the most delicate part of her body had been traumatized. Once again, I was thankful that I had been born a man and vowed that if reincarnation wasn’t a myth I would still come back as any other species as long as it was male. As I entered the crowded waiting room to commence the telephone calls with my stack of ten pence pieces (commercially available mobile phones were still a niche purchase in those days) I was feeling pretty proud! I had sired a daughter! Who’s the Daddy? Both literally and metaphorically! On hearing my Dad’s voice at the other end of the phone, I triumphantly said, “It’s a …” then broke down in a tsunami of tears and mini howls. I must have got there in the end, but this represented a typical attribute of emotional tears since they can spontaneously erupt without much of a prelude. On this occasion not only was it natural but it signified that my life henceforth would be changed forevermore and as I welcomed a new life into the world, simultaneously I said goodbye to the former me.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, released in 1982 when I was nineteen, was a ground-breaking film in many ways. Hitherto my diet of science fiction had portrayed alien life as menacing and uneasy on the eye or indeed both. Any visitors from outer space were always going to try and obliterate the human race, or at least try to until a small band of humans against impossible odds with inferior weapons but considerably more guile and cunning eventually won the day by blasting them to all to fuck. E.T. was the polar opposite, providing an adorable alien character who only had goodness in their heart. The clever bit, in my opinion, was making a sway of the adult cast, especially those that sought to capture E.T. and do all sorts of horrible intrusive scientific tests, the real villains. All was going well for me until the scene where the five kids on pedal cycles led by Elliot carrying E.T. in a handlebar basket are pursued by several police cars. Losing the cops, the two-wheeled posse celebrate, only for a bunch of Feds to jump out of nowhere to narrowly miss their prize! The epic John Williams score beautifully and subtly captures the heartstrings whilst the eye is drawn to the relentless explosive action on screen. As the road ahead is blocked by the FBI agents alighting from their cars Elliot shuts his eyes and the audience awaits the oncoming collision and ultimate capture only for, and if you haven’t seen it (and if so where the hell have you been?!) here’s the spoiler, E.T. to magically lift the kids into the sky and peddle across the sunset! That was the moment when the tears ran down my cheeks but to my great relief I was in a darkened cinema and no one was looking in my direction! Personally, this embodied a core life value in the importance of overcoming adversity even when the odds seem perilously stacked against me.

When Adam, my son, graduated with a First in Law at Bournemouth University in 2015 I knew that the chances of me crying were pretty high. To have achieved this epic result when his final exam was a week after his Mum had died was simply incredible. When my wife passed away I near as damn it crumbled. I knew that I would cry at the graduation and accepted that the inevitable place would be when his name was announced on the public address system as he crossed the stage to receive his degree during the main ceremony. Waiting in the reception area with all of the other proud parents, relatives, and friends I looked at the sea of mortarboards that swarmed in. When Adam appeared, to my astonishment I burst into tears and just couldn’t seem to come up for air. I was shocked since I had agreed a time and place to do this and was totally up for it yet as the strands of my life converged in that densely packed auditorium there were three people: my little boy, his Mum, and me. Unsurprisingly I cried at the previously designated later time too. What the hell, I was on a roll!

In the Summer of 2016 on the way back from a business meeting in the North West of England I saw a sign to Ellesmere Port. For those of you unfamiliar with this incredibly special place it is a small town in Cheshire on the River Mersey opposite Liverpool. Ordinarily, I suspect that you would only visit there if you lived or worked there as it isn’t a seaside destination. But I did visit there with my late Dad when I was a kid, if my memory serves me right, in 1976 when I was thirteen to see the powerhouse that was the Ellesmere Port Gunners whilst we holidayed at my Grandparents in Lancashire. In speedway terms, they were the Manchester United of the second division! Parking close to the stadium my Dad had a pint at The Gunners pub opposite whilst I had a coke mesmerized by all the Gunners memorabilia that adorned the main bar. I was here! I would soon be seeing the awesome superstar and number one John Jackson on his home track! This was truly going to be a legendary night! We sat on the back row of the main stand at the furthest point on the right, having a perfect view of the starting gate and as I opened the match program with my pen in hand I double-checked that Dad had safely stored my Gunners pennant in the inside pocket of his jacket! Heat one saw the megastar number one blast away the opposition and at the end of the meeting he had recorded another untroubled maximum.

As Satnav guided me to Thornton Road I wondered what would now be standing at the old venue since the Gunners had last raced in 1985 and many old stadiums had been built on long ago, and if the pub was still there? This would be, I thought a quick trip down memory lane, a snap for Facebook and maybe an email to the Speedway Star magazine lamenting the disappearance of another famous old track. On arrival I was stunned. The stadium was still standing, derelict like some haunted mausoleum to a time long gone, surrounded by razor wire with huge signs warning of the safety risk and that entry was strictly forbidden. The opposite was the pub with the same proud name. I left the car and was totally transfixed as the magnificent and slightly eccentric Ellesmere Port coat of arms with a Sea Horse and Tabby cat supporting the central shield was still displayed on the outside of the main stand directly above the sign that read Ellesmere Port Greyhound Stadium. Tattered, peeling, and covered in decades of grime but nonetheless clearly marking this uniquely special place in sporting history.

I walked around the perimeter head arched backward to gain a better view wishing that I could somehow penetrate the impregnable security that surrounded the site. It was clearly only a matter of time until this whole place would be demolished, and the precautions were, I figured, intended to protect children from the nearby estate if they had been encouraged to attempt entry. Then something peculiar took over me and the spirit of an inquisitive kid who had, occasionally, made it his work to rebel against adult warnings of impending doom returned. Whatever it took, falling short of slicing my knackers off on the razor wire, I would gain entry. Forty years later I was in exactly the same place in the arson ravaged stand, this time standing since all of the seats had been ripped out years ago. I didn’t leave that spot until the tears had fully subdued. A proximate police siren didn’t motivate me to take cover either. This moment would surpass any criminal conduct since being with my Dad again trumped everything.

As I emerged from the thick undergrowth that had since penetrated the stadium on the second bend I knew that I deserved a pint. There was no trace of Speedway in the main bar but for a few moments, the spirit of those halcyon days returned as a big bald guy in his fifties sobbed whilst drinking a pint of Carling. The young guys playing pool, the fella reading his newspaper opposite and the two blokes sat on the bar stools never flinched. When I was six years old I won a painting competition for a wonderful rendition of a steam train in my homage to Vincent van Gogh, before I discovered Crayola crayons, where great dollops of smudged paint coalesced to form a shape. There was no mistaking that it was a train since the tell-tale brown smoke was billowing out of the grand chimney, which was also brown. In fact, it was all brown. It was exhibited, as I recall, in a council office in Sheep Street, Bicester where we had moved to from Nottingham, along with many equally perplexing images created by kids of my age and perhaps a little older. Who cares anyway since I only had eyes for my creation and the sign that said, ‘Winning entry’! The prize was book tokens and I vividly remember my Dad taking me to the book shop where he let me choose some Ladybird books one of which I immediately grasped as the front cover gave me an instant view of a far, far away land in which an enchanting building offered mystery and adventure. The beautiful palace was surrounded by four huge pillars and its glow captivated my heart and mind. India was a trillion miles away from Bicester, but my new book would magic me there! And so, I proudly took Ladybird Books: Series 587, Flight Four, India from the shelf and held it tightly. I was now in possession of the Taj Mahal! Earlier this year and fifty-one years later I arrived in Agra, India to finally see my incredible vision for real. Of course, I was excited as I caught my first glimpses from the nearby Agra Fort, learning about its history and the reverence the people of India have for this symbol of love. Later that evening I again admired it from the rooftop bar of the hotel and looked forward to visiting it the following day.

As the tour guide highlighted various points of interest on the approach to The Western Gate I was becoming a little impatient since I still couldn’t see the primary reason for being there. I was nonetheless in tourist mode feeling no more excitable than I had done so earlier in the trip when I had walked amongst the incredible Elephanta Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. Walking through the entry point I could see the Taj Mahal in the distance brilliantly framed within the red sandstone gateway. Once I had negotiated this boundary my eyes widened as never before. I was totally in awe of this majestic structure as the sun was reflected from the white marble making me squint and rapidly replace my shades. The surrounding pillars, all slightly inclined to compensate for the potential of earthquake damage, were exactly as I remembered as a six-year-old boy. I was here! I had entered my dream and my reality simply couldn’t keep up. I wasn’t aware of the stream of tears that flowed uncontrollably down my cheeks, but I soon became mindful of the slight coolness to my face as I caught the gentle breeze. Where was my easel? This kid was ready to paint again!

In 2011 Jamie Lawson released the most beautiful ballad, “Wasn’t expecting that.” This song more than any spoke directly to me and I still cannot listen to it without crying. And that is all I have to say on that one. I think that now I am beyond any form of embarrassment and maybe that is where many of us adults actually get it wrong, as to why should we feel awkward when our emotions decide to take over? Isn’t the suppression of feelings our biggest personal crime? An excess of anything can be a burden that will inevitably slow you down and, if not kept in check, damage your health. An overloading of emotion is no different and it needs a route out.

The triggers in my life story have been somewhat varied but the results have been consistent. A reminder that I am, after all, human and being so means that sometimes I can’t cope. I can’t always get a grip and the little kid who fell over and scared his knees for life still exists in a different type of body, that admittedly could now do with an iron in places, yet is vocal enough to make an appearance once in a while. I have come to welcome those moments and don’t get uncomfortable anymore. I think that it would be a crying shame not to have that little rascal in my life when I need him the most!