Involuntary grunts confirm start

19:08, Apr 29 2012
Joe Bennett is an English-born travel writer and columnist who lives in New Zealand with dogs. His columns are syndicated in newspapers throughout New Zealand.

My Saturday began with a conversation. Here's an approximate transcript, writes Joe Bennett.

Bladder (whispering): Good morning.


Bladder (louder): I said, "Good morning".

Me: I'm sleeping.

Bladder: Did you know I could yodel?


Me: It's 4.33am.

Bladder: Yodel eh-eh-ee, yodel eh-eh-ee.

Me: I'm going to roll over and curl my knees and you're going to shut up.

Bladder: I can do dull burning sensations as well. And if I just turn the dial up a bit ... See? Now, are we getting up or aren't we? Yodel eh ... ah there's a good boy.

By and large I don't mind getting older (not that my minding would make much difference).

Though it means regularly staggering half-asleep through a cold, dark house to sign a peace treaty with my bladder, it's still an improvement on adolescence. I don't have to do exams and I no longer worry that I'm going to be the only person to leave school without reaching puberty. And there are still exciting discoveries to make. Like solving the mystery of the grunt.

I bend to tie a shoelace and somebody grunts. An inspection of the room reveals that I'm alone. I bend again and whoa, another grunt.

Were I the Pope, I'd start rootling for the exorcism kit, but I am not the Pope. I am a child of the enlightenment and by applying the principle of empirical deduction I conclude reasonably soon that the grunter is me. But, and here's the spooky bit, I make no decision to grunt.

Involuntary grunting is just one more piece of evidence confirming what I have suspected for a while: I am playing host to Episode 1 of the Mutiny of the Body. It's as if after half a century of doing what it's told, the body has reached a sort of mental puberty.

"Right," it's said to itself. "Enough of that `Yes sir, no sir'. I'm going to have a bit of fun on my own account, a bit of independent living. And we'll start with, let's see, I know, involuntary grunting. That'll surprise him."

And it does. When you're used to a body doing more or less what it's told, it's unnerving to find it developing a will of its own. It also poses ticklish philosophical questions. It is beyond dispute that I grunted. But I didn't choose to grunt. So who is the I that did? And what is the relationship between the two? Is the I that I think of as me responsible for the actions of the I that I know nothing of? If so, it's got interesting legal ramifications.

"So, you admit, Mr Bennett, that you did it, but your defence is that the you responsible is unknown to you."

"You're on to it, your honour. And may I say what a pleasure it is to meet such sympathetic acumen on the judicial bench?"

"Yes you may. Thirty days. Next."

On Saturday afternoon I weeded my beetroot. Beetroot exists on the same horizontal plane as shoelaces. So instead of bending and giving the body more mutinous scope, I chose to weed from a kneeling position.

There was a time when kneeling was as quick as thought. Not any more. These days I kneel in stages, like a camel settling down for the night. I slide one foot backwards as if preparing to do the splits (even typing that word is painful), then I bend the back knee and lower it to the ground while at the same time feeling for the ground with both hands. It takes a while.

But once down I do not stint. Rarely has beetroot been more vigorously weeded. In half an hour I had weeded up such a sweat that I heard on the breeze the unmistakable call of the fridge.

"Coming," I said and made to stand.

"And where do you think you're going?" said my knee. Having spent half an hour folded at a right angle the knee had decided that it would be fun to stay that way a while longer. Should you ever find yourself in this position the solution is to roll on to your side, place a hand under your calf and slowly ease the leg straight, ignoring as you do so the beetroot pressing into your shoulder, and hoping that the neighbour hasn't chosen that moment to lean casually over the fence for a chat.

"Hello, Joe," said the neighbour, leaning casually over the fence for a chat. "Taken up yoga?"

"Ha ha," I said. Though on reflection that may not be a bad idea. Faced with any sort of mutiny the thing to do is to suppress it immediately and ruthlessly. Look how it's worked in the Middle East.

The Southland Times