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On the couch
Like a patient under hypnosis recalling distant events

March 8, 2002
The Iranian

This article is set out in the following way because I haven't got the patience to connect each memory into a flowing narrative. I apologise if they seem random. They came to me and I wrote them down, rather like a patient under hypnosis recalling distant events.

Mashad, 1968

My dad, a doctor, takes me to a colleague's clinic to have my tonsils removed. I wake up to my mum holding a large, green, battery powered toy tank which plays some country's national anthem and flashes different coloured lights. It is my reward for being brave. I soon realise just how brave I have been. Whilst having my tonsils removed they have also circumcised me. I was three-years old.

Mum cuts holes in the crutches of my trousers so that my bandaged and newly circumcised willy ("wiener" for you Yankees) does not rub against my trousers. Even at that young age I am cringing as my mum drags me through shops and bazaars in Mashad. My wife Varinder believes this experience permanently stunted my growth. She means my height...

I develop a urinary tract infection and peeing becomes excruciatingly painful. I always wait 'til the last second before screaming for the "lagan". Faati (our maid) rushes in holding the lagan for me. She lets me pull at her hair to make peeing bearable. On one occasion, I find a hammer by the windowsill and hit her over the head with it (she was on her knees holding the lagan). Faati hits the ground like a sack of potatoes and my mum tells her off for allowing me to play with a hammer. Faati's head is badly bruised but not cut.


Mum takes my sister, Soheila, and I to Kooh Sangi zoo. The first thing we see is a zoo keeper walking two chimps dressed as a boy and a girl. Mum stops and we look and laugh. Mum asks their names. The zoo keeper replies, "Siamack va Soheila". Mum storms out of the zoo with us in tow.


We are having breakfast and our brand new toaster has pride of place on the dining room table. The first toaster I have ever seen. Soheila climbs onto the table to look into the toaster. The toast pops out and hits her nose giving her a huge blister on the very end of it. She cries most of that morning.


I become addicted to Casey Jones, a series about the adventures of the legendary American steam engine driver.


A violinist comes to my school class to play some tunes. I become bored and begin to twist the curtain by the window around me. Eventually and inevitably I pull the curtain rail off the wall and onto my head splitting it open. I need 5 stitches.

Tehran, 1970

I fall in love with my dad's receptionist at his shared surgery and insist on sitting in the waiting area while mum and Soheila go into his office. I stare at her breasts through her polo neck unashamedly until we have to go home again.


I become addicted to a TV show involving a presenter with a microphone standing in an off-road setting shouting instructions to the driver of an Austin Mini.

"Raast, raast, raast, chap, chap -- eeeeest!" and the driver follows every instruction throwing up mud and dirt as the wheels skid and the car spins through 180 degrees. I absolutely love it. I think the colour of the Mini is green with racing style numbers on each door. Do any readers remember this programme?


I cut up our Kashan rugs with my toy Batman car. It has a little serrated, but blunt, blade which springs out of the front. I use it to great effect and no one can work out how the carpets have been damaged. My mum gives Faati another mouthful about cleaning too roughly and threatens to let me loose with the hammer again.


My dad has borrowed a beautiful red Mini Cooper 'S' belonging to Mr Khayyami, the CEO of Iran National auto company (now Iran Khodro). He races it up and down a freeway near our house in Shemroon. I believe it was the only such car in Iran at that time. It was truly exhilarating.

England, Yorkshire, 1975

The rock band, Slade, is all the rage with kids my age. We write the band's name on our pencil cases, exercise books and even backs of hands like tattoos. We have an antique Persian coffee table with ivory details -- my mum's pride and joy. I take my school compass and carve the letters, S-L-A-D-E in one corner. This time I honestly thought I was going to be given up for adoption.


My mum and dad find out that I have been smoking cigarettes with some other kids in an abandoned garage near our house. I arrive home and my mum ushers me into the kitchen despite my dad's angry protests. I have no idea what she is about to do. She sits me down, opens a packet of cigarettes and offers me one. I pull one out in complete surprise.

She lights her cigarette then lights mine. I listen as she gives me a long talk on how smoking should be enjoyed in a relaxing environment and not behind a garage. She tells me that I can have a cigarette any time I want. I only have to ask her.

Mum knew exactly what she was doing. I stub my cigarette out and never ever pick up a cigarette in my life again. (Except once, in 1990, when I was so drunk at a house party that I accidentally put the glowing end up my nostril whilst trying to pee in the back garden -- I will recount this story properly one day.)


When I have a cold and am off school, my dad takes me to the hospital, dresses me in theatre overalls and allows me to watch surgical procedures as his colleagues operate on patients. An awe inspiring experience as I witness one Cesarean birth and numerous pediatric procedures.

Iran, summer holiday 1975

We are staying at my grandmother's house in Posht-e-Baagh-e-Naaderi, in Mashad. I have extremely bad diarrhea and have to run from the house across the open yard, around the hos-e-aab and to the outdoor toilet (this was a very old house). One morning I do not quite reach the toilet and am forced to let go in the hos-e-aab. It is very early in the morning and I tell no one. My grandmother's, elderly, toothless servant is the first to discover the mess but the culprit is never found.

Iran, 1976

We take, Timmy, our Welsh Corgi dog to Iran with the intention of living there forever. Timmy runs away from home for days at a time. Soheila and I are beside ourselves with worry and grief whenever this happens.


My dad finds out that an American family are, unknowingly, sharing Timmy with us. My dad and I embark on a father-son road trip from Tehran to Shomal and then all the way south to Shiraz and Chabahar on the Persian Gulf. A trip lasting three weeks.

Dad teaches me to drive the VW Golf (he drove it to Iran from England) and I receive painful karate chops on my knee every time I crunch the gears.

By the time we reach our destination I am fairly competent despite enduring shouts of: "Olaagh! Dande avaz kon!" and, "Khar khaan! Een chejoor raanandegiye?" and, "Korreh bozzz! Do dast roo rol-e maashin!"

It was a fantastic trip and despite the abuse, my dad and I promised ourselves that we would go on a similar trip around North Africa in a VW camper. To my lasting regret, we never did before he passed away in 1990.


I shoot at everything from the balcony of our Khiaabaan-e Pahlavi apartment using an air rifle bought in Chabahar. I do not understand, a) why no one found out about the broken lights around our driveway and, b) why when they did eventually find out, my rifle wasn't confiscated.


We go on a family summer holiday to Shomal (Darya Kenar I think). We stay with friends who own many hectares of lush, green forest. I shoot everything in sight with my rifle including butterflies, birds and snakes. No one stops me or even tries to. I finally run out of pellets.

Back home, I am traumatised for months about the animals I have killed, particularly a song bird whose mate kept flying down to its body unable to understand why it was no longer singing or moving. I cry myself to sleep for many nights without telling anyone. When my mum catches me crying late one night I lie and tell her that I am sad about something completely different -- I forget what.

To this day, the memory of this bird being shot haunts me when I cannot get to sleep at night. I deserve all the remorse and guilt I still feel. I hope the memory never leaves me.


I fail 6th grade at the American Community School, again, and my parents decide enough is enough and we all return to England. The idea being that I am more suited to the British education system. No one considered the fact that I was simply not studying.

Timmy is given to his adoptive American family, who are delighted. Soheila and I are distraught at losing our beloved pet.

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