Tash, sans testicles

“You know what this is, don’t you?” asked the waitress. I wanted to try something different, something real Polish people ate, so I’d ordered Flaki. It’s tripe soup: a dish in which no effort is made to disguise the fact it’s simply a bowl of broth packed with chewy intestines. I’ve always been drawn to these sorts of local delicacies, the questionable ones hidden away at the back of faded menus where tourists don’t look.

Once in Japan, my vegetarian wife had been given a plate of crickets because she forgot to include ‘no insects’ on her list of dietary requirements. But I happily tucked in.

The one thing I’ve yet to eat are testicles, sometimes called Rocky Mountain Oysters in a misguided attempt to make them sound more exotic and appealing. It’s not that they’re a step too far — I just haven’t been presented with an opportunity.

Growing up in West Wales in the late ’90s didn’t offer many culinary adventures. Food just didn’t get that far west. We were like a desert outpost, resplendent with chips and crisps, but devoid of anything with colour. I didn’t see an avocado until my twenties and even then it took a few years to build up the courage to try one.

On the few occasions the local supermarket in my hometown stocked adventurous items, they were mostly met with bemusement. For example, Tesco made an aborted attempt to sell sushi, which sat on a shelf slowly turning green until my dad — a keen bargain hunter — snapped up a nori roll, brought it home and wondered what gravy to use with it.

The bargain aisle was the closest my dad got to exoticism. This was a complete contrast to my mum, who seemed like Phileas Fogg. Born to a German mother and Welsh father in Northern Ireland, she grew up in Germany and Bahrain. She’d tell us stories about Bahraini markets, where blue bottles swarmed around unidentifiable meats.

The most exotic thing we owned was a German Shorthaired Pointer called Poppy. She wasn’t cheap given she was a thoroughbred. To recoup some of the cost, my dad decided he’d find Poppy a suitable mate and sell her offspring.

Poppy duly obliged and gave birth to 11 puppies, which of course flooded the market, causing a price crash and leaving my dad with a lot of hard-to-shift dogs. We ended up keeping one, Tash, who made Scooby Doo look like a Rhodes Scholar and possessed one striking feature — massive testicles.

The problem with having a male and female dog combo is after a while certain urges take over. It doesn’t seem to matter if they’re related; social taboos aren’t big in the dog world.

We decided to get Tash neutered before flooding the market a second time with weird, deformed beasts. This story predates pugs.

At the dinner table the night before Tash’s procedure my dad asked, “aren’t dog’s testicles a delicacy in Bahrain?” After a brief pause, my mum responded by saying she thought they were. “Then ask the vet if we can bring them back.” I looked at my sister Beth — surely this was a joke? It had to be.

When my mum picked us up from school the next day, a very depressed looking Tash was in the back. Next to him lay a coffee jar, label scraped off and filled with murky water. And in the middle of that, in a sort of suspended animation, were two things floating — fresh dog’s testicles. We inspected them, bewildered, then turned our attention to Tash.

“Shall we have the dog’s balls?” my dad asked that night after we finished dinner. Frozen, we waited for my mum’s response. She’d surely be the voice of reason. “Help yourself,” she said, grabbing the jar and a fork.

In the time it took her to get the jar and deliver it to my monster of a father, Beth and I were on the other side of the kitchen door, peering in, repeatedly telling him he was gross. This seemed to have no effect — he was greedily fishing around the jar.

He finally snared one, dragged it up the side and popped it in his mouth. That’s when we heard the crunch. It wasn’t just the noise that was horrifying, it was the fact he was picking half-chewed bits out of his teeth. Unsatiated, he went for another. As he did, my sister and I ran to the phone.

We called our Granny. I’m still not sure why. She lived over 100 miles away and her first language is German. She could barely understand what we were so upset about, but our tone told her it was serious. By the time we’d repeated that dad had eaten dog’s balls for the twentieth time, she started to understand. It was then my mum grabbed the phone and we all learnt the truth: they weren’t dog’s balls, they were prunes.

It was a prank. Of course it was. These days it would have been filmed for YouTube to haunt me forever. Although, I’ve still never eaten a prune.

I’m soon to be a father and wonder what type of dad I’ll be. I’ll definitely encourage my son to eat adventurously and we’ll probably have a dog, too. And if that dog needs to be neutered I’ll sit my son down and explain what that means. I won’t treat it like something strange. Then I’ll explain to him what Rocky Mountain Oysters are, and that they’re a delicacy in Bahrain, where his grandmother used to live. Then I’ll find an old coffee jar and I’ll buy some prunes for the first time.

And I’ll probably film it.

Comedy writer / Welsh / Not Swampy — danhooper.webstarts.com

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