I should like to make it crystal clear from the outset that – except for weekly missives sent to the three main party leaders during General Elections campaigns – I do not make a habit of sending excrement through the post via the Royal Mail.
Nevertheless, it is a fact that mass ‘screening’ is now seen within the National Health Service as a valuable method of picking up early signs of such conditions as heart disease and prostate and bowel cancer. Accordingly, as I understand it, those over 60 are liable to be contacted and encouraged to take part in relevant screening programmes roughly every two years.
Early in 2012, shortly after my sixtieth birthday, I received my first invitation to take part in a bowel cancer screening project.
Since at the time I was still coming to terms with being three score years of age at all, I failed to take up the opportunity for two reasons.
Firstly, at my still robust state of youthful health and vigour, I found it very difficult to accept that I would need to take part in something so clearly designed for senior citizens.
Secondly – and you’ll have to excuse my bluntness here – the test kit and accompanying instructions booklet were so off-putting in prospect that for several weeks I pretended I hadn’t noticed them in the corner of the in-tray on my study desk until one day, gleefully but not without guilt, I threw them in the bin and did my best to forget about the whole scheme.
In late November 2013 – now just having become 62 – I received another, similar, invitation by letter and then, as promised, a fortnight later, a package including said kit and instructions.
To be honest with you, I couldn’t be bothered to do anything about my task during the preparations for, and then the duration of, the festive period.
Nevertheless, having made firm New Year resolutions to turn over a new leaf, grow up and take control of my destiny, I decided to go for it early in January or – to be precise – this week.
With apologies to any readers who may be veterans of NHS bowel cancer screening programmes – and to whom, therefore, what follows will be old hat – the instructions booklet is entitled How To Use Your Test Kit. Perhaps my sense of humour (which seemed to coagulate at about the age of about 7, since when it has failed to advance in sophistication one inch) has had something to do with it, but I have managed to render myself helpless from laughter on numerous occasions over the past month, both when reading its contents silently to myself, or indeed out aloud to friends and family who may come visiting.
I remain convinced that if one of the great comedic performers, such as Rowan Atkinson, were to do no more than walk out on stage at the next Secret Policeman’s Ball celebrity-studded charity show and read the bowel cancer screening How To Use Your Test Kit booklet to the assembled, he would not only bring the house down, but soon score several million hits on YouTube, if said performance happened to be filmed.
See the kind of thing I mean here, captured on YouTube – ROWAN ATKINSON (SECRET POLICEMAN’S BALL) – ‘The Headmaster’
Suffice it to record here that the experience of following the instructions – which requires the participant to catch his daily offering in either folded lengths of toilet paper, a hand covered in a plastic bag, or … wait for it … a clean disposable container such as an ice cream or margarine tub, and then, using the little sticks provided, smear two separate samples into ‘windows’ in a cardboard rectangle, which he then dates – is one of the most absurd and ridiculous I have experienced in my life.
Especially when it has to be performed over three consecutive days, after which you have to slip the fully-loaded cardboard rectangle into a post pre-paid envelope, which is then sealed and put into your nearest post box.
Given all the above, I am able to record that I did post off my ‘set of three’ this morning before setting off to collect my laundry and do some shopping.
Good luck the NHS, that’s I can say to finish this piece.