And so, as it must, the pilgrimage to find a local GP surgery begins. This is a great British tradition, and I have been honoured in my lifetime to have taken part in many and varied official registerings at different NHS surgeries.
Having been ceremoniously relieved of my first GP in London, and invited to find another one because they had redrawn the boundaries, last year I was on the road again after they closed the second one down.
I found myself at a surgery on a sink estate where the first language — and indeed the second, third and fourth languages — appeared not to be British and where I was asked if I would like a female chaperone because of all the religious objections I was likely to have.
I never actually got an appointment there, although I did secure an emergency phone consultation with a doctor, after my prescription for strong antihistamine ran out. He sounded very weary, like he would rather tell me his problems than hear mine. When I asked about the pains in my feet he sighed and said: ‘Mine are the same.’
After moving to the country, I knew I would have to find another GP but I put it off. Needing advice about some more routine mechanical failures — bits really have started to fall off me in middle age like an old Ford Capri — I happened upon a private doctor, recommended by a reader, a few minutes’ walk from my home.
She told me there was very little wrong with me. However, she thought I would benefit from ‘mindfulness’. She wrote this word down in huge letters on a blank sheet of paper, as people always seem to.
I don’t know what mindfulness is, exactly, because no one does. But from my rudimentary attempts to pin it down, I think it is probably the exact opposite of what it sounds like.
Mindfulness involves a sort of meditation whereby one allows oneself to be powerfully present and connected to the moment. But, of course, one can only do this by emptying one’s mind. I mean, totally emptying it, draining it right down to the very last ‘oh shit, I left the washing out’ or ‘I bet he’s forgotten to walk the dogs and I’ll have to do it when I get in and my feet are killing me’.
The idea with mindfulness, as with all these wellbeing fads, is to sit staring at a statue of Buddha, thinking nothing, and feeling the buzz of connectivity to the eternal consciousness. So it really ought to be called Mindunfullness.
‘Yes,’ I said to this otherwise sensible private GP. ‘Everyone always tells me about mindfulness.’
‘Well, now you’ve got a doctor telling you,’ she shot back.
You’re a sparky one, I thought, making a mental note to come and see her as often as possible. But realistically, I can’t afford £75 every time I want a prescription for antihistamine or Diclofenac.
So off I went to The Village medical centre, whose logo I fully expected to be a penny-farthing bike. Half an hour later, I was knee deep in NHS questionnaires and equality forms in which the only ‘ethnicity’ to tick that was anywhere near mine was ‘British’. Really? Is British an ethnicity now?
‘What is your marital status?’ I wrote: ‘Undecided’. It’s the truth.
Did I smoke, and if so how many per day? ‘Ten per year’, I wrote. It’s the truth. I could have explained further by adding ‘when constipated’.
‘Do you look after someone, or does someone look after you?’ I left that blank. The builder boyfriend often says he should get a carer’s allowance, but I don’t think they will see it that way.
The most impertinent question, as usual, was about my alcohol consumption. Why is the NHS unable to grasp the simple concept of abstinence?
‘Tick one box for each question. 1.) How often do you drink alcohol?’ A. Never.
‘2.) How many drinks do you have on a typical day?’ No option for none. It was either ‘1 or 2’, ‘3 or 4’, ‘5 or 6’, and so on all the way up to ‘10 or more’. For the ravers, you understand.
Right at the end of the form it told me the name of the ‘named accountable GP’ I will be registered with. This had to be Freudian. Obviously, the GP will be totally unaccountable, or they wouldn’t have gone down that road.
Then there was a plethora of smaller forms about total nonsense, including one inviting me to be part of a panel giving feedback and which asked me to ‘Please tick which smiley face is your preferred contact method — please feel free to tick more than one!’
So I ticked both email and phone smiley faces. You only live once.