When I rang for an appointment, the receptionist said, ‘Can you be here within the hour?’ I arrived with ten minutes to spare and presented myself before her. ‘Have you been here before, Mr Clarke?’ she said. ‘I have, yes,’ I said. ‘Ah, yes,’ she said, studying her computer screen with interest. She wrote a six-figure number at the top of an appointments card in black Biro and pushed it across the counter. On this visit and on any subsequent visit, she said, I would always be referred to by this number instead of by my name.
I took a seat in the waiting area. In the past I’ve always been perfectly happy to have my surname yelled out when it was my turn to go in. But it is a wonderful thing to live in an Age of Progress and I am not complaining. Two minutes and three paragraphs into a fascinating magazine piece about Kate Middleton’s exciting new hairstyle, a young male nurse was standing at the door and calling my number. He led me down a corridor to a side room. ‘You’ll be happy to know that we no longer require a cotton-bud swab from you,’ said this nurse, closing the door behind us with a bizarrely overacted air of secrecy. I was about to agree with him that it was the part of the process I was looking forward to the least, but he was in a bit of a hurry so we cut to the chase. He had a form to fill in. He took me through the questions at a gallop.
As well as being tested for HIV, did I object to being tested for syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia and inoculated against hepatitis B? I languidly waved away any possible objection from my exalted position as a man of the world, boulevardier, and all-round good egg.