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For sale: one human guinea pig

Three husbands, five children and a string of disastrous jobs have left my friend Lulu skint
"HAVE A glass of wine," I said to my friend Lulu. It was Sunday afternoon and she had been helping me sort out old clothes for the charity shop all morning. That's what friends are for. Lulu replied that she would love to but she dared not; she was having tests on Tuesday morning and she wanted her body to be absolutely pure. Coming from someone usually referred to as Late-night Lulu, this pious abstention seemed a trifle optimistic - too little too late. Tests for what, I asked, pouring myself a large glass of rioja.

Oh, said Lulu vaguely, she was going to do another of those human guinea- pig things like the one she did last year for Alzheimer's, remember. I did; unfortunately Lulu didn't. I should mention here that my friend Lulu is always skint. Three feckless husbands, five children and a series of disastrous jobs - including running an all-night launderette in Oropesa del Mar, a sort of dormitory village for commuter tourists quite a long way east of Torremolinos (nobody washes anything on holiday) - haven't done much for her financial stability. She's always looking for ways to make a fast buck. Just before Christmas she tried to sell me a burglar alarm so small but yet so sensitive, she claimed, that I could keep it in the fridge. If she sold 10 of them by Christmas she'd get pounds 200 commission and promotion to area manager.

I said I had enough junk in my fridge already without adding a burglar alarm to the confusion, and to her credit she didn't harass me.

Last summer she told me excitedly that she was going to a clinic near Bournemouth to be a human guinea-pig for a new drug they had just invented to cure Alzheimer's, for which she would be paid pounds 800. Isn't it dangerous, I asked. What will they do to you? Lulu said it wasn't a bit dangerous; her friend Gerald had put her up to it. He had already done it. This did not bode well.

Gerald is an old friend of Lulu's (I think they met at the launderette in Oropesa del Mar) who is also permanently broke. He's 50ish, a retired wing commander invariably dressed in a white cashmere scarf with a flower in his buttonhole. You'd never guess that he lives in a squat near Lewisham.

Lulu said she had passed the preliminary test; now, she said, all she had to do was stay at the clinic, take a few pills, have a few brain scans, and Bob's your uncle - 800 quid. I telephoned her two weeks later. She sounded fine. "Tell me all about it. What did they do? Do you feel sick?" I wanted to know. "Never felt better in my life," she said, but she honestly didn't remember much about it. Two of the other guinea-pigs, a married couple, had been sent home half-way through the course and were furious because they had been relying on the money to pay for their new fitted kitchen.

This time round it was much more lucrative. She was getting pounds 3,000 to take a series of pills for a month for something called stress incontinence. I said I'd rather not hear about it, but if they were paying her pounds 3,000, the pills must surely have dangerous side-effects. At the very least she would probably end up with stress incontinence, which would seriously restrict her social life. Lulu said that for pounds 3,000 she was prepared to take the risk, and anyway they didn't seem to have done Gerald any harm.

Three thousand pounds does seem a lot of money for taking a few pills. I know that some of my daughter's student friends (male) used to supplement their grants by regular visits to the sperm bank. They were paid pounds 30 a shot. It was all very discreet. In the waiting-room they were not called by their names but by numbers - B52, P45, that sort of thing. And when their numbers were called they were given not just an empty test-tube but a selection of magazines (quality) and magazines (top-shelf) to read while they were about it.

Now, following the recent House of Lords recommendation to decriminalise marijuana for medical purposes, everyone's queuing up to be pot guinea- pigs.

I know a lot of people who would do it for nothing. Apart from selling a pint of blood in Thessaloniki for pounds 10 when I rang out of money back- packing in Greece donkey's years ago, I've never sold my body for science. More fool me.

When mad cow disease was first diagnosed three years ago a splendid old lady of 92 I know up in the Highlands wrote to a well known teaching hospital in London offering herself as a human guinea-pig for BSE research. "I've lived quite long enough," she wrote. "I give you carte blanche to inject my brain with anything you like, and if I do foam at the mouth at least I shall have done something to improve the human race."

They wrote back politely declining her offer. She sounded pretty batty already, they said.