I volunteered to give blood a couple of months ago, when there were media reports of a national shortage. I wish the call had not come just now. Three of my four children are home at the moment and I child-mind for teachers. The first few weeks of the new term, after a fortnight of indolence and late rising, is always a shock to the system. This term one of the children started school, so I am under extra pressure, trailing two grumbling toddlers and a baby backwards and forwards through atrocious weather.
My husband offers to drive me to the donor session. "They can cut off my leg as long as they let me lie down for 20 minutes afterwards," I whimper as I slump into the car. My husband says as he's going anyway, he will give blood, too. Like me and a million others, he has always meant to.
We find the church hall and join the queue. A nice lady asks me lots of questions about my medical history and sexual practices, which make me realise what a blameless and uneventful life I have led. Then the difficult question. When and what did I last eat? As far as I can remember, I lunched about five hours ago on assorted toddler's leftovers. In that case, I must go and have my tea and biscuits first in case I pass out.
I am directed to another room, presided over by two large jolly women, whose function seems to be to pour hot water on to instant dispenser drinks and criticise the results. They are apparently compiling an anthology of disparaging descriptions of weak tea, "Water bewitched" is a favourite. They use that a lot. If a customer comes up with a reciprocal offering, they seize on it gratefully and repeat it to each other. "Dishwater!" they chuckled, delighted. "Not like mother makes, eh?" "At least it's wet and warm."
I drink my gnat's water, eat a couple of very strange fig rolls and slot myself back into the system. The next stage is a blood test, just a drop taken from the thumb and dropped into a test tube of blue liquid. It is copper sulphate and a test for anaemia. "It's supposed to sink," says the nurse.
Like the ancient test for witches. Mine bobs merrily to the top. She tries another drop. No luck. "I'm afraid we can't take any blood from you today, dear," she says. For a moment I wonder if she's going to ask me if I'd like to make a withdrawal, rather than a deposit. Does this mean I don't get my lie down?
"Take this card and go with nurse." I pass my husband, peacefully draining into a plastic bag. I have to give a small sample of blood to be tested. They will write to me and tell me if I need medical treatment. The nurse tells me she is only a trainee, and would I like to wait for someone qualified to take my sample? I bravely offer her my arm to practice on. It seems the least I can do.
My husband has finished his session. There is nothing to it, he assures me, though he admits to a moment of alarm when his predecessor on the couch fainted as he got off. He looks noble and smug. I feel anaemic and inadequate. We chat through his 15-minute recovery period, then return to the tea room. The hot water ladies are still in full song. "That won't put hairs on your chest, will it? Leave it to `mash' as they say up North!" I can't wait till next time.
In the hour that we have been in the hall, the queue has grown enormously. About 30 people are waiting patiently in the cold lobby on this miserable January evening to give blood. I feel happy to have almost been one of them. It's the thought that counts.
Potential blood donors should telephone 0354 711711 for information (calls at local rates).