The mission Sometimes you just have to face it, says Maggie O'Farrell, beauty is more than skin-deep

have a nose. A big one. It has a bump in the middle which polite people describe as "aquiline" or "Roman" and rude people as "ski jump". But it has, with the passing of adolescence and the growth of much hair, long since ceased to be an issue. So when I am asked to go on a foray into the world of cosmetic surgery, I agree, partly because I am full of scorn for the self-interested, self-mutilating industry (I, for one, intend to reach the end of my life as 100 per cent biodegradable), and partly because I'm curious as to what cure they will offer for my particular protrusion.

"So," the doctor says manfully, as if he's about to impart news of a fatal disease, "your nose." I smile and nod. He turns my face this way and that, running his fingertip over the bump. "Yes," he murmurs, "yes, I see." "What do you see?" I ask, but he doesn't answer, just bends the cartilage at the end to the left and then to the right. "Hmm," he says, and tuts in the manner of a decorator examining some dodgy plasterwork.

With one buttock balancing on the edge of his leather-topped desk, he pronounces, "The problem with your nose is multiple." I stop smiling. "Multiple?" I squeak. I haven't felt like this since someone called me Beaky at primary school. "Yes," he replies, "there's the bump, of course, but then there's the uneven swelling on the left- hand side." He holds a mirror up to my horrified-looking face and I peer into it. Uneven swelling? And I'd never noticed? "Not to mention the groove at the base of your nose," he continues calmly, as if discussing the weather, "And the way it pulls up your top lip."

Within seconds we are sitting together at a computer screen with two identical images of my profile. I look particularly nasty in both - my skin saggy and strangely grey, my hair resembling the wood-shavings gerbils nest in. He waves a kind of on-screen wand at the right-hand image and the bump in my nose is gone. "We'd shave the bone off here ... I stop listening because I am momentarily distracted by a poster advertising breast implants. Emblazoned across the middle of the picture of a woman with daisies balanced on her nipples is the odd claim: "These implants are so safe you could eat them!"

When my attention returns to the doctor, he is still droning, "... entering via four incisions made through the nostrils, chipping away at the bone and then the cartilage with an instrument a bit like a chisel and then ... " On the screen is me. Or someone that looks a bit like me, except with a beautifully even, modelled nose and a pert, pouty upper lip. Next to it is a kind of rejected prototype, an uglier twin. "I could, if you wanted, slip a little collagen into your lips," he is saying, "Might help. Only if you wanted to go the whole hog." I do not, at this point, appreciate the suilline reference.

And the cost? The doctor, it seems, is unable to discuss such matters, and I have to see an "administrator" - a man in a pin-striped suit with barely discernable eyes. He comes into the room, glances at my computer image, says "nice", then mutters about "rhinoplasty" before coming up with the grand total of pounds 2,950. I stare at him, glance back at my new computerised profile and have a wild moment where I rehearse telling my editor I'm filing an expenses claim for three grand. Then I grin at him with my foreshortened top lip and my unevenly swollen nose. "I'll think about it," I say