IT WAS 11pm on the last day of our summer holiday in the south of France, and we were dining in our favourite restaurant in the village we go to every year. It was when I went to the loo that the disaster began. I had a savage, belly-slicing attack of "wind" and started sweating. I sat on the loo wondering how long the pain would last. My wife, Nicole, came looking for me and helped me onto a sofa.

Suddenly, I knew I was going to be sick and just made it back to the loo. Then came the most violent dizzy spell I have ever had. Nicole rang for a doctor and he diagnosed food poisoning and gave me an injection. When that didn't work, I heard the dreaded word "appendicite".

An ambulance arrived. They bundled me, shivering uncontrollably, into the back. The driver did a 10-point turn, crashing into a wall. At one point I thought a tree was going to join me in the back. We at last arrived at a hospital in St Tropez. But there was no surgeon there... When I finally ended up in the intensive-care unit of another hospital, it was 2am.

An hour later, a surgeon arrived, gave me a cursory examination, said they were going to freeze my appendix and went home. After some sleep, l was wheeled into the X-ray department and then into another room to be prodded by the doctor.

After more lying around and being wheeled along corridors, they took me into the operating theatre, and at noon on Saturday 15 August, 13 hours after I had felt ill, the putrid swollen organ was removed.

I woke up in a two-bedded ward in... the gynaecological department. Lots of jokes from Nicole about my paunch. My right hand was attached to a drip, and there were plasters covering the gaping hole where my appendix had been. Next morning, my surgeon came to see me. He was so casual, we nicknamed him laid-back Larry. "Vous avez fait du gaz?" he enquired. "Not much," I replied, sipping my tisane.

I spent a week recuperating in hospital with five successive room-mates, the most memorable of whom was the aristocratic man with the duodenal ulcer. He had palm trees on his underpants and never stopped farting. They were real cushion- creepers: silent but deadly. I would open the door to get rid of the smell but the nurses kept shutting it. At one point, I had farting Fred to my left, the surgeon asking if I'd let off any "gaz" and, on TV, the European games sponsored by... Gaz de France!

When Nicole at last collected me and I emerged into the sunshine and the wonderful fresh air, I burst into tears of joy and relief.

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