Brian Viner:Country Life

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The Independent Online

As regular readers of this column will be aware, the cruel syringe of fate gave me a vasectomy appointment on Red Nose Day.

As regular readers of this column will be aware, the cruel syringe of fate gave me a vasectomy appointment on Red Nose Day. Not only that, but Hereford County Hospital farms out its vasectomies - and I use the word "farms" advisedly - to Llandrindod Wells War Memorial Hospital in Powys.

Llandrindod Wells is in the middle of Welsh sheep-farming country, so not only did I have the Red Nose jokes to suffer, I also had the jokes about being fitted in between lambing and shearing. In truth, I was rather looking forward to having the snip on Red Nose Day. Vasectomies seem to be inherently funny anyway, so why not milk the thing for all it is worth? And what could be funnier than the notion that the surgeon and nurse dealing with my formerly private parts might be sporting plastic red noses over their surgical masks?

Alas, I had to postpone the operation for a few weeks. One benefit of doing so was that any offence my original column might have caused was given a chance to subside. I certainly didn't intend to cause offence, but my crack about the heading on my letter from the hospital - Bwrdd lechyd Lleol Ysbyty Llandrindod ac Ysbyty Coffa Rhyfel Sirol - was interpreted by at least one reader as an outrageous slur on the Welsh.

Either those words meant the Local Health Board office at Llandrindod Wells Hospital, I had suggested, or they conveyed the sound made by a post-vasectomy patient bending over to tie his shoelace. That got a big thumbs down from my correspondent, who felt I was being unacceptably glib about the Welsh language, and whose name I checked for the letters FRCS.

Anyway, Comic Relief came and went and my testicles remained unadulterated. But my big day finally came round a fortnight ago. I was not overly anxious about it, although I did reflect, while carefully shaving in the bathroom mirror that morning, that there is nothing remotely natural about vasectomies. That thought may have entered my head because what I was carefully shaving, as requested by the hospital, was my scrotum.

Here I should apologise to anyone who opened this Property supplement hoping to read about decorative architraves or mortgage plans, only to be confronted, so to speak, by a shaved scrotum. But there it is.

None of my friends who's had a vasectomy had said anything about having to shave his scrotum, and I can't tell you how pleased I had been to find that Gillette produce a shaving foam, designed for men with sensitive skin, that is specially formulated with soothing aloe. If you have to shave your scrotum, it might as well be with soothing aloe.

The journey to Llandrindod Wells took about an hour and a quarter, which coincidentally was the length of time I had spent in the bathroom, and although it was hardly a sightseeing trip, my wife and I were struck by how the scenery changes beyond the border - rolling Herefordshire hills abruptly giving way to rugged Welsh mountains.

Jane came principally to drive me home afterwards, although she was also interested in seeing Llandod, as it is known in these parts, which we had heard has some marvellous Victorian architecture. So while I registered at the hospital, she wandered round the shops and took the dog for a walk through the local park. She wasn't especially bowled over, she told me later, except by a cold and ferocious wind. In fairness, Llandod probably wasn't looking its most handsome that day.

Nor, in the meantime, lying prostrate under some powerful halogen lights, testicles very much to the fore, was I. But the charm that Jane found elusive in the town was abundant in the hospital. Most of my dealings with hospitals have been in London, where staff generally don't have enough time to dispense the milk of human kindness. But the surgeon who sterilised me, and the two nurses who assisted him, could not have been sweeter. "Allo," they all said, with great enthusiasm, when I was shown in to the operating theatre. Only later did it occur to me that maybe they had caught a whiff of my scrotum.

'Tales of the Country', by Brian Viner, is on sale now (Simon & Schuster £12.99)

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