Country Life: A snip in time

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The Independent Online

This might be the first time that a vasectomy has been written about in these or any other property pages, even though it concerns a part of my anatomy that is nothing if not cherished property.

This might be the first time that a vasectomy has been written about in these or any other property pages, even though it concerns a part of my anatomy that is nothing if not cherished property. Anyway, last autumn I went to see my GP in Leominster about having a vasectomy, and he said he would add me to the NHS waiting list.

The other day I finally received details of my appointment and was surprised to find that they came from the Bwrdd lechyd Lleol, Ysbyty Llandindod ac Ysbyty Coffa Rhyfel Sirol, which is either Welsh meaning the Local Health Board office at Llandrindod Wells War Memorial Hospital, or some approximation of the noise made by post-vasectomy patients bending down to tie their shoelaces.

I have long wanted to visit Llandrindod Wells, a Victorian spa town about which I have had some excellent reports, although I'm not sure why I have to hack all that way to be given the snip. Our friend Jane has unhelpfully suggested that, with it being serious sheep-farming country, maybe there's a farmer over there with a pair of specially sharpened shears and a light touch.

As a former nurse, Jane really ought to know that shears have a negligible role in vasectomies. Still, I laughed anyway. One has to retain a sense of humour about these things, especially with everyone else finding it so bloody hilarious. My wife, also a Jane, very nearly required hospital treatment herself - to repair a split side - when she realised that my appointment is on Red Nose Day.

Like many men of my age, I have a number of friends who have had a vasectomy already. It's amazing how so straightforward an operation produces so many anecdotes. Most of them seem to concern the sperm specimen that is examined three months after the procedure to determine whether or not it has been successful. One friend was ushered into a small room by a stern nurse who told him matter-of-factly that there were some magazines to peruse should he need some help ejaculating: he duly picked up one from the top of the pile and was understandably bemused to find that it was Caravanning Monthly.

Another friend opted to do the necessary at home, but then had a limited amount of time to get it to St Mary's Hospital, Paddington. He'd had the operation there because at the time he lived nearby, in north Kensington, but then moved to Muswell Hill, which is two bus journeys from St Mary's. His account of trying to keep his little jar warm while changing London buses may well be exaggerated for comic effect, but rarely fails to bring the house down.

I certainly won't be taking the bus to Llandrindod Wells on the day of my vasectomy, not least because getting from Docklow to Llandrindod Wells by bus is the sort of challenge that might be set by the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme (gold category).

Last week in this space I highlighted the benefits of living in rural Herefordshire when one requires hospital treatment, but that's assuming one can get there and back by car. The Bwrddlechyd Lleol certainly makes that assumption, recommending in its vasectomy leaflet that patients should be collected from hospital by a friend or relative. I have a funny feeling that Jane might turn up afterwards with a big red nose fitted to the front of the Volvo. Naturally, I'm in stitches already.

* This week's column specialises, as no other column you'll ever read again is likely to do, in particularly noteworthy journeys to Victorian spa towns in Wales. Example A, my forthcoming "snip trip" to Llandrindod Wells. Example B, a weekly train ride, involving a fish and a bicycle, from Broome in Shropshire to Llanwrtyd Wells.

The fish is salmon, which has been smoked by Mike Leviseur at the Organic Smokehouse in Clunbury, Shropshire. Once a week, Mr Leviseur drives the mile and a half to Broome station where he flags down the 9.31am train, from which the guard steps onto the platform and sells him a one-way ticket for the fish costing £3.35. The fish then travels on the Heart of Wales line to Llanwrtyd Wells, where it arrives at 10.52 or thereabouts, to be picked up by Roger Stevens of the Lasswade Country House hotel, who carries it the 200 yards to his kitchen and dresses it with a little marinated cucumber.

"There are only three services per day," says Mr Leviseur, "so my salmon can't afford to miss the train. I never see anyone else at the station, although there is a lonely bicycle, chained up awaiting its owner."

Don't you think that's a heart-warming story? I like to think of Mr Stevens collecting the package just along the platform from where Trevor Howard is trying to remove a speck of grit from Celia Johnson's eye. Moreover, I always think there's something sadly discordant about organic produce being whisked around the country by vans and lorries pumping out carbon monoxide fumes. So it's marvellous to hear about a package of organic salmon being put on a train by the man who smoked it, and taken off the train 48 miles later by the man who will cook it.

If only Mr Leviseur would cycle to the station with the salmon in a canvas rucksack, this tale of environmental lucidity would be complete.