THERE WAS a knock on the door. I went to answer it. One of the great things about working at home is that nobody can ever claim that he called and there was no one in. One of the awful things about working at home is that you have to deal with a lot of people you didn't want to call in the first place. But this was someone I had never seen before. He had a smart white uniform and a cap on which it said in big letters 'NHS'.
'Mr Whittaker?' he said.
'No,' I said.
'Mr Joshua Whittaker?' he said.
'No,' I said.
'Of No 40, Lower Way?'
'Yes,' I said. 'You've got the address right. But I am not Joshua Whittaker.'
'Then where is he?'
'I don't know,' I said. 'I've never heard of him.'
'Well, we've got to find him soon,' said the man. 'He's having a vasectomy tomorrow.'
'Look,' I said. 'Would you mind telling me what this is all about?'
'Sure,' said the man. 'This is all part of Mrs Bottomley's new drive to avoid time-wasting at hospitals. People are coming to hospitals for operations that can equally well be done elsewhere. So our new policy is to do the operations at home.'
'And you're doing the operations?' I said.
'No, no, no,' he said. 'Everyone thinks that. It's probably because of my cap badge.'
'Well, it does say NHS on it.'
'Nursing House Search,' he said.
'And what is that?' I said.
'Well, we have to send someone out in advance to check out the operation venue. Obviously, we can't have the surgeons wandering round the country looking for the people they are meant to be operating on. Most surgeons are hopeless with a road map anyway. God knows how they ever locate a main artery seeing the difficulty they have finding the A36 . . . So we in Nursing House Search go round '
'And has it taken the load off the hospitals?'
'What? Oh, yes, off the hospitals. Yes, you could say that. The hospitals are empty now.'
He fell silent. For a moment he swayed, then he pulled himself together. He looked grey.
'Are you all right?' I asked.
'Sorry, squire,' he said. 'It's been a long week. Eighty-six hours so far. We junior hospital drivers have to go at it like slaves. Do you remember that terrible pile-up on the M4 last week?'
'Yes,' I said. 'Van crossed the central reservation. Ten dead.'
'That was one of our blokes, going out to look for an appendectomy down Chippenham way. He hadn't slept for 36 hours . . . Anyway, so you're Mr Whittaker, are you? The doctor will be along to do the vasectomy at nine tomorrow morning. You'll need to provide the following pieces of equipment . . .'
'I am not Mr Whittaker and I do not have a vasectomy or indeed any operation lined up,' I said, 'and even if I did I don't think I'd want it done at home.'
'Well, if you aren't Joshua Whittaker, what are you doing living at 40 Lower Way?'
I looked over his shoulder at the docket.
'It's Dover Way,' I said.
'You've misread it,' I said. 'The address is 40 Dover Way. That's about three streets away.'
'You're absolutely right,' he said. 'Bloody doctors with their handwriting. Doesn't matter much with a prescription, but getting an address wrong . . .'
He drove off, and I never saw him again. That would have been the end of the whole business, except that next morning there was a knock at the door and a smartly dressed man stood there carrying what looked like a tool-box.
'Mr Whittaker,' said the man. 'I'm Mr Percival, the surgeon. I've come to do the vasectomy. Nurse, bring in the percolator and get that coffee going, would you?'
I opened my mouth to go through the same routine that I had already been through the day before. But overnight I had also been thinking about the number of times I had said to myself that it was really about time I got a vasectomy, for one reason and another. In fact, another was precisely what I didn't want . . .
'Yes, I'm Whittaker,' I said. 'Come in. I'll put the kettle on.'Reuse content