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`Whatever you do, Jel," said Posh Tony, looking for the ashtray, "don't give them your name and address."

"Here you go," I said, prodding out the one on the dashboard.

"Because if you test positive," he continued, knocking his ash in with uncharacteristic precision, "the hospital will pass on your details to the big mortgage and insurance companies, and before you know it you'll be on every database in the country."

So typical of Posh Tony this. After 52 years lived on or below the poverty line he is as alert as a trained setter to the wiles and injustices of a capitalist system that keeps him there so easily. Without taking my eyes off the road, I tried to look suitably horrified at such a cynical abuse of confidentiality.

"So when the nurse gives you the form to fill in, promise me, Jel, that you'll give them a false name and address."

I gave him my solemn word that I would lie through my teeth at every opportunity.

When we arrived at the "special clinic", Posh Tony took it upon himself to act as spokesman for both of us. Leaning on the hatch like John Wayne just in from a six-month cattle drive, he said to the nurse. "We've come for an Aids test."

"Oh yes," said the nurse encouragingly.

"And we've both got a rash that wants looking at."

"Jolly good. And are you ... together?" said the nurse.

This shook Tone, who is fanatically heterosexual and likes to be seen as such.

"No. We are just mates," he said.

Tone then told the nurse, and the rest of the waiting room, about his rash. His GP had advised him to treat it with yoghurt, he said, but he could only afford one carton a week, which his flatmates usually found and ate before he'd finished using it. The nurse calmly said that he should spare us all the details for the time being and just fill in the form.

We took our forms over to the waiting area. Carefully omitting any information that might prove useful to insurance companies, we completed them and Tone returned them to the hatch.

"Have you been here before, Mr Tench?" said the nurse, glancing at the forms.

"Oh yes," boasted Tone.

"And what about you, Mr Shearer?"

"I'm afraid not," I said.

The nurse turned away for a moment to consult her records. Then she said to Tone, "Are you sure you've been before? You're not on the records."

"Try looking under Pike," said Tone helpfully. (He had once held the record, I believe, for the upper reaches of the river Roding.)

"I might have called myself Pike."

She looked again. Nothing under Pike either.

"Bream?" he offered.

Before they took our blood, we were called to the consulting room individually.

"May I call you Alan?" said the genial counsellor as he shook my hand and motioned me towards a chair.

"Please do," I said.

He explained to me that we were just going to have an informal chat to ascertain what kind of "contact" had prompted my visit, in which he hoped to allay my fears, which had probably grown out of all proportion to the actual risk of infection. He smiled a lot as he spoke in order to underline the fact that he bore me no ill will. He was on my side.

"So. Alan. Why do you want to test for HIV?"

"Well," I said. "I went to Malaysia for a week and I got a bit carried away."

"And how many `contacts' were there during that week?" he said, smiling.

"About 30," I said modestly.

He looked a bit crestfallen at that and scribbled something on my file. "And were these contacts ... homosexual or heterosexual?"

"Both," I said, glad to be able to give him a concrete answer. "Some of them were with lady-boys, I think."

His crest fell even further and his pen went into action again.

Then, trying to look on the bright side, he said, "Between you and me, unless you've been sharing needles the chances of contracting the HIV virus even from 30 high-risk contacts are slim. You weren't sharing needles with anyone, were you?"

"I wouldn't mind dying anyway," I told him. "Why prolong it?"

Posh Tony was already in the chair giving blood when I went in. "Ah, Mr Rainbow-Trout," I said. "What news?"

"Salt baths," he said despondently. "I've got to have salt baths."

"What's wrong with that?" I said.

"I haven't got a bath," he said.