Small world

Slightly more than a week ago I had a minor operation to remove a mole which had gone a bit odd. Well, it had been odd for a while, and then it seemed odder still, and I’d shown it to my GP in Dulwich, a nice, no-nonsense woman whom I liked and trusted. ‘The good news is it’s not cancer, the bad news is it would be difficult to remove … so let’s leave it,’ she said.

So I did, for about eighteen months, two years, something like that …. then I moved, and changed GPs. I idly showed it to the new chap while I was bothering him about something else. ‘Woah!’ he said. Never a great sound to come out of a doctor’s mouth while he’s looking at a part of you. ‘I don’t know what that is but it’s very ….. strange,’ he said. I must have looked as worried as I now felt, because he said reassuringly, ‘don’t worry, we’ll get the hospital to look at it.’ Of course that really got me alarmed.

I was even more so when I got a letter a week later summoning me to the dermatology department of the local hospital. When the NHS moves fast, be afraid, be very afraid. The letter included a helpful sheet entitled, ‘does this mean I’ve got cancer?’. The answer, in general, was probably not – but even if I hadn’t been considering the possibility before, I definitely was now.

After the consultation, an appointment was booked to have the thing removed. Then, while I was in the carpark, they rang and moved it forward by a week. Eeek!

So, a fortnight after seeing the doctor, I was having outpatient surgery, with a local anaesthetic. I decided, rather daringly I thought, to take my Kindle in with me, to give me something to do while they tackled whatever it was. The consultant was fine about that, she said loads of people are plugged into this and that during ops these days, the only trouble is when they drop an iPod into a wound and she has to fish it out, and she asked me what I was reading. It was Dear Nina, by Nina Stibbe, written when she was a nanny to the sons of Mary-Kay Wilmers of the London Review of Books, and film director Stephen Frears. It’s a very funny tale, enlivened by neighbours like Jonathan Miller (who Nina thought was an opera singer) and Alan Bennett (she was convinced he’d been in Coronation Street). I’d just got to the bit where Alan Bennett mends the inner tube of her bicycle tyre. “Oh, I used to live in that road, when Alan Bennett had the woman in the caravan living in his drive,’ said the consultant.

Small world. Small operating theatre. We spent the rest of the procedure laughing about highlights from the book. At one point, the consultant’s underling asked her why she’d moved. She fixed him with a look. ‘Let’s just say Camden lost its appeal,’ she said.

Hmm, there’s a story there, I think. Maybe she was sick of Jonathan Miller singing Nessun Dorma in the back garden . Maybe Alan Bennett’s bicycle repair business threatened to lower the tone of the neighbourhood. Plenty to ponder. Meanwhile, the NHS has slowed back down to its usual glacial pace. Thank goodness.

Alan Bennett: handy with an inner tube
Alan Bennett: handy with an inner tube


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