Generally speaking, cancer is no laughing matter. So much more welcome should be the rare occasions when it is.
Having said that, I don’t think mirth was the overriding emotion of hundreds of patients at Askern Medical Centre in Doncaster.
On 23 December, just as they were hanging the last tinsels on their Christmas trees, they received a text message from that GP surgery.
The message must have killed the festive spirit stone-dead. It said: “From the forwarded letters at CMP, Dr [NAME] has asked for you to do a DS1500 for the above patient. Diagnosis – Aggressive lung cancer with metastases.”
That sort of diagnosis, as I know from personal experience, can really bugger up one’s mood, even at Yuletide. However, as I recall, I didn’t emote – even when a consultant imaginatively called Donald McDonald told me, 17 years ago, in his broad Glaswegian, “Your prognersis is puer.” (“Your prognosis is poor”, in English.) “I can still beat you at tennis,” I said.
Some of the recipients, especially those who were genuinely awaiting results of lung cancer tests, reacted more effusively. They hugged their kin and burst out crying. Others rushed to the phones, only to find all lines full, as they always are at NHS surgeries.
Their anguish lasted 22 minutes, when another text message arrived: “Please accept our sincere apologies for the previous text message sent. This has been sent in error. Our message to you should have read: We wish you a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”
Oh well, an easy mistake to make, I suppose, especially in the NHS. Unless, of course, that was a prank pulled by a nurse with a black sense of humour to match my own.
Now, as Penelope will confirm, I like a practical joke as much as the next man. Once, for example, when she was running for a bus, I shouted after her: “Did you think of what this is doing to the children?” Her fellow travellers looked at my long-suffering wife with derision.
You may think that sort of thing is infantile, and you are probably right. But it’s reassuring sometimes to keep one’s younger side alive, hoping it won’t vanish altogether.
Some of the pranks I’ve pulled on my friends, family and the odd stranger have been less innocent than that one, but they were all funny, at least to me. And I don’t think any of them was vicious.
It would be the easiest windup in the world to ring a stranger and say something like: “This is your GP surgery speaking. Bad news, I’m afraid: you’ve got an aggressive lung cancer with secondaries.”
Half the time such a joke would work, but a moron who does that sort of thing is guilty of something far worse than puerile humour. Still, you may disagree, but I’d rather our medical service were guilty of occasional cruel jesting than of endemic incompetence.
Also, I’m disappointed with those cry-babies in Doncaster. What’s with all that weeping and hugging? What happened to those traditionally hardy Northerners? Are they now trying to get in touch with their feminine side?
Chaps, even in our woke times it’s still not against the law to be men. That breed is supposed to be distinguished by stiff upper lip, not just stiff upper lap.
While we are on that subject, Russian soldiers called up to fight in the Ukraine will have the chance to have their frozen sperm stored in a cryobank for free. That way private Ivanov can have his head blown off by a Ukrainian shell and still continue to comply with the Genesis commandment of “be ye fruitful and multiply”.
I understand the attraction of the idea: since Russia will always need a steady supply of murderers, looters and rapists, it’s important to keep the reproductive cycle uninterrupted. Yet the country shouldn’t go to all that unnecessary trouble and expense.
Considering the winter temperatures on the front line, ill-equipped Russian soldiers don’t even have to ejaculate to have their sperm frozen. The inclement weather will turn most of them into walking (and then falling) cryobanks in no need of expensive equipment. Once they are down, it will be an easy enough matter to…
I’ll leave that macabre image to your imagination, and I’m sorry about evoking it. The story of that accidental prank at Doncaster must have got me in this kind of mood.