When you get to a certain age in the UK, you are invited to take part in the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme (aka the Crap on the Cardboard test). So long as you are registered with a GP and are 60 or over, you get a letter saying they are sending you a kit plus instructions.
So far, so good. 'It can't be that difficult', you think. 'All I have to do it poo.' Then it arrives, complete with envelope for return postage. What? Poo through the post? The envelope isn't even padded! Ugh! Though it does have a shiny plastic-y lining. The post office sorters must get thousands of these envelopes and they must know what's in them. Do they wear hazard suits and extra thick rubber gloves? Imagine if your sample was post-curry-oozy and seeped its way through the cardboard. The kit has your name on. They'd know it was your vindaloo!
But I am getting ahead of myself. Here's what is in the kit. i, A prepaid return envelope: ii, 6 cardboard sticks, two for each of the three days of the test: iii, An orange and white cardboard test kit (yes, it really is Crap on the Cardboard).
The leaflet tells you that the kit must be completed and sent off within 14 days of the first sample being taken, i.e. the first poo. 'That's easy,' you think, with a certain sense of relief. 'I'm sure I can manage three craps in 14 days.' Well, don't be so sure. You can almost guarantee that one glance at the flimsy lollipop stick provided in the kit will send any incipient turd scuttling back up your colon for safety.
So, Day 1 dawns and I head for the bathroom, kit in hand and settle myself. Suddenly, when it's almost too late, a thought strikes me. How do I get it onto the stick? No way am I going to reach beneath myself in mid poo, even with my sleeve rolled up. In desperation, my eyes light on the loo paper. Perfect! I tear off a wodge and position it carefully, but, not having eyes in my derriere, I had no idea of the consistency of what I had just evacuated. It was like a very dense fruit cake that, as I withdrew the paper to dip my lolly stick in it, shot into the air and landed with a thud on the laminate flooring. I swear it bounced.
I felt as horrified as a child who had accidentally pooed in public. Though there was nobody to witness my 'accident', I nevertheless burned with shame. I bent as far forward off the loo as was physically and hygienically safe and grabbed the thing in a handful of loo roll, jabbed in the stick and then my troubles really started. I had forgotten to Lift The Flap! There I was, Richard in one hand (as in Richard the Third = turd, Cockney rhyming slang) and lolly stick quivering in the other, balancing a small heap of poo on the tip. I needed three hands and I could hardly call for help in the middle of such an intimate act.
My only recourse was to chuck the paper-wrapped lump down the loo and transfer the stick to my left hand while I opened the flap with my right. Wrong! I need two hands to prise open the cardboard flap, so I had to rest the lolly stick on the edge of the washbasin. Unfortunately, as I was opening the flap which covers the tiny area which you have to dot with poo, I flipped the handle of the stick with my wrist. The stick performed a tiddlywinks manoeuvre and prescribed a parabola in the air, hitting the mirror over the sink and slithering down.
I now had poo in the loo, poo on the floor, poo on the mirror and absolutely no poo on the poo test kit. Total fail. But then I had a stroke of luck as I received a message from Bowel Control to tell me that there was a beastie still to emerge. Grab tissue. Trap tiny tip of turd. Use the dipstick. Transfer to kit. Done!
Except it wasn't. On reading the leaflet more closely, I discovered I was meant to take a second sample from 'the bowel motion you have just collected'. Oh no! Too late! It had struck the iceberg of turd No. 1 and vanished beneath the water line. I shan't tell you what I did. You might be having your breakfast. Suffice it to say that cleaning up afterwards used an entire packet of antibacterial wipes.
By Day 2, I was an old hand - a rather brown hand - at this game. No problem. Day 3, the 'motions' were of gravy-like consistency and presented challenges of their own. But at last I had the envelope sealed and ready for posting. Just as I was popping it into the mail box, I remembered I had forgotten to write the date on Sample No. 3. I fished in my bag, found an eye pencil and scrawled it on the outside of the envelope, adding 'Sorry'. Perhaps it should have been 'Soggy'.
Since then, I have had my official NHS letter giving me the All Clear. Thank heavens for that! And just when I thought that was it for ever, I re-read the original letter and found they were extending the test for four extra years. That's how many lolly sticks to go? I shall never be able to face a choc ice again!