During a cooked breakfast, a friend calls to say that he has just heard about the re-eruption of my Etna-like piles. He warmly recommends the daily use of pure bran. A martyr to his own Farmer Giles for many years, he insists that this is the only realistic way to avoid more radical and invasive procedures. I scrape the bacon and egg into the bin and head towards Tesco.
Eating my breakfast bran, it occurs to me that many people have their own individual recipes for treating piles. I once heard about a man who advised a friend with piles that every time you brew up a pot of tea you should pack the leaves round your bottom. "You see if the piles aren't gone in a fortnight, " he says. Two weeks later he meets his pal again and asked after the Farmers. "You and your bloody tea leaves," he says. "The piles are worse, much worse." "In that case," says the friend, "go to the doctor at once. You can't mess around with those piles." So this chap went to his GP, and he . . . no, I can't go on. The pain is too great. Despairingly, I look in the cupboard but all we have is pyramid-shaped tea bags.
I have now had time to reflect on the rest of the story, in which the chap finally went to his GP. "I've tried packing tea leaves round my bottom, doctor," he says, "but it's done no good. Would you take a look?" "Take your pants down, and bend over," says the doctor. Gently he parted the cheeks and inspected. "Mmmm, I see, ahhhh," he says, "aha, yes, mmmmm. Dear, dear. I'm afraid, I can't do anything for your piles," says the doctor, "but you're going on a long journey."
Whether or not the bran is already having an effect, the Farmers are a little improved, and the leavening of agony reminds me that there is a positive side to this ailment. As with the common cold and muscular strains, I find the pain or discomfort of symptoms transparently non-terminal to be oddly reassuring. It takes the mind off mortality.
Last night, I went to the sequel to Mission Impossible with a friend, a Jewish man much my own age and shape. In one scene a kidnapped pharmaceutical executive who has been infected with the lethal "chimera" virus is lying in a cubicle surrounded by plastic sheeting, very close to death. As he gasps ever more violently for air, I feel a little nudge on the arm. I look across. My friend raises his eyebrows towards the screen. "That's us in a few years," he says.
At dinner last night, I was seated next to a talented novelist of 24 who says she has been obsessed with death and illness for years, "although I didn't start really worrying until I was 15". Causes of cancer are her specialist subject, and she informed me of a radioactive element called Thorium that is used in glossy magazines to give the pages unlikely whiteness. Something else to worry about.
I awake drenched and distressed having passed a profoundly troubled night. In the dream, I am leafing through Vogue, lying in the Gyspy Rose Lee Ward of the Royal Hospital for Haemmorrhoidal Soothsaying, when my physician Sarah Jarvis leads over a party of white coats over. Parting the buttocks, she begins to inspect. "Mm, yes, I see," she murmurs. "Most interesting." A siren goes off (looking round, I notice Karen Silkwood being dragged away by guards towards the showers), and Dr Jarvis delivers her verdict. "Well, I can't do anything for his piles," she says, "but he's going on a long journey to Cumbria, where his radioactive piles will power the new generator at Sellafield. And he's going to meet a tall dark stranger." When Jack Cunningham walks in, grinning dementedly and carrying a Geiger counter, I awake, and my thoughts turn instantly to the daily ordeal with the bran.