In a rare and surprising instance of carelessness, Rebecca leaves an uncorrected proof copy of a medical book she's been sent lying on the kitchen table, and I duly snaffle it. Without the cover pages it's hard to be sure, but it looks like an updated version of a self-diagnostic guide I read a while ago - only this time with the name of my personal physician Sarah Jarvis added to the two previous authors.
There is nothing in the book, oddly, about jet lag, which I still suffer five weeks after returning from Australia. What with going to bed for the night during the commercial break in Countdown, there is no time to study any more than the index of Dr Jarvis's book, but I will try to get down to it tomorrow.
After a supper that I imagine must have been part of my wife's ongoing market research for the prototype ITV game show Name That Meat, I complain about some of the sloppy omissions - prostate problems, for example, and no mention of pattern baldness under "hair loss" - in Dr Jarvis's book. "Did the topic on page 158 not suggest anything?" asks Rebecca. "I haven't got that far yet. Let me see." She throws the book across the sitting room at a speed and trajectory that would have frightened Oddjob, and once feeling has returned to my left arm, I turn to page 158. "Vulval irritation and/or sores" is the topic. "This wouldn't be a book written for women, would it?" I ask. Rebecca makes a sub-Homer Simpson grunt, and leaves the room.
I am exhausted and rather tetchy having had a troubled night. With the jet lag seemingly in retreat at last, I was up until 4am reading A Younger Woman's Diagnose it Yourself Guide to Health, and excellent it is with diagrams on the left-hand side of the page narrowing down possible illnesses, and written advice on the right. Most material is common to both sexes, but frankly some seems ambiguous. If I didn't know better, I'd swear from the symptoms that I was going through an early menopause.
The book has vanished. It was here at lunchtime, when I expressed alarm about hot flushing, but went soon after. I can't affect any surprise. In this, the Bermuda Triangle of medical publishing, I make that the 23rd book, text book or dictionary to go in three years. And that's not to mention the blood pressure testing kit, nine thermometers, 17 specimen bottles, countless bottles of vitamins and supplements and three stethoscopes.
I awake early sensing something so wildly and disturbingly unfamiliar, so desperately disorientating, that for a moment I am tempted to call an ambulance. Gradually it dawns on me what it is: I am feeling refreshed, free of pain and full of energy. Well, in fact. I take the dog for a walk in a starkly sunny, crisp, high clouded, autumnal morning, and as we amble round Ravenscourt Park I realise something else: for whatever reason or combination of reasons - a long run without a serious medical scare, reading in Dr Jarvis's book about so many nasty things I cannot get, a story in the Observer about a new early detection cancer test - the terror of death which has plagued me remorselessly since I turned 19 seems as distant today as I can remember.
An old friend rings to tell me something. Last night she dreamed I had died. "Yes, but I did cry," she says consolingly, and is gone. Unthinkingly, I turn for refuge to the whisky bottle and am beginning to feel less distressed when Rebecca returns from work. I tell her about the dream. "Well, even you aren't going to believe that, are you? It's not as if she's psychic, is it? What possible reason could you have to be worried by her dream?" I stare at Rebecca very hard. "What's her name?" I ask, icily. "Sorry?" "It isn't a trick question from quantum mechanics. What is the name of the friend whose insight into the future you advise me not to believe." "Cassandra. It's Cassandra," replies Rebecca. "Oh my God, it's Cassandra." Taking the bottle of Glenlivet in one hand and Dr Jarvis's book in the other, I head dolefully up the stairs to bed.