I’m afraid this is going to be an unpleasant story, for it begins with the following words: I am sprinting desperately up Lygon Street at three minutes to five shaking a jar of my own urine.
A few months ago, upon reading Kim Beazley’s latest poll results, I decided to take out trauma insurance. This, like absolutely everything in this story so far is completely untrue, but it gets me to Lygon Street a lot more quickly, which is true and truly happened last Thursday, for when one applies for insurance pertaining to the bodily person one must submit to a full medical stock-take.
So at three in the afternoon I am in the waiting room of my local medical clinic, flipping through a five-page medical questionnaire sent to me by the insurance company for a doctor to fill in, and finding what I read more than slightly alarming.
Take, for example, question one: ‘Is there anything unfavourable in the subject’s appearance, development or behaviour?’
Well, honestly, I’m not convinced the insurance company has any business ramping up my premiums on the basis that some GP I’ve never met before finds my development unfavourable. She’s never even seen me tango, or do my beach ball trick.
I am made to wait five minutes after the appointed time, just long enough to ponder why I was just convinced I had a beach ball trick, before the doctor calls me in. She takes the form, reads the first question and silently looks me over. A small tick is made, but I can’t see in which box.
It transpires over the following half-hour that I am in almost every way a model of banal good health. There is nothing wrong with me beyond the slight long-sightedness which my teenage self took to be the vengeful wrath of the Lord (I was wrong, by the way — His vengeance, crueller and infinitely subtler, came in the form of a gorgeous Maltese girl who allowed me to interfere with her carnally then told me she was looking for more of a ‘brother-sister’ kind of vibe between us), and nothing so unseemly about my appearance, development or behaviour as to require a medical professional to alert the insurance industry. It appears I have lost a few kilos, which I really could have done with, and gained half an inch in height, which I frankly don’t need.
‘Right,’ says the doctor. ‘Now all we need is something to go in this.’
She holds up a small plastic jar with a yellow lid, and we look at it solemnly for a moment.
‘I have some loose change,’ I venture. Her glance at the clock is almost imperceptible.
My bladder is shy and I don’t care who knows it, as long as they don’t know it while standing next to me at a urinal. I have always found the prospect of micturating in company disquieting, right back to the first time I was asked to fill a jar at about seven years of age, for reasons now lost in fog. On that day, a nurse actually accompanied me into the toilet and stood to watch at what she clearly believed to be a sensitive remove. I couldn’t understand why she had followed me in and in my panic I pulled my trousers right down instead of merely unzipping and struggled to wee while my exposed bottom burned with shame.
Back at the insurance test, it is over before I reach the cubicle. Some muscle contractions are voluntary, others are none of your business, and at moments of great stress the brain can turn the former into the latter without your consent. My prostate, upon hearing the news of my flashback to buttock-flashing shame, flicks on the auto-pilot quicker than if someone had said ‘crowded pub-toilet’, and will admit of no inducement to relent, its ideas of my self-preservation being both very different to and apparently more strident than mine.
I return the shamefully empty jar to the doctor and apologise in a small voice. She kindly offers to send me home with the jar and wait until five that evening for me to return, when she will analyse the contents, but I must return by five, no later. I promise to be as good as my bladder and race home to brew a pot of strong tea, neck a tallie of tap water and sit down to wait.
At ten to five, with the clinic ten minutes walk away, I am straining over the jar in a way which would undoubtedly constitute an unfavourable appearance. Then at seven minutes to five, success — in fact predictably too much success, which keeps me until four fifty-five.
The problem is then one of transport: there is no way I am going to stride confidently up Lygon Street with the warm jar there in my hand like an overdue copy of Pirates of the Caribbean. At four minutes to five there is no paper bag, old envelope or empty bean tin available, so it is with a semi-transparent Coles shopping bag that I tear out of the door and begin my sprint.
An immediate problem arises, beyond the obvious one of semi-transparency, which I am dealing with by palming the jar like an amateur magician. Why I think the populace will be less concerned if the man running up the street with a jar of piss in his hand is an amateur magician is a question for the ages, because the problem which arises is the sloshing.
As I run, the contents of the jar are making a rhythmic plap-plap noise against the lid in a way which I find disturbingly redolent of the holiday I spent on the shores of the Adriatic. As the adrenaline floods through me and pedestrians scatter I am picturing handing my warm, bulging, semi-transparent bag to the attractive medical receptionist to have it burst expansively, spraying terrible waves over her, me, the waiting room patients and innocent residents of surrounding suburbs. There is nothing for it but to trust the diligence of the designers of little plastic jars with yellow lids and, as it were, piss-bolt.
I hurdle the fence of the cricket ground and streak across the field, baulking around an elderly Red Setter as I charge into the goal square. The jar rattles like a cocktail shaker.
It is four minutes past five when I stagger into the clinic and collapse, gasping and groaning, against the counter. The receptionist reaches calmly for a rubber glove.
‘Let me take that for you,’ she says and reaches into the bag.
‘… no … don’t — danger …’ I gasp, but it is too late.
She takes out the jar and pauses. My urine has a head on it. We agree I should sit down.