Liam Farrell: I have seen all, I have heard all, I have forgotten all

When the Magees are planning a day out for all the family, they consider the options carefully.

The seaside sounds enticing, all that sunshine, but then it's a long drive in the heat of a summer's day and wee Kylie gets car-sick and when you eventually arrive wee Johnny gets sunburn and the sand, with bitter irony, gets in the ham sandwiches.

Much less hassle, perhaps, would be a picnic in the countryside, lying back on a cozy rug listening to the music of the skylarks and watching the clouds roll by, but then the wasps start pestering you for the jam tarts and cows congregate to stare at you (curiously, but with just the hint of a threat) from over the fence. The cinema is boring (there being no cartoons on), the zoo is stinky, museums are boring, shopping requires that actual money be spent.

So when you take all the alternatives into account, what could be better than a trip to the surgery; cheap, convenient, comfortable, no pesky wasps, no intrusive cows, rather a place to meet all your friends and catch up with all the local gossip.

It's also a chance, available in no other theatre of society, for some serious family bonding. All generations, from the cackling granny to the sulky adolescent, can find common cause with the deficiencies of the health service in general and the doctor in particular.

They may fight like cats and dogs at home, but by the time they reach the surgery they are united against a common enemy and ready to storm the barricades as one, throw down the Bastille, slaughter the kulaks, despatch the aristos to Madame Guillotine, banish the Russian royal family to Siberia, and declare their own Soviet; their esprit de corps would put the Foreign Legion to shame.

The waiting time is too long, the waiting room is too hot/too cold, the magazines are dull and out of date, there are no toys to keep the kids happy, the doctor won't give me antibiotics/sleeping tablets/vitamins, he won't send me to a specialist/for an X-ray; by the time they reach my surgery, en revolting masse, they are almost spitting with outrage for what is a doctor, if not the living embodiment of bourgeois decadence?

'Come in,' I say, feeling like a sad old balding Marie Antoinette. 'Would you like some cake?'

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at

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