Liam Farrell: Letting down the profession, sexually speaking

Readers of this column will know of my distaste for vulgarity. Stephen Fry, Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward, these great men were my chief influences; the droll spoof, the dry wit, the little bon mot, the biting satire. But I was not always so sophisticated.

In our final year as GP trainees, our course director organised a seminar on STIs. Of all the specialties that have seen their sun come up, surely genitourinary medicine must feel the most favoured. It was formerly a rather furtive, half-amateur discipline, until AIDS appeared, confirming that every cloud does indeed have a silver lining.

Overnight every region needed a GUM consultant; they became media darlings, icons of sanctity with a frisson of sexual excitement, the cutting edge of science blended to an intoxicating cocktail with trendy, liberal values. But there weren't any GUM consultants then, so our speaker was a rather earnest male nurse specialist, and the first thing he did, without any warning, was put up a very large and graphic slide of the human penis.

Consider his audience for a moment; we were mature final year trainees, a more sober and respectable group could hardly be envisaged. But when the slide went up, even those of us half asleep at the back of the class (as was our wont) got a bit of a shock. As the shock wore off, the sniggers started. Our speaker ignored them and started his presentation in a lugubrious monotone. 'That's one big knob,' someone whispered, and the sniggering became infectious; it rose and rose in an ever-greater wave.

Of course it was embarrassing and infantile, but please understand our plight; all the time we were staring at that giant penis. Faces were going red, noses were being held, eyes were watering; keeping in the belly-laugh demanded a Herculean effort. I tried my best, but eventually I could take it no longer and made a bolt for the door. The other trainees saw my escape attempt and some of them joined me in the rush.

But I got there first, closed the door behind me, and then, in a flash of inspiration, held it closed and listened with satisfaction to the frantic scrabbling on the other side.

It may have seemed disloyal to my colleagues, but as Oscar Wilde said, a true friend stabs you in the front.

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