Liam Farrell: The wicked temptations of Crossmaglen

When I started practice in Crossmaglen, the Troubles were at their height, and one helpful consequence of this was the absence of road signs, these having been removed by enthusiastic locals to confuse the army and other officers of the state; confusing the new GP was just an amusing bonus.

Locating the correct address for a home visit can be difficult enough, the absence of road signs made it like Russian roulette; sometimes in exasperation I would just give up, call at a random house and throw a prescription in the door.

On one visit I stopped to ask directions from a likely-looking chap. I was wearing my stethoscope, ensuring that I wouldn't be mistaken for the TV licence man. He was sitting on a gate, staring aimlessly into the distance, but this was dissimulation only, such an overt lack of focus is irrefutable evidence of ample local knowledge; one of the immutable laws of the countryside is that the more unworldly you look, the shrewder you are. If he had been working for the CIA, Bin Laden would have been canned a long time ago. I was therefore hopeful of lucid advice.

He was glad to be of assistance and stopped chewing his haystalk for a moment, though the faraway look never left his eyes.

'You'd be the new doctor then,' he said, with remarkable perspicacity. 'Continue on for a mile or so, then deny yourself a right, you'll see a crossroads coming up, keep straight on, take the next left at the dead otter, and the house...'

I wasn't listening anymore, I had lost him way back, I was enraptured, in a reverie.

Deny yourself a right! What did he mean? What forbidden pleasure, what glorious vista of debauchery and depravity lay down that seemingly innocent country road? What was so tempting that I should have to deny it?

I surfaced eventually, gave him a prescription for antibiotics (the traditional gesture of thanks for services rendered, the medical equivalent of an apple pie), and drove quickly past that infamous right turn, steadfastly looking the other way, valiantly resisting the urge to turn around and bury myself headlong in the fleshpots.

In the end I found the house easily enough, and took another route back to the surgery; the denial of instant gratification is hard for me. But sometimes, deep in the night, it haunts me still.

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com

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