Patience is definitely one of my virtues

'Stop it, Johnny,' she said ineffectually, 'and let the doctor have a look at your ear'.

Little Johnny gave her a brief and dismissive glance, then ignored her and carried on playing his computer game.

'How long have your ears been sore, Johnny?' I asked kindly, pretending I cared. My patience is as boundless as my deceitfulness, but no answer came; the game kept beeping, the little fingers kept busy, but no answer came.

'He doesn't say very much,' said his mother. 'He's a thinker.'

More like a plonker, I thought, but I am good with children, so while attempting to gain access to the external auditory meatus, I accidentally on purpose jogged his arm. The game fell to the ground, gave one last forlorn little beep (as if it was saying a final sad farewell) and smashed into gratifyingly tiny pieces.

This kind of satisfactory conclusion represents yet another good reason for not having soft carpets on the floor. My surgery is deliberately uninviting; no heating, hard chairs, no paintings, a few theatrical cobwebs, starkly lit by one unshaded bulb hanging from the ceiling, with all the ambience of a Colombian prison cell, the ambience augmented by the rusty electrodes and the framed confessions hanging from the wall.

'This ain't no whorehouse parlour, don't get too comfortable, you're not welcome here, you'd better get out while you still can,' is the unremitting message of the decor.

If the Spartans had exposed their children overnight in my surgery, Sparta would have been totally depopulated, the course of history would have been completely different, and by now we'd all be enjoying elegant Persian cuisine instead of the fat stodgy rubbish we've been stuck with by our forebears.

I had his full attention now.

'Oh look,' I said, 'the poor little chap dropped his toy, and it's broken, isn't that just too bad? You never know, Santa might bring you another next Christmas, if you're very good; no matter, laddie, stop your crying or I'll give you something to really cry about,' the last sentence uttered in a mild yet unmistakeably threatening tone.

The kid and I exchanged a long and meaningful look, and the crying stopped. I felt he had grasped the unspoken agenda: just see what you'll get the next time.

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

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