Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The vet, the boil and the gorilla

I’ve done some pretty unpleasant chores in the circus, but there’s one I’m especially keen to avoid thinking about before breakfast. It all began when Smacker Ramrod, the circus vet, burst into my trailer a few days before the opening show of the season.

“I say, GB!” he exclaimed. “The ringmaster’s got a boil on his arse. It’s an absolute snorter!”

“Send him my condolences,” I replied, not bothering to look up from the newspaper I was reading.

“Don’t you want to see it?” inquired Smacker.

“Not unless it’s a spectacle that rivals the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica,” I answered. “I don’t suppose the ringmaster wants everyone gazing at his bottom in any case.”

“That’s where you’re wrong!” corrected Smacker. “He’s been lying on his belly with his trousers down to his ankles, begging for someone to put him out of his misery. The trapeze team are visiting him in the mobile clinic as we speak. The lion tamer and his assistant have already had a viewing. That boil is on the verge of becoming a major tourist attraction.”

I looked up from my newspaper and shook my head in disapproval. Why do fat men, of all humans, have the least inhibitions about exposing their bodies? They’re always the first to bare their paunchy bellies on a warm sunny day and never imagine that others might find the sight of their flesh distasteful. Needless to say, I had no interest in participating in this vile festival of voyeurism.

“I do not wish to inspect the excrescence on the ringmaster’s posterior, irrespective of whether the man has put it on public display,” I declared. “Let the geeks and ghouls sate their sordid curiosity by leering at this unwholesome abomination. I shall not give their unnatural desires a semblance of propriety by joining them in their depravity.”

Smacker frowned and bit his lip to signify that the moment of truth had arrived. “Look, GB, the thing is I need your help,” he pleaded. “The ringmaster won’t be ready for the show unless we do something about that boil and everyone expects me to take care of it because we haven’t hired a new doctor. They just won’t accept that it’s unprofessional for a vet to go around lancing men’s boils. I mean, no one expects a doctor to treat animals, do they?”

I looked at Smacker through narrowed eyelids. “You seem to know enough about his condition to have diagnosed that the boil needs lancing. Why not just take a deep breath and prick the ruddy thing?”

“I’ll be damned if I will!” cried Smacker vehemently. “I refuse to meddle with another man’s arse! I went to a boarding school so I’m sensitive about that kind of thing. It’s positively indecent!”

“You’re not suggesting that I do it, Smacker?” I asked in stupefied revulsion.

“Would you, please, GB? I swear I’d be eternally grateful. A gorilla can get away with that sort of thing because he’s immune from the hang-ups we humans have about our bums. I’ll give you a little syringe. Just prick it gently at the highest point and draw out all the fluid. It won’t take a second.”

I glared at Smacker indignantly. It was the old story of man assigning a task he found too arduous to an obedient beast of burden. My first inclination was to pound my chest and tell him to get lost. But then I considered the wider issues. If allowed to fester for much longer, this wretched pustule would rapidly become the talk of the circus. A celebrity boil would degrade our communal discourse to below the level of the gutter: I fairly winced at the prospect of hearing the clowns discuss its finer points. Sometimes one is selected by fate to perform a thankless task for the common good – like the fearless knight of yore who is called upon to slay a fire-breathing dragon to confound the intrigues of the evil necromancer.

“Smacker,” I replied at length, “you are a miserable poltroon. However, I agree to carry out this mission, not to save your blushes, but out of regard for public decency. Lead me to the ignoble carbuncle!”

When we entered the mobile clinic, the ringmaster was lying on his side with his face to the wall, moaning dejectedly. I inspected his buttocks. The boil was an absolute devil: a pus-filled blister about the size of half a ping-pong ball, which seemed to change colour from pink to yellow to white as I varied my angle of view. A monstrosity of that calibre had to be destroyed without mercy.

“Ringmaster,” I said quietly, “what I am about to do will hurt you far less than it will disgust me. I want you to imagine that you are sitting on a bidet spouting cool, lavender-scented fluids.” I removed the syringe from its package and brought it to bear on the afflicted tissue, crying: “I deploy my instrument in the name of St. George!”

The ringmaster yelped like a Chihuahua when the needle pierced the boil, but the pus drained away painlessly into the syringe. Smacker then handed me a pair of forceps, which held a copious ball of alcohol-soaked cotton wool. I applied this firmly to the deflated sore, which caused the ringmaster to weep like a craven sissy. I then affixed a plaster of ample dimensions on the sterilised wound. The operation having been completed, Smacker and I exited the mobile clinic, leaving our patient to convalesce.

The ringmaster made a speedy recovery and played his customary role in our opening performance of the season. We happened to pass each other in the backstage area during the trapeze act.

“Thank-you for dealing with of mine,” he mumbled. “I can’t tell you what a relief it was to sit down again.”

“Think nothing of it ringmaster,” I replied. “I just followed Dr Ramrod’s instructions. Is everything shipshape in the, ah, affected region?”

“There’s no pain, but it does itch a bit when I walk. You wouldn’t be able to apply a cream or something, would you?”

“Itches does it, ringmaster? Well to begin with, I’d advise you to get hold of a hairbrush and give it a good scratch – that normally works quite well with itches. If it still feels itchy after that, go and see Dr Ramrod, who’d be only too pleased to rub a soothing ointment into your sore. These medical men are never happier than when they’re treating their patients.”

Smacker Ramrod is a decent chap, but there are times when even a gorilla has to play hardball.

You may not want to think about the incident before breakfast, GB, but it's not something I want to read about after breakfast. I'm not that keen about the picture either. I wonder why people get boils anyway? I've never had one.
Your ability to swallow your pride for the advancement of your fellows is a continued source of awe for me, GB.
Bravo great ape, bravo.
Any recommendations for E.European mosquito bites, Dr Bananas? There must be some medicinal leaves in the jungle that would relieve the irritation in a dignified manner that befits my newly ennobled status.
There are better things than leaves for that, my lady. Rub on some mashed beetle, leave it for an hour and then get a frog to lick it off.
As she's in E Europe, Frogs might be hard to come by. But for poor personal hygiene combined with massive arrogance, any Serb would make an acceptable substitute...
I've noticed, that the larger the German male body, the smaller the bathing suit.


It was probably a case of Staphylococcus cuteus. If the ring master had a somewhat hairy arse, it is quite possible that an ingrowing hair despoited the bacteria in a follicle, and hey presto. I'm surprised you've never had one yourself GB. What's your secret?
King Arthur wanted to boil Guinevere's Lance. A lot. But she wouldn't show him her bum.

Please accept my apologies for that snivelling cur of a God-blighted joke.
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I hope you were wearing rubber gloves, GB. Ugh!
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