There’s a program on British TV called “Embarrassing Bodies” which is as mystifying as it is gruesome. I’ve watched it a couple of times but it’s not for me. People tune in to see people who are so ashamed of their own defective and unwieldy body parts that they have to get them out on national television. This raises obvious questions: if you’re so embarrassed why not just show your own doctor in the privacy of a surgery? What sort of freak would choose to go on this program? Erm...that’d be me.
Let me explain. It was all an accident really. I was on holiday in Brighton in Autumn 2009 with my partner of the time, the rather sneaky and deceptive police inspector who had an embarrassing issue of his own, a complete inability to tell the truth. I tend to refer to him using a very naughty word which most people don’t like, so for purposes of this article, I’ll call him Inspector Twat. We’d been to London to see a brilliant staging of “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” starring one of my favourite actresses, Lesley Sharp and the strangely sexy but odd looking Marc Warren. It left the shifty copper unmoved which bemused me. We were sitting just behind the nauseating DJ, Tony Blackburn, who was wearing the most obvious wig in the history of wig-sporting. This beggared the question, how did he maintain that look whilst in that stupid celebrity jungle torture program? We should be told.
Inspector Twat had gone to a lot of trouble over the weekend away and had booked a suite in a hotel which was pretty nifty. I always thought I should be staying in suites but never have the money. I have ideas above my station, as did he. He was all Abercrombie and Fitch clothes, Molten Brown toiletries and a flash car, which left me as unimpressed as the play left him. Then we went down for a couple of days in Brighton and a more modest hotel which I’d chosen. It overlooked the ruined West Pier and the view of the starlings doing their co-ordinated acrobatic formations at dusk was amazing to witness. We had a massive gull in residence on our fifth floor window ledge and I was a little perturbed to come to my senses after a session of what one goes to Brighton to do, to find the gull staring in at us. The dirty birdy.
The mismatch between us was pretty plain throughout the long weekend. We accidentally stumbled into a gay bar which was hosting a uniform night. The dress code was quite interesting and whilst I was delighted and giggled covertly upon see a man in a crotchless rubber policeman’s uniform, complete with outsize dildo as truncheon, he was horrified and afraid. I wanted to amble about round little shops selling retro tat, he tended to wait outside with barely concealed impatience. I was happy to sit and read, he wondered why anyone would want to read. We went into a hilarious gay owned tea shop where they have a set of comical rules including that you had to stand up as a mark of respect if anyone mentioned Jane McDonald or Princess Di. I found it amusing to watch the camp cafe owner hurl abuse at the clientele whilst weaving around through his collection of naff royalist memorabilia. He looked like a rabbit in the headlights.
He treated me to a massage in the hotel’s posh spa, which I tolerated through gritted teeth, hating every minute of what felt a scrutiny and invasion by an intellectually challenged teenage girl in flip flops, all set to whale music. I appreciated the gift with good grace though. We walked a lot, ate hearty meals and generally it was all quite fun. It was on one such walk that we spotted a massive trailer bearing the “Embarrassing Bodies” logo, parked on the beach. There were researchers standing outside it on the paths, handing out flyers and recruiting the unashamed with bad body bits. I pondered the thought and was swayed to consider it further when I spotted Dr Christian Jessen lolling in the doorway of the trailer.
Inspector Twat was fascinated by the whole TV thing and instantly egged me on. “You must have something embarrassing you can show him.” I’m not sure this was a compliment. Dr Christian is a funny looking bloke, massively tall with a huge gym defined chest but facially a bit angular with a strange floppy hair style. I think the term is “body of Baywatch, face of Crimewatch” I wracked my brains and considered my own body. I find my body generally very embarrassing anyway. Hence my discomfort at the massage and my horror at having a sea gull watch me getting jiggy. Should I talk to the doctor about my wind issues, my hairy back or my collection of recurrent facial warts? No, too embarrassing. Should I resist the chance to go on television at all? No way. It looked fascinating. I decided to reveal my dodgy tonsil to the nation.
I had recurrent tonsillitis as a student nurse and spent months on and off antibiotics and gargling salt water. It left me with a nasty thing in the back of my throat. The proper term is a tonsillar crypt. It’s basically a lump of scar tissue and looks like a big donut; a reddish coloured tonsil with a hole in it. It isn’t noticeable, isn’t much of an issue really, but does collect things. No, not Lucky Trolls or china pigs, it collects debris. Every now and then my tonsil will spew out a plug of greenish cheese-like stuff which tastes and smells pretty rancid. I can convince most doctors that I have tonsillitis at any given time which isn’t especially useful. Occasionally it does swell up and gets a little sore and I have to put a finger into my throat and express the gunk. That’s not much fun. I’m an inveterate squeezer, though. It’s very satisfying.
I approached the researcher expecting that my tonsil would be rebuffed as unexciting compared to the usual array of malformed vaginas and crooked penises that they usually have on. I was wrong. They were very excited and there was a volley of frantic talking on walkie talkies about my poor old tonsil. Apparently they’d never had a tonsil on before and mine was looking like hot property.
Within minutes I was being fed cakes and coffee in a hotel lounge and filling in numerous forms so that I wouldn’t be able to sue them once my tonsil became really famous and had to enter rehab or got sex texts off a minor league footballer. Then we were whisked over to the trailer and filming began. I was on TV for about 90 seconds but it took about 30 minutes to film. I had to repeat scenes and fake conversations again and again so they could film from several different angles. When I walked in the director said “Now, you’ll have to walk into the trailer and sit very close to Dr Christian on the couch, which I know might feel odd.” Looking at his meaty thighs it felt fine to me. The worst bit was when they tried to get a good shot of my tonsil which involved a tongue depressor, a big lamp and two cameras. I pondered just how much more embarrassing this would have been had they been filming my anus with two cameras, an implement and a big lamp.
Christian was friendly, a little bit camp and skittish and appeared very vain. Inspector Twat watched from the sidelines and apparently Christian has a hot young Brazilian boyfriend, so there was no exchange of numbers. Maybe the fact that he retched when I told him about expressing the green cheese from my throat put him off me a little too. They told me they’d be in touch and might want to film me having my tonsil removed. I left the film set thinking, what a good laugh.
Later that day, my thoughts changed to “Oh fuck. I’ve just shown my gammy tonsil on TV.” I also came out in a cold sweat when I remembered having a good hard look at Dr Christian’s pert buttocks as he walked across me to grab a tongue depressor. What if they’d caught that on camera? Argh! I began to fret.
They rang me a few weeks later and asked if I’d go down to Essex, all expenses paid and they’d take my tonsil out for me (whilst filming it). I declined. I don’t believe in having surgery in private hospitals. I feel safer with the NHS. I’m a natural pessimist and expect to haemorrhage. I’d rather do that in a hospital which had inferior crockery but did have a crash team and an intensive care unit on hand. Also, it’s one thing being filmed in a trailer on a good day, another to be filmed coming round from an anaesthetic in a gown, all bleary and blood splattered. Essex is a long journey too after surgery.
They showed the episode the following February and I was nervous to the point of hysteria. I watched the show with my best friend and a sense of mounting dread at what I’d done. Luckily, it wasn’t too bad although I’m sure they’d done some technological trick to make me look more camp and red faced and make my nose look bigger. I was indeed very flirtatious with the doctor, which made me laugh. Luckily they seemed to have cut the bit where I stared intently at his arse. Phew.
I quite liked the attention of the aftermath. People would stop me in the street, at work and when I was out shopping. It was funny. I felt it had an ironic comedy value to be momentarily famous for a defect. My tonsil has gone global too and been screened in Australia. It may yet be offered a part in Neighbours.
Featured on the same program as me were a girl with an anal sore and a woman with a chronically inflamed vagina. Dr Christian didn’t retch at these. I feel they upstaged me, which has to be wrong. They must have had some guts though to get those bits out for 5 minutes of fame or infamy. It’s not like those girls were even angling after a free operation. They’ve had another tonsil on there since, apparently. I feel betrayed. I thought I was their “tonsil” but apparently not. It’s a fickle world, is fame.