(Ghost-written by S Hartwell on behalf of the real "Wincing Matilda")

I'll admit that part 3 of the Wincing Matilda trilogy is far tamer and less wince-making than my previous 2 encounters with the hospital, but since it involves the same part of my anatomy it deserves inclusion. Besides, it made my colleagues laugh albeit in a less eye-watering way.

For many years I've suffered the itching and disfigurement of psoriasis (luckily that particular part of me was unaffected) and made regular visits to the quack to get a new supply of lotions and potions. The creams stopped the flaking, but the red patches continued to spread. According to my wife, I looked like a map of the world and was suffering plate tectonics as the patches coalesced. You didn't need to be Ray Mears to track me through the bush, or at least between bedroom and bathroom - I left a trail of skin flakes like anaemic cornflakes in my wake.

"I think it's time to try a different tack," the doctor said after a good look at my colliding continents and the dermatological mountain ranges of raised scaly areas, "and go for UV treatment."

Personally I'd been hoping for an all expenses paid trip to an overseas spa to have my scaly flesh nibbled clean by those fishes I've seen featured on TV. No such luck. Not for me a fortnight of lounging in tepid water sipping a cocktail while piscine nurses went to work; I was to get a thrice weekly session in a glorified suntan booth being zapped with UV.

"I'll refer you to the dermatology unit and they'll get back to you," the quack said as he scribbled out the prescription for the usual gallon of anti-itch cream.

Expecting the usual months of delay, I was surprised to get a call later than week. I might be literally itching, but the dermatology unit was itching to zap a few more patients out their new UV booth.

"Have you ever been treated for skin cancer or suspect moles," asked the nurse over the phone in a lowland lilt.

"I've got lots of moles, but none are suspect to my knowledge."

"Okay, we'll check them for you. Now you need to bring a black sack with you."


"A black sack," she lilted.

I guessed this was to put my clothing in while I was being irradiated. The nurse reeled through a few more questions about my medical history and asked if I had any queries.

"Mole check, report any itching or burns that develop after treatment and I'm to bring a black sack with me," I confirmed.

"That's right, you need the sack to protect your genitalia during treatment."

"A SACK?" I asked, wondering if I was meant to fashion some sort of loincloth out of a binbag.

The voice on the phone started laughing. "A black SOCK," she enunciated carefully, "not a sack."

"That's a relief, I'm not so well-endowed I'd need a sack!" I laughed back. Or as wifey liked to tell me: it's not the size of the wand that matters, it's the skill of the wizard that waves it (and that was 20 years before Harry Potter first appeared).

No doubt the "black sack story" went round the nurse's tea room. It certainly went round our coffee-bar. Over the next few days my desk accumulated a collection of black binbags, a windsock (from a gliding enthusiast), a mobile phone sock and various child-size socks of less-than-adequate dimensions (the latter from my sister). While the rest of me developed a rosy glow, one part of me remained safely pale and interesting and developed a sense of fashion black sports sock one week, charcoal fashion sock with pom-pom detail the next (though the pom-pom might have cut more dash had it been on the toe of the sock, at least it would where I was wearing it).

Dimensions came back into it a little later that year. After weeks of being zapped by UV in the medical version of a tanning booth, the wife and I decided to get a dose of the real thing sunshine and headed off to Italy for a week. From the microwave oven to the barbecue, as it were, and no jokes about bangers if you please. And yes, I know the wavelengths are different, but my colleagues had nicknamed my lunchtime irradiation sessions as "microwaved banger time" and had taken to waving black socks at me as I left the office at 12 noon.

While there, wifey decided to buy a hand fan to flutter and, being wifey, she needed one to match each outfit. While buying souvenirs from one of those tat-shops that spring up near any tourist resort, she noticed a fan with the exact terracotta shades to match an outfit . and it was only a couple of Euros!

Wifey picked up the fan, which was cellophane wrapped, and I coughed up the 2 Euros. The girl in the shop looked worried and started to babble in Italian. My Italian doesn't extend beyond "Gracie" and "ravioli".

"Eengleesh?" I asked hopefully.

"Pompeii, Pompeii," the girl said, pointing at the fan.

"Pompay-ee," I agreed and offered my Euros.

"No-no, Pompeii!" she said with a worried fluttering of hands.

"Yes, been to Pompeii," I said and offered the money, "souvenir of Pompeii."

After a final protest from the girl, wifey got her terracotta fan. A couple of hours later, back at the hotel, she unwrapped it for a proper look. The design was a reproduction of erotic drawings from a Pompeii bawdy-house. The proportions of the gentlemen were exaggerated to say the least definitely black sack material! Never mind bangers, we were looking at the full Cumberland Ring and I was a mere chipolata by comparison.

I sensed payback time for weeks of microwave and sunbed jokes.

"And what outfit will that go with?" I enquired.


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