On Tuesday afternoon, I went for my annual Harley Street medical check up. I took a very small lift to the fourth floor, face to face with a very large lady in a very large hat with fruit on it: I was tempted to eat a banana. “I’m on my way to the Buckingham Palace Garden Party,” she said.
“I think you might have taken a wrong turning.” I said.
The waiting room apparently doubled as the bathroom: it was about the size of a small prison cell. I squeezed past the sink and sat down next to the bath on one of the only two chairs. Ten minutes later, in the surgery, the doctor said “Let’s begin by measuring you shall we?
“You’re five feet, seven inches” he said.” No I’m not, I’m five foot nine and a half.” Try again.
He bent down by my foot and began to measure me again. “No, you’re definitely five-seven: Have a go yourself if you don’t believe me,” he said, handing me a 12-inch wooden ruler.
‘You can’t measure people with a ruler, don’t you have a machine?’
“This is ridiculous. You’re in Harley Street, you can’t measure people with this. Why haven’t you invested in a 21st-century height measuring machine?”
“You measure yourself.”
“I’m not the doctor,” I said. “You’re the doctor – that’s why you went to medical school for five years – so you can tell people how tall they are. That’s what you’re charging me for.”
“Go on, have a go,” he said..
” How can I measure me? It’s got to go to the top of my head.”
“Maybe they used to include your hair,” he said. “Did you ever use to have a bouffant hairstyle?”
“Certainly not!” I said. Clearly you’re ruler is wrong. I know how tall I am. I’m five feet nine and a half inches tall: I’ve been that tall since I was 14. I’m the tallest person in my family, all my aunts always said ‘Look how tall he is!'”
He sat down behind his desk. ”OK, look I’ll give you half an inch but not two. I’m sorry but that’s as high as I’m prepared to go professionally.”
“Doctor, I don’t think you really appreciate just how important this is to me. I’m the tallest Rosengard who ever lived, or at least I was until I discovered five years ago that there are 400 Rosengards in Boston and all the men are six feet four inches or taller. Jewish Giants. We’re just not short Jews, us Rosengards. The last thing I need now is to be shorter.”
I leant forward. ”Doctor, can we speak confidentially?”
“Your bathroom – you call it the ‘Waiting Room’. Have you ever thought of entering it in the Guinness Book of Records ‘smallest Harley Street waiting room in the world with a bath in it’ category?”
“Look, Mr Rosengard, I understand you’re naturally upset at being shorter than you thought but let’s leave my waiting room out of it shall we and continue with your examination now.”
Fifteen minutes later, I was lying naked on the examining table, right in the middle of what, for middle-aged men, is the most dreaded part of the medical, when my mobile rang. It was Boris Johnson (I’m not making this up). I’d met him briefly once six years ago but we’d never spoken on the phone. (What were the chances of him calling me at this particular time!?) I answered the phone. “Peter, it’s Boris, Can you talk now?”
“Of course Boris,” I said through gritted teeth. “How nice to hear from you. How can I help?”