The government department which meets with the sole purpose of giving this column something to write about has been working overtime again this week.
How else would they have decided to hand out free condoms to the over-60s on the NHS?
You couldn’t make it up.
Our old friends at Public Health England have really done the bizzo this time. They’re behind a pilot scheme in Derbyshire aimed at distributing rubber johnnies to ‘Silver Singles’ via, and I quote, ‘GP surgeries, community venues and food banks’.
Our old friends at Public Health England have really done the bizzo this time. They’re behind a pilot scheme in Derbyshire aimed at distributing rubber johnnies to ‘Silver Singles’ via, and I quote, ‘GP surgeries, community venues and food banks’
Run that by me again. They’re giving away packets of three at food banks?
‘Just nipping down the food bank, love. Anything we need? Righty-ho, tin of baked beans, half a pound of tuppenny rice and some of those knobbly Durex.’
Presumably, it’s the flavoured variety they’ll be handing out with the Heinz 57.
By way of full disclosure, I should tell you that one of the most lucrative night’s work I ever did was making an after-dinner speech to the annual sales conference of the London Rubber Company, getting on for 25 years ago. To be honest, I don’t enjoy after-dinner speaking, but they were paying eight grand and offering a chauffeur-driven Jag there and back, so it would have been rude not to.
Frankly, the whole gig put me right off after-dinner speaking for life. You can’t do 20 minutes of rubber johnny jokes to an audience consisting of people who spend their lives replenishing vending machines in public toilets.
They’ve heard them all before and, anyway, it’s not a job for anyone with a sense of humour, when you come to think about it.
To say that I died a death would be an understatement. During the meal I was sitting next to the marketing director, an earnest woman about my age.
In the interests of making small talk, I asked her how they tested the flavoured condoms, having recently spotted that the Gents in my local pub in North London had just started knocking them out in a selection of exotic flavours, including Malibu and Mivvi.
‘We have tasting panels,’ she said, with a completely straight face.
‘Do you take part?’ I wondered.
‘Oh, yes. We sample them after lunch in the boardroom.’
There’s no answer to that, as Eric Morecambe used to say. Sounds like the sort of work the BBC wine buff Jilly Goolden would have enjoyed. ‘I’m getting hints of saffron and smoked haddock.’ But I persevered.
‘One thing that’s always puzzled me,’ I said. ‘All these flavours, pina colada, lager and lime, walnut whip, etc. Why don’t you do cheese and onion?’
Without missing a beat, she gave me a quizzical look and said: ‘No call for it.’
That was the moment when I knew the evening wasn’t going to end well.
Start the car!
Oh, and I’ve still got a souvenir of the evening, which they presented to me on the night, mounted on a wooden plinth.
It’s a stainless steel cylinder they use to pass an electric current through the condoms to make sure they don’t leak.
About 15 inches tall, and four inches in circumference, this fearsome projectile is obviously modelled on the device described in the old rugby song, An Engineer Told Me Before He Died. I defy any man to look at it without being overwhelmed by a shrivelling sense of gross inadequacy.
Anyway, I digress. If I’d written a column back then predicting that one day the NHS would be giving away condoms at food banks to the over-60s, the editor would have called me into his office, probably summoning security at the same time.
You’ve gone too far this time, Rich. How about a sabbatical? Or a drying-out clinic?
But here we are in Austerity Britain, 2019, where the allegedly cash-starved NHS is giving free rubber johnnies to anyone eligible for a bus pass.
Why Derbyshire, for a start, m’duck? Are they all at it like rabbits in the East Midlands? And why the over-60s, most of whom are probably thanking their