Sunday, 1 October 2017


“Can I help you?”

The brown-haired woman smiles at me through the hatch at the reception of the laboratory at UCH. I pass her the form my doctor gave me. 

“Ah lovely. You can leave that with me.”

“Ah, actually, I’m here to pick up a …”

For the first time of many that morning, I struggle not to say ‘pot to piss in’, instead blurting out

“…a container.”

“Oh. I see. Right, well just a moment, please.”

She turns to a fair-haired woman who also shakes her head.

“Sorry, we don’t know exactly where they are, so can you wait for himself to come back? He’ll only be a minute.”

“Sure, I’m in no rush.”

They disappear and I lean on the hatch shelf. A tired-looking bloke in a blue coat arrives with a large bag full of samples, which he pours through the window into the awaiting box.
Blimey. That’s a lot of work for them.

“Are you being looked after?” asks an older woman who appears at the hatch. She too smiles as I reassure her that I’m fine, they’re looking for - oh never mind.

A few seconds later a postman arrives with a mountainous pile of letters and packages, along with a huge plastic container, which he clasps to his chest as he’s buzzed through the locked doors. 

Appearing again the other side of the hatch, he lifts the lid on his box and tips countless packages and smaller boxes into a vast plastic tub.

Holy mackerel! This would be comical if it wasn't so sad. In the few minutes I’ve stood here hundreds of samples have arrived for testing. 

These workers are under the cosh, but somehow they’re all still a pleasure to deal with, even if they can’t find a …well, y’know.

“Hello there. Can I help you?”
This time it’s a young man with dazzling white teeth.

“No, thanks. They’re looking for a container for me.”

“Ah yes, just a moment.”

He leaves and through the glass front doors I see him talking to another bloke and a woman. They point along the corridor and up the stairs, and finally the young man heads off.

“Are you alright there?”

She’s a fresh-faced 20something in a white coat. I explain what’s going on and she nods vigorously, assuring me she’s on the case.

In a small way I’m starting to feel a tad guilty. Seven different members of staff have now been involved in finding this container, while heaps of vital urgent work await them in heaving boxes, over-spilling tubs and crammed cartons.

“Here we go then!” announces a completely different woman, making her hatch debut.

I thought I’d be getting something that looked like a specimen bottle, with an expanding top, to facilitate the flow, so to speak, yet instead she gives me a flat-sided two litre container.

“Thanks so much!” I smile and wave as I leave these friendly heroes to their intimidating workload.

Looking down at the bottle top, I see the word ‘Acid’ written in marker pen. Given that they had so much trouble finding it, I’m now a bit worried they might have given me the wrong bottle, so I unscrew the top and sniff.

Clean as a whistle, but there’s a little liquid still in the bottom, so tipping it upside down I spill what I believe to be water onto the lab steps, only to jump backwards a full foot, as the liquid hits the ground with a


Bleedin’ mother of holy Nora, Bobby Tambling and nutty cheddar cheese!

A six inch bubble of fizzing froth is exploding off the concrete and 
I’m all shook up. If I'd put my dangler into that bottle I’d have been racing to A&E, unable to leave any sample at all.

Returning to the hatch I encounter the young man again.

“Can you help me, please? I’ve just had a bit of a moment.”

Flashing the whitest of toothy reassuring smiles at me, he shoots through the doorway, where he clocks what I’ve done. Immediately reaching into a nearby flower bed, he grabs a handful of dead leaves and drops them over the acidic eruption.

“You poured the acid out?”

“I er yes, I did, because I didn’t know it was acid. I mean, I’m meant to pee into this bottle, so I didn’t think it’d be designed to burn my bits off.”

“Oh no, you don’t go into the bottle. You need a funnel!”

“Ah, oh, well that makes sense. Bloody glad you told me.”

“So am I! Just get an empty big bottle of coke or something like that, cut off the top, wash it thoroughly and then use that as a funnel to err…”

“Yes, I see, thanks so much.”

For once in my life I decline to complain how it might have been handy if the woman who gave me the bottle had mentioned the lethal liquid lurking inside. 

She and they are our warriors of the HSE: underpaid, overworked and every single one cooperative and friendly.

“Fair play to them!” I say out loud as I walk away, finally looking at the large sticker on the side of the bottle:

Contains strong acid. Causes severe skin burns and eye damage. 25mls of 50% concentrated Hydrochloric acid. 
Pour urine SLOWLY into container in such a manner that it does not reach bottom of container directly 
(i.e. pour down along inside of container.)
All of a sudden I’m overjoyed that I spilled the acid and made a mess on the steps, as without my prattery himself wouldn’t have come out and told me to use a funnel.

With the staff so overworked and my observation skills apparently reduced to pitiful levels, it might have been better had the warning on the bottle said:   

Absolutely never piss into this pot, unless you want your premium bond quickly and painfully dissolved.

©Charlie Adley

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