The first time I contracted amoebic dysentery, it was on a three-day hike up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. I had so many bowel movements that I ran out of toilet paper and had to resort to using pages torn from Shiva Naipaul’s excellent travel book, North of South; and then to leaves; and finally, as we went higher and the vegetation became less luxuriant, to smooth stones. Near the top, my difficulties were compounded by altitude sickness and I keeled over on a petrified lava field between two snow-capped volcanic cones at about 1,800 feet. I lay on my back, semi-conscious and “half in love with easeful death”; with the alpine sunshine on my eyelids and the extraordinary silence ringing in my ears. After a while I heard the familiar hawking and spitting of our guide, who kindly helped me up, assisted me back down the mountain and made me a nice cup of tea.
About a week later, I managed to get the dysentery under control with large doses of antibiotics. However, my problems in that area weren’t yet over because, to my horror, I discovered that my anus had become infected and what felt like an enormous abscess was beginning to form there. As it grew inexorably larger day by day, the pain got worse and my movements became more restricted. To begin with, I limped. But as the abscess filled out like a ripening plum, the pain increased to such an extent that I couldn’t sit, stand or walk; for the best part of a week all I could do was kneel down in a Codydramol-induced stupor.
It was a situation which required privacy. But at the time, as a member of a large party of package tourists on a camping holiday in the remote parts of east Africa, there was little privacy to be had. And the further we went from civilisation, the more my abscess seemed to flourish. On the plus side, I have to say that it did introduce a welcome note of levity into what had previously been a rather dour, uncommunicative group of fellow travellers. I myself had to abandon the Clint Eastwood persona which I had been cultivating and go for something more along the lines of George Formby. In fact the abscess on my anus became adopted as a sort of group mascot: it was an unfailingly successful conversational gambit;…