All this health advice will take years off my life

To the doctor's for my MOT. Apparently those over a certain age get a free one on the NHS. And to think I'd only gone in to see if I needed an EpiPen in case I got stung by a wasp. There are too many of them around these days for my liking, and the stung part of me swells up like Giles Coren's ego.

My new fear is that I will take a swig from a can into which one has fallen, and my throat will close up and I will die unless someone performs an emergency tracheotomy on me with a Biro, which will mar my unconventional good looks and make me speak with a raspy voice for ever. Or worse, with a squeak, like the dog that swallows a toy ball in Snatch.

I needn't worry. Just don't drink things out of cans. As if following a train of thought, the locum who is telling me, in effect, not to be such a baby looks at my notes on the screen.

“And how is it going with the alcohol dependency?" she asks.

“Fine," I say. "I'm in a good place with that." (Quip © Homer Simpson.)

Testing times

Yet it is a thoughtful N Lezard who walks back to the Hovel, stopping off at Majestic to spend the last of my funds (terrible cash-flow problems, as usual) on a couple of bottles of bargain Shiraz. I seem to have crept up past the one-bottle-a-night mark over the past couple of years. (Strangely, however, my capacity for beer has decreased.)

Anyway, the night before the test, I have a couple of friends over, or maybe I don't, the details are a little hazy at this distance, but the general point is that, through sheer momentum, I don't get to bed until about three, and blood is going to be taken out of me for careful scrutiny at ten the next morning.

I will be tested for liver function and cholesterol, I gather. Well, there are some days when I wake up wondering whether I've broken my liver, and I don't really eat anything apart from cholesterol, so I'm not feeling very gung-ho about the prospect.

And nor am I feeling very much more so, sitting in the nurse's surgery and trying to assure her that I won't faint when she puts the needle in my arm. (A little impatient with my fear of needles, she concedes with a chuckle that at least I won't have been injecting heroin. I think I mentioned this nurse in a column a year or so back - she's the Chinese one with a rather dark sense of humour and no illusions about the strength of human willpower. I like her.)

Anyway, the blood is taken out very professionally and I am very brave, and I don't lie about how much I smoke, though I lie a little bit about how much I exercise, and she doesn't ask me how much I drink, though perhaps from my breath she doesn't need to, and I am very good at standing up to be measured and weighed.

“You slim!" she says when she puts the tape measure round my gut, and I'm pretty sure "slim" here is an adjective, not an imperative, because I'm holding my stomach in a bit.

You have to wait a week or so for the results, which means that one has time to dream up a proper, exciting worst-case scenario. I take the kids to see my parents for Sunday lunch, and, because I'm not driving, I allow myself the pre-lunch snifter my father invariably offers me, as well as an extra glass of red with lunch.

My mother, always on the qui vive for signs of my doom, tells me of a recent conversation she had with my sister-in-law, who is a consultant haematologist and therefore knows whereof she speaks. Given my lifestyle, my mother asked her, how long did she reckon I had to live? It seems I am due to peg out some time in my sixties.

Sweet sixties

“As a matter of fact," I say nonchalantly, "I recently had a check-up and they said everything was fine."

My mother looks at me suspiciously and I change the subject, hoping I haven't tempted fate too far this time.

My sixties! Jesus. They start in 12 years' time, which is, like, nothing.

The rest of the week is spent carefully monitoring the strange aches and twinges that one normally allows to pass unchallenged in the daily ebb and flow of existence. I don't exactly start drinking less, but I do worry more each time I pour a glass. Does that help? (Mother, if you're reading this: I exaggerate wildly for comic effect.)

Well, you can imagine the punchline. My blood pressure is at the exemplary end of the range, my liver purring along like a Rolls-Royce. And if the cholesterol is a fraction too high, it's nothing to worry about.

Really, there's no justice.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 12 September 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron vs the shires