Doctors have always known how important these are. Those of monarchs were studied with great care. Although they hadn’t yet learned to call his disease Porphyria instead of madness, the doctors attending George III took careful note of his purple stools. It’s a pretty good bet that the physicians of ancient Greece, and before them of Egypt, were well aware of the bedpan as a diagnostic tool.

Equally, we the patients have always had an intimate knowledge of how our bowels are working. I just don’t believe that humankind has not, back through the ages, noticed the relationship of this to diet. Whenever people have forgotten this folk-wisdom, great fortunes have been made by the makers of pills and liquids that claim to get the machine working at the right speed.

Nowadays we have no excuse not to know what our chimpanzee ancestors almost certainly knew, and most people with any sense act on this knowledge. This is a cause for celebration. A satisfactory visit to the loo, as Freud remarked, is the second best physical experience we can have. The curious thing is that it is still regarded as vulgar to celebrate it openly.

No doubt I shall be accused of vulgarity when I say that, as regards health, there is nothing better than a good turd. Working properly, our body is designed to compact and extrude its waste in discrete lumps of the right consistency. If all is working well, it is indeed a moment that feels good. I’m not suggesting that celebration of this should replace greetings such as ‘Good Morning’, nor that it should dominate conversation. But it should be acceptable, in the course for instance of pleasure at meeting a friend, to ask: ‘Good turds today?’ How much better this is than leaving him miserably worried by his constipation or his diarrhoea!

So I wonder why this taboo inhibits what could be valuable exchanges – possibly even more so than in the time of George III.

I’m tempted to suggest that it comes from a tension between liking those of our friends who are homosexuals and a visceral distaste of buggery, but that seems too individual and special to be persuasive. My deeper suspicion is that it is the result of a propaganda coup by the medical profession in league with the drugs industry. Only in the doctor’s surgery, or possibly in a whisper across the pharmacist’s counter, are we allowed to celebrate this morning’s good news or this morning’s worry.    

Categorized as Memos