I push open the satisfyingly heavy glass doors and I'm standing in a small, bright polished stone lobby. There is a young man in a suit behind the front desk who smiles at me and points me up to the first floor. It's very similar to a boutique hotel entrance, right up to the central London location I half expect someone to hand me a key and show me to my room.
This is not an hotel. This is 56 Dean St and against all available evidence (barring a discrete sign by the doors) it is an STD clinic. I walk up to the first floor and into a waiting room. The difference between here and any other similar institution is almost shocking. For a start, it doesn't feel institutionalised. It's airy and well designed. There are comfy chairs, little glass coffee tables with interesting and varied magazines that are neither dog eared nor dating from the mid-70s. I go to the reception and a well-turned out chap with some cute little facial piercings signs me in and gives me a one page form to fill in. I settle down to wait and discretely peruse the other clientele. Everyone is very well turned out, aged somewhere between 20 and 50 I'd guess, professional and a little trendy around the edges. Well, it is Soho. There are more men than women, which doesn't surprise me given the location and the history of the place.
Casually dressed doctors and nurses come in and out calling first names only. I am taken upstairs where a nurse apologises profusely for the wait. She takes me into a very tidy office and sits me down then asks a list of questions. Her manner is friendly but ultimately indifferent to the responses I make in the style of a waiter asking whether I would like milk or lemon with my tea. The answers are important and relevant, but there is no moral judgement. Far from it, throughout the entire process I feel as if I am being responsible and considerate of my own sexual health. Which of course I am, but I've never been in a surgery where I've felt it before. Certainly not in one where I could list numbers of partners and sexual activity and have it be met in this way. She takes some blood and starts me on the first of three injections to immunise me against Hepatitis B "just to be on the safe side".
The whole thing takes about twenty minutes, including opportunities for me to ask questions. The process feels more like a trip to the beauticians that to the clinic - repeated checks to make sure I was comfortable, talking me through what was going on so I understood the process. I left with a couple of business cards detailing my next appointments for follow up jabs and my results will be sent to me via text in a few days.
And let's not forget that this is an NHS clinic, so the service was entirely free. #welovethenhs anyone?
5 weeks ago