Comedian Mark Watson on lumps, leaks and learning to talk about stuff

If you’ve got access to the internet, you have probably thought you were dying at least a handful of times this year. Every Google search for “headache” or “niggling cough” advises you to seek urgent medical help, and more or less accept you’re already halfway to the grave. Tell the internet you think you can smell burnt toast and you’ll have your pick of 10 ways you’re about to die. Yet we all torment ourselves this way rather than actually consulting someone who would know. Why? Because typing on your phone is not embarrassing, and talking to strangers is.

A few years ago I had a strange, hard growth in – to be frank about it – my groin; worryingly near – to be even more frank about it – my penis. Naturally, Google convinced me that it was time to start making plans for the afterlife. At least part of my reticence came from fear, of course, and that British desire to “carry on”. (My grandmother used to say “keep warm, dear” for any ailment from a runny nose up to a brain haemorrhage.) But part of the reticence was sheer embarrassment. My GP was a woman, a slightly sharp-tongued, clever one. I was certain she did not want to see me take my pants down (to be fair, perhaps that’s better than being one of the men who thinks the opposite). It’s not an exaggeration to say I put off dealing with what might be a serious medical condition for a fortnight because I was worried Dr Barbara might talk about my weird-shaped testicles with her mates in La Tasca that weekend.

Of course, when it came to it, she was neither any more or less interested in my genitals than if they’d been a set of cutlery I had brought in. She explained that it wasn’t cancer but a swollen lymph node. (She might still have laughed about my balls in a chain restaurant, but with hindsight it seems much less likely.) We went our separate ways. And it struck me, as it has many times: people think much less about you than you – stuck in the lead role of your life – imagine.

It’s often a comforting thought. I’ve squatted over a hole to relieve myself in China, and had several people walk by and watch; I once opened the door to receive a package and my trousers fell down; I’m still haunted by a childhood memory of my voice breaking midway through a Christmas carol solo. In our own minds, these incidents are all the witnesses ever talk about. But they have their own archives of embarrassments. A lot of things are “not your finest moment”; life isn’t made of spotless performances. It’s pretty absurd to be a human. Our bodies are odd machines that produce all sorts of substances, sometimes at terrible times. But nobody is judging you for that: they’re no different.

We’re all in the same leaky boat. Don’t throw yourself out of it because you’re overthinking your shipmates’ responses to your minor mishaps. And Dr Barbara, if you’re reading, let’s both hope you never have to see that again.

Lumps, bumps and oddly shaped bits, there’s a lot of bodily stuff that can be hard to talk about – especially urine leakage. Both men and women can suffer from incontinence and it’s time to break the stigma so everyone can enjoy life to the full. Find out more at

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