Sunday, 7 June 2009


I’m sat in the public restaurant that dominates the first floor of the hospital. With its commanding panoramic views of the whole ground floor and admissions. An unforgiving modern glass and metal sort of affair. Totally at variance with the rest of the hospital. Whose latest cosmetic lick of paint, indicates that it has bought lock, stock and barrel into gimmicky notions of colour therapy by swatch. Aquamarine to soothe the savage, wounded breast or some such bilge. A quack pyschologist certainly had his eye on the main chance, if he managed to peddle that tommyrot to every NHS hospital in the land. Anyway, since the restaurant is a privately run concern, it does not have to abide by the same guidelines as the rest of the building. That must be why it is spotlessly clean.

I ought not to be here of course, as I’m supposed to use the staff refectory. This is intended for outside clientele only, but the idea that people want a hearty meal bookending a visit to sick relatives, strikes me a trifle misconceived. Must be why there are so few diners in here. Apart from the hospital trust stuffed shirts, whose pie in the sky I deduce this to be. Fortunately, they wouldn’t know me from Eve, seeing as I’m one of their humble flock whom they are supposed to minister to. Nor do they seem to have twigged that me being in here every day since it opened, might suggest I was resident here as a worker in some capacity. Rather than someone with the interminable burden of having to visit a long-stay patient. Though in truth, their faces in here seem to change from week to week. As I follow their heads tracking all over the restaurant, patently I am not conspicuous enough to merit their letching scrutiny. Though perhaps I do them a disservice and they are merely surveying for missing punter revenue.

The restaurant staff more actively turn a blind eye to me being here. So long as I don’t go blabbing to my colleagues or am flagrant about it in other ways. Camouflage, another utility for my cardy, as it covers up my flouting of the dress coded regulations. The NHS caste system. You’d think they’d be grateful for the extra business. Though since they always knock a few pounds off their exorbitant prices for me, maybe they’d feel obliged to give the whole nursing profession similar discount and that obviously would eat into their margins.

This is a curious sort of oasis really. Undoubtedly the food is top notch, certainly better than the swill back in the refectory. But I despise everything else about the place. Everything it stands for. Still, I just need a break from the freneticism of the ward. Some quiet time to myself. It’s either here or the chapel, though that’s just a mite too secluded deep in the hospital’s bowels. No hide nor hair of a holy man down there, stoking his faith before emerging to come convincingly console on the wards. Far too busy bartering with the Rabbis and the Imans to shoulder some of their workload in the course of their own tour of parochial duty. Besides, I’m not really the religious type. Never really fathomed the point of that chapel, other than it being a relic of the era when the original hospital was built. When a patient had little more than a wing and a prayer of leaving upright. Stuck down in the windowless basement, denied either any bounteous plays of light through grand rosettes, or binding streaks through narrow casements. None of God’s miraculous powers (or angels’ for that matter), evidenced there. Handy for the mortuary further along the floor I suppose. Indeed, there is a far more convenient family room for those recently bereaved within our walls. Slap bang next to the police post, that semi-permanent incident room. See if I were a hospital administrator and halfway decent at my job, I would as a highest priority, commission a time and space study or whatever they call it, into a better use for that room.

So this lustreless stained glass carbuncle necessarily remains my asylum. A shrine to inappropriate appetites, among this temple of the incontinent. Now compromised more than just morally. For I knew who they are from their bearing. They weren’t sporting flowers, or grapes, or any other ill-considered hasty purchase from the hospital shop. By their garb, clearly they weren’t medical staff. Nor were they administrators, since they were not danced attendance on by clipboard wielding PAs. I deduced their identity, by the manner in which they burst through the swing doors. Like toffees shucked from their wrappers. Those oversized plastic gumshields normally faze every visitor. Seeming denser than they actually are, the supplicants are either cowed with trepidation, or expect them to crash back on them like tumescent pinball flippers. This purposefully striding pair, had merely been accelerated headlong by them. They’d been this way before.

Plain clothes for a Plain Jane. I could tell they were the police by their louche insouciance. Oh well, one thing’s for sure, they won’t locate me up here. None of my colleagues would have an inkling this is where I disappear off to. I imagine they presume I bring my own sandwiches and head for an alfresco bench. Or maybe I scuttle off for a lunchtime liaison. Hah, how little do they know me ! So, what’s my next move to be ? I could just make my exit now, across the concourse beneath me and out into the world never to return. Shouldn’t be hard for a non-entity like me to vanish into thin air. Maybe go abroad, change my name and identity. After all, I seem to be whatever and whoever people want to make me out to be. Perhaps I should consult with a smattering of my former invalids for some pointers. Speaking of which, I wonder which one of my ex-charges, girded his backbone and plucked up sufficient ill-willed courage to lay a charge against me ?

Yet I am rather loath to pass up on my customarily scrumptious coq au vin. Moreover, I’m not really one for foreign climes. I’m certain my scars would rear up lividly in the heat. Will they hang around and wait for me at the ward station, cluttering it up and hindering my colleagues as they go about their work ? (They won’t thank me for that). Otherwise, they’ll just have to come back another day and arrest me. Had always imagined, that if things ever came to a head, I’d be facing the music in front of my peers. At a tribunal or medical hearing of some sort. Having the temerity to rule me unprofessional. When all I’m endeavouring to do, is establish some minimal standards of decency, which my profession ought to command as of right. I suppose what I’ve done could be deemed as GBH, or ABH. Laughable really, given what happens on a routine basis on the floor just below my feet. The stomping ground to top all stomping grounds. No, thinking about it, far better to have my day in Court. I’ll be able to put my case, without any smart aleck lawyers to blow smoke at the jury. I don’t want any of that diminished responsibility eyewash. I absolutely take full responsibility for my course of action. Remedial, a prescribed dose for a sick society. And in turn I’ll take my medicine. I’ll happily quaff the hemlock offered me in their chalice. The fodder in one institution is as much like it is in any other.

The waiter sets down my bone china plate in front of me, as if it was gliding smoothly in on a current of air. Not a ripple disturbed the serviette draped over his wrist. Still somewhat of a novelty for me to be served by someone else. For food to arrive not piled ten high on a trolley under dented pewter. Or having to be harvested from behind a little plastic door of arrayed counter-top incubators. Please note however, for all his attentive service upon me, I am not struck by any compunction to fondle or lick the man. Even though he stands poised with an assailing inrush of my senses.

I pick up my cutlery. Filagree whorls on the handles. I didn’t much care for their sensation against the pads of my fingers. (I have popped a missive in their suggestion box, but to date have received no courtesy of a reply). I grip them where the relief work sinks back down into the metal. This makes for more awkward wielding, but by now you must appreciate that I am possessed of no little acumen with all things asperous. I brace the body of the knife at the dorsal part of the meat and gingerly dab it to a more propitious slant on the plate. The sauce lubricates the slide, like it is bearing the chicken aloft on a sedan. Such is its sublime lightness, it bore no lasting evidence of any disturbance in its stilled current. My compliments to the Chef. A real professional. Fully au fait with his materials. The fork’s four tines are tightly packed, always making for a more compressed incision and the possibility of spatter. Forty-five degree angle, with a consistent, firm motion. Neither plunge nor stab. To a depth of about half an inch. Perfect, the skin is punctured, but no trickle of succulence absconds. A champagne cork eased off without the detonation. I bring the knife to bear on the flesh. Thirty degree inclination, I begin the abscission. The juice wells up, seemingly reluctant to forfeit its amniotic embrace. Until it can resist the piquant tension no more and cascades into the sauce. Whereupon the two joyously entwine in the manner of a long-fated reunion. A yin-yang interweave. I am so grateful to the chef for unfailingly recreating this experience afresh each day.

Entirely captivated in the moment, I didn’t sense the men advancing on me. It was only when one of them filled my entire vision above the level of the fork poised at my lips, that I became aware of their presence. One of them leaned down right into my chest, the sheer bloody effrontery ! Then I realised he was trying to peer at my laminated pass, half shrouded behind my cardy. I relaxed the grip on my fork and replaced it on the plate.

“Can I help you gentlemen ?”

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