Saturday, 7 November 2009

I know I'm stupid... just don't keep reminding me!

The moment I awoke, I knew I was due a good lunch today as Mrs Ex-TM was coming up to the hospital on the early morning choo-choo, laden with all manner of goodies and tempting little morsels and sweetmeats. And so it was with something of a cavalier, devil-may-care attitude that I tackled today's menu choices that accompanied the breakfast tray. Naturally I presumed that I would dine well and therefore wouldn't be all that hungry come suppertime. So I decided to select the very best of what the kitchen has to offer for your Saturday night amusement. I mean, who needs Strictly Come Dancing or X Factor when you can read Notes from a Hospital Bed? And have I got a treat for you tonight!

We start off with a regular on the menu: leek and chicken soup. Now, have you ever wondered why sales of paper shredders are rising even faster than bankers' bonuses? It's quite simple... the NHS is buying shredders up in bulk so they can go out and hunt down the oldest, mankiest, scrawniest chickens (or poultry of indeterminate provenance) which they then boil up for extended periods before feeding the carcasses through the serried ranks of shredders. This is then added to the leek (or leak, as I prefer to call it) soup to produce this culinary wonder. Not one identifiable piece of chicken remains, only shredded strips of fibres that might or could have been avian in origin from the preceding geological era.

Now we turn to the entrée. Oh look! This could be a pie. It has an identifiable crust (if you screw your eyes up and squint a bit), vegetables and a very healthy baked potato. What could be nicer on a chilly autumn evening, when the nights are drawing in and there is only the occasional hoot of an owl and the hum of the life-support machine in the next room to disturb one's peace? Unfortunately I knew something was wrong as soon as I clapped eyes on the large tuber. Although it felt hot and looked as if it had been in an oven, it was as hard as a lump of coal. I called the nurse back, using my bedside buzzer. "What's up, love?" she asked. "You forgot something for my potato," I replied. "Did I forget the butter again?" she asked. "No! A pair of safety goggles and a jackhammer. I can't eat that," I almost shrieked. "My dental insurance wouldn't cover the sort of damage that thing could cause. "Well just leave it and move on to the pie, dear," she clucked reassuringly.

You know when you buy a turkey for Christmas or Thanksgiving... it's not unusual to buy a bird that's larger than necessary and therefore slightly more tough and muscular. You use the succulent breast meat for the big day, save a bit left over for sandwiches, strip the legs and the rest of the brown meat for a turkey curry or maybe a cold dish of some sort; and finally, when every conceivable piece of meat has been picked off the carcass, you boil the thing up for stock. After a couple of hours of gentle bubbling on a low heat, you turn off the gas and allow the stock to cool. Later you haul the carcass out and then strain the stock through a sieve. But what do you do with those bits of tasteless, gristly and inedible pieces of meat left there in the sieve? That's right... you post it off in a Jiffy bag to the NHS so it can be turned into turkey and ham pie. It's called turkey and ham pie but in my experience most of the pigs destined to be turned into ham for the pie must have watched Chicken Run or The Great Escape. I've yet to see any ham in one of these pies. The crust is melange of wet flour, soaked with turkey gravy with the delightful texture of a damp carpet tile. What could be nicer?

Of course, no NHS entrée is complete without some wet and murdered vegetables. These seem to have soaked up more water than the whole of the Venetian lagoon. These special vegetables are impossible to find in any supermarket or restaurant. Perhaps the NHS has some collective farm and canning factory in Kyrgyzstan so it can corner the market in this most tasteless and indelicate side order from hell.

Finally we arrive at dessert... or pudding, sweet, pastry, afters or tart. Call it what you will, but the Peach Flan & Custard bears no resemblance to any flan I've ever seen. The only sign of peach was a semi ground fruit stone that nearly took out one of my fillings. The 'flan' was nestled lovingly in a watery and slightly green custard; and yet this dessert is something of a favourite on the ward... even with me!

Yes, I know. Shock, surprise, horror! But there's something about this odious little dessert that makes you want to finish it up even though it's disgusting. Like a guilty pleasure or a dirty little secret, it sits in its little sea of custard and winks saucily up at you like a cancan dancer, daring you to eat it. I'm ashamed to admit that, despite it not tasting of peach, and even though its texture resembled the orange slime car mechanics clean their greasy hands with, I almost devoured the entire dish... as you can see from the photo. I'm seriously worried that I've now become irreversibly institutionalised. Perhaps I shall never go home.


  1. Urgh!
    That gruel stuff masquerading as soup looks truly vile. Thought you might like to know that inspired by your lunchtime goodies I actually made a batch of cheese scones. Judging by what the NHS has to offer tonight, you could probably do with one!
    Mmm, if you actually ate that I fear you are indeed suffering from culinary Stockholm syndrome..... Better get the doc to prescribe a fortnight on the private patients' menu.

  2. The soup does indeed look inedible. As does the main course. I'm afraid I'm with Meluzyna above on the Stockholm syndrome as I think that I would struggle with that pudding too. I'd love to see these meals analysed in a lab to find if they have any nutritional value whatsoever.

  3. Hi (E)TM, this is like the meal I have just served up to my family - pie (shop bought ut top of the range), veg (part fresh, part frozen) and boiled 'new' potatoes. We all enjoyed it.
    I cannot comment on the quality of the ingredients of the NHS meal - from what you say, they were sub-standard and I can well believe that. However, as a busy working mother of two who never gets a day off, this type of dinner is the best I can do most days.
    Off to watch the X-Factor now.

  4. ExTM, oh this was so funny, now I know where to send my jiffy bags of unused turkey and chicken that the dogs don't want, laughing at the murdered vegetables, why do they overcook them, marvel at the desert, the exotically named peach desert, laugh at your description, think you need to stay in hospital another few months, what will we do without your wonderful wit.

    It has rained all day, well actually rained non stop for two days, cannot walk the dogs round the field, well I could, but I am fed up getting wet, and stopping to retrieve a boot stuck in the mud, this is not any old rain, this is the Marks and Spencer's of rain, with bitter cold wind flung in for good measure, wind whistling round the house, heating on full blast, made coal fire in the dining room, not that I am likely to get any warmth seeing as the Bull Terrier and Jack Russell have first dibs.

    What is it about rain that dampens the soul, makes you melancholy, bored witless, not that I don't have anything to do, I have, could finish some work on the computer that needs doing, importantish stuff, that should have been finished the other day, could read the book I have waited eagerly for all week, that arrived yesterday from Amazon, could even do a bit of dusting, cleaning up, em I was hallucinating there, those damned magic mushrooms, could watch a film, or if the weather is driving me so crazy, the X-factor, no, I am not that bad yet, and it got me to thinking of you, I decided to annoy you instead, and was wondering how you cope TM, does the boredom not send you demented, and no you are not insane, far from it as your blogs tells us, I just have to say I admire your stoicism so much, BraveHeart TM.

    Now what to do next, answer some emails, read the Mail Online to see how more manic, or plastic Jordan has become, or see what a real woman looks like, as opposed to a size 0, Mails words, not mine, hmm, I have my sushi I got today from Mark's, so will eat that, paint a wall and watch it dry.

    Any idea why rain makes one feel miserable?, anybody.

  5. I'm sure I would have enjoyed the meal you cooked for your family. Trust me when I tell you it would have been a world apart from what was on my plate. Enjoy X Factor. X

  6. Rain is an odd thing. We hate it but need it. When it's not there we miss it and yet when it does come down in buckets we can't concentrate on doing anything else. I visit the Minho area of Portugal whenever I can. It's green and lush but does it rain? It's like a Burman monsoon. Everthing gets wet from your underwear to the euros in your wallet. Damp pervades everthing. And still I love it. It's a lot like south-west Ireland. The people just roll with the rhythm of life and work around the weather. If you want to get on better terms with rain, go there!

    How do I stop myself from being bored? By writing, imagining, thinking, Reading comments on my blog and looking forward to walking again one day. It's not too hard to get bored in hospital. There's a routine. Mealtimes are punctual, the faces friendly and for ecitement there are visitors, x-rays, blood tests and ward rounds. I just try to take pleasure in every little thing that happens during the day and store it for use later in a piece of writing. You see, it's not so hard.

  7. Don't worry about Stockholm Syndrome - I'm sure Mrs Ex-TM will bundle you into the car and take you home when the time comes! Not long to go now with the crap food. Happy Firework Night, Ex-TM.

  8. That meal looks horrible after your M&S feast today. Have you been on the drugs mr Ex TM? I think my English teacher would have called your description 'purple prose'.

    I ate a lot of things in hospital that I would never have considered eating 'outside'. i reckon it's the boredom. I still looked forward to meal times (why? I wasn't exactly hungry) even though I knew my plate would look like yours. The whole day was punctuated by meals and snacks and blood tests from earnest looking students needing to practise taking blood. I used to look like a tie dyed nightmare after the poor students had had a few (very apologetic) attempts to find a vein - once the needle was actually inserted. Anything to relieve the monotony (and the students were so lovely).

    I was in a ward and listening to other patients was hysterical. The girl in the next bed was being sick (probably after the exact same meal you had above) and I ran to give her a sick bowl forgetting I was attached to a drip. I now know what it's like to be almost garotted. Now, where else would I have got that experience.

    I hope the time passes quickly until you make your escape and I hope you're not too sore tonight

  9. I live in the South East of Ireland X-TM, and boy it rains a lot here, in fact the last 3 years it has done nothing but rain, and all my neighbs and friends are sick fed up of it.

    Everythings gets wet and damp here as well, no wonder it is so green and lush, our garden is green and lush, the fields are green and lush, sometimes I feel green and lush, I don't need to go to Minho to get on better terms with the rain, we have the exact same thing here ha!

    Funny thing, I am never normally bored, too much to do, not enough hours in the day sort of thing, but seeing as we have had rain for two days, it has turned everything upside down.

    Glad you keep yourself and your mind alert X-TM, that is the most important thing, it would be very easy just to let go and become depressed, once again, my admiration for your courage, that would be in tackling the food every day.

  10. Carolyn: Do we like purple prose or does it desrve to be reined in? You can tell when I'm approaching boredom... My sentence structure starts to hark back to the 19th century. Perhaps you can cut me a bit of slack... How many times can you describe a weekly menu when you've been through it nine times? :-)

    Ann: there's a lovely Portuguese song called Chuvas. It means rain. Look it up on iTunes. It's by an artist called Mariza. Please have a listen.

  11. Haha, I love purple prose. Don't for god's sake rein it in. I'm amazed you have the will to keep eating that muck. I hope you don't think I was being impolite.

    Listen to the Rain Song by led Zeppelin. Lovely. I'm Scottish. We know about rain here all right...

  12. Carolyn... Sometimes I need 'raining' in! :-)

  13. I am Scottish as well Carolyn, from Glasgow, so am well used to the rain.

    X-TM, just listened to Chuvas by Mariza, beautiful voice, I am aware of Fado music, beautiful and haunting.

    Why does it always rain on me, from our own Travis

  14. X-TM, you need to get out of there NOW! You really need to get back to the real world and away from this horrid food!

    You are a journalist! You are doing great! But, stockholme syndrome has got to you! You ENJOYED the peach flan??????? Come on! You had lovely food at lunch and you thought this was acceptable?

    I am really worried about you now. I think I may have to call in a Psych consult for you. You KNOW the food is awful and yet you tell us you ate it!! What is wrong with you?

    Please Mrs X-Tm, come and rescue this man from his purgatory! Physios, get this man up and mobile so he can get home and re-orientated to reality. Oh, and back to journalism. I sincerely hope some of the powers that be have been watching this blog and realise the power of a blog like this!

  15. You have made me laugh again - you have got to write a book when you are released from hospital. Maybe you could also become a government advisor to make sure that things change for the better. Reading your blog has to be one of the highlights of my day - I think you are amazing for maintaining a sense of humour despite everything you have been through. thank you again

  16. In my day food was eaten off tables down the centre of the ward if you weren't actually dying an advantage as you could swap certain foods with your neighbours.
    After the table was cleared you stayed on to play brag or in the better wards,poker.

  17. Constant rain would be wonderful! We live in the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria in Oz with forest on two sides. Last year we evacuated four times because of fire below the house and now they tell us it will be nothing to this year’s fire season. Not a lot of chance of selling a house in the worst declared fire area of the state either . . .

  18. I see the nurse called you "dear" and "love". DON'T GET ME STARTED!!! Thank goodness, now, at my local hospital, when you arrive you are asked what you would like to be called and it's written above your bed. "Dear" and "love" is lazy and patronising.

  19. LOL Jo! I wish. I remember going into the horse spittle and being asked for details. I said I was a Ms. I said I did not have a partner. I said I lived alone.

    What did they do? Call me Mrs at every available opportunity, assume that I had a husband so that when they tried to kick me out way too early I had to insist on a couple of extra days in hospital as I could not look after myself let alone proceed at anything faster than a slow creep, and they didn't believe me when I said I lived alone and thought I was trying to pull a fast one.

    Just as well I'm a mouthy cow and could stand up for myself as otherwise I would have been crawling round my flat - or perhaps just lying on my bed - with no help and no way of feeding, washing or caring for myself. (All my friends apart from one, who brought in little treats, were away on hols).

    What happens to people who can't stand up for themselves, I wonder.

  20. TM... You would love it here if you like rain. Last week we had continuous thunder, lightening and masses of rain for 36 hours. Ordinary storms in UK last an hour or so , but here in Crete it is like a tropical storm.

    The storms knock out the transformers, and we have to endure power cuts for up to 24 hours or more. Since the electric is out we can not use the toilets, run any water,or take a shower.
    We have to use gas lamps and oil lamps and cook on little gas burners. We get water from our swimming pool and fill buckets to flush the toilet, this place is 100 years or more behind the UK.


  21. I know what Ness is talking about to a degree, we live in the Pyrenees and the rain has been constant for the last week, snow now though. On Saturday afternoon I decided to go out and leave my husband to watch the rugby via the internet. When I got home it was to a dark house and stupidly I thought he had cooked a romantic meal and lit candle for me - no way the power cables were blown down in the strong winds!! So we had a lovely salad in front of the fire listening to the rain battering the shutters, giving the dog rescue remedy evry hour and trying to sing to him to calm him down. You can imagine our relief when the electrics came back on. The brown lawn is being battered into submission by the rain - it will revive or maybe just look like the somme.
    Hope things improve XTM and that very soon you find yourself in front of a vending machine with something edible in it.

    Z x

  22. Just to comment on the name-giving thing: I had to visit a police station recently. I did not commit any crime - not that this should make a difference, thinking about it - but I was consistenty addressed by my first name whereas the person on the other side of the desk was called Sergeant. After a while this did start to grate as I am Mrs so-and-so and I am in my 40s. I was to spineless to say this as I just wanted the whole thing to be over with.