Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Distinct Impression of a Lunatic Asylum

While shopping centres have a car park fit to accommodate a deluge of immigrants from Romania, many hospitals don’t seem to have woken up to the idea yet that people might need to drive to their offerings. I’ve heard a number of stories of hospitals where there isn’t anywhere near enough parking. I have an image of people sitting around in committees and arguing that there’s a perfectly good bus service, we should be encouraging people to travel by public transport. Which is all very well, but in many cases there may be a good bus service to some places, but not everyone who needs to go there lives in those places.
Last week Hilary had an appointment at Lancaster Royal Infirmary – one of the two main hospitals covering north Lancashire and south Cumbria, and Lancaster hospital has a car park that is far, far too small for the number of people who need to use it – people such as us, who cannot go on the bus, for there is no bus. We were aware of this so I drove Hilary and dropped her off while I circled round and round trying to find somewhere to park, among all the other cars doing much the same thing. Eventually, after about half an hour, I found a spot in what I thought was a two-hour parking bay.
Hilary was to have an injection and then a hour-and-a-half wait followed by a scan. She was told it would be a good idea to go and get a cup of coffee in the canteen during the wait time and maybe take a bit of fresh air, but to try and stay calm. Don’t do anything that might make you hurried or stressed. We went outside to find that I had a parking ticket! I had failed to spot, in my near desperation that there would ever be anywhere at all to park, that I had parked in a disabled-only bay. I don’t get too bothered by this, I just pay the fine on the basis that the meaning and purpose of life is to play silly practical jokes upon a person, and there’s no point in trying to fight that. Hilary, by contrast, was brought up middle class. She was brought up to to believe in fairness. That life for the virtuous should be fair. So she gets peeved that the hospital is failing to provide sufficient resources for its patients to attend their appointments.
We went to the hospital canteen where there was a self-service coffee machine. Whatever button I pressed, including one marked ‘expresso’, I seemed to get a coffee with milk in. I called a member of staff over: ‘Everything I press seems to give me a coffee with milk; I want a black coffee’.
‘You have to press ‘Café Creme’, that gives you a black coffee’. And sure enough, it did! Well of course, how silly of me!
We detected five staff on in the canteen, doing what, was not entirely clear. Needs outsourcing, Hilary and I agreed. Or if not then properly managing but then why should a hospital be putting all its management effort into the canteen? But I suppose outsourcing would cause ructions and uproar; destroying a perfectly good service for the sake of faceless profit, the arguers would categorically shout. The Danish pastry I bought to go with my coffee was stale. But I decided we’d had enough aggro this morning, especially for someone who was supposed to be staying calm for health reasons, so I ate it stale.
Walking back to the ‘nuclear medicine’ unit there was a group of people partly blocking the hallway. An elderly woman had fallen and cut her head, there was blood on the floor and all over her hand where she had held it to her head after falling, and people were milling round trying to get her upright and bandaged. The place gave the distinct impression of a lunatic asylum.
Anyway, Hilary had her scan while I watched daytime telly in the reception area, and then we drove home without further incident. And I paid the parking fine, £35, online.

Pigs’ Willies and Hungarians

In Manchester we ate our lunch in a Carluccio’s restaurant, in the banking and commercial district of Manchester called Spinningfields. A special on the menu was Lenticchie e Cotechino, which was subtitled in English a traditional Italian winter dish of Umbrian lentils and Italian sausage. I was a bit unsure about it, as the finest lentils come from the plain of Castelluccio, which is indeed in Umbria, though not the part of Umbria that people tend to go to on their hols. It is a rather particular place, a bleak plain high in the mountains which gets very harsh weather; the people who live there look more like Cumbrian farmers than Italians, all permanently ruddy-cheeked from exposure to the biting winds, and many of the front doors in Castelluccio town – which sits on a steep mound at one end of the plain – have reinforced metal shutters to try and keep the weather at bay a bit. We take visitors there sometimes when they stay at our house in Italy, you drive up and up beyond the tree line and then over a ridge and down into this plain, which is probably still above the tree line – there certainly aren’t any trees there. In the summer the lentils are harvested by what look like gangs of itinerant workers, possibly gypsy. It can be very hot and exposed there in the summer. So just describing the lentils as Umbrian sounded a bit doubtful.
And also cotechino. That is not really a sausage, it is the bits of the pig left over when the village has feasted on all the meatier parts; it is the ears, noses and willies and trotters. If you buy cotechino in a supermarket in Italy it has a picture of a pig’s trotter on the box. It comes as a sort of soft sausage about three inches in diameter and you slice sections off to eat it.
I was delighted to find, having decided to take a risk on the lenticchie e cotechino, that it was Castelluccio lentils (brown lentils that stay firm with cooking) and it was cotechino of the type you see in supermarkets, typically gelatinous, and in among the lentils were some sliced leaves of cavolo nero: black cabbage, which is actually dark green. But I thought: no doubt they can’t describe the dish as Castelluccio lentils with pig’s-trotter pâté and black cabbage as no one will have heard of the lentils and cabbage and they’ll say ooh, I can’t be eating pigs’ trotters, so they wouldn’t order it. They’ve heard of or been to Umbria, and Italian sausage sounds innocuous. These bloody Brits! Knowing what it was and having had it before in Italy, though never with cabbage, I found it very good.
I wondered what the nationality was of the waiter. At first I guessed French because of his somewhat sour countenance and offhand manner, but his accent did not sound French. I puzzled over it during lunch and then it came to me. When the waiter brought the bill I said ‘I’d like to guess at your accent is that OK?’ He looked a bit resigned and uninterested so before he got a chance to refuse I said, ‘I think you’re from Hungary’.
‘Yes!’, he exclaimed, ‘How did you know that?’ He was delighted. Apparently I am the first person ever to have got it right. People ask him if he Slovakian, Austrian, German; all manner of things but no one before has correctly identified his country of birth first time. Suddenly he was very excited and wanted to know how I knew, ‘Do you speak Hungarian? Do you have Hungarian friends?’ I just said that I was as delighted as he was as it’s always nice to be proved right. How could I tell him the real reason? That it was a process of elimination, someone with all the French characteristics of stroppiness and disconnection, but without a French accent. How could I tell him that it was because he was so characteristically humourless?
Hungarians have good reason to be dour; as good if not better reasons than any other nation in Europe. I wished him good fortune and gave him a moderately good tip.

Famous Italian Naked Statue

We were travelling to Manchester to do some shopping. On the busy train on that line – trains on the line into Manchester are always jammed to the doors – sitting behind us, were three young women, one of them said she was thirty. Another of them had a baby, not with her at the time though, that the other two made the mistake of allowing her to get onto the subject of. Mostly the women talked about boyfriends, mothers, brothers and sisters. The girl who had a baby reported that someone – a great aunt or something –- had sent a congratulations card to the hospital when she was having the baby, with a picture of Michelangelo’s David on the front, which she thought was a bit inappropriate, for a new baby, though at least the baby was a boy. Except she did not know that the statue was by Michelangelo, she said some Italian bloke, famous, was it Leonardo? Leonardo da Vinci? ventured one of the others. Yes, that Leonardo, I think it’s that Leonardo.
But then one of them had the bright idea of getting on her tablet computer and typing, at the others’ suggestion, ‘famous italian naked statue’ into Google and in that way they got the information they were looking for, complete with picture which, as one of them said, really, when you see that, where’s the first place you are going to look? Dunnit though? They then got into a discussion about how small the penis is of the boy in the statue, and whether his dick really was that small and if so why Michelangelo chose him as a model.
These three women were not, I would say, intellectuals. They were what you might call ordinary, middle of the road, verging on the uneducated. But their tablet computer helped them along that day, just one little rung further up the knowledge ladder. Young people a low standard of reading? Less so than in the past I think. And a discussion on the motivations and proportions of Michelangelo’s David on the shopping trip? Can’t complain about that for the hopes and future of the world.
The girls then managed to steer their conversation away from penises and onto boyfriends – not a very great leap – and the one who is thirty said she wanted to be sure she had her first child by the age of thirty-five, but her boyfriend – we almost were going to get the size of his penis but she managed to bite her lip – all he seemed to want to do was lounge in front of the telly. You might say well find another boyfriend then, but I can understand that she might think that is not so easy.