The other day I was reading through my Grandmother’s recipe book which is full of instructions on how to make such delicacies such as green tomato chutney, oxtail gelatine, parsley honey and crab apple jelly …… I came across an old newspaper cutting titled “Strawberry Fare” a column “In the Kitchen” written by Nikki Hill. Unfortunately the name of the newspaper wasn’t on the cutting, but given the wedding announcements and cinema listings overleaf I’m assuming it’s from a Belfast paper around 1971. What does all this have to do with Patients, Nursing, the NHS, the Taxpayer? .… well read on and consider what has changed, if anything, and what you think she would be writing if it was today:
“I have just spent a few days with my feet up, paid for by your actual taxpayer, fed in a surprisingly good way, waited upon hand and foot, in warm congenial surroundings.
Mind you, I do hesitate at the idea of reville at 6.30am and breakfast by 7.30am. A cool clear blue sky hangs over Belfast then, the buildings are bathed in a brighter than bright light making buildings in grey concrete look freshly scrubbed and garnished by some miraculous fly by night building cleaner firm. And if you look out, the city streets are busy already, the buses of course, seemed to have been passing all night, never ending, but cars slide by centrewards, carrying the workers to work.
There are few pedestrians, and sparrows chatter, and pigeons scruffle in the gutter for last night’s chip papers. By 8am, I am ready to meet anyone, fed, washed, face “done”, sitting pretty, bed in order-for you’ve guessed it, I am in the hands of the Health Service, tucked up tight in a hospital bed.
Now the first thing that surprises me are the numerous colours nurses come in – blues of every hue, and grey, and white, with belts and badges signifying duty done. And alongside, the orderlies in purple and green – more confusion. The one in green empties the bins, the ones in purple check rush around with gargantuan vacuum clear, and bowls of disinfectant wiping down every surface, the chair the visitor put his behind on last night, the bed rails, the easy chairs, the light above my head, even the flowers in their shiny gold vases don’t escape a surreptitious wipe. The rituals observed day by day, hour by hour, a bustle of continuing motion, beds made and remade.
The doctors are gorgeous (but so is Paul Newman on the telly, seen through a buzz of chat punctuated by “isn’t he gorgeous” too). Lunch arrives at 12 prefixed by rattles of cups, and Sister dishes up, with nurses gathered in order about her. Time for a siesta. The bustle goes on. Next in line comes tea at five, from then on you’re on your own, though fond mothers do bring Victoria sandwiches which get cunningly divided into twenty pieces, and I get a pack of smoked salmon, complete with lemon – some mathematics needed here, but everybody seems too polite to join in.
The long night awaits, bright evening outside, passersby on sunlit summer danders down to the corner and back again before telly and tea and bed. Time for the visitors, and yet another nightie appears on the lady opposite, shocking pink this time, hair just right, mascara perfect – a lovely sight.
Time for Ovaltine and the long lights out. The nonagenarian is long tucked up, imprisoned in a steel cot to stop her nocturnal wandering, and a thin nurse with auburn hair slips silently up the ward, checking here and there, long legs, long arms, long neck, a thin shadow moving. Home to-day and feeling somehow in rather quieter surroundings even though the traffic still whizzes past my door: feeling languid and like spoiling myself. All those strawberries I have missed – so hence this week’s recipe”
What was the recipe I hear you ask… well – “Eat it in wedges as a super tea time treat, or boost it up for a special dinner date – Choux aux fraises”.