In the days when I was doing research at the Australian National Library in Canberra, I would usually stay in a room inhabited in term-time by an undergraduate at one of the Halls of Residence at the National University. It was cheap, but it did the job. All I needed was a bed, breakfast and dinner.
This brings me back to the subject of food, about which I'm going to recant somewhat my first blog entry on hospital fare, written a bare two days after admission. On closer inspection of the menu, choosing wisely, and with a little luck, there was no call to be as pessimistic as I thought. After all, there's no need to eat every item offered. And there are some sensible menu alternatives to blowing up my belly like a too-compliant balloon.
The trouble is, one thing has never changed for me. I got a tray at Garran or Bruce Hall in Canberra all those years ago, and placed upon it my choices of main, dessert, and something else, and sat on my own of course. What remains is that I continue to have an overpowering desire to dispose of it all as quickly as possible.
Why? There's no need to rush, but some instinct, maybe very primal, told me to belt it down like a sheepdog disposes of something that may deserve Masterchef appreciation, especially if stolen from the shearers' kitchen. Don't scoff. The quality of their food is often a damn sight better than what you're eating.
But something demanded haste. I think it's the fact that it was all sitting there on my tray, glaring balefully at me, so... down the hatch with it.
This long-winded prologue is to say that the items on that tray aren't much different from what's in front of me now. Soup, main, dessert, tea. I'm offered white wine as an alternative, and red, though the red is only with my doctor's approval. I doubt I'd have much problem. In the past I've sat over a glass of decent red quite a few times with my doctor in my lounge-room.
My good friend Austin remarked in a communication with me today that he was contemplating Newtonian laws of physics – as you do – primarily regarding the one about For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The reason is slightly obscure. It is that his beloved wife, Jackie, was ordered by Tracey to desist from bringing her wonderful feats of cookery while I was away, because we had an an embarrassment of riches.
This was no slight on her admirable dinners but because I was here eating hospital food. Otherwise, there would have been no problem. I'd take up the slack and ensure our fridge is not over-full. In fact, I don't know why she didn't retain the offer anyway. Insurance, that's called.
Austin's grievance against Newton was that because I wasn't fulfilling my role in satisfying Jackie's compulsion to cook, he was obliged to front up and fill the gap as primary consumer, which he doesn't mind in the least except for the Newtonian law, the reaction being evident in a sudden strain on the old belt buckle. Equal and opposite reaction, get it?
Belts never lie. To have to yield another notch is a sad thing, but the belt is uncompromising in its honesty.
When I reply, it will be to tell him I think it disproves that other adage, What goes in must come out. Some of it may, but the remainder sadly obscures the muscular six-pack that lies beneath the belt.
I was taught as a kid to eat what was on my plate, or it somehow threatened the lives of small children in Africa. The truth was that I never had the least difficulty with that in any case. I'd happily come back for more, especially lemon sago and custard. I could have done over at least three plates of that, not really because of its mysterious beneficial effect on pan-African health, but because I was a greedy pig.
The fact is that when it comes to hospital dinners, whatever isn't eaten is thrown away. In times past, restaurants and places like this hospital had deals with piggeries to supply them what was good leftover food. Pigs don't have the least objection to beans and gravy accompanied by jelly and custard garni de limp salad, all in one main course plated for trough.
My point here, drowning in sogginess of my own description, is that it is sleight of hand to argue that in a hospital you should eat everything down to the last brussel sprout or it will be wasted. It is no more valid as an hypothesis than that the children of Africa will suffer from my leaving half a large chicken on my plate. Either it goes down my gullet and increases my appetite for more unnecessary food or it is scraped into a bin and goes elsewhere.
I had hopes that this would end up an artfully constructed story; a rich smorgasbord of past and present, but I see that I have failed. It's like an Hawaiian pizza and vanilla ice-cream all mixed with that Velvet Soapy cheese that comes in a plastic sealed pack you can never open, with three Jatz in another pack you can't open either.
Imagine the difficulties with just one hand.
I don't have to.
Oh dear. Someone's throwing up. This soon after dinner too, poor soul.
What about the bibs and poached eggs? Oh hell – I didn't get round to them, did I, but I'll finish next time with a brief story only about those two – OK? I've got pills to take.