Archive | May, 2014

Strangers at the Tate Modern

11 May

On Saturday last I met up with some dear friends to see the Matisse exhibition. Now I’m not that arty but I visit galleries every now and then so I can drop the fact into conversation. A few pointers from my art-expert friend, Mark White, ensures that I have the required amount of bullshit at my fingertips to win friends and influence people. I use a similar approach with wine, formula 1 and world problems. Matisse’s ‘Cut-outs’ exhibition is a primary school delight. It’s hundreds of bits of coloured card stuck on paper. Fourteen rooms of it. Predicatably I liked the blue nudes (room 9) best. Anyone would enjoy this weirdly simple-but-complex series – anyone who has made a collage, Christmas decorations, been a primary school teacher or just had a childhood. Here and there I could have done with Mark W to decode something for me..but mostly I drifted through feeling more at home in an art gallery than usual.

This is not what I was going to write about, however; the first paragraph is a digression! What moved me to put fingers to keys was a toilet experience. Level 1 Tate Modern.

I was early for my meeting with friends. Comfort break, I thought; get it out of the way. The men’s loo on Level 1 is small: two urinals and one sit-down. I entered the latter and locked the door. I was surprised to see that the floor-to-ceiling door was backed with a stainless steel sheet. So too the wall behind the toilet. The rest was quite chic shiny black quartz tiling. The toilet was long and thin – you could fit two loos in there actually. I saw that some of the tiling had had graffiti scrubbed off and the mirror-shine was rough matt in places. Pity.

My attention turned to the steel surfaces. There was a mass of etchings and scratchings. Dan wuz here; Fuck off; I hate Farage. I searched for anything remotely witty or interesting but the best I could find was Gibralter? Espanol. How peculiar is it to get a sharp implement – knife, key, compass, belt buckle, coin – and apply hard pressure to a clean, smart piece of shiny, sheet metal to deface it. I can just about understand (if not embrace) the biro or felt-tip naughtiness of a real witticism which will make my public lav. experience a thing of greater joy. For example, later that day in The Hole in the Wall pub, the old Tommy Cooper classic made me chuckle as I had a pee: Went to a seafood disco the other day….pulled a muscle. Nothing like this in the level 1 toilet at the Tate Modern. Just unsightly scorings which were random, dull, stupid. I appreciated Banksy rather more. His clandestine art is, at least, designed to entertain provoke, challenge – it is witty, daring and has an aesthetic intention.

While I was examining the closet walls  heard the outer door swish. A man whistling Waterloo Sunset. He had to be over 50 and British – who else whistles the Kinks these days? Probably a Londoner too. He broke off to hawk some spittle up an gob it out. Hmmm; probably hasn’t seen that the cubicle is occupied and there is an anonymous listener. Next – a fart like a gunshot. No he can’t think anyone else is in there! Back to Waterloo Sunset; he’s a good whistler.

And now I’m out, rather depressed by the gougings of my inner sanctum. I wash my hands, water scalding. Time was when all hot water taps in these places was reliably cold. Waterloo Sunset man is next to me now. No eye contact. I turn to the hand drier. The hand towel dispenser is empty (at 10.30 on a Saturday morning?) so just the one Dyson hand blaster. Now we all know that 10 seconds doesn’t dry the well-watered hands. I repeat the process. Waterloo Sunset sighs impatiently behind me. Well, better than farting to make his point.



Strangers at Benenden Hospital. And a top NHS experience.

1 May

My tours of the medical sites of the South East of England continue…This time I have been referred to the lovely Benenden Hospital, ten minutes drive from me and set in the rural weald between Cranbrook and Tenterden, just on the edge of Hemsted Forest. How lovely! If this is what GP commissioning can do, I’m all for it. Three weeks after an MRI scan in a dodgy car park in Maidstone my GP, the charming Mauritian Dr Kurundan Coonjebeeharry – brought up in Stratford in the east end of London, rather less exotic than his roots but a GP on the ball. He proved this by referring me to orthopaedic consultant Matt Oliver, another man with an estuary twang but charm and expertise in abundance.

A fortnight ago I wandered in to the foyer of the hospital, already having clocked that the parking was free. The receptionist asked me to do the alcohol handwash before anything else – I was later to learn that there hadn’t been a case of MRSA since the term was first coined. I met the delightful Mr Oliver two minutes after schedule – he had already read my scan and decided on surgery, which he explained clearly and carefully. More impressive was his subsequent letter to Dr Harry in which he described me as ‘very pleasant’ and ‘slim’. He’s on my party list in perpetuity.While I was listening to his professional analysis, my eyes wandered to the fields and hills rolling into the distance behind him. All hospitals should have this vista. The sick would be healed in a trice.

I digress –  having left the consulting room I dropped down a level to the plush admissions office to book in for the op. I was expecting 3, 4, 5, 6 months hence. ‘Can you come in in two weeks’ time?’ I reeled from the question.

‘What for?’ I stumbled.

‘The operation, dear,’ a woman with Sue on her lapel said.

‘This is the NHS?’

‘Yes, ‘she smiled,’We have a gap on Mr Oliver’s list and it’s made for you!’

And so it came to pass that I found myself with a group of similarly aged gentlemen awaiting the knife on Tuesday last. Two knees, two shoulders, a Viking claw and a groin complaint that a quiet gentleman didn’t want to talk about. Fair enough.

Victor of the Viking claw was a charming fellow. He had Dupuytren’s Contracture – a northern European complaint where the fingers claw up and look devastatingly arthritic but, in fact, a slitting of tendons releases them back to a former straight state. Victor had had the job done before and was pretty chirpy about the whole thing. His little fingers were clawed into his palms but he brushed the malaise aside with a There are worse things that can happen. Our pre and post op carers were Julia (chatty) and Debbie (scatty). Both very pleasant and, appropriately, caring. We were all told to undress and put those surgical smocks on which make you feel vulnerable, emasculated. Then the self-shaving of the knee. Debbie provided me with a rumbling Remington and I was dispatched to the patients’ loo to reduce my hirsute manly patella to a bald, plucked chicken leg. Easy job. Then the wait.

Mr Oliver popped in to check us over and explain in his clear, calm fashion what he was about to do. He crouched down on his haunches and invited questions. When will I be able to do that again?, I asked. Smiles all round. I was second on the list and there was a delay because the morning session in theatre had overrun. No matter, we had the view over the countryside and, after Victor had entertained me for a while I returned to reading the autobiography of the 13th Duke of Bedford, a surprisingly brilliant read!

Mid afternoon, after a two-hour wait I was called. Michael, the porter took me down to theatre. I asked him how long he’d been working at Benenden. Ten years he said (he didn’t look old enough). I wanted to know what he liked about his job and the place. In the time it took to wheel me into the arms of the anaesthetist, I discovered, once again, what makes organisations tick. Michael has a short pleasant drive through the countryside from Tenterden to work. Tea and biscuits are free. The people – from consultants to porters are pleasant to work with. The Christmas party is free. Parking is free. Michael likes coming to work.

I have only had two general anaesthetics but I love the moment when the knock-out serum seeps into the vein on the back of your hand and you know you’re about to go….And then the wake up..already back where I started in pre-op. Victor had just gone down and I was not to seem his unclawed hand. Pity. Debbie brought tea and a sandwich. Ken, who had had his shoulder pinned was going home. 7.30pm. And here came Mr Oliver with pictures of the inside of my knee and explanations of what he had done. ‘Go home and have a glass of wine,’ I said.

‘I’m on my way, just need to check on Victor.’




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