Friday, 4 July 2014

For old acquaintance

I visited Mike in hospital last night. He’d been in all the local papers - hero of the hour as he rescued a kitten from a burning outbuilding - but he paid a price for his bravery. Immediately after the rescue and as the fire crews fought the blaze he keeled over, asphyxiated by the smoke and hot gases and for a while it was touch and go as the paramedics revived him and stabilised his condition. He suffered some internal scarring of the lung tissues but as he’d been clad only in shorts and a tee-shirt, his skin had also been badly affected in places

Anyway, he was healing nicely – or at least I think he was. It was difficult to recognise him, swaddled in gauze and with parts of him concealed beneath tented bedclothes to avoid contact in the worst-affected areas. And although he has recovered full use of his lungs his voice has a raspy quality, as you might expect. At least he is now on the mend and finally able to tackle the mountain of grapes left by well-wishers and when I found him last night he was tucking in like a starving man. I laughed and made fun of how a formerly almost pure carnivore was now making like a manic vegan. He fixed me with a baleful stare and said:  

“Don’t even joke about it, mate. The food here is terrible and always the same bloody thing.” It turned out that the staples were salty porridge for breakfast almost every day and most evenings he was served mushy boiled potatoes and turnips with some unappetising mince-like concoction, or else it was deep-fried pizza or an egg covered in sausage meat. When I looked suitably horrified he warmed to his theme. “This is the first fruit I’ve had in days!” he informed me. I began to console him but he stopped me in my tracks.

“And the bloody do-gooders!” he wailed, “They are driving me mental, I tell yer!” I asked him to explain and at first I have to say I was somewhat alarmed at his revelations. It turns out that a number of hospital visitors come in most days to recite uninspiring poetry in the early evenings. And wee matron McTaggert apparently encourages everybody to join in the singing of Auld Lang Syne to a bagpipe tape just before lights out “I tell you, mate” said Mike, “if I have to hear that bloody song one more time I’m not sure if I could be held responsible for my actions.”

Dear god, no more haggis!
Dear god, no more bagpipes!

Deep in my memory something stirred. A faint recollection which started to grow until suddenly the penny dropped. I asked Mike “This mincemeat stuff they give you… You don't think it could be… haggis?” Mike turned to me as if to question my sanity but in the same heartbeat he, too, realised the truth of the situation. All of a sudden it all made sense. After all, what else would you expect… in a Burns unit?

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