If you're British and have had to stay in hospital for one reason or another, then you will have had the questionable pleasure of sampling the cuisine offered by the NHS (or, more precisely, the contracted caterer that offered their services so cheaply, you KNOW it's not going to be good news).
Then again, you may have been lucky enough to 'go private', thus qualifying you for breakfasts of smoked salmon and dinners involving at least four courses and a change of napkins.*
The last time Julie was in hospital as a patient, the staff had been told that, as a result of her previous weight-loss surgery, they shouldn't allow her any fatty foods. Unfortunately, they took this information and went just a tad too far with it. As a result, the food they unceremoniously plonked in front of her was about as exciting as a sheet of cardboard. Jacket potato with a hint of cheese was the best they managed. And I think that was only because they forgot to leave the cheese off and couldn't scrape it all off in time. The absolute worst was a piece of chicken breast so dry it very nearly qualified for the status of 'mummified'.
I kid you not.
When I went to visit my wife on this particular day, I received a frantic text from her to buy some fruit and a pack of choccy biscuits from the shop in the foyer. Somewhat bemused, I followed the instructions and went upstairs to find Julie attempting to prise some fibres of meat from the aforementioned chicken breast. As soon as she saw me, Julie dropped the breast (with a thump!) and reached for the grapes I'd bought. While she tucked into the grapes with semi-orgiastic sound effects, I picked up the chicken and experimentally tapped it on the tray. It didn't quite make a tapping sound, but as I picked it up, I had to admit it was a solid bit of meat. It was just a pity that the cooking and transportation involved had drained it dry.
As Julie found out when she began working at the hospital herself, food for the patients isn't prepared onsite, but in Hastings, over twenty miles away. After that, it's brought over to us and then stored in the appropriate manner until it's time to dish it all up.
Well, it seems that the food still has its fans - the rice pudding is apparently a big hit with one or two of the patients, although the semolina is almost universally reviled.
On the other hand, there's the fish pie, which doesn't look too nice at all. As we sat in our front room, talking about how her day had gone, Julie joked about dropping it on the floor and then scraping it up before serving it to people; the reasoning was that anything she did to it would have been an improvement. Julie laughed at the thought and stopped when she saw my cringing expression of faint disgust and shock.
Well, I'm sure that's a great comfort to us all, eh?
*You may have guessed that I have not had the good fortune to go private and that I'm making a wild stab in the dark regarding the menus on offer.