Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rude health

I don't really do sick. My last visit to the doctor, five years ago, was a waste of time (hers and mine) and the previous one, four years before that, wasn't much cop either. But we all get a little something wrong sometime. And right now I've got mine. Nothing terminal you understand, but something that requires a little treatment.

I didn't know it was coming - my fault really - otherwise I would have booked a doctor's appointment two weeks in advance. The poor girl who took my call, cruelly dragged from her nail filing, couldn't have been less interested. There was an appointment. In ten days. End of. Don't bother me wif your tale of woe. Whaddya think I am? A doctor or sumfink?

So I went to see another doctor who examined me and said yes, you've either got something which these pills will take away or you'll have to see a specialist, who can only be contacted via your own doctor. So take these pills and see if it goes away. (It doesn't).

So I get to see my doctor ten days later. In fact she's got three receptionists, each one of whom is as genuinely disinterested as they appear to be over the phone. They barely acknowledge the existence of the patients. But I'm being unfair. There was an unread copy of Heat magazine to be scrutinised. And there were boys to talk to on mobiles. And hair to be looked at. And a lot of giggling to be done, despite the pesky patients. And in the hour I sat there patiently (geddit?) waiting, a file to be filed. Just the one mind.

I saw my doc for a full five minutes, during which she neither examined me, asked any questions, or barely even spoke. I talked. She listened while (a) staring at the wall or (b) writing down my address for correspondence.

She said I'd have to see a specialist. I said I knew. She said she'd write to one. I said I was in a hurry. She shrugged her shoulders and stared right through me. "That's all I can do" she said helpfully. "Thankyou" I said. And sure enough, a few days later she hurriedly put pen to paper.

By which time I'd gone back to doctor number two, who examined me, asked lots of questions, and gave me more stuff to take. He said I could register with him and he'd get me to see a specialist outside London as soon as poss. I said I thought I should wait on the London one I was already referred to.

I called the hospital and discovered, (why am I not surprised at this?) that my doc had simply asked for an appointment. There was no sense of urgency. I was to see a specialist in four weeks time "for a check up". I explained that I thought I should see someone more quickly. The appointments person disagreed. I tried not to be rude but asked what it had got to do with her. She said I could only go to A&E and see someone there. "But I haven't been in an accident" I said stupidly, thinking that A&E was for Accidents and Emergencies rather than Appoitments and Enquiries.

For the five hours I sat in A&E, I was surrounded by people who'd been in accidents and clearly didn't know they were in the wrong place. I was going to helpfully suggest to the bloke lying along the bench seats that if he'd bothered to make an appointment before being knocked out in work this wouldn't be happening. But I didn't. None of my business, see?

But I was eventually seen. By a brilliant doc who gave me a full examination and spoke to someone on the phone. "Take these" he said, "They take a week to work which means I'll get you an appointment for next week. We'll see if they've worked"
I explain about the appointment in a month and he looks pained, swore, and told me, in that I've-got-to-deal-with-this-every-day manner, that he'd sort it. Which he did. Brilliant. Getting somewhere. I'm going to be finding out what's wrong with me. Hurrah!

Then his colleagues get to work and make sure that all trace of my visit, never mind the forthcoming appointment, is erased, Soviet style, from all records. On the day of the supposed appointment I spend two hours talking on the phone to people who (a) don't care, (b) hang up or accidentally cut me off after 10 minutes, (c) can't hear me, (d) accuse me of making it all up, but not (e) telling me to watch it. Because I don't. Ever. Lose it.

By sheer dogged determination I manage to find someone on a specific extension (which is semipermanently engaged) who searches through some records and finds my appointment. "It's at half past two" she says at 2pm. I say I know and that I've been on the phone, on and off, since 10am. "You'd better hurry up" she scolds, implying that I'm going to cause trouble by being late.

I arrive at half past two. I'm seen at 4.30. That's a two hour wait for those of you who're a bit slow (go to A&E and get yourself checked out, willya?)
The doc examines me and suggests it might be as serious as I've already been told, and that I should have a very specific test right away, adding that the department which does The Tests shuts at 5pm. It's quarter to five.

I get there at ten to five and a woman looks at me as if I'm there to kill her. She looks at me. She looks at the clock. She looks at her handbag. She looks at me again. "We're closed" she says.
"I thought you closed at 5" I say
"We're closed" she says again, clearly in shock that someone has walked through her door.
A colleague appears. "We're closed" she says.
"I thought it was 5" I say again.
"The test takes 15 minutes. You'll have to come back. Tomorrow"
I explain that I've been sitting around for more than two hours and thought I could get tested, like, now. Before 5.
"The computer is switched off" she says emphatically. "Everything is switched off" she adds, looking at the clock. Her colleague looks at the clock too, willing the big hand to get near the top.
They stare at me. They look somewhere between terrified and angry.
I stare back.

A wearied looking doctor type appears and waves me through, ignoring them, and sits me down and does the test, without a word of explanation. It takes fifteen minutes of being wired up, whizzing, clicks,bangs, whistles and print outs.

He studies the paper. He looks pained.
"When did you say this started?"
"About three weeks ago?"
"Why didn't you do something about this right away?" he chides. "Why didn't you go and see your doctor? This could be serious"


Friday, October 17, 2008

AA Gill. You're the man.

AA Gill doesn't usually bother me, mainly because I stopped reading the Sunday Times a long while ago and now only occasionally flick through it online before lunch, but since I can't remember ever being moved by young Adrian quite so much before, I'm a little unsettled.
For those of you who don't know, Jeremy Clarkson's best friend's restaurant column in the ST consists of two thirds rant - about anything really, dependant on who, or what, has annoyed him most that week, and one third review, usually a poisonous attack on bad cooking, or service, or misplaced judgement, on the basis that we're handing over too much money for too little imagination. He's an attack dog on bourgeois values, hired, I think, to satisfy former editor Andrew Neil's faux-republicanism.

But this week he likes Murano, a new London place which I'll try soon because we like new places, don't we, and it's the brilliant, friendly Angela Hartnett's new gaff which has had nothing but good writeups.

But today I'm not reading the review online, nor am I resting before lunch in SW London or even Sussex-by-the-sea, I've picked up a paper copy of the ST in Thurso, in the far, far north of Scotland, before setting off for Sutherland, to drive along the very roof of Britain, the wild and windy coast road that joins John O'Groats to Cape Wrath.

This is Europe's least populated region, and the chances of you bumping into anyone, never mind someone you know, are remote. On a Sunday, cars are so rare drivers wave at each other.
At Bettyhill, the Strathinver Trail has been mapped out to explain the area's past, and in addition to an informative leaflet (available from the Post Office for £2.50) there are twenty little stopping points en route, with placques and signposts to various ruins of old communities. It deals, most pointedly, with the Highland Clearances two hundred years ago when the Countess of Sutherland, and others, forcibly emptied their estates of people to make way for sheep. As brutal a period in British history as you'll find.

The placques spell it out in cold, clear language, indicating various piles of stones and naming the families whose houses had stood there, for how long, before naming the vicious bastard who'd come along and torched them out. And on what day.

By the time I was halfway round, I was all fired up, seething at man's inhumanity to man, but willing to leave it to one side for a moment while enjoying some particularly fine Kinloch smoked salmon and equally excellent Highland sirloin at the Tongue Hotel. After which I turned to the ST and AA Gill's weekly rant.

He's blethering away about the current artworld dilemma to save two Titians for the nation. They're being offered at the knock down price of £100 mill -pah! - but by no less a person than the Duke of Sutherland. And Gill's not in some Belgravia salon in tete a tete with Tracey Emin, he's up in Sutherland too, out on the hill shooting the living breath out of a stag or two, discussing matters of import with posh pals .

But he allows the ghillie to interrupt - presumeably standing on a hill staring malevolently into the middle distance - who suggests that the best solution is to stab the Duke, kill all his relatives, in recompense for the vicious, marauding catalogue of murder and mayhen his forebears perpetrated on his forebears here in Sutherland. In the Clearances.
Gill gives full vent to the man's rage, paragraph after paragraph, it was like reading some revolutionary manifesto, where the heads of cruel landowners end up on spikes in village squares so small children can throw turnips at the them .

I nearly didn't finish my coffee. My blood was on the boil again and I swear if an absentee Highland landlord had walked through the dining room at that point we'd have had him swinging from the rafters pronto. Despite the fact that the Tongue Hotel has a jazz band on Sundays.

I went back out onto the trail, filled with revolutionary fervour, relieved that hand weapons are illegal in this country otherwise...otherwise. As I stared into the distance, I promised at that moment that the instant I got back to London I'd write a blog about this. It's just that I've been a little busy since Sunday.

Anyway, AA Gill. You're the man.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Hollywood A-list curry.

Since the 18 year old and I hadn't been out for a couple of weeks I thought we'd sidestep the caff and chips and kick off at Benares, the Indian in Berkeley Square, which is about as closely associated to "going for a curry" as your local Chinese takeaway is to a full on Banquet at the Imperial Palace in Beijing.
We worked out we'd been there together before, on opening night actually, which was quite a long time ago, but still have the photo to prove it. I was informed by the 18 year old that the passion fruit Martini was excellent, which is a bit of a worry really. Not because I'm concerned about an Indian Restaurant's capabilities in the martini making departments, but the fact that an 18 year old knows the diffference between a good and bad one.

There's going to be a bit of eulogising here, so if you're not in the mood go and get a dose of schadenfreude by reading about bankers losing their jobs. Any newspaper will do. Then come back when you're feeling better and the italics have stopped.

Each of the courses served at Benares certainly sounds Indian, but when it arrives it certainly doesn't look it. John Dory in Gram Flour Batter was served with mushy peas in delicate little mouth (or mouse) sized portions. Curry leaf and Tarragon infused Lobster Rillet arrived in a shot glass and was accompanied by a glass of Qupe' Roussanne - a stunningly rich, aromatic white from California's Central Coast. And Khorma Chicken on Masala Basmati was like nothing I've ever eaten - in the looks or the taste departments.

Unusually the climax was pudding, and it wasn't Gulab Jamin, with accompanying wines. What looked like a trifle, but was in fact Star anise poached Rhubard, Yoghurt Foam and nuts was paired with a South African straw wine from De Trafford in the Stellenbosch, all marzipan and apricots, but which was then superceded (along with a Five Spiced Chocolate Brownie served with tarragon), by a golden stickie of such sweetness and depth, fruit, spice and honey all jostling for attention, I very nearly asked for a second glass. It was a Cuvee Saint Clement, Cabidos petit manseng 2004, of which I have never heard before, from somewhere near the Pyrenees I will make it my business to visit one day.

Doesn't really sound much like a curry, does it? (see what you missed by reading about bad things?). Take a tip from me. Don't ask for a beer when you walk in here.

The 18 year old was now feeling like another passion fruit Martini so we repaired for a chat and a final drink to Claridge's, where else when one has been for a curry? The bar was heaving with people who'd clearly not been for a curry that night but drinking mightily at some glitzy event deep inside London's tiptop hotel so we found a quiet seat in the other bar beside two young ladies of the most extraordinary beauty wearing small black cocktail dresses and sipping, well, cocktails who seemed very interested in me for some reason. They kept getting up, turnabout, to go powder their nose, or just shimmy across the lobby, much to the attendant interest of every male in the building, and their consequent delight. They seemed a very lively pair. Posh too.

I was about to engage either one of them in conversation, or both even, but the 18 year old wagged a finger, and warned me off, with one of those knowing looks.

Anyway, the 18 year old was more interested in what was going on elsewhere, trying to earwig unsuccessfully on a conversation at another table, rather rudely ignoring the shopping list of incidents that had occurred in my life that day, maintaining that staring-over-your-shoulder-at-someone-more-interesting-look so popular in the Groucho Club in 1995, and even ignoring the constant vibrating and flashing of the iPhone from other 18 year olds enjoying themselves in various clubs around town. This must be important I thought, if the phone's being ignored too, so I used the excuse of some hilarity from the table, I don't know what, to turn around in a disinterested manner and see what could possibly be more interesting than the excitement of my day.

It turned out to be three movie producers, (Boring!) one of whom was Harvey Weinstein, (er, not quite so boring) almost a fixture in Claridge's sometimes, and various other people such as Johnny Depp's girlfriend, (not boring at all) top popster Fergie (ooh, exciting) and, er, Kate Hudson (off the richter). I thereupon stopped trying to attract the attention of the 18 year old, resigned to having arrived somewhere out my depth, and began to consider what a quick mobile phone snap would be worth to Heat magazine. A lifetime ban from Claridges didn't seem quite such a high price to pay, but it was dark. And I'm chicken anyway.

After enough A-list gossip to last a week (does gossip last that long now?) we left and to the chagrin of the sleepy looking posse of paps outside who wanted to know if (a) they were still inside and (b) what they were talking about, we rather expertly pretended not to know the answer to (b) but said yes to (a).

Sorry Kate, but we'd been for a curry you see, and I was feeling a bit leery. A bit woo. A bit wah.
As you do.