I am not sure I have ever seen a hospital which does not have that hospital feeling about it.
While it is a pastoral organisation, bent on keeping us comfortable and maintaining our dignity in the face of illness and infirmity, the sheer practicalities of a hospital mean it must have easily scourable floors, echoing resonant corridors, public spaces peopled with those experiencing a plethora of human conditions. There must be many people in pyjamas and even a few in those rather injudicious surgical robes. There are newborns and the operated on and the inoperable, all in the same space.
Today the Celt and I were heading for the Neurology department, South Block, Outpatients 1. I could have been a number but the staff did their damndest to make me feel like a human being, and they succeeded. They confounded the municipal blue walls and rasping corridors to meet my eyes and smile and orient me.
I was only there about an anomaly,and I will cut to the chase and tell you that I have been pronounced absolutely fine. For we are not here to talk about me.
You may be familiar with hospital gardens. Often overlooked, they can be quite bare; zen gardens with cobble-allotments and pebble-crops abound, for they do not have weeds and foster a sense of uncluttered peace.
But they always leave me feeling a little short changed. For to me, that is not a garden. A garden must be green, lush, provide shade and surprise, even have water trickling somewhere in its arbours.
The lady had taken my details and checked me in. Maybe, since we had some time, she said, we might like to wait in the garden.
We bought excellent coffee and tea, and went to sit in the nearest courtyard space to Outpatients 1. It is a new garden, for which special funding has been obtained. We sat on benches over which green fronds trained along wide arches. Containers overflowed with greenery and gorgeous blue sage. Everywhere there was green, and we felt unaccountably happy, as if on a date, not visiting a hospital.
Was it the sound of gently trickling water which lent the space such magic? A stream ran along the length of the garden. Sculptures of nudes swimming lent energy and grace. The Celt and I sat sipping happily, discussing how anatomically correct the swimmers were.
And the sun beat down in a most un-English way, and my head was getting hot. That way, for me, lie migraines. I held the tea tray to block the sun and continued to marvel at the green. And then the Celt said: I have an idea.
He reached into his bag and brought out a black umbrella. And he put it up and lo, it provided the most perfect shade.
We sat in Elysium shaded by a black umbrella for a few more minutes before leaving for my appointment, conscious of being indebted to the hospital for putting such a beautiful, such a very un-clinical space there for us to use.
All England is a garden: but this corner of it was inordinately precious.