Wednesday 12 June 2013


Recently, I have dropped the odd comment to lead you gently  to the idea that I have started to work voluntarily at the local hospital. What a very old lady is doing in a very large hospital must be hard to imagine. Well, for one thing, I am the rear end of a trolley- pushing job taking library books round the wards. The trolley is heavy, the corridors are vast and I am no longer forty, as we know only too well. The toughest bit  to deal with is bruised pride. The front end of the trolley is staffed by an old volunteer hand. She walks and pulls at a rate of knots. I need not only to keep up at something between a trot and a canter, but also to hide the fact that I am struggling to keep up at all. This particular lady is four foot nothing and very spry. I am convinced she could deal with the thing alone. However, Health and Safety requires there be two of us and we are certainly both needed to heft it over the inevitable little step created by the lift which takes us from ward to ward. (Elevator, in case you have lost your English-American dictionary over there in Mountain View, California). Health and Safety also requires bare arms below the elbow and no jewellery. Exceptions are made for wedding rings. I know, I know, there are anomalies. Why would bacteria keep clear of your wedding ring but not of your engagement ring. Likewise, one has to remove one's wrist watch and loop it around the lanyard bearing a photo and the word "Volunteer" in red letters repeated at intervals of one inch right round one's neck. The biggest anomaly, though, is in the books, themselves. How anyone could describe a library book as bacterium-free has stretched my curiosity to its limits.  Don't misunderstand: I am very germ conscious, especially having spent two months in hospital, myself, last summer. It's the inconsistencies that get to my pedantic little mind.

 The pedantry extends, too, to the card index which serves as catalogue and borrowing record. That's right. You did read correctly: no computer, an old-fashioned card index. It gladdened my old-fashioned heart no end. I know where I am with a feely row of cardboard information.  I am not easy, as you know, with the Wizard of Cyberspace however genial he may appear to all of you. Anyway, the card index: every time I present myself,  I take one letter of the alphabet and put the cards in it in to alphabetical order. Every time I present myself anew, the Wizard of Indexville has muddled them all up again. It's like painting the Forth Bridge. By the time you get to the end it is ready for re-painting at the beginning. (I can't really keep up with the parentheses. I shall have to ask you to Search- Engine the Forth Bridge for yourself). My other challenge is simply the distances to cover. It takes me three minutes to walk from the Library to the nearest call-of-nature facility. The canteen is enormous with bottles of water at one end and glasses at the other. Picture poor Liz, handbag falling off her shoulder, stick in one hand, tray in the other, bottle of water rolling about on it, traipsing forlornly from stage to stage collecting bits and pieces more by their stability on the tray than by their appetite appeal, getting really wound up because minced meat, carrots and potatoes wrapped in pastry are called "shepherds' pie" when they should be called pasties. Aware as I am of the tricks played by the inner world, I still transpose my crossness on to some totally innocent event or source. Like kicking the cat when cross with the spouse. However, the food is good and wholesome and one can always read the signs on the wall telling us how healthy it all is: no bacteria there, then. Bore da.


Humphrey said...

When I was little, my grandmother always justified minor transgressions - like eating strawberries before they were washed - with the assertion that one should eat a peck of dirt in their lifetime. I had no idea what a peck was (still don't) but it seemed like a lot, so all this health and safety extremism I take with a pinch of salt (washed of course). Before I took up a post in Saudi Arabia, our Chief Medical Officer advised us to boil lettuce before we ate it. Some of the most delicious salads I have ever eaten in my life, I had while working in KSA. Did my hosts boil their lettuce? I think not. Of course one must be sensible - I use an anti-bacterial cleanser on my hands after travelling on London Transport. I take a probiotic to ensure a healthy amount of 'good; bacteria, and I chew propolis tablets in case I do pick up a dreaded virus. Happily, I am in the health and wellness business so these are household items. Excellent column as always Liz - do keep entertaining and stretching our minds at the same time!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Liz,Your adventures as a hospital volunteer are worthy of a whole film! Keep writing - and one day I hope to see it all in technicolour on the big screen. Is there a film-maker out there reading this?!

Anonymous said...

I love old-fashioned card indexes (indices?!) and still use them for certain references in my work.
I fully concur with Humphrey about the good blog but would prefer to err on the side of caution re. lettuce in Southern climes; don't boil it, just don't eat it!