I don’t mind hospitals. I always suspect people who say melodramatically “Oh I HATE hospitals!”are angling to tell you a story about how they broke their leg when they were nine and had to go to hospital and it was just really, laike, super-traumatising.
People who have had a really terrible time in hospital, watched family members die, contracted MRSA, been operated on while still awake etc., tend not to want to re-live the experience by telling you about it.
I’m not saying I love hospitals: I don’t want to, like, go on holiday to a hospital, but I don’t mind them. So when on Friday morning the GP told me that I had to take Sam to the Royal Free as quickly as I could because his temperature was through the roof, his heart was dancing a disco beat and he was breathing faster than Mo Farah on the home straight, I wasn’t too fussed. Fine, I thought. Hospital. Lovely paediatricians to make Sam better feel nice no more crying.
And I still didn’t mind throughout that whole day while I sat in the kiddie A&E with poor pathetic, hot Sam as the (really nice) nurses and (really charming) doctor made him repeatedly scream his head off by sticking things in his ears and down his throat and up his nose and taking blood samples and chest X-Rays.
But then after seven or so hours – I didn’t even feel them go by, I am very good at waiting – we were sent up to the children’s ward and given a room. We couldn’t go home, they said, until they had seen Sam smile (ha!) and his temperature had come down to normal.
I looked around the room and out of the window as dusk started to fall over Hampstead. Away from the roar and chaos of A&E, which I had grown to think of as home, it was so quiet. So lonely. I looked at Pond Street, the steep hill I drive up and down at least once a week. I looked around the clean but shabby room, at the green and blue metal-barred cot, at the parent bed, which had a mattress that was like a load of bricks padded with some old carpet, a few slices of wonder loaf scattered about on top then covered with a sheet.
Then I thought about Sam’s nursery at home, where I have been spending the last few sleepless, fretful nights with its soft cosy beds, clean bathroom and tasteful wallpaper, everything smelling sweetly of Persil. I thought about the prospect of being denied having dinner, in my own kitchen, with my husband. Worst of all, my iPhone battery was running out and I hadn’t brought a charger. And I thought: “Even if I have to grab Sam and make a run for it disguised as an old washerwoman I need to get out of this fucking place.”
The absolutely delightful nurse, who had immediately given me a cup of tea, a sandwich and a muffin as I arrived, (they don’t do that at the Portland, I tell you), and the consultant came round and said “It’s a really bad virus. So, no antibiotics unless the throat swab comes back positive on Monday. Now it’s just about waiting for the virus to work its way out, managing his fever in the meantime, which we can do here, or…” they didn’t need to finish the sentence. I had shoved my paltry belongings back in my horrible TopShop holdall, stuffed Sam on top, said my fond farewells and was in the parking lot waiting for my husband within about six minutes.
My husband had repeatedly offered to go out and get a curry for dinner but I just didn’t feel like having a big stinking pile of food. I needed to wash the Free (God bless it, the people who go to work there are truly sent from Heaven to do His work) out of my hair and eat something pure and holy, like sushi.
But I didn’t have any sushi, so we ended up eating a bizarre dinner consisted of an entire Epoisse and two rounds of black pudding with fried apple slices.
Which was delicious, but I’d much rather have had (if not sushi) a thing we had the previous evening, which was the titular herbed rack of lamb with courgette gratin.
A butcher has opened at the top of our road, a really proper one and it has changed my life. My husband is hugely squeamish about where meat and fish come from and so we only eat a very narrow range of things from Waitrose: chicken, certain sorts of salmon, bacon, extremely expensive free-range beef. Even then he complains about it not coming from a proper butcher. There is a butcher on the high street but it’s out of my way and he once sold me some bad chicken and I am still annoyed about it.
So now one a good butcher has opened – Meat NW5 is its catchy name – we have been able to have pretty much anything for dinner. I’ve gone slightly nuts, I go every morning after dropping Kitty off at nursery and I think they’re a bit scared that I might be in love with one of them.
But the thing is I can go in and buy 2 chipolatas for Kitty’s tea, 120g of best stewing beef for Sam’s puree and then some lamb sweetbreads and a small rack of lamb for dinner with my fusspot husband.
No more spare sausages or chicken thighs hanging about in the fridge. Just go, get only what you want, cook it that night. Then buy 400 packs of bog roll and deodorant and Cheerios on Ocado every now and again. Ha ha ha! It’s like being handed loads of time and money.
A rack of lamb is a bit 2002 and I don’t actually think I’ve had it since then but it is a lovely thing and I did it like this with a courgette gratin, which was AMAZING.
For the rack of lamb
1 rack of lamb
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 large handful fresh breadcrums
assorted soft herbs – thyme, mint, oregano, rosemary – whatever you like, a small handful
some lemon zest?
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven as hot as it will go
1 brown the lamb all over for about 4 minutes in some oil and set aside to cool for a few minutes
2 Whiz up your breadcrumbs with the herbs and lemon zest, a large pinch of salt and a few turns of the pepper grinder
3 spread the lamb with the mustard and then pack on the breadcrumb mixture
4 All the recipes said put the lamb in the oven at 220C for 12 minutes and so I did that and it came out actually fucking cold in the middle. I mean, I know it’s fine to eat rare lamb but come the fuck on. Giles and I ended up agreeing that for a rack of 4 chops or more you should put it in at 220C for 25 minutes.
For the courgette gratin
200 ml double cream
salt and pepper
1 handful of breadcrumbs
1 large handful of parmesan cheese
1 Slice your courgettes to the thickness of a £1 coin (have a look at a coin because it’s thinner than you think it is), put them on a baking tray and cover them in olive oil and salt and pepper. Stick them in at the top of the oven at 180C for about 10 minutes.
2 Get yourself a dish that will take all the courgettes. Shake them in, add more salt and pepper – you could also crush in a bit of garlic or other herbs if you like – toss them about, then pour over some double cream. I used I think about 200 ml but basically you just want the courgettes to be lying in a medium-bath of cream. Not a small pool and not absolutely drowning.
3 Pack on top of the courgettes your breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. Back for 25 min at 180C
And, look, here is Sam this afternoon. Right as rain – sort of. Still not really smiling, but no need to worry.