I went to a cake shop in a hospital today. Well it was a coffee shop-cum-cake shop. No, wait that won’t do: it was a Costa Coffee. A Costa Coffee in a hospital. In an NHS hospital you go to a cheerfully corporate coffee franchise.
Is that… Is that wrong? Or is it Ok? I can’t work out what it was about it that jarred so much. I think the branding was a big part of it, the bright branded colours making a hospital seem like part of a motorway services or shopping mall. I used to work in a hospital and you got your coffee from vending machines and your cakes from the WRVS shop, staffed by volunteers, selling Puzzler magazines and boxes of chocolates. There weren’t corporate colours; it was all function, necessity and NHS paint jobs.
The hospital itself is a masterpiece of anonymised glass and stone, like a sad chain hotel lobby, or regional airport minus the pink-stetsonned masses off to Ayebeefa. I usually rather like these bland bright spaces that belong to everyone and no one, hotels or airports or food courts… There’s something faintly whimsical to find in the lack of humanity, the Hopper like emptiness. Not here though. It’s a hospital. It seems wrong. To me, anyway. It seems unfriendly, uncaring. Unhappy. Cold. Ever so clean but ever so vacuous.
There’s something about the whole hospital experience that seems so commodified today. You start by paying to park a car, as if this is some kind of luxury destination that befits the insertion of coins into a slot rather than a place where people walk around heartbroken and shattered, their lives forever changed. Then you wait for a screen, not a person, to tell you where to go. And in some point in the future you’re going to have to pay for it. We all are.
A shop in a hospital sells giant calorific cakes. I don’t begrudge any underpaid, overworked member of staff the chance to fuel up; and if shocked, tired and emotional patients and families want to stuff themselves, comfort eat, keep awake and whatever, then that’s nothing to complain about. Who can blame them? We’ve been there. But shouldn’t the unhealthy, sugary, fatty, nasty foods be tucked away somewhere? After all, they’re not Good Things. As someone who used to be Morbidly Obese, I know how seriously diet is taken by health professionals… Yet there’s a branded shiny cake shop front and centre of a hospital. It sends a strange message about acceptability, like when footballers advertise junk food. Why not have a pub, or a tobacconist? Less absurdly, is the only reason why smoking isn’t allowed in hospitals because money can’t be made from it, while calorific coffee and cakes are a nice little earner?
A cake shop in a hospital. Treat yourself to a ton of fat and sugar while you’re waiting for that weight management appointment. Go on, it can’t hurt.