Chips get a bad press, I think. In fact, I think that English cuisine gets a bad press. Personally, I think we have some of the most wonderful food in the world: roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, fish and chips, steak and chips, Balti and chips, spam, spam, spam and chips - these dishes are rather wonderful, and, along with Edward Elgar and Charles Dickens, are among the few things that inspire a certain patriotism in my knees (the organ of patriotism is definitely the knees).
As I say, English cuisine gets a bad and unfair press; however, there's a reason for this. Fish and chips can be a transcendent experience; but it can also be unbelievably disgusting. English cuisine, like English weather, is remarkably adaptive: Sunday lunch can be a substitute for church, or a visit to the crypt. Fish and chips can be a heavenly pub lunch washed down with beer in the sun, or it can be, erm, well, hospital food.
Yesterday, Maria passed me a hospital chip. She's been having hospital chips now for over two weeks. This was the first time I tasted one. This was also the last time I tasted one. It tasted like socks. Dead socks. Dead socks left on the floor for two weeks. Dead socks left on an unhoovered floor for two weeks after a disgusting party.
Oh my goodness, it was unbelievably awful.
So, we've all been exercised by the Jamie-Oliver-save-school-dinners campaign - which is all well and good - but hospitals still serve dead socks to patients. Healthy eating is now promoted in schools, but in the places where health is meant to matter, dead socks are still acceptable. In fact, hospital patients are allowed to eat dead socks morning, noon and night. Dead socks are served in maternity wards, cancer wards, and - believe it or not - heart disease wards.
It's great that dead socks are now less popular in schools. But at least in schools you can go home. In hospitals, there's no going home - there's no getting out for much of the time. So if dead socks are on the menu morning, noon and night, you'll have to eat dead socks morning, noon and night.
Interestingly, as a postscript, we managed to get out yesterday to the hospital restaurant, which is run by the same (how do we put this without getting sued?) corporation. And there, for a few quid, you can buy chips which taste slightly better than dead socks. So it's not that the corporation is incapable of half-decent chips. It's that patients - the people who really need healthy, decent, well-balanced food - don't pay so don't matter, and can therefore put up with the bargain-basement-you-don't-pay-so-you-have-to-suffer version of English cuisine.
Of course, the fact that the patients do pay is by the by.