When you're recovering from stroke you spend a lot of time resting and waiting for your brain to mend itself. (It can do that, apparently, but you have to do more than just wait. You have to give it the odd prod, give it some work to remind it of its former function.) One of the most interesting sessions I had in rehab was occupational therapy where I had to prepare my lunch and eat it. And just to make sure my brain got plenty of exercise in that part where the cells had given up the ghost, I had to do it all with my left hand. They gave me a mitten like a boxing glove to wear on my right hand to ensure that I didn't use it. My therapist took me to the Occupational Therapy Kitchen and showed me what ingredients were at my disposal. There were fresh eggs and ham, along with some pasta. It seemed my best bet was to cook pasta carbonara. Breaking eggs into a bowl using just one hand is hard enough, but when you're using the less dominant hand it's well nigh impossible. Cooking the pasta was easy, though I encountered more difficulty when slicing the ham. It doesn't take long before your mind declares 'Enough!' and I was well past that point when the therapist asked me how I could tell if my pasta was correctly cooked. I remembered an old trick that I had picked up somewhere, took out some strands of pasta with the tongs, then flicked them at the wall. From memory, if the pasta is correctly cooked it will stick to the wall for a moment then drop off. But I had failed to take into consideration the fact that I might be a lousy shot, since I was using my left hand and all. Without a word of explanation to the therapist, I hurled some strands of pasta. They missed the wall and hit the window. The therapist, who was young and enthusiastic like all the staff at Caulfueld Rehab, looked as though she was about to call a CODE GREY (Dangerous patient requiring restraint). She asked me what the hell I was doing and I tried to explain the never-fail al dente pasta test. I don't think she believed a word, but one of the other patients, who had mercifully been out of the way when I flung the pasta, conformed that there was an element of truth in what I was saying, even if it was a bit of unreliable household lore. This new patient and shared lunch, after I had cleaned the window. His meal was somewhat better than mine. My new friend seemed to know quite a bit about food. He told me he was a food technologist who had once worked for SPC. During his time with the company, there was an achievement of which he was particularly proud. He had managed to convince the doubting powers that be that there was a market for tinned mushrooms. They thought this was a stupid idea. Mushrooms grew wild, so why would anyone pay for a tin of them? But my lunchmate was obviously a very persuasive man, and before long, tins of mushrooms were rolling off the production line. They became one of SPC's strongest sellers.
It was an interesting conversation. The food technologist told me how it was possible to recreate the taste of chicken by mixing apple and peanuts and something else that I forget. I wish I could remember, but I'm pretty sure the third ingredient wasnt 'chicken'.
Intersting who you meet in a stroke ward. There are probably thousands of food technologists out there who know the secret of creating artificial chicken taste, I just didn't know they existed until I shared a ward with one. I'm glad I didn't throw hot pasta on him. And he confirmed something that I had heard to be true. The fake cherries in boxes of mixed dried fruit are made from turnip. This is why they can never be listed on the box as 'cherries' but go by the deceptively reassuring name of 'cherros'.
Now, at the top of this post I mentioned how recovery from stroke allows you ample time to look back at your life and contemplate on the good and bad things you have done. I know a comedian who had a similar experience, and found himself so appalled by himself that he rang many people to apologise for awful deeds he'd done. After much deliberation, I sent an apology to Shaun Micallef because I was sure I had said something rude to him while I was producing his show for the ABC. Shaun doesn't recall it. But I would definitely like to apologise to Red Symons for writing a mean and unfunny letter about him in The Age. The bloody thing is still on the Internet. This is one of the problems of the modern age. When we get to the Pearly Gates, St Peter will no longer have to consult a cumbersome book, where our sins are all listed and cross-referenced. All he will have to do is google for a bit. In which case, I am definitely damned.