I have to admit that hospitals are not my favourite places. But then, are they anybody's favourite places?
Having admitted this, I must also say that any visit to our
local hospital is always considerably enlivened by the Penguins.
Ah, now I have you worried - you fear that somehow I have been treated for some unspecified malady by hallucinatory drugs. Not to worry, folks,
there really are penguins in Worthing Hospital. Yesterday when I called in to see a friend who had been taken into hospital last week (no, she isn't a penguin, don't be silly) the hospital penguins were all dressed up in knitted hats with crocheted flowers
on one side for decoration and were sporting knitted rucksacks on their metal backs. They were a colourful, cheery sight. Many's the littl'un I've seen diverted from the trauma of a trip to hospital by the sight of the parading penguins. How many parents have
had cause to bless them, just for Being There.
I don't know whose idea it was to instal the Penguin Parade in one of the courtyards. Possibly the same person who decided it would be cool to have life size
models of an embracing couple perched on a bench in the café area. This is Art As I Like It.
My friend is bored and wants to go home. She has filled in her Menu Form, as supplied by the hospital catering
staff, in the happy anticipation of someone as yet unknown being in her bed by Wednesday and having to put up with her selections for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. I remember from my own (fortunately mostly short) sojourns in hospital the temptation to opt
for an exotically unexpected mix of menu choices - until the sobering thought strikes home that one could just find oneself forced to stay an extra night...
What, I wonder, makes a good hospital visitor? How
long is too long to stay, given that the patient wouldn't be in hospital were they fit enough to handle a long and meaningful conversation? My friend and I talk about a TV programme we both happened to watch that morning. It featured a woman who spent a fortune
every week in Poundland or its equivalent. I tell her that, in the eyes of my (Not So Very Little) Welsh Boys, Poundland is their Shop Of Choice. "Choose anything you want, boys," I tell them expansively, "And Nanna will buy it for you..." Last of the Big
Spenders, that's me. My friend laughs, weakly, and I hope I am being entertaining, rather than annoying.
At the end of my visit, I re-trace my steps via the corridor from which I can take another look at
the Penguin Parade. I am suddenly reminded of a similar installation in the garden of the town's Museum a few years back - elephants built from scraps of metal, plastic, all kinds of rubbish in fact. There were letters in the local press complaining that they
dragged down the tone of the area. I was moved to write my own Letter to the Editor in support of the elephants.
Mind you, nothing to my mind beats the recent shining example of Living Art commemorating the
100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme - those silent soldiers who turned up in uniform at railway stations, in town centres and shopping malls, handing out to puzzled passers-by white cards bearing the name, age and date of death of a soldier lost in
that horrific battle. I only saw them on TV and still I was moved to tears - my Son In Law happened to be at Waterloo Station when the Silent Soldiers gathered there. "We're here because we're here..." they sang - with all the bravado which the "doomed youth"
of 1916 might have summoned up as they prepared to go "over the top."
A parade of penguins; elephants made out of scraps of rubbish; silent soldiers, ghosts from a long-ago war.
I call it "Art with a Heart."