Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Lakes

Chapter 7 

The Lakes

After the departure of the happy pair it all went a bit flat so it was a relief to set off with Sarah for the Lake District.  I had saved some money and Sarah was earning so we decided to treat ourselves to a bed and breakfast instead of camping or staying in youth hostels.  Mum and Dad recommended Mrs Lawson’s B&B in Ambleside.  It was a typical local house, built of grey Lakeland slate, close to the Police Station. Mrs Lawson was motherly and Mum said she was a good cook so we were persuaded to have our evening meals with her. 
After exploring Ambleside I took Sarah to see our old haunts.  The camping ground  now had a few caravans - but the enormous tree, by the edge of the lake, which had been struck by lightening and uprooted, was still there.  Evan used to call it his castle and on the lake you could still see the rocks where we use to tie up and fish.  We wandered round the town and admired the super boats moored there.  One was called ‘The Girl Pat’. 
The Lakes were busier than pre-war, but their beauty was unchanged.  I never tired of gazing at the shimmering lakes garlanded with dramatic mountains - so different to the sea-side scenery I had grown accustomed to over the last year.

  I couldn’t find the little shop that used to sell lime milk shakes – such a treat in war-time – so we discussed what to do next over a cup of coffee 

“Sarah I think rather than tackling a mountain straight off on our own - especially as I’m meant to be the experienced one –how would it be if we spent tomorrow in the Langdales?  There are lots of little sugar loaves. We can potter up and down at our own speed and break ourselves in gently.”

“That sounds like a plan – especially as the weather is so gorgeous. There can’t be too many days like this up here I imagine.  What’s a sugar loaf by the way?”

“Little grass and rocky pinnacles just crying out to be climbed.  You’ll love ‘em!

Next day we bussed to the Langdales, climbed a couple and had our picnic lunch.  The third one was more like a grassy knoll and – intoxicated by the fresh air and the sunshine - we ran down the last one like a couple of kids and collapsed in a heap at the bottom.

“Sarah do you know Littolf’s piano concerto thing?

 Lah dee da dada da da da de dada “nodding my head vigorously in time - but Sarah looked blank.

“It doesn’t ring a bell.  Why?”

“Every time we run down a hill I hear it in my head and I just want to fly.”

“Steady on luv!  There’s a caff down the road – lets go and sober up with a brew.”

The weather was unusually balmy we were hot and tired and the cool shady tea-room with a flagged floor was a welcome oasis.  The seating arrangements were trestle tables with wooden forms to sit on – quite matey.  Most of the tables were occupied so we chose one with just three chaps sitting there.

“Do you mind if we sit here,” I asked politely?

“By all means – do join us.  This is my brother Ben, our friend Tony and I’m James.”

“Hi!  This is Sarah and I’m Pat.”

We quickly sat down as I could tell they were about to stand to acknowledge that we were young ladies.  Once we had drunk refreshing mugs of tea and scoffed hot buttered toast my natural curiosity got the better of me and I discovered they came from Ripon, had been in the army and were about to start at University - rather like my new brother in law.  They seemed really nice chaps – James who I found quite attractive was the chatty one, Ben his elder brother had an ‘other world’, aesthetic look about him and Tony was a little shy but good natured and friendly.

They had been climbing and had lots of useful information about the area so conversation flowed easily.  I realised time was running away with us and started to look up the bus timetables to get back for Mrs Lawson’s supper..

“We have a car and we’d be happy to give you a lift to Ambleside” said James.  They were quite a bit older than us, there were three of them but they were polite and charming and were climbers so I knew we would be safe.

  James was driving – I was sitting in the back with Sarah and Tony and we could see each other’s faces in the mirror.  We all seemed to get on so well it seemed a shame not to see more of them so I told them we were going to a local dance after supper and they said they might join us.

  We didn’t linger over Mrs Lawson’s excellent supper but both paid a great deal of attention to our toilette that evening.  Sarah was more grown up than me – well she was older, had her mother’s dark good looks, a shapely figure and beautiful deep set eyes.  My hair was all over the place but at least it was clean and shining and the sun had bleached it a little.  We decided we would abandon our shorts and be girly in dresses.  I had an old cast off from Maddie - a blue silk – more her colour than mine with little rosebuds and a heart shaped neck.  The silk on my skin felt heavenly and we set off for the Village Hall in high spirits.  The hall was already crowded and before long the chaps turned up.  We found a place where we could sit and took it in turns to mooch round the dance floor.  It was as if there was a magnet between James and I and when he suggested we went out for a breath of air I agreed.  It was a beautiful summer night and we followed the stream up a little way until the sound of the dance hall faded.

“Shall we sit on the wall and see what stars we can recognise,” asked James?

“Good idea – OUCH!”

“What’s the matter?”

“These stones are really sharp!”

“That’s alright Pat.  Sit on my lap.”

So I did and we stared at the stars and James gave me a lesson in astronomy which wasn’t boring in the slightest.  He would reach up to the sky to point something out and I would put my arms round his neck so as not to lose my balance – my dress was really slippery – and then I would be encircled in his arms again.

“Ah! La figure,” he murmured as his hand traced my outline.

“Actually ’la figure’ is the face,” said Miss Clever Clogs,” I did French for School Cert.”

James released his hold.

“Pat how old you?”

“Seventeen.  And a half!  Now I’m old enough to go to the main Hospital to start…”

James deposited me on the path and suggested we got back to the others.

“Well how old are you James?”

“Twenty seven.”

When we found the others James announced baldly,

“Pat’s seventeen!”

“And a half,” I added.

Well the good news was that I at last looked older than my age.  The bad news was that somehow my age had stopped that delicious spooning which had never interested me before with boys my own age. 

“Is it NEVER going to be the right time for me,” I asked Sarah?  She comforted me by saying it hadn’t put him off altogether because the chaps had invited us to spend their last day with them when they would drive us to a part of the Lakes we weren’t familiar with – Coniston.

  Next day - armed with our excellent packed lunches - we met the chaps in the village and had a pretty, scenic drive to Coniston – about 9 miles away.  Coniston Old Man looked quite tempting but it was another rare hot day and we were content to drift round the village - visiting the Victorian Sage and Art critic John Ruskin’s Gallery and Museum and his grave in the Churchyard.  Coniston was more remote and we had another lovely day of sweet scented meadows, shimmering lakes and gentle flirtation.  It was a rare experience to sit in that beautiful spot with perfect weather in the company of four attractive and intelligent people and just talk and talk and talk. 

 Time flew and it seemed criminal to dash back for supper, especially as the chaps were leaving the next day.  I had a brainwave:  we could phone the police station from the inn and ask them to pop over to Mrs Lawson’s to tell her we wouldn’t be back for supper.
  It was magical by Lake Coniston in the early evening and the lake - about 5 miles long was flat as a mill pond.  We were surprised to see quite a lot of people.  I suggested we had a skimming competition where you find flat smooth pebbles and see who can get the most bounces on the water before the pebble sinks.  The chaps were brilliant at this and we were rubbish - which pleased them no end until two officious looking blokes came up.

“You must stop that at once.  You’re disturbing the calmness of the lake.”

Feeling a little chastened we DID stop at once.  Disturbing the calmness of the lake?

What on earth was going on?  Why were we being berated for skimming stones on Lake Coniston?  

  Sarah was the first to spot him.  We all recognised him.  Those beaky, aquiline features were unmistakably those of Sir Malcolm Campbell.  His easily recognisable daughter was with him but not his son.

Sir Malcolm had broken the land speed record on nine occasions between 1924 and 1935 both in a Bluebird, which raced on land and a Bluebird that raced on water.  In 1935 he reached 301 mph at Bonneville Salt Flats, in the United States and now here he was waiting to do a run on our lake and we were causing ripples.  Red faces all around. 
  In the end, although the lake looked like glass to us, it was decided that the conditions were not ideal and the people drifted away.  We felt privileged to have seen him.  A year later he died. 

 Seven years later I met his son Donald, whilst on a modelling shoot.  He had continued his father’s pursuit of speed records and did 400mph in Bluebird, which now reclines in Lord Montague’s National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, UK.  Donald was charming and was interested to hear of our experience at Lake Coniston.  Tragically he was killed in 1967, aged 46 in a re-engined Bluebird K7. It flipped and disintegrated at a speed in excess of 300mph on Lake Coniston. 

His body wasn’t recovered from the deep lake until 2001 and today he rests in the churchyard in Coniston.
  It was time to say goodbye.  The chaps drove us back to the B&B, we bade them a fond farewell and James and I exchanged addresses.  Mrs Lawson was waiting for us in the hall and we could see at once she was not happy.  It was not so much that she minded our missing supper but to have a bobby come knocking on her door, in full view of the whole of Ambleside was not something she relished.  Oh dear!  We had brought her a little gift and when she saw we were really sorry to have upset her, she melted and when we told her of our adventure she admitted she would have

done the same - without the help of the policeman. 

  The next day we went to Keswick and found the other field where I had camped with Mum and Dad.  It had been occupied by gypsies and I remember being fascinated by a tiny girl with black hair and a red velvet dress trimmed with white fur.  They all seemed so friendly.  When we got back from climbing one day we found there was a large hole cut in the wind screen of the sidecar.  Dad took one look and said. 
“Right!  Pack up, we’re leaving.”
And off we went to the more hospitable Lake Windermere.  Maybe it wasn’t the gypsies but they must have seen something.  We never returned.

    I found Sarah to be the ideal companion and we agreed our holiday had been a success and decided we should try Scotland next year.  We spent a night at home regaling Mum and Dad with our doings - well some of them - and then it was back to the Convalescent Home. 

 Returning on duty after a holiday is always a bit daunting but going back there was less so.  It was such a welcoming place: the staff were like family, the children affectionate and the sea, sand hills and sky were always alluring.  In a few weeks I would be leaving for good and starting training with a vengeance.  Thank goodness Annie would be with me.  It wouldn’t be nearly so frightening with two of us.  Although the Convalescent Home was meant to prepare young girls before they started training proper at the main Hospital not all of them made it.  All we heard and saw of the Hospital filled us with awe and trepidation.  The training was very intense and the discipline of the strictest but this was the next part of my five year plan and I knew that the children would help to make life bearable.  I was in for a shock.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Chapter 6 A Wedding

Chapter 6

A Wedding

  Meanwhile there was great excitement at home:  Maddie’s fiancée was back in England and they were to be married in the summer.  I’d be a bridesmaid for the third time. 

“Binnie the new Staffie’s here.”

“Oooh what’s she like?”

“Nothing like the old one,” Annie teased”she always seemed so sad.”

“You’d be sad if you had met a soldier on a train just as he was leaving to go to the front.”

“What happened?”

“She used to live for his letters and then suddenly they stopped.  No explanation – nothing!”

“Poor lad!”

“No, no – he wasn’t killed or anything.  He just stopped writing.  He was the first boy friend she’d ever had.  It broke her heart.”

  We met the new Staffie at lunch and she was like no-one I had ever met before; she was stunning in appearance – tall and slender with black hair which she wore in a soft roll framing her pale, delicate features.  She was so cool and at night when we came off duty she would let her hair down – actually and figuratively whilst we young girls sat listening to her tales - enthralled.  The down side was she was quite sniffy about the fact that we were all going on to Pendlebury which she seemed to think was a waste of time.

  We were all sad when Matron told us she was going to retire.  I had grown quite fond of her although I always regretted how she had spoken about Lottie to Mum and me.

She called me into her office and said,

“I’m sending you to the main Hospital next month Nurse.” 

My stomach lurched

“But Matron I thought I was to start in October?”

I didn’t want to leave before my time when life was such fun.

“You will certainly start your training in October Nurse but I want you to attend the Prize Giving Ceremony.  After a rocky start you have steadily improved and I’m proposing you for the annual prize of ‘Best Practical Nurse’.

As soon as I came off duty I rushed to the Post Office to phone Mum at work.  I don’t know what demon got into me whilst I was waiting for them to find her but when she came I said,

“I’ve been thrown out Mum!”

  A word of advice- if you ever feel tempted to play a prank on someone don’t do it on the phone.  It was ages before I could convince Mum all was well.  What an idiot I was!

  We were all excited about the wedding and Mum, Maddie and the Aunts were busy with all the arrangements.  I thought Maddie was crazy for leaving art school before graduating, now that Paul was home.  It must have been strange being engaged when they had only met for a week, previously, with me – like the poor – always with them.  His time in India and Japan had changed him from a young soldier to a mature man of the world.  His family lived in London but his father in the Civil Service was billeted in Cleveleys and worked a few miles from the Convalescent Home, so he invited me out for the day.  He was short, bald and looked like an Oriental sage.  He seemed to know everything and I hung on his every utterance – fascinated- and decided I liked older men, even though he made me feel a little gauche- well I was a little gauche.

 One of Paul’s army friends Sean was to be best man, and an old boy friend of Maddie’s also in the army would be an usher and Evan our brother was chief usher.  Her best friend and I were bridesmaids and we managed to agree on a midnight blue, crepe dress with a keyhole neckline as one of us wanted a high neck - probably prissy me - and one a low one. It was the days of 'powder blue with burgundy accessories’ and ladies didn't venture out without hat, gloves and handbag - ideally of the same hue.

   Maddie lost a lot of weight during the preparations but she seemed happy and excited. Only two more years and I would be 19.  Would I follow in Mum and Maddie’s footsteps?  Not if I kept to my 5 year plan and took my Finals in 4 years time when I was 21.

  Matron had given me permission, before she left, to take my holiday to coincide with the wedding.  It wasn’t possible for Annie to get the same time off, and most of my old school friends were working, but Sarah – an old family friend whose mother was at Grammar school with mine - was free and keen to join me for a walking holiday after the wedding. 

  I said goodbye to everyone and told Annie that once we had started at the hospital we would be able to have time off together.  All was hectic at home – a melange of dresses, flowers, cakes, taxis and sleeping arrangements and we were all nervous about The Visitors. 
  There was a great North/South Divide and  Paul, his family, best man and two of Maddie’s fellow art students were all ‘B----y Southerners’.  I suspect we had a slight chip on our shoulders – it’s not as if we were that ‘broad’. 
‘Eeeh lass sit thissen down – tha looks clemmed an’ thy’rt wichart.  Utch up to’t fire an’ I’ll get thee a brew.’ 
We would only talk like that amongst ourselves.  ‘The Visitors’ would be treated to:
‘Do sit down.  You look cold and your feet are wet.  Come close to the fire and I will make you a cup of tea.’ 
There wasn’t much we could do about the accent.   Since moving out of the Valley Maddie and I had almost lost our strong Lancashire accent but back home A’s were flat and that was that!

But as Mum said ’if we all just be ourselves and make them welcome it’ll be alright.’ 
  The aunts had retired and sold the shoe shop.  They now lived in a pleasant house up on the leafy hill above the town so there was room for some of the guests, and the rest would stay at the hotel in Waterfoot where the reception was to be held.  As usual our house was bulging and Dad had now got an incubator in Evan’s bedroom so we had the excitement every morning of shining a torch to see if there were any fluffy yellow chickens. 
  The Aunts gave a party the night before the wedding and we all met up and mingled.  Paul’s friend Sean was handsome and very aware of it.  In fact both he and Paul gave the impression that the women out in India, had been swooning over them for the last two years, and they probably had.  Paul’s father, who I already knew, was as usual, a fund of interesting stories and enjoyed having an appreciative audience.  His family, who had heard them all before, were less attentive. 
Maddie’s girl friends were, to me, the height of sophistication.  One of them grabbed a tray of goodies, leant over Sean, flashing her embonpoint, and intoned in a sexy voice,

‘Sean. Can I tempt you?’
Bloody ‘ell!
All the Southerners spoke beautifully and would have beat Wilfred Pickles for a job on the wireless any day of the week. (Wilfred Pickles was a famous Yorkshire man who was sacked from his job as a BBC announcer because he had a Yorkshire accent. and for those of you who are not familiar with Lancashire and Yorkshire History I would point out that it isn’t wise to confuse the two and, of course, we won ‘The War of the Roses’.)
  On the day - the sun shone and it was warm - a rarity in the valley.  Maddie looked lovely and Dad was very smart in black jacket and striped trousers - his ’boiled ‘am suit’ he called it - only used for weddings and funerals.  Evan looked very grown up in long trousers and was a brilliant usher.  We all trooped up the left aisle, past our pew under the stained glass window of the Good Samaritan, and the congregation peeked round to look at us.  The church had its usual varnish smell mixed with Yardley’s Lavender.

  Paul and Sean looked stunning in their uniforms and swords- thank goodness it wasn’t that scratchy khaki that our uncles and cousins had worn. 
It was funny to hear Maddie repeating her vows in a shy, hesitant way whilst her left hand was nervously plucking at her dress.  The organist behaved himself.  He was old, deaf and eccentric and liable to let forth a mighty chord if he felt it had all gone on too long.  Back we all trooped down the other aisle past the Aunt’s pew and it was all over bar the bells and confetti. 
The reception was jolly and Maddie had ‘the distinction of cutting the wedding cake with the sword of her officer bridegroom’ according to the local rag.  I thought the Aunts should have been more to the fore but they were content to stay in the background and see the girl they had reared, married. 

  Before the happy couple left for their honey moon in Scotland Maddie and I had chance for a quick chat whilst she was doing last minute packing.

“What happens after the honey moon Maddie?”

“We’re going to Oxford and Paul is taking a special degree for ex-service men.  I’ll get a teaching job I suppose.  You must come down on your next holiday Pat and we can meet up with Liam and Jamie.”

“I’d like that.”

  Secretly I wondered why on earth she couldn’t finish her training at the Slade – it had been so difficult to get accepted. Part of me felt convinced that if she had been brought up at home she would have stuck with the training.

It was time to help Maddie get dressed in her going away suit.  She had lost a fair bit of weight and the plain suit emphasised her new svelte shape.

“You never had chance to tell me how things had gone when you took Paul home for the first time.”  Maddie rolled her eyes.

“ Well as you can imagine Mum put on a big spread: high tea with all the trimmings, the Shelley china, her special malt loaf – although I warned her Paul had had dysentery – and oh yes – and because of the dysentery she decided to do up the loo and painted the lavatory seat bright green.  Unfortunately she did it whilst Dad was at the match and forgot to tell him.  Guess what happened?”

“He didn’t!”

“Oh yes he did!  He smelt of turps for a week!”

“I wish I’d been there,” I giggled.

 “Pass me my skirt love.”

“How was Gran?”

“Well!  She was behaving like a duchess until she knocked the HP sauce bottle over.”

  “Don’t tell me…”

  “Stand up you long-necked bugger” she shouted and …”

 Maddie then collapsed on the bed in helpless laughter.

“Tell me! Tell me!”

“And - Paul -  stood - up!”

I also collapsed on the bed – tears rolling down our faces.

“Well he would wouldn’t he - him being used to taking orders?”

I really was going to miss Maddie.  Paul got quite irritated when we had giggling fits which only made us worse.  I would have to think of them as a couple from now on.

Gran would have the last laugh; these days with hands and fingers swollen and clumsy I know how easy it is to knock things over but I promise I don’t berate dumb objects.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Not all plain sailing

Not all plain sailing

We had a good journey to Southampton and then the panic of finding our actual embarkation point but as usual all became clear and thanks to the labels Fred Olsen provides with one’s name, cabin number and deck colour my large case was whisked away and I entered the embarkation hall.

We had to stand in line to be registered and given the magic card – like a credit card - which identifies you and is your Open Sesame to your cabin - getting on and off the ship and is used to buy anything on board so no cash or credit card is required.

I have now learned to put all cash and credit cards into the safe in one’s cabin and only get cash out when going ashore.

Ahead of me in the line I saw my old ship mate Dylan so I nipped over to exchange greetings then dutifully nipped back to my place.  After being registered we had to go to the floor above where we could have a coffee and wait to be called to board.

D and I arranged to meet when we were both on the upper floor.  Eventually I reached customs and had to remove my coat and flash my passport.

Thinking back the customs man was unusually pleasant and friendly which could account for my being a little flustered.  Carrying my coat and passport in one hand and my hand luggage in the other I walked towards the escalator stepped on it, overbalanced and started to fall backwards. I don’t want a fractured skull was dominant in my thinking and managed to do a mid fall twist landing flat on my back and right elbow.  As I lay there I saw my coat and bag disappearing up above; my handbag was slung round my torso.

There was no way I could get up without putting weight on my damaged elbow so I lay there being reassured that my coat and bag would be restored to me.  A poor little Philippino steward couldn’t raise me but by the time a first aid worker arrived – a sensible older woman – between the three of us I managed to be put upright on a chair.  To my great relief my head was unscathed – I had one black finger on my left hand and my right elbow was grazed and bloody in spite of layers of clothing.

The/sensible older woman put a dressing on my arm and told me the doctor was around and he was super.  He appeared and seeing it was already dressed asked how I was and if I visited them on board I could have ice for my finger.  I did feel a bit shocked but was fairly sure I was OK and wanted to avoid the doctor route as it shoots up your travel insurance quite out of proportion – as I found out when I broke my arm.  They decided no-one should get on the escalator unless they had one hand free and I was taken up by lift.

It was a relief to get into my cabin and cheering to see a beautiful bouquet from Dylan.  I made a cup of tea and reflected.  Why did it happen?  Was I becoming a liability?  Should I start pulling my horns in and behave more sedately?  For a day or two I took it very quietly – even using the lift instead of the stairs.  It was a nuisance that the painful tip of my elbow came in contact with the arms of the very heavy restaurant chairs every mealtime.  As it healed I got my confidence back and carried on as normal but made a point of a rest in the afternoon on sea days and tried to be in my cabin soon after 10pm.  Thank Heaven for John Cleese who was on my Kindle.

Before too long I was striding round the deck – being ultra careful (4 times round is 1 mile) and feeling fine.  Anyone new to cruising should know that the most hazardous times on board are when you are boarding the ship or getting off it.  There are different levels to contend with – every port is different and you need to keep your eyes peeled and go slowly.  The crew are there to remind you but it’s up to oneself to be careful.  It can be disquieting walking down a steep ridged gang way with a wobbly hand rail.

There are countless people with wheel chairs and every type of walking aid and one admires their gutsiness when you see them ashore.  The info about the excursions is helpful pointing out if there is much walking and what the terrain is like.  Some of them choose to ignore the warnings of ‘not suitable for passengers with walking difficulties.’

I was really looking forward to the excursion to Santiago de Compostela which houses the shrine of St James.  There was a lot of walking as the coach is not allowed in the city but it was a lovely experience and ended with refreshing drinks and sweet meats in a beautiful Parador.  After using the loos – full marks to Spanish loos – my how they have changed over the years – we gathered in a square to start the walk back to the coach when I noticed an elderly woman waving her stick and looking quite panicked.  She cried out that her husband had disappeared and he had macular degeneration and couldn’t see.  I tried to calm her but she raced off and fell over a kerb.

Why do people always rush to raise a faller from the pavement?  From my own experience I know how important it is to just get oneself together first – both mentally and physically.  But she was determined to fly off in search.  Fortunately she wasn’t very big so I grabbed her and remembering all the. Rescue programmes I have seen on TV said.

‘What is your name?’

‘Brenda and I must-‘

‘Brenda listen to me.  We are not going to leave without your husband.  What’s his name?’

‘Leo and he’ll be-‘

‘They are going to find Leo and we must stay here so we can all go back to the coach together.’

She was still struggling to get away but I hung on.  She has already had a hip replacement and I wanted to avoid her falling again.  Leo apparently was 94.

Slowly to my relief she calmed down, held on to my arm of her own volition and asked me if I would stay with her.

We decided it would be better if we walked back to the coach so at least we could sit down.  The walk seemed endless – Brenda was now feeling the results of her fall but told herself that if she had broken anything she wouldn’t be able to walk.

A long time later we got the news that Leo had been found.  After another long wait this frail little man entered the coach apologising profusely and we all breathed again.

We thought we had missed lunch but a phone call was made and lunch was waiting.  Leo thanked me profusely later over the phone but Brenda was confined to her cabin.

By now I had decided that I wasn’t a liability and must just be more careful.

Another 91 year old had two copious nose bleeds.  He was taken to hospital and because he hadn’t mentioned a previous condition he was told that either he should pay £30,000 for a helicopter or be prepared to die on board.  I’m happy to say I spotted him at Southampton about to disembark.

En route to Southampton our captain pointed out our sister ship the Balmoral on the horizon which was being diverted to Plymouth to meet a helicopter as they had a medical emergency on board.

I had to have a wry grin when one dear man on saying goodbye said:

‘You can add me to your list of admirers Pat.  I would never have believed you were a day over 70.’

Poor dear – he wasn’t to know in my mind I am about 46.

I’ll post some photos later.  Something I learned on board:  if you are 65 or older you are entitled to a pneumococcal vaccine jab.  I’ve booked mine.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Off to the High Seas.

It was a complete waste of time taking my tablet last time so I shall be incommunicado for a while.
We the passengers have to choose seven ports from a possible fourteen in the Spain /Portugal area and there is a choice of three excursions at each port.  Enough to make one's head spin.
Should be fun:)

I'll continue with 'An Imperfect Life' on my return D.V.

Keep safe - keep the faith and see you soon.

Lots of love,
Pat x

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Leaving Home

Leaving Home

Chapter 5

“Oh look Mum look – the sea! Just smell it.”  Mum put her arm round my shoulders.

“Y’ know luv St Anne’s is only a cockstride from Blackpool” said Mum, “remember when we used to go there fo’t Wakes Week before we got t’motorbike ant’side car?  It won’t seem strange after a day or two.”

I knew she was trying to stop me from getting upset at leaving her but I was more excited than anything.

.I was sixteen and was leaving home.  I would never live at home again.

‘Yer Dad an' me were right proud of ya gettin’ such gud results Pat.  "Ya could’ve gon int’sixth form like Maddie"

‘Mum that’s not for me. I want to get out in the world and do something practical – something that’s really helping people.  Nursing’s just the job; I love children, the training’s free and to cap it all I get my keep and nearly £5 a month salary. ‘

Mum chuckled “Knowin’ yoo ya won’t ‘ave any problem spendin’ that m’lady.’

 I wasn’t allowed to start training at the main hospital until I was at least seventeen and a half so here I was about to start my career at the Convalescent Home belonging to Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.  I would be here for fourteen months until I was old enough to become a student nurse.

These last few weeks had been the most exciting of my life: the agony of waiting for the exam results, the joy when I knew I’d passed and the realisation that I was leaving home.  Dad had bought an old tin trunk for me.

“Dad - I can’t take that old rusty thing.”

“Ya won’t recognise it w’en a’ve finished wi’ it Pat,” and true to his word it ended up a smart, black, shiny trunk with a pretty, pale blue inside and my initials painted on it in white.

Mum did her bit too; ignoring the instructions to buy linen bags from a shop in Manchester she made them herself out of calico.  Then she embroidered my name on them – PATRICIA DIXON BARNES R.M.C.H, in a dark red chain stitch.  Both remained unique throughout my training.

  The sun was shining, the sea was glistening and the tufted sand hills made it so very different from soot- blackened Rossendale.  I felt a thrill of excitement as we stood outside this rambling, Gothic edifice that was to be my new home, the only neighbour was a huge convent manned by black gowned nuns.  Mum rang the bell.

“’Ello I’m Dotty!”

The door was opened by Dotty - a large untidy looking woman with enormous hands dressed like a kitchen maid, which indeed she turned out to be – and she was also more than a little dotty.  I tried to stifle my nervous giggles and we were shown into Matron’s office. Any levity disappeared once we were face to face with Miss Jones.  She was elderly but spry, dressed in a navy dress, with a scrubbed pink face and neat white hair just showing under a lace cap tied with a bow under her chin.  The expression on her face was stern when she spoke to me but I noticed her expression softened when she spoke to Mum   “She will have one day off a week and if it is convenient she may have the night before off duty, so she could spend a night at home.”  Then she turned to me.  

“In all circumstances the well being of the children must come first Nurse.”

 The days were quite long – from 7 am till 8pm with three hours off during the day: 10am till 1pm, 2pm to 5pm or 6pm to 10pm and we had to take turns on night duty

She went on to tell my mother that the other five probationers were a nice class of girl – apart from one;

“She’s not like us,’” she told my mother. 

  Later I discovered she was talking about Lottie – a young Jewish girl who had escaped from Austria before the war.  With her Lancashire accent - only her curious phraseology betrayed her foreign-ness.

‘We better don’t do that Pat,” she would say.  She was one of the kindest people I have ever met and this was the first time I had come across anti-Semitism.

The hierarchy was Matron, Staff Nurse (known as Staffie), Assistant Nurse (an older experienced but untrained nurse) and six probationers.
At last we were dismissed and it was time to say goodbye to Mum.  Flinging my arms round her I felt my eyes begin to prickle but Mum gave me a little shake and said.

‘”Now jus’ be’ave yerself Pat,” and she was gone.

  The senior nurse Maxi – short for Maxwell, took charge and as she led me up flights of stairs to my bedroom at the very top of the building she told me:

“We had another nurse starting today called Mather.  You’ll be sharing a room but because she got here first she’ll be senior to you.”

With two maids and Mrs Mack the cook it was an all feminine household apart from Mr Moorland - the boiler man - who came in each day to tend the monster in the cellar.

No time to feel homesick – Maxi showed me my uniform and how to make the flat, starched, white square into a hat like hers, anchored with hair grips.

‘”Mind you keep your hair off your collar Barnes or Matron will be after you.  Then you’ll either have to have it cut or put it up.  Make sure there are no ladders in your stockings and clean your shoes every night.”

  I was allowed to spend the rest of the day in mufti and joined the other nurses in the dining room for tea.  Mather was already there and the senior nurses Maxi and Lottie filled us in on the daily routine.  We would be on duty at 7am when we would help the night nurse to wash and dress the children ready for breakfast in the children’s dining room.  Staffie would decide who did what and the assistant nurse would help to supervise.

It seemed strange being called by my surname all the time but I supposed I would get used to it. There could be up to 30 children and if there were babies one nurse would be designated as baby nurse.  The nurses have breakfast at 8am whilst one nurse stays with the children.  Maxi told me:

‘The children are never left alone during the day.  Once every one had been cleaned and tidied and their heads checked for nits, the medicines and treatments are given.  By the way nits are another reason for keeping your hair off your collar.’

 I noticed Maxi’s hair was scraped back off her face and was barely visible at the back

She told me some of us would take the children out to romp on the sand hills and the rest would make the beds in the boys and girls ward.  We would be shown how to make hospital corners and should make sure all the bed casters were neatly facing inwards and the pillow case openings placed away from the door.

Attention to detail was paramount.

  If the weather was bad we would take the children to the play room and organise games trying to keep the noise level at a reasonable volume so as not to disturb Matron.  Lunch for the children was at 12 mid day and 1pm for us whilst the children had a rest period.  Then more playing or taking them for a walk and after tea, we would read stories to them and concentrate on getting them in a more subdued frame of mind before bath and bed-time.  I often think how much easier it would be for parents if they did the same.

“Do you intend to go to Pen,” Maxi asked?  When she saw my look of bewilderment she explained that the main hospital – where all the probationers hoped to end up - was always referred to as ‘Pendlebury’ or ‘Pen’ as that was the name of the hamlet where the hospital was situated.  As head nurse Maxi was quite bossy to us nurses but her demeanour changed totally when Matron was around.  They obviously had a good rapport and she could get a smile out of Matron- especially when she talked about her home town – which happened to be Wigan.

Meanwhile I had come to like Lottie - the Jewish girl Matron had referred to.  She was warm and friendly and I was grateful for her company

Mostly the children came from the Manchester slums and it was heart warming to see the difference three weeks TLC could make.  They arrived pasty-faced, often flea-ridden and with lice - listless little creatures, and usually left rosy-cheeked, clean, well fed and boisterous.  There were exceptions; one little girl – Lily aged about eight was a sad little creature. 

“Lottie try as I might I can’t get Lily to look clean and even now when we’ve got her with a clean head her hair is as dry as dust – not a trace of a shine.  Most of the kids love a goodnight hug but she seems to be immune from any sign of affection.”

“I don’t expect she knows what it is and just keeps her head down. God knows what some of these children have to cope with. At least they no longer have the bombing.

Just do the best you can.”

  One night I had a phone call from Maddie.

“Pat I’ll be going back up to Oxford at the end of the week so I thought I’d pop over and see you.”

“Oh lovely – I have a 2 to 5pm off duty on Thursday, if you come here then we can wander into St Anne’s.  There’s a nice cafe – I’ll treat you to a cuppa.”

  Matron had gone on holiday soon after my arrival, and there was a relaxed, easy going atmosphere which I mistakenly took to be the norm.  Typically at the last minute Maddie changed the plan; she had a friend a few miles up the coast in Blackpool and she said I was to take a tram there and we would all meet up for tea. 

 The tram took forever and by the time we met up in the café it was almost time to leave.

“Oh Maddie I didn’t realise it was so far - I should be starting back now.”

“Nonsense you must have some tea and talk to Betty or she’ll think you’re being rude.”

I choked down tea and toasted tea-cakes for another ghastly fifteen minutes.  By the time I got the tram I was a nervous wreck - Maddie’s laughter echoing in my ears

.  When the tram stopped outside the home all the staff seemed to be hanging out of the windows, staring accusingly at me.  I should have been in uniform, on duty, ten minutes ago. 
  After a brief telling off Staffie seemed to be fine about it but next day, when Matron returned, I was told to be in her office first thing in the morning.  I didn’t sleep a wink that night.  Maddie and I now lived in different worlds with different strictures and it was always going to be so. 

  Outside Matron’s office trying to breathe deeply to calm myself my heart was thudding as it always did when I was frightened.  I rubbed my shoes in turn, against my black stocking-ed calves and they gleamed against the parquet floor.  My hair was well off my collar – apron, collar and cuffs a pristine white – like my face – no ladders in my stockings -  I’d be fine -  but I found myself gulping every time I remembered why I was standing there. 
  Lottie came through the hall ushering children into the dining room.  She winked and gave me a sympathetic grin.  I knocked on the heavy oak door.  No answer.  I knocked a little harder.  
“Come in Nurse.” 
My hand shook as I reached for the handle and I had to grip hard to turn it.  Matron was at her desk in front of the window and the morning sun hit me like a spotlight, dazzling me so I couldn’t see Matron’s expression but her tone was severe. 
“Do you know why you are here Nurse Barnes?”
“Yes Matron - I was late getting back on duty.  I’m very sor…” 
“Not only were you late, you chose to do it whilst I was away.  Have you any idea of the concern this caused Staff Nurse and indeed all the staff?” 
“I didn’t think Matron I…” 
“How long have you been here Nurse Barnes?” 
“This is my third week Matron.  I started on August 12th.”
“Yes Nurse and I took you on trust having been given a very good report from your school.  I’m now wondering if we made a mistake.” 
Oh God, I thought, she’s going to throw me out.  How can I face everybody at home?
“I want you to think very seriously about the consequence of your actions.  Do you want to be accepted at the Hospital to embark on three years training or are you just filling in time until something better comes along?” 
“Oh no Matron I’m really serious about becoming a Sick Children’s Nurse and taking my R.S.C.N.  I’m sssso sorry to have let you down.  I pppppromise…”  I was stuttering.
“You see Nurse, not only have you let me down, you have let down the whole staff and the children.  You have let your school down, your parents and finally yourself.” 
My voice was choked with sobs.  

“I’m so sorry Matron.’ came out in a gasping whisper.  I still couldn’t see Matron’s face but her voice was less severe when she said,  
“Now go to your room, wash your face and when you have calmed down, go and join the nurses in the dining room.  Staff Nurse and I will be watching you very closely.  The rest is up to you.” 
“Thank you Matron.”  I whispered and stumbled out of the door. 
In my room after a jolly good cry, I washed my face and told myself I was going to concentrate on being the best bloody nurse in the building.  And no-one, not Maddie, not anyone was ever going to get me to do something I felt was wrong. 

  Matron had a friend called Reg- a middle aged bachelor who was like an honorary nephew to her and a kind uncle to us probationers.

“Now who is this young lady – I don’t believe we have met?  Hello my dear - I’m Reg.”

I looked up at him – he had a nice smile and kindly blue eyes.

“Hello.  I’m Nurse Barnes.”

Reg’s eyes twinkled.

“Well from now on you’re Binnie – after Binnie Barnes, the music hall star!”

Reg was a devotee of the theatre and frequently treated all the staff to shows in Blackpool.  He knew all about my disgrace and told me, very kindly, that I must be sure never to do anything like that again.  Overnight I became ‘Binnie’ to the whole household – except Matron of course.  It did feel a shade friendlier than plain ‘Barnes’ and I was very grateful to Reg.

  Things looked brighter after a few days and I received my first salary.   I got £5 a month - not bad when you consider we had excellent bed and board and our laundry was free.  My only expense was the bus fare home.  I started a savings account where you bought stamps from the Post Office and stuck them in a book.  But first I bought a cigarette lighter and had it engraved ‘To Pop from Pat’.
I can still remember Dad’s face when I gave it to him on my next day off. 

‘Eeh Pat – ya shu’n’t be spendin’ yer money on me.’ 

Whoever said it is more blessed to give than to receive certainly got that right.

   I had a letter from Liam, Jamie’s brother - he told me Jamie had won a place at his college in Oxford and was reading Chemistry (poor devil) and rowing with Liam - that’s rowing in a boat - not fighting.

  It was my turn to go on night duty. This involved being up all night alone - potty-ing and changing the babies and toddlers every four hours, being on call in case of problems and keeping the boiler alight.  I should be able to manage that I thought.  

All seemed to be well on my first night on duty.  Gradually the staff drifted off to their bed-rooms, the children were settled and I marvelled at the deathly stillness replacing the sound of the children’s daily laughter, squeals and cries.  The lights were dimmed and as I crossed the hall to climb the stairs - the children’s wards were on the first floor, I tried not to notice the shadows lurking everywhere. 
“Nurse I’ve been sick.” In the boy’s ward I found that Tommy Foster had indeed been sick.  After sponging and comforting him I put him in one of the empty beds and started to change his own whereupon he was sick again.  By the time I had changed both beds and settled Tommy down, there was a lot of bed-linen to sluice.  Then it was time to change the babies and toddlers.  Sundries were what we called the nappies or diapers of today.  They were made of towelling, were not disposable and it was the job of the junior nurse to sluice them before they went to the laundry. 
  When all was finished I went down to the tiny Nurses sitting room to have the meal which had been left out for me.  Somehow, smoked haddock salad and tapioca pudding had lost its charm and then, oh crikey, I remembered my other duty - the boiler – which should have been tended some time ago.  Bracing myself I crept down into the bowels of the cellar.  There was a stifling smell.  The wretched monster was completely out.   I tried raking it with one of the iron implements and nearly choked with noxious fumes.  Coughing and spluttering I escaped up the steps.  I’d really done it now; the Home would have no heating or hot water and Matron would surely kill me. 
There in the hall was my Guardian Angel – Lottie in her pyjamas.
“You’ve let the boiler out Binnie, haven’t you?”
“Oh Lottie what shall I do?”
 “Find as much newspaper as you can and bring it down to me in the cellar.”

 When I joined her, laden with all the news print I could find, Lottie, her face covered with a surgical mask was raking enormous pieces of coral-like clinker.  Then she showed me how to make tight parcels out of the paper leaving a little tab in one corner.  She packed these parcels into the cavernous mouth and then plastered them with great dollops of floor polish.  Just one match to the tabs and WHOOSH – we had lift- off.

Matron was right - she was ‘not one of us’ – she was one in a million. 
   One of the reasons I didn’t mind night duty, was because it gave me a break from my room-mate, Nurse Mather, whose personal hygiene was questionable, who told outrageous porkies and was getting odder by the day.  We all had access to each other’s rooms – including the maids - and none of us thought to lock anything away, so it was upsetting for all when I discovered my new savings book had vanished from the drawer. 

 Matron started an investigation and after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing the assistant in the Post Office identified Mather as the person who had cashed the stamps - all £3 - 10 shillings - my total savings and over half a month’s salary.  

I was called to Matron’s office.

“Now Nurse I have informed the General Office at the Hospital and they have said that because both the assistant at the Post Office and Nurse Mather are under age, no action can be taken.”

 All I wanted was my hard- earned savings returned.  Matron was very sympathetic.

“What I can do Nurse is move Nurse Mather out of your room.”

“But Matron will that mean someone else has to share with her?”

‘”Yes I’m afraid so.”

“Then I’d rather you left things as they are Matron.”

Matron seemed to have forgotten my earlier laxity and now treated me as a valued member of staff.   I had come to like her and respect her except for the one thing. Why had she spoken to Mum and me about Lottie like that – just because she was Jewish?
  When my seventeenth birthday was approaching Mather told Lottie she couldn’t think what to give me and Lottie suggested she gave me back the £3 – 10s.  She never did, but left quite soon after that.  It seemed, or so she said, she was secretly engaged to a doctor and they were going to be married.  Sighs of relief all round.  A new Nurse would be arriving, she would be junior to me and with any luck she would be a kindred spirit. 

  Matron heard that Winston Churchill was going to be driving from A to B on the coast which meant he would have to drive past us.

“Nurse Barnes I want you to make sure all the children are clean and tidy and then Staff Nurse will show you where to stand outside on the pavement.”

 We all lined up, staff and children, and cheered when we saw his black limousine.  The sight of the children and our uniforms had the desired effect and the car slowed down whilst Winnie beamed at us and gave his special V-sign.  He looked like an ancient baby with a seraphic grin and the palest pink skin. 

I felt sorry for him.  He was very harsh towards the workers during the General Strike

in the twenties, but he had been at the helm during ‘England’s Finest Hour’ in WW2.

That was a time when people were kind and caring to complete strangers.  We were united with our allies, the Yanks and the Ruskies fighting – as we believed - for good against evil.   Then at the end of the war the men returning from the Forces and the working classes wanted social justice for all and got rid of Churchill the Tory. 
  In our Convalescent Home not only the children thrived on the clean, fresh air and nutritious food.  Mrs Mack was a good plain cook and we hungry teen-agers devoured everything she put in front of us. Our big treat on pay-day was to take the tram after lunch, up the coast to Handey’s Café at Bispham, and have chicken and chips followed by sherry trifle, then back in time for tea.  What little pigs we were. 
  The best part of the job was the children- some only a couple of years younger than us.  One boy – Joseph - a scruffy, shaven- headed lad, used to sing a mournful dirge. 
Mother I love you,
I will work for you,
Don’t let those tears roll down your cheeks,
I’ll bring my wage home to you every week,
Mother I love you,
What more can a loving son do?
You’ve worked for me a long, long time,
And now I will wo-ork for you.

He got sadder and sadder until the last line when he would change from minor to major, and bellow the line triumphantly with a cheeky grin.

We weren’t meant to have favourites but we were completely won over by helpless little babies and although we were rigorous in treating all the children alike some were more appealing than others.  Billy was a small boy about six years old. He happened to be wearing an apple green shirt when he was admitted and his eyes were the exact matching shade. I asked him what his name was, as usual, and he blinked and started to stammer:

“Bbbbbbbbb…” I looked at his notes and said,

“Of course you’re Billy.  I think you are going to like it here Billy.  My name is Nurse Barnes,” and gave him a welcoming hug.  I tried to keep an eye on him so he didn’t get distressed when trying to speak and to make sure he wasn’t teased by the others.
  We all got a shock when we were roused in the middle of the night.

“Get dressed Nurses put your cloaks on and gather in the hall as soon as possible!”

  White- faced, Matron told us that Billy Roberts – my little green - eyed boy was missing.  When the Night Nurse had gone to do the 2am round she had found his bed empty.

“All of the building has been searched and now we must go out and scour the surrounding area.”  Matron’s voice was a bit shaky. 

These were more innocent times but we were on the edge of the sea and we were worried sick.  The Nuns in the Convent next door were enlisted to help and we all fanned out and searched up and down the sand hills.  It was very dark, our lanterns and torches weren’t much help and our shoes filled with the soft sand.  After an hour or so we heard the chilling boom of the Convent Bell and slowly returned to base. 
Incredibly, Matron was smiling.  

“All is well Nurses.  Thank you for searching for our little boy. Billy had got up in the night to go to the bathroom, got lost on the way back and ended up in a clean empty bed in the girl’s ward, confusing us all but all’s well that ends well.” 

 We had been in such a panic that no-one thought to count the children but the relief was so great there were no post-mortems. 

  It was bound to happen, sooner or later: one night I complained that my head felt itchy.

 “It’s the starch in our caps,” Maxi said. “Here let me have a look,” said Lottie.

She looked behind my ears and pronounced, “Binnie’s got nits!”

“Well,” said Maxi “if Binnie’s got nits we’ll all have nits!”

So we had to undergo strong smelling Sassafras compresses and twice daily tooth combing until we were clear again.  There were no more problems of hair on the collar and to this day I NEVER rest my head against the seat upholstery in trains or public places.

Sadly Lottie decided she wanted to get a job near her brother and wouldn’t be going to Pendlebury.  I would really miss her friendship and kindness.  Staffie also was leaving so there would be two new faces.

 I knew we were going to be friends as soon as I saw Annie, the new probationer. We came from very different backgrounds; her father was a Lancashire mill owner and had a farm in Scotland, but there was no side to her. She was big and buxom and her natural expression was a chuckley grin. It was hilarious when she put on her posh accent:

“Just remember girls I’ve been educated at a school for ‘The Daughters of Gentlemen'.”

We were to share a room and thence started one of the happiest periods I remember. 

It was a hot summer and when we came off duty we hauled our mattresses out on to the fire escape overlooking the sea and took it in turns to read aloud from 'The Albatross of Living Verse' which Maddie had given me for my 16th birthday.  Falling asleep in the moonlight to the rise and fall of the tide with a chocolate in our mouths and Tennyson in our heads was an early taste of bliss.

  Underneath Annie's jolly exterior she was insecure. At her coming of age her father had given her an XK 120 Jaguar car and an ocelot fur coat.

“All my boy friends just want to drive my car.” 

I went home with her one day and met her parents. Her father was like Annie - no side and down to earth. He said he was very glad Annie and I were friends and would be training together at Pendlebury.  Her mother was friendly but quite grand and her older sister was both posh and glamorous. When Annie came to my home to visit, she fitted in at once and everybody liked her. Gran was on one of her visits to the States so it was less crowded than usual.

   For some time I had been feeling nervous about starting at Pendlebury - no more romping with the children and sleeping out on the fire escape; life would get much more serious with very sick patients in our care and lots of exams – both practical and theoretical.  It was such a relief to know that Annie would be there too.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Growing up

Chapter 4

 Growing up.

  Maddie was blossoming; she no longer needed her glasses and her neat bob had softened into lightly permed, shoulder length tresses.  Her figure was becoming more curvy and her nickname at school was ‘Sugar’ - I became ‘Young Sugar’.  She was in the top five in her year and as if that wasn’t enough she had a gift for art which was nurtured by the Art Master.  And as far as sport was concerned long jump was one of her specialities.  That was a hell of a lot for a younger sister to live up to.

   Fortunately I was inspired by one of our teachers - nick- named ‘Wriggles’ on account of the wrinkled lisle stockings she wore.  She also wore a navy skirt flecked with animal hairs and a felted pale blue jersey with a loose collar which revealed the tendons and veins sticking out on her neck as she squeezed words out of her damaged voice box.  Her grey hair was scraped back in an untidy knot.

 Some of the other staff took exception to her appearance but she always looked scrubbed clean and her Scripture and History lessons held our class spell bound as her strangled voice told us riveting tales.  She was passionate about animals and inspired us to raise money for the P.D.S.A. – People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals

  She was also a very caring person and through her I spent school holidays working in the local poor law hospital and realised that caring for others was more to my taste than academia.

  Gran told me one of her ‘babies’ Isabel Tomlinson - had trained at the Children’s Hospital on the outskirts of Manchester –The Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.

”It might just suit ya Pat.’

 I wanted to know more about it so Gran arranged for us to go to Isabel’s mother’s on her day off.

Isabel was a smashing girl; tall and strong and her face lit up as she told us about the children she nursed.  I knew this was what I wanted to do.

  It was a rigorous three year training - with a State Exam at the end of the first year.  This had to be passed before you were allowed to continue with the second and third year.

Isabel said you had to be at least seventeen and a half before you could start training and you had to have School Certificate.  I was fifteen and had to wait till I was sixteen before I could take it - thanks to Maddie and her meddlesome ways

On the bus home Gran asked me,

‘What d’ya think Pat?’

‘Oh Gran a’m so glad ya tuk me to meet Isabel.  I know just what a’m going to do now.  A’ll get me School Cert, do me Sick Kids, then a’ll do me Midder and then me General.’

Gran laughed.

‘Ya’ve got to finish yer schoolin’ first m’lady!’

At last I had a plan.

  Things were changing – I was developing a bosom –at first so painful I had to walk down the corridors with folded arms to prevent being bumped into and suddenly boys became more interesting.  Maddie and I seemed to have much more in common these days and to my delight the aunts started to invite me to join them on holidays to keep Maddie company.  One of their favourite places was Cleveleys – a sedate little town by the sea.  We shared digs with some young Waafs in their blue grey uniform and Maddie and I wondered if the war would be over by the time we had to find jobs.

 In the evening after supper we were allowed to stroll along the prom as far as Rossall School and back.  At that time it was an all boy’s school but they must have been doing prep or something at that time in the evening – we never bumped into them. One night we were having an experimental puff on some cigarettes Maddie had acquired.  Coughing and spluttering Maddie said she had made up her mind she didn’t want to go to Uni and the Art Master had said she stood a good chance of getting into the Slade Art School in London.  They had asked her to send a selection of her work.  I was a bit taken aback.  I was very proud of her academic prowess and it seemed such a waste not to follow it through.  The next morning the Aunts had found the cigarettes.  Most of the diatribe was directed at Maddie.

“Don’t think we’re providing money for cigarettes Maddie!”

It seemed to me they were convinced I was the perpetrator and Maddie said nothing to disillusion them.

  On one of these holidays the weather was perfect and neither the Aunts nor we girls wanted to go home.  Unfortunately our landlady was booked up for the rest of the month but she had a friend a few doors away who would be happy to put us up.

We just had to pack up and carry our luggage round.  For years Evan and I had been used to Mum’s clarion call whenever we were about to go away and again when we returned

“All ’ands to’t pump!”

We would groan and grumble but get on with it until all was finished.

There was no clarion call from the Aunts but I knew what had to be done and got on with it.  The Aunts seemed pleasantly surprised but I was amazed to find Maddie didn’t join in and read a book until it all was over. 

Never one to let it lie I tackled her about this; she got quite cross and told me to mind my own business.  Obviously our upbringings were now quite different.

It was on one of our evening strolls that Maddie and I met a young soldier – Paul Gray - on embarkation leave.  He had a posh speaking voice and obviously wasn’t a Northerner.  He asked us about the area but we discovered later that he was visiting his father; a civil servant stationed in Cleveleys and knew the town far better than we did. He and Maddie fell for each other and met every day until he had to leave for India.

It was all quite proper, with me as chaperone –‘too old for toys – too young for boys’ – I thought I’d be an ‘in between’ for ever.

  After Maddie had sent a selection of her work to the Slade they said the drawings were inclined to be too materialistic so she did a stunning portrait of Auntie Florence and that did the trick.

  Because of the blitz the Slade Art School had been evacuated to Oxford so my big sister was going to Oxford.  Yippee!

    I started studying in earnest; my whole future depended on my getting School Cert.

.  I wanted to get out and engage with the real world as soon as possible.  The snag was the gap between the time when I had – please God - got the qualifications at sixteen and the date I could start my training one and a half years later.  I couldn’t bear the thought of another year and a half at school.  Most students were eighteen, when they started and you couldn’t take State Finals until you were twenty-one.  I would have to do an extra 6 months at the end.   
  After correspondence with the hospital, Mum and I were invited for an interview.

She got a day off work so we could get the bus to Manchester and then a Swinton bus to the hospital.  I didn’t feel nervous and I remember I was wearing my kilt and those monstrosities – knee socks with a garish border round the top.

As we were waiting outside Matron’s office Mum said,

“Now just be yerself Pat!”

  Looking down the main corridor there was a middle aged woman on her knees washing the floor.  There was a constant flow of nurses and doctors visiting the wards on either side of the corridor walking over the floor.  None of them seemed to acknowledge her which I found shocking.  There was a distinctive smell of carbolic and floor polish.  Then it was time to enter the Dragon’s Den.

Matron Stevens was very impressive.  She was quite tall and willowy and her dress of fine wool crepe was of a deep blue and I noticed she had a ring on her little finger with a stone the same shade of blue.  Her hat (it sloped backwards making her even taller) and cuffs of fine starched organdie completed her immaculate appearance.

After a barrage of questions she said, provided I got School Cert. - and the school had told her this was virtually a certainty - I would be accepted.

She reiterated that I had to be seventeen and a half before I could start training.

If all went well I would be 16 after the exams - obviously too young to start training but there was wonderful news to come.

Matron told us about the two Convalescent Homes which were part of the hospital establishment. One named Zachary Merton was attached to the main Hospital and the other was situated by the sea at Lytham St Annes.  There was a possibility that I could go there straight from school and would get valuable experience looking after children who stayed for two weeks respite; most of them came from the slums of Manchester.

I gasped - how marvellous to spend over a year there – just along the coast from Cleveleys and Blackpool.  Matron wished me luck and hoped if I was successful that I would make the most of my time at St Annes.   

     Much cheered we had to climb stairs to see Home Sister for a medical and we were joined by a very young doctor. I had to take off my jersey and vest so he could listen to my chest.  I don’t know who was more embarrassed him or me.  Flippin ‘eck!

I made up my mind I was going to get some brassieres before I went anywhere else

On the bus back to Manchester my spirits were high as a kite.


“Mmmm?”  Mum was having one of her ’thinks’.

“D’ya know wot wud make this a purfec’ day?

“Wot Patricia?”

 “If we went to a café an’ ‘ad coffee and cake…”

“We’ll see”
“an’ then Mum if we went to’t flicks.”

Mum gave a big sigh but we ended up going to a café and having Fuller’s Iced Walnut Cake and then we went to the Odeon and saw Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in ‘Brief Encounter’ and we had a good cry.

  That was pretty much what I would call a perfect day.

On the way back home I told Mum of my 5 year plan

 ‘Ye’see Mum after a’ve got me R.S.C.N at twenty-one – that knocks a year off t’ S.R.N training an’ after that a’ can do Midwifery.’ 

The Government had a Five Year Plan - why not me?
First things first – I didn’t share the school’s confidence in my academic ability and I quailed at the thought of being examined on four years study of eight subjects.  Chemistry was all Greek to me.  My parents never nagged me to work.  Rather Mum would say. 
‘Cum on Pat- yu’ve dun enuff.  Up them stairs!’

  And I would groan inwardly and think - God if only she knew!
  For the next few months my head was buried in a book - often ‘Gone with the Wind’ but sometimes school books.

  By now Evan had completed the hat-trick and joined me at school but of course he

was a lowly Third Former and had to be ignored within the school walls.

    Maddie took to the life in Oxford with gusto and during the next vac informed us that three friends, all boys, would be stopping off in our valley.  They would be cycling - en route to a climbing trip in Scotland
  The War dragged on for six long years and then on the 8th of May 1945 Victory in Europe was declared.  Unconditional surrender by the Germans to the Allies.
At last we could rip down the black-out curtains. No more bombs or doodle bugs, no more make-do and mend and dreary utility clothes - life could only get better.  We listened to Churchill’s speech praising the Allies for their fight against ‘the evil doers’.  Good had triumphed over evil and it was time to rejoice.
In the evening Maddie and I went to Rawtenstall - a neighbouring town, closely followed by the aunts, and joined the flag-waving crowds, singing and dancing ‘The Hokey Cokey’ and’ The Lambeth Way’ happy to be part of the milling crowds.  It was as if the black and white film we had been in for the last few years had been transformed into glorious Technicolor.
  It was awful for the people who had lost family; on the seas, at the front or in the Blitz and the people whose loved ones were still fighting or were imprisoned by the Japanese.  Most of the POW’s in German prison camps were repatriated on VE Day brought home by Lancaster bombers.  But for today it was time to give thanks.  Tomorrow there would be one last effort to finish off the Japs.  In the event the war with Japan ended in August 1945 hastened by the dropping of the atomic bomb. 
  The second war to end all wars brought an aftermath of mental and physical suffering caused by the relentless bombing by both sides, and the extreme cruelty shown to prisoners by the Japanese.  It was explained that theirs was a different culture; that a Japanese soldier would die rather than be taken prisoner so they had no respect for our men.   Does that excuse their inhuman behaviour?

  But we were young and didn’t want to think about the horrors of life.  We had visitors coming.  Maddie decided we would cycle twelve miles (mostly uphill) to meet the boys just over the Lancashire border. It was a rare hot sunny day so we both donned shorts and t- shirts and as we freewheeled down into Todmorden we saw three gorgeous youths lounging in front of the town hall with bikes and rucksacks.

There were two brothers; Liam, tall, muscular with hair the colour of treacle toffee and a pale skin.  He was the elder and was Maddie’s friend.  Her real boy friend was Paul Gray – the soldier we met on his embarkation leave in Cleveleys.  The younger brother was Jamie; tall and slim with black curly hair and a darker skin.  He had a sort of wild gypsy-ish look – too handsome I thought - for my taste.   Dylan was shorter and dark and a Yorkshire man.

 They were so different to the local lads – they smelled of sun and wind and fresh air.  I was impressed that they had cycled from Oxford and were going to cycle up to the Isle of Skye to climb mountains – with ropes.  They were extremely fit – oarsmen and rock climbers.   Liam and Dylan were undergrads and Jamie was going up to join them at the end of the summer.  I was dazzled by the trio but there was no hint that one of them would have a devastating effect on my life.

  After sharing the drinks and sandwiches we had taken with us we cycled back to the aunts where we were fed and watered and Maddie and I put pretty dresses on.  I wore a multi- coloured stripey dress with the bodice laced up with a red lace.  I know this because Jamie described it thirty four years later.

 After high tea we walked up to Mum and Dad’s where we had another high tea.  My parents were transfixed when Liam demonstrated rock climbing techniques by hanging from the door lintel by his finger nails.  We all thought he was a bit bonkers and Dylan was a bit too touchy feely for my taste (he actually touched my breasts when we were looking down at the river from the bridge outside the aunts and he was standing behind me.   I felt my face flame and was both shamed and enraged but I did nothing.  I marvelled at how it was always the ones one didn’t fancy who took liberties and the ones one did, behaved like perfect gentlemen.}

I warmed to the shy diffidence of Jamie - overshadowed by the older two.  When he managed to get a word in edgeways, he displayed a quiet wit.
All too soon they were off to climb in Scotland but I had too much to do to mope.  By hook or by crook, in a year’s time I meant to be off on my own adventures.

.  There was a bit of a Hoo-Ha when Dad received a letter from Paul Gray asking for Maddie’s hand in marriage. He was being repatriated from India and sent out to Japan.  Maddie would only be eighteen but as Mum was the same age when she married Dad they couldn’t take the moral high ground and in any case if Maddie made up her mind to do something…I relished the thought of being a bridesmaid – for the third time. 
At last the exams were over and the aunts took Maddie and me for our last holiday with them.  We went north to Dunoon in Scotland where we sailed the lochs by day and danced our socks off by night.   Maddie and I had our bedroom in a sort of shed in the garden.  Apart from the fact it didn’t have a loo it made us feel very grown up.  We were allowed to go to a dance in the town and I was delighted to find I was getting as much attention as Maddie.  There were a bunch of sailors there and one of them offered to escort us home along the beach.  However there had been two very grisly murders of young girls recently by a good looking sailor named Neville Heath so we politely refused.

  To my utter delight my exam results were good - I even matriculated. Now I had a passport to a world outside the valley and I was about to embark on a nursing career.

I was sixteen and although I came home for my days off I never actually lived at home again.