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.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Early family photos

 Gran on the right when she left Granddad holding the baby and went to Edinburgh to train as a midwife
 Granddad second from the right with his brothers
Mum looking angelic

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Gold Satin and Cravats 1938

Alice Cooper's wedding 1938 with Pat and Maddie the small bridesmaids on the right.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Chapter 3




   September 3rd 1939 was a Sunday but unusually Evan and I had not gone to chapel and Dad wasn’t mucking about with the motor bike in the garage.  We were all grouped round the wireless, listening to Mr Chamberlain – our prime minister.

I was standing because Mum had let me put my best dress on and I didn’t want to crease it.  In the summer Maddie and I had been bridesmaids at a big, posh wedding.  There were four brides maids round about my age and we wore these dresses in heavy gold satin with frills round the sleeves and the hems.  You could tell the quality from the weight.  Then there were three big girls in long dresses of turquoise satin and all the men wore CRAVATS!  It must have cost Mr and Mrs Cooper a fortune and yet they just lived in an ordinary council house like ours but it was on the Avenues.

 Alice their daughter was marrying a solicitor from Rochdale so it had to be a posh do,

   I liked Alice – she was different.  She was quite tall and always stood straight as a ramrod with her head held high.  She spoke slowly and had a slight smile on her face as if she knew something you didn’t.  We would be having our tea and she would call in on her way back from work – she worked in an office.  I was so excited when she told us about the wedding and nearly choked on my jam butty when she asked me to be bridesmaid.  All the time she was talking to us she would be making patterns with the crumbs on the bread board with the serrated bread knife and we would all be mesmerised.  Just for once Mum didn’t come out with her maddening ‘We’ll see.’

When Alice was courting Melvyn the solicitor she would sometimes take me with her to Rochdale and we would have tea with Melvyn and his mother.  They were very quiet and dignified – a bit posh but no swank.

    One time we were waiting in the queue for the bus back home to Rossendale and Alice was asking the conductor something.  A strange lady bent down and started talking to me as if I was a little kid.  Alice turned round, saw her and flew at this poor woman and gave her hell of telling off and told her never to come near us again. I’d never seen her in a rage before. I felt really safe with Alice.

It was lucky she had the wedding when she did because once the war started everything was ‘utility’ and there was no heavy gold satin or cravats.

   After we’d listened to the wireless Mum and Dad went all quiet but I couldn’t wait to get changed into playing out clothes.  I could see through the window our gang were already gathered round the lamp post and I knew we would have a lot to discuss.  Our leader was Jack King - a boy with false legs.  They were jointed and made of metal and with the help of a stick he walked with his legs wide apart strutting up and down the lane and anybody who crossed him got thwacked with the stick.  Just walking required so much effort his upper body was built like a prize fighter and nobody messed with Jack.

“Are we goin’ to be evacuees Jack?”

Wis not be ‘VACuees – wis be REFugees” declared Jack!

‘Oooh I’ll bet we’ll go to America.’

There was a long pause – we knew all about America from our twice weekly visits to the cinema.  We loved its drug stores, ice cream sodas, picket fences and Andy Hardy houses and we relished the idea of living over there.  So we weren’t fazed by the idea of being at war.  To us it would be a great adventure

   We decide to raise money for the Spitfire Fund.  Jack’s sister used cardboard cylinders at work – just the right size for spill holders.  The lads covered them with gold paper and then stuck them on to a flat piece of cardboard with a hole at the top so they could be hung by the fire.  Then they put tapers in the spill holders so Mums and Dads could light their fags from the fire and save matches.

We girls made lavender bags which were less successful as we had no lavender and made do with talcum powder. Miraculously people bought these rather messy articles and when we considered we had a reasonable amount of money we marched on the Town Hall.

“ We’re only givin’ it to’t Mayor.  Nobody else” Jack declared!

All of us went down on the bus to Rawtenstall and had to cross the main road to the Town Hall.  Jack did most of the talking. 

We were shown to the Mayor’s Parlour.  He had a red face and a magnificent gold chain round his neck and he made a speech saying that it was all the little efforts like ours – all round the country- that would bring us victory in the end.  We felt ever so proud and then they gave us tea and seed cake.

  At first the war seemed like an exciting adventure but then familiar faces started to disappear as one by one the local young lads were called up into the army, the navy and the glamour boys – the RAF.  Most of our lads went in the army. Dad’s younger brothers went and also our cousins Danny, Bennie and Ernie.  Dad’s best friend Fred Woodhead became a Desert Rat. My Dad had run away to join his brothers in WW1 but his mother brought him back.  Slowly it dawned on us that war wasn’t all beer and skittles.

Elsie’s dad - Mr Tricket next door had lost a leg in the First World War and once I saw the stump when he took his false leg off because it was hurting him.  My own uncles – Ben, Ernest and Bill had had their health shattered with the awful conditions out in France in the trenches.   Poor Uncle Ernest was gassed also in WW1.

   We had to get used to the black out; not a chink of light must get through the curtains to help enemy aircraft.  Flimsy curtains had to be lined with heavy black-out material.  Strips of lead were attached to the windows to prevent them from shattering and there was great rivalry between the neighbours to come up with the best design.  Ours had an egg shape in the centre which also helped to give us some privacy in day light - much needed in the depths of winter when we tended to get dressed and undressed in front of the fire.

 By now Margaret had won a scholarship to the grammar school and I only seemed to see her on Sundays.  Evan and I were quite bright but she was the clever one.  Just recently she sent me a cartoon of two ancient old crones and one was saying:

“Was I the clever one and you the pretty one, or was it the other way round?”

   Since she had gone to live with the aunts it was my responsibility to look after Evan. Mum and Dad worked from 8am to 5.30pm so I had to make sure he had his breakfast, was clean and tidy and get him to school on time. I still dream of the panic of getting us both to school with the clock at quarter to nine and with twenty minutes walk to do. After school I would light the fire and try to keep Evan in one piece. He was accident prone and was rarely without a plaster on his knee and sometimes stitches in his head. I was always highly strung but I started to become quite fearful. If Mum and Dad had a row after we had gone to bed I would sit in the stairs steps listening, dreading they would be divorced.  I used to browse in Gran’s medical books and when I read the symptoms of pregnancy was convinced that my sprouting breasts meant I was pregnant. I was completely ignorant of how one got pregnant only that you had to sleep with someone.  What made it worse was that as small children Evan and I had slept in the same bed – did that count?  I couldn’t voice my fears to anyone.
I didn’t go barmy but would sit staring into the fire with tears rolling down my cheeks.
   One evening Mum and Dad were out and I was looking after Evan when a plane came buzzing over the valley. It came perilously close to the roofs and I was convinced it was going to dive bomb us.  Evan and I tried to hide under the Singer Sewing machine.  The plane veered off and then came in for another attack and we both started yelling at the tops of our voices.  Finally Mrs Tricket from next door came and comforted us and told us it was one of ours and just a daft young man showing off.

Years later I discovered it was a local lad – Ted Rayner - showing off to his family so Mrs Tricket wasn’t far out.
  She told Mum, “A’m worried about your Pat May. She shudent be gettin’ upset like that.  It’s not right.”

“Right m’lady!  We’re going to see Doctor Anderson,” said Mum

   Mum marched me off to the doctor’s and he asked me lots of questions about what I read and did I

 go to the cinema. Mum said -

“Eeh Pat I nearly ‘ad a fit when ‘e asked ya what ya read.”  She had just caught me reading Vinegar

and Brown Paper which I had found hidden in a cupboard. She needn’t have worried – I wasn’t that

daft - I told him I read Angela Brazil stories, all the Dimsie books and ‘Just William’ which was true.

 I would read anything available - even the blurb on HP sauce bottles. As for the cinema   - we were

the cinema generation and would go twice a week. 

  “She is quite highly strung and you’d better forget about her taking a scholarship.”

I was shocked when the doctor said that and I couldn’t wait to get outside the surgery and tackle Mum;   I just had to take my scholarship. Thanks to our trips on the motor bike I had seen the world outside the valley and I couldn’t wait to spread my wings. Most people worked in the mills and the elite worked in the offices. I wanted neither but realised my passport to the outside world was an education. Mum’s response was her usual:

 ‘We’ll see…’   I groaned in despair.

    There was talk of a ‘nervous break-down’ and everyone agreed that I should go up to Gran’s for a rest.  Gran had had a late child - Aunty Jean - who was now in her late teens. I would share her room and bed. She was very glamorous - not like Mum who was pretty and cuddly. She worked in The Lewis Department Store in Manchester and had fantastic clothes which I looked forward to dressing up in whilst she was at work.

  I took the three buses to Gran’s and was met by Jean (I was allowed to call her that as she was so young) at Road End.

  ‘’Hello love.”  Jean had been to a Convent School and talked ‘proper’ – she wasn’t broad in her speech at all.  I decided that I would learn to talk like that before I left the valley.

“ Your Gran’s hidden the peroxide.  I’ll give you half a crown if you find it for me.’

. She wanted to go blonde and Gran had hidden the bottle. It didn’t take me long to spot it tucked between the blanket box and the wardrobe in Gran’s bedroom.

   It was lovely being with Gran and Granddad again.  Just for a while I had no worries and it was so peaceful especially after tea.  Jean would be off with her girl friends, Granddad would sit by the fire smoking his pipe and reading a travel book and I would tuck myself behind Gran on her sliding arm chair and comb her hair which now had little bits of silver in the brown.

   The peace was shattered when Jean came in later and removed her turban revealing bright yellow locks.  I suddenly felt the need for an early night.

   Whilst Gran and Jean were out at work I would help Granddad in the shop. I loved sticking labels on things and weighing out sweets. He tried to fatten me up and would cook me tripe and trotters. The tripe - cold with salt and vinegar - was quite refreshing and the trotters tasty. I changed my mind when I learnt what part of the animal I was eating.  Granddad came from Cumberland and his home-made rum butter which he always put in a beautiful orange and blue bowl was a special treat.

   On Monday afternoons Gran took me to the cinema or pictures as we called it. Her favourites were thrillers like ‘Suspicion’ with Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine. I don't think the doctor would have approved but I was enjoying life.  The only snag was the privy in the back yard with its squares of newspaper on a nail.  There was only one big stone sink in the kitchen but Jean had a stand with a marble top in her bedroom and on it there was a lovely big jug and bowl decorated with roses.  Under the bed there was a beautiful chamber pot.  Gran would fill the jug with hot water and pour it into the bowl and there I was with all mod cons.  Gran had some lovely things in her house – mostly given by grateful patients.
  By the end of the summer holidays my ‘nervous breakdown’ was over and I was ready to get back in time to prepare for the scholarship.

  It was good to be home with a flushing toilet. Gran's ancient privy had a paralysing effect on my innards and whilst Californian Syrup of Figs was OK, Gran's enemas were a step too far. 
   As the war hotted up more friends and family began to be enlisted in the forces and there was a lot of heartbreak and sadness. Occasionally the German planes bombing Manchester would go off piste and jettison their cargo near us, causing the sirens to start their mournful wailing. Dad would race down to the Town Hall on his trusty steed (the motorbike) and Mum would usher Evan and me down Short Piercy to Uncle Joe’s pub The Miner’s Arms where Auntie Elsie would give us chocolate biscuits.
  The pub was a bit of a boozer with sawdust and spittoons on its stone flags. Evan and I loved the notice in the bathroom which said 'PLEASE USE THE LAVATORY NOT THE BATH'
Eventually the 'All Clear' would go - one continuous note, and back we would go up the hill to our beds.

   Food rationing meant we had to eat endless quantities of spam and scrambled egg, made from a yellow powder reconstituted with water. Sweet rationing really hurt us kids and we used to have little flat tins filled with a mixture of cocoa and sugar which we would lick. The more knowledgeable of us warned that it was dangerous to lap up too much at once as this would dry your blood up. Obviously.
  The evacuees arrived and as they had spent countless nights underground, avoiding Adolf's bombs they brought with them nits and scabies but DDT lotion and sulphur ointment soon got rid of those.
We were brainwashed with propaganda and the world was split into goodies and baddies.  Clearly we, the Americans and the Russians were the former and the Germans and Italians were the latter. Stalin and FDR were revered as our noble Allies and Hitler and Mussolini were pilloried as ridiculous figures of fun. 

We're going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line,
Have you any dirty washing mother dear?

It was only at the end of the war that - thanks to the newsreels when we saw the unspeakable films of Belsen we realised the full horror of Nazi-ism and later still we learned the true story of Joseph Stalin.

    After the shock of Pearl Harbour the Americans declared war and the GI's (dough boys - over paid, over sexed and over here) were a breath of fresh air and were very generous (got any gum chum?) with precious items like nylons. It was always a sadness to me that I was too young for them but Auntie Jean married one George Baldwin and they were together in the States until his death over 60 years on. 
In spite of what the doctor said I sat for and won a scholarship.  Joy all round; I could now join my big sister at the grammar school and the world would be my oyster.  I’d see Maddie every day.

Hip Hip Hooray!
    So much for seeing more of Maddie now we were both at the same school.  I hadn’t reckoned on the rigid class system whereby lordly Fourth Formers ignored the existence of the Lower Thirds.  People thought it strange that two sisters lived in different homes and it was assumed our parents were divorced. 

I soon made friends in my own year - girls of course.  Although it was a co-ed school we were segregated in class and especially out of it.  Northern lads had strange ways of attracting a girl’s attention and would playfully flick one’s legs with a wooden ruler and leave little offerings of rabbit dung in one’s desk.  When puberty kicked in their behaviour improved somewhat but at this stage they were a blessed nuisance and I could never understand the girls who mooned about boys.  There was one girl who was always top of the top stream in my year.

“I’d give it all up if I could just ‘ave a boy friend,” she told me.  I thought she was daft as a brush but as I matured I understood better.
  Apart from the boys it was like being in an Angela Brazil story: - the Latin, the Prayers, Prep and vigorous games of hockey- minus the lemons at half time (I still have a scar over my left eye thanks to ‘sticks’ and a girl named Marjorie Doran).  And the uniform - navy blue and gold.  I loved it all and was living in a dream world.

  I was caught out one day in a history class when the teacher, Miss Moore (Little Tich) called out -:

“Pat Barnes tell the class what Barbarians are.”

Without a moments hesitation I said:

“They’re little silver balls in skipping ropes.”

  That got me another detention and a thousand lines.
    In the second year, although in the top stream I had settled lazily in the bottom third of the class and was nearing my Waterloo.  Sure enough one day, the headmaster’s secretary Miss Crowe – a tiny little woman with thick glasses interrupted our physics lesson to say I had to go to the headmaster’s study immediately.  Mr Holden (Ted) was a fearsome man and would stride, snarling round the Assembly Hall when he was in a rage.  With his black gown wrapped round him he looked like an angry crow.  Much of it was bluster but it served to put the fear of God in most pupils including me.  The discipline was exemplary and I later came to know him as a kind man.

At this moment however I was having difficulty in breathing and shaking like an aspen leaf.

“What does he want me for,” I asked Miss Crowe,”is ‘e angry?”

“You’ll just have to wait and see,” was the answer.  I soon found out.

“Now Pat Barnes I’ve sent for you because I’m afraid you have not been doing yourself justice.  You’ve been wasting your time and that of the whole class.  I am going to move you out of Upper 111 A into Upper 111 R,” he boomed.

I was horrified.  This meant I would have to do an extra year before I could take School Certificate.  Another long year before I could get out of this bloody valley. My sobs and pleas caused him to gently pat my head but not to change his mind. 
I was being put down.  I was totally humiliated.  As I wailed to my mother,
“It’s not FAIR!   I’m not even in’t bottom THREE!  WHY ME?”
Well it turns out the other three didn’t have my sister - Meddlesome Maddie - to stage-manage their life.  She – a thirteen year old girl - had convinced my parents and the head master - Mr Holden - that this was best for my well-being and when I found out I was as mad as hell.  How dare she interfere with my life? 
However, many, many years later I have to admit this kick up the back-side was the spur I needed to work.  There was much catching up to do as the syllabus was different.  There were two boys who were first and second in the new class- I only knew them as Harper and Joe.  These kind lads lent me their notes and did all they could to help me. By the end of the year I was top of the form – those two lovely boys never held it against me and I managed to hold that position until I left school with a Complete Shakespeare to prove it.  A salutary lesson and I have just about forgiven Maddie.  Not totally!

    Now I’m not saying I’m psychic – maybe I overheard someone’s conversation but around this
time I had a dream that Uncle Bill was standing in front of our fireplace with a great thick heavy rope around his waist.  We were all standing round him – he was in some sort of trouble and we couldn’t help him.  Again it was just like a snapshot.  Not long after that Dad told us that Uncle Bill had stomach cancer and he was very ill.

“Pat I don’t want ya to see Uncle Bill.  I want you to remember ‘im like ‘e’s alus bin.”  I never saw our dear uncle again. I can only think that Dad was afraid it might tip me over the edge.

   The really extraordinary thing that happened was that the three aunts – pillars of the chapel - defied custom, convention and gossip and behaved like true Christians.

They took my uncle into their home, converted their lovely sitting room over the shop into his sick room and nursed him devotedly.  They even allowed his large rumbustious family to visit him - until he died peacefully, cocooned in love.

  Then my darling Granddad had a massive stroke and - despite Gran’s nursing -died.  Gran blamed his ‘flaming customers’.  His Sunday walks had been abandoned to make time to deal with the endless ration books and coupons.  The points system - whereby customers exchanged points for special goodies like tinned salmon- was grossly unfair.  Not enough tins – not enough points and Granddad trying to please everyone without success.  Another casualty of wartime.
  Everything was changing Auntie Jean married her GI and departed for the States and Gran sold the shop and went to work as housekeeper to a man in Southport.  On a visit to Gran one weekend I couldn’t bear seeing her reduced to looking after some strange man, and insisted she came home with me.  

I didn’t think of what Mum and Dad would say or the effect it would have on our household.

 Mum and Dad were surprised, but took it in their stride and I shared a double bed

with her, except when she visited the States, until I left home at sixteen.

Maybe Maddie wasn’t the only meddlesome one.