Saturday, April 23, 2016

Don't let me down Fred!"

After the disastrous cruise at Christmas I am off again but with a tried and trusted shipping line: Fred Olsen.  Just a short trip round Britain - not all the way round and taking in a couple of Scottish Islands and a quick hi to Belfast.  Fingers crossed. Keep the faith.
                                                                                           Pat x

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Slums and Spires Chapter 12

An Imperfect Life

Chapter 12 Slums and Spires


 “Who do you like best Pat?”

Ginny was sitting on my bed looking at the two photos on my bed-side locker.  One of Andrew in his officer’s uniform with a wicked twinkle in his eyes and one of Jamie in shirt sleeves up some Scottish mountain.

“It’s impossible to say – they’re both so different - and both so special.”

“Better be careful Pat – you might lose both of them.”

“Thanks a lot Ginny – you’re such a comfort!  Anyway at the moment Jamie is far away in Oxford and David is in Wales convalescing after his tonsillectomy. Bless him!”

We were still off the wards in Medical Block having lectures by various consultants who seemed to blossom and bloom before an audience of young student nurses.

As part of the training we each had a day with a health visitor in various parts of the Manchester area.  Mine was in Levenshulme and it was an eye opener to see poverty and squalor beyond my ken.  I liked my health visitor.  Joan was very down to earth and probably unshockable and I felt safe with her.

The first three houses saw us coming and we didn’t gain entry.  Joan wasn’t fazed.

“That happens a lot.  We just have to crack on!  This next one has just won £400 on the Pools!”
The Football Pools was a sort of lottery of the day- very popular with the poor and deprived who saw

 it as a release from their grinding poverty.  £400 nowadays would be worth over £10,000.

The door was answered by a woman with a baby at her breast and two toddlers clutching her skirts.  Both toddlers had runny noses and were sucking dummies or comforters.  The exhausted looking woman showed us into a dank, malodorous room at odds with the newly purchased three piece suite in bright green Rexine.  It was draped with damp clothes and babies nappies that had all merged into the same greyish hue.   Another toddler was sitting on a potty whilst yet another was asleep on the floor.  Including the baby there were five children under five.  Poor woman - no wonder she looked worn out.

I realised many of the children I had nursed at the Convalescent Home in St Annes would have come from homes like this  They must have thought they were in Heaven when we romped with them on the sand hills until it was time to go in for a tasty nourishing lunch.  Poor little loves – a fortnight of loving care and then back home to this.

The Health visitor did her best; telling the mother of the various clinics and aids available to her but it was quite clear she had no intention of attending any clinic.

I was shocked by the lack of hygiene and feared for the health of those children.  Facilities were there to help them but the mother was too exhausted to take advantage of them.  Joan told me when the midwife went to take out the mother’s stitches after the last baby, they had disappeared.  When she questioned the mother she was told her husband had taken the stitches out because they hurt him.

  Later in the day we recounted our experiences to Sister Tutor and for once she hung on our every word and actually laughed out loud a couple of times.

  On the home front the other Granddad was dying.  Dad sat up with him till 5am and when I went over to see them the youngest son - Uncle Harold cried.  I was sorry I never got to know this Granddad better but he was so distant with his upright bearing and waxed moustache I could never imagine hugging him as we do all the time with the rest of the family.

  Mum was thrilled with her new grand-son- she had just got back from visiting him in Oxford and I wondered if there was any truth in the belief that someone had to make room for the new arrival.  Gran was still there helping with the baby so it was as well I had booked a week at The Girl’s Friendly Society.

  Andrew had recovered from his tonsillectomy and we arranged to meet at the next Hospital dance.  I planned to wear my deep blue bridesmaid’s dress and was feeling nervous after such a long break.  Everybody knew everything in the Nurses Home- especially where romance was concerned and I was dreading the public reunion.  By the time I mustered courage to enter the dance hall Andrew was dancing with a senior nurse and I took flight.  Dashing for the stairs I tripped over the hem of my dress and fell flat.

“Pat – are you alright?”

I looked up and there was Andrew looking concerned

“You were dancing and I’d forgotten something…”  I found myself stammering.

David grinned.

 ”It was a Ladies Excuse Me silly!”

He helped me up and kept his arms round me so we sidled onto the dance floor so as not to be so conspicuous.  From then on all was a dreamy haze and the next time we met he took me to the Café Royal for dinner, bought me chocolates and said he thought he must love me a lot.  It was all quite light hearted and fun.  On Valentine’s Day I got a lovely card from him - and one from Jamie.

I bought my return ticket to Oxford for one pound 2 shillings and seven pence.

I told Andrew that as well as seeing my new nephew I was seeing Jamie – a family friend, kissed him goodbye and promised to write.

  The long train journey with its whistles and sooty smells gave me time to think.  Was I in love with Andrew?  At age 18 how can you tell?  He wasn’t what I had imagined; he was happy go lucky, carefree, not totally reliable- phone calls never came on time (I was anal about appointments) and he lacked a certain gravitas.  Then there was the physical thing.  I can only liken it to when you first lie in the sun after a cold bleak winter.  As the sun’s rays hit your skin your body sort of gulps and burgeons with sensual pleasure which makes you (well me) want to sing the Hallelujah Chorus.  He was ardent but thoughtful to check he wasn’t going too far. At least now I knew I wasn’t the ice maiden I had been accused of being when I objected to being groped by some youth whose name I don’t recall.

  On the other hand – up until two months ago Jamie was my knight in shining armour, but I hadn’t seen him for a year - thanks to Paul – Maddie’s husband.  He had persuaded Mum and Dad that going to the Commem. Ball with Jamie would set me on the Primrose Path.  

Jamie - was reliable, an academic - not at all boring with a shy, diffident manner and an understated wit.  He wasn’t just a rock climber but a real mountaineer. I used to fantasise that I would never marry anyone until I had climbed with them, when all would become clear – hands steady as a rock etc - to get you out of trouble.

 By the time I reached Oxford I was still in a muddle but determined to enjoy the hard earned holiday.  Jamie said he wouldn’t meet me as there would probably be a reception committee.  Actually there was just Gran.  It was lovely to see her and we took a taxi to the GFS where I dumped my luggage.  We went to the Cadena for tea, then bussed to Maddie’s to meet my baby nephew.  He sucked my cheek and was adorable.

  Later when I met Jamie he was just as I remembered him and he walked me to the GFS – I had to be in by 10.30pm - which was conveniently quite central.  It seemed there had been a mix-up - there was no bed for me and I would have to sleep on a mattress on the floor, in a room with three other girls.  Needless to say at just 18 this was great fun and we chatted late into the night and had a midnight feast.  Next morning one of the girls was leaving (I would have her bed) so I joined her for a farewell meringue glace and then met Jamie for coffee.  We walked by the river and he showed me the college barge.  When I turned up at Maddie’s in the afternoon- to my astonishment- Paul told me to ask Jamie round for coffee.  I wondered if he remembered that Jamie’s brother Liam was an old boy friend of Maddie’s.

When they did meet-after the initial mock sparring - they seemed to get on like a house on fire – but I wasn’t convinced.

  It turned out to be the most sociable and enjoyable week ever - with the girls at the GFS - meeting Maddie’s friends and a day in London with Gran where she showed me all the sights including London airport.  She had had so many flights to the States to see her daughter Janet – a G.I. bride - she felt she owned part of the airport. We had lunch there and giggled when a waiter said,

“Lovely day for a flight Modom!”

“Jamie is really pushing the boat out,” Maddie noted when I told her later in the week what we had been up to.  We had been to a splendid production of the ‘White Horse Inn’, saw the film ‘Scott of the Antarctic’ and saw a production of ‘The Drunkard’- an old American temperance play - great fun with audience participation.  We also had an hilarious lunch at the digs of a fellow undergrad.  Some cider was quaffed I recall.

“You do realise term is over and he stayed up specially,”  Maddie asked?  “No I didn’t realise.”

  We went to his digs one night – a pleasant old-fashioned villa which he shared with another student and the owner – a nice elderly widower who famously said:

“All Nurses are bricks!”  This amused Jamie no end and my middle name became ‘Brick’.  When we were alone he asked me to give him a dispassionate kiss, such as I would give the family.  One night he spilt cider on my white blouse but I managed to sponge it off without any impropriety.  There were many long walks by the river in the moonlight and it became increasingly difficult to get back to the GFS by 10.30pm - locking up time.

  Everybody seemed to like Jamie and Gran said he would always be welcome up north.  We had spent a lot of time together- he was a really sweet boy/man, three years older than me and I was no nearer to solving the dilemma.

 Back home the first thing I did was to write to thank him for the wonderful time he had given me and all the little gifts.  Goodness knows how he managed it as a penniless undergrad but I was strongly discouraged from querying it, or attempting to ‘go Dutch’.

  True to form Andrew hadn’t written but I talked to Mum and she suggested I phone him.  As a result we met in Manchester, had dinner and went to a flick.  I tried to persuade him not to be so lavish but my words fell on empty ears.  As the weather got warmer we tried to arrange a whole day together and visited the deer in Dunham Park followed by a simple tea of boiled eggs in an old atmospheric pub – ‘The Swan with Two Nicks.  Considering we both had rigid off- duty systems, often  had to rely on others to convey messages and Andrew  was a lousy  letter writer we saw a great deal of each other.  Jamie on the other hand was an excellent letter writer and I was always   excited to see his distinctive handwriting in my shared pigeon hole.   

  The home front was very busy – Gran was back home ruling the roost, Evan was commuting from home and Maddie, Paul and baby had moved back to Rossendale and were living with the Aunts.  Over the last year I had got much closer to my parents – especially Mum who I would talk to when I worried if I was being fair to Jamie and Andrew.  Mum was always calm and comforting and after one of her long pauses said, “Just wait and see what happens Pat.”

  Whenever I was home Maddie and family would be up for lunch or tea and though it was great to see them and the baby I missed the quiet times with Mum and Dad.

In Hospital our block sessions had bonded us as a group and there was a lovely spirit of camaraderie.  There was always someone to go shopping with, practice hair styles, share chocolate, talk of our hopes and dreams and generally do girly things together.  I was quite open with both Jamie and Andrew that I was seeing both of them.

   And then things started to get a little more complicated.  Jamie wrote that he planned to go climbing in the Lake District and wondered if I would like to join him.  Would I?

The thought of meandering round my favourite place with someone so experienced was an opportunity not to be missed.  My old friend Sarah and I had repeated our walking holiday last summer but in Scotland instead of the Lakes.  We had actually climbed a mountain – Ben Ledi –just the two of us and lived to tell the tale. All the time we were climbing I was wondering what Jamie would think of this feat.  Climbing with him would be bliss.  However although I was now nineteen I had to convince Mum and Dad I would be safe.  At last on a rare day I had them to myself when we were walking over the tops and nervously broached the subject.  Eventually they agreed.

“But Pat- we want you to stay in Youth Hostels and there shouldn’t be just the two of you.”

Ginny and I had often talked of trying to get time off together – perhaps she would make up our party and I didn’t think Jamie would have any difficulty finding an extra bod.

  Then Andrew started to talk of a big Naval Ball they were having in June – before the proposed holiday in the Lakes.  He was helping to organise it and asked if I would like to go.  I got the feeling that this would be some sort of test.  I knew there was a lot of snobbery in the RN; Andrew had told me that I would be acceptable because I was a student nurse in training but not if I were an assistant nurse and I thought

 “B------s to that!”

It didn’t start till 9pm – ‘Carriages at 1am’ so the logistics were going to be difficult but I couldn’t resist a challenge and decided to accept.  If I were going to be scrutinised I’d better not let the side down.  I still had moments of unease at having such a lovely time with both of them and felt I was the luckiest girl in the world but hopefully after June things would get clearer and I would know what to do.























Monday, April 04, 2016

An Imperfect Life

An Imperfect Life.

Chapter 11  Making Progress


   It was so exciting having Maddie’s baby to look forward to.  My favourite job on the wards was to be ‘baby nurse’ where two of you looked after six babies and did everything for them.  Often at the 6pm feed when the baby and I were both pretty tired, I’d look at the helpless little creature snuggling in my arms, making funny little snuffling sounds and smelling so sweetly that I longed for the day when I could have my own.  That would be at least three years away.  Mum and Maddie were both married at this age and I hadn’t even got a serious boy friend.

  Jamie and I were still corresponding and he suggested that when I came down to visit the new baby – due in February - he should be available to show me around and take me to a show or two.  I was getting to know him and like him more and more so that seemed a great idea.  I couldn’t help but feel had I been allowed to attend the Commem Ball our relationship would have moved on a notch but with my ineptness and Jamie’s diffidence we’d be back to square one in March.

“Pat!  Have you seen the Notice Board?”

Ginny grabbed me as I was going to see if I had any post.

“Come and have a look!”

There it was – another change in our lives – we were both going on night duty.

“We’re not on the same ward – you’re on Wrigley – surgical -and I’m on Borchardt.


“You know there is a ghost on Borchardt don’t you?”  Ginny had a wicked glint in her blue eyes.

“No Ginny – but you’re going to tell me aren’t you?”

“Sometimes she’s known as ‘the Grey Lady’ but in fact she was a student nurse on night duty and she hanged herself in the sluice because she had miscalculated a drip and a child died.”

Ginny saw the look of horror on my face – sometimes the responsibility of looking after very sick children was overwhelming.

“It’s probably just an old wives tale.  The good thing is we have nine nights on duty and then three nights off and we have Sunlight,” Ginny tried to reassure me.

There was indeed a Sunlight Room where originally Probationers had to attend several times a week for foot exercises - picking up bean bags with their toes and learning how to care for their feet unused to rubber soles and under floor heating.  They also had to wear shoes of glace kid with patent toes as part of the unifom.  This was before our time. The sunlight was provided by machines which made a faint humming sound.  We had to strip from the waist upwards and protect our bosoms with triangular pieces of cotton.- bright green in colour and attached round the neck and mid-riff by tapes.  And to complete the alluring picture we wore goggles.  As we toasted in front of the machines our skin emitted a - not unpleasant - oily smell.  I’m sure it kept us healthy but the honey, golden brown tan we longed for never quite made it.

  I had just experienced my first death.  As well as being extremely ill this poor little toddler had thrush which we treated with gentian violet.  This caused the child to have purple staining all round her mouth making it difficult to see any change in the her colour but she was carefully monitored and was placed right beside Sister’s desk.

Sister was one of the older, very caring Sisters and she was concerned about the effect the death  would have on two young, inexperienced girls.  She was a very down to earth person – nothing remotely ‘airy fairy‘ about her and we believed her when she said we shouldn’t feel sad about the little girl as all her problems were over now and she had gone to a better place.  Where else would a child go but to Heaven?

Later on night duty we lost a child to leukaemia and I had to assist Staff Nurse with the Last Offices and was comforted by what Sister had said.  The little girl was gone and we had to do this last task for her as carefully, as professionally and as reverently as possible. RIP.

  At home Gran was much in demand she had been out in the States to help Auntie Janet with her new baby but she promised to return for Maddie’s confinement in February.  That meant there would be no room for me at Maddie’s so I had better start saving up.  Actually in my nursing days I never stopped saving up and it amazes me – looking back - on what I managed to achieve and I don’t remember ever feeling deprived.

  I had recently joined the Student Nurses Association and found myself elected to be chairman.  If you ever have to be on a committee, being chairman is not as onerous as it sounds; the secretary does all the work and it’s quite fun being in charge.  Calling Matron to order was heady stuff as I discovered.  Two of us were deputed to accompany Matron to a conference in Edinburgh- a big get together of Paediatric Nurses.  We travelled on the overnight sleeper – a thrill for us in itself.  I remembered the scene in the film ’I know where I’m going’ when Wendy Hiller looked out from her luxurious sleeper and saw the Scottish hills swathed in tartan.  Matron travelled in a single sleeper fitting to her station but our compartment was just four bunks with a moggy  looking blanket each.  We quickly donned our nighties - mine was a pretty flimsy pale blue one- inherited from Auntie Janet - before the other occupants arrived.  We spent a sleepless night.

“How did you sleep Nurses,” Matron demanded as we joined her in her taxi next morning?

“We found the blankets a bit scratchy on our skin Matron.”

“You didn’t undress Nurse?”

She was quite horrified when I told her and she explained the difference between a sleeper and a resting compartment.  No wonder we got some funny looks from the other two passengers.

Tired of years of wearing dreary clothes emblazoned with the dreaded utility symbol we yearned for a bit of glamour so when we discovered that Dorothy Lamour (rhymes with glamour) was appearing in Edinburgh we decided to skip tea the next day and see her at the stage door after the afternoon session and before the final party.  It was fascinating meeting fellow nurses from all over the country and we all felt inspired when the Matron of Great Ormond Street declared in a rousing speech:

“I would rather have an RSCN nurse my mother than have an SRN nurse my child!”

As would be Registered Sick Children’s Nurses we heartily agreed.  You have to think for a child.

  As soon as the afternoon session was over we scooted off to the theatre and positioned ourselves by the stage door.  We waited and waited and waited..  Way past our dead-line it was obvious that either Miss Lamour was indisposed or there was another entrance.  Looking back I feel a little guilty:  I was senior to my companion and I suspect I was the driving force in this escapade.  Disappointed and chilled we hot-footed it back to the Hospital hoping we could slink in to the party without Matron noticing but she towered above the crowd and her gimlet eyes spotted us immediately.  We froze as she strode towards us with the small rounded Matron who had given the rousing speech clinging to her arm.

“You mustn’t be cross with them Jane.  They are only young once.”

“Where have you been,” Matron glowered?

“We’re so sorry Matron, we went to see Dorothy Lamour at the stage door but she didn’t turn up.”

Peals of laughter erupted from the little one and Matron’s lips twitched and her eyes became very twinkly. The diminutive Matron was the head of Great Ormond Street- the crème de la crème.  She was an absolute honey and slipped us ten bob each when she thought Matron wasn’t looking but Matron missed nothing.

Night Duty was interesting.  I soon got used to sleeping during the day.  We slept on the Night Nurse’s Corridor which was kept fairly quiet and were wakened each night by the maid- Emily’s clarion call: “Five past seven Nurse!”  BANG as she slammed the door.  The four words were sung – a different note each word bur always the same delivery.  By the time you had heard this twenty odd times you were well and truly awake.  I wonder how old Emily was.  She was white haired but sprightly with muscular arms.  Her rhythm never deviated.

On the ward there would be at least two nurses – one a senior.  Overall was Senior Night Sister who I liked.  A dark haired sturdy Scot; she was totally in charge without any bluster, hard working and funny.  She had massive responsibilities and could be summoned from all over the hospital by her personal buzzer.  One night we had to summon her and there was an unusual, slight delay before she appeared.

“Can’t I even pee in peace,” she demanded?

The Junior Night Sister was a character.  She had heavy rimmed glasses, thick straight hair, a sarky manner and a big behind.  She swaggered around the wards and I suspected we wouldn’t get on. I was right.  One of my duties in the morning was to get the children’s breakfast and after chatting to some of the children decided it might  be a nice change to mash the bananas in the porridge.  It was more work but the children liked it.  JNS hit the roof and sent me to Matron.  This was an unfortunate punishment for me as I had been sent the week previously.  The thermometers had mercury in them and one had to shake them vigorously to get the mercury down so it was fairly easy to break them which warranted a visit to Matron.  The next time this happened I decided to pay for it myself rather than face Matron again.

When I went to see her about the porridge she just sighed and told me to stick to the normal diet.

It was time for our set to come off the wards for an intensive revision block.  In October we sat the State Preliminary Exam.  Success meant you never had to repeat the first year so that General training would be two years instead of three.  In November we learned that most of us had passed - we lost some of the original 21 but all my close friends got through.  We could throw away our grey belts and wear blue with pride.

There was no shortage of young men- I just hadn’t met Mr Right and I seriously wondered if I would be left on the shelf.  Ginny and I went to the NAFFI in Manchester and met two Welsh soldiers.  One of them – Harry - wrote me a lovely poem, but a few days later they called at the hospital, asking for us- an absolute NO-NO- so they were history.

  I arranged to have a week’s holiday in March and - as Gran would be staying with  Maddie- booked myself a room at The Girl’s Friendly Society which was in Oxford itself and more accessible for Jamie.

  We were so lucky to have Gran with all her midwifery experience and her capacious bosom was a bonus –especially for the children.  As a child when she came to visit I would be waiting for her at the door and would say;

“Cum in Gyan!  Sit down!  Beya!”

‘Beya-ing’ was resting a child on her bosom and gently rocking to and fro and sucking her teeth in time.  Bliss for babies and toddlers alike.  There was never any boiling of bottles, teats or comforters in our family.  All babies were breast fed and then were supplemented with ‘pobbies’- pieces of white bread soaked in hot milk and sprinkled with sugar.  Its strange fragrance instantly evokes my childhood.

  1948 was coming to an end- a year that had seen the Olympics held in London where Fanny Blankler –Koen of the Netherlands won 4 Gold Medals, Israel became independent, Ghandi was assassinated in Delhi and the film de jour was ‘Easter Parade with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland.

  We were all looking forward to the Christmas Ball – Balls really because we had two – one in December and one in January- we could choose which one.  I chose the later one in order to have something to look forward to but most of my pals chose the early one so I had lots of help getting ready and had my pick of accessories.  These were such fun times – sometimes more fun than the event.

There were the usual pre- dance nerves; I didn’t have  a partner- suppose no-one asked me to dance and I ended up a wall-flower?  I finally got a grip and drifted in as  the music was starting and was immediately asked to dance by the handsome consultant Mr Haxton, followed by Doctor Feldman.  There was a different partner for every dance and I started to relax and enjoy it.  I noticed a bunch of naval officers that Matron had invited, looking debonair in their uniforms and a dark haired one came over and asked me to dance.  As we squared up to each other I felt an instant attraction and when he drew me closer and I felt his hand on my waist and his face close to mine I felt a warm tingly glow.  His name was Andrew and he said the officer I had met at last year’s Ball had told him to look out for me.  I asked him how he had recognised me and then grimaced when he told me.  I still hadn’t learnt how to accept a compliment graciously.  He wasn’t as tall as Jamie but somehow that made him seem closer.  Physically I was drawn to him and he was so much fun.  It didn’t seem to occur to us to separate at the end of the dance - why would you?  The evening flew by and at some stage we went out for air- in spite of the snow.  We walked and talked  and kissed three times and arranged to meet the following day.  At this stage Jamie and I were friends who were attracted to each other.  We corresponded, had only met twice and hadn’t seen each other for almost a year so there was no sense of commitment.  I day dreamed all through the next day whilst getting lecture notes up to date.  I met Andrew at 7pm and we went to the flicks to see ‘The Winslow Boy.’  My diary notes ’It’s nice to be kissed by someone who knows how.’

Then there was a hiatus.  I got a message that Andrew couldn’t make our next date as he had tonsillitis.  He had a spell in sickbay- had a tonsillectomy and then went back to Wales on sick leave.  Meanwhile Maddie had a bouncing boy – I was booked in at the GFS in Oxford and Jamie had awarded me a blue for sending him a requested photo.

As it says in the song: ‘There may be trouble ahead.’



























Thursday, March 17, 2016

Quite a Pleasant Birthday.

It is impossible to ignore one's birthday - I've tried - but Face Book, Cruise Lines, et al are there with you till the Passing and after a while one learns to lie back and enjoy the world wide,warm greetings from  dear people one may well have never met but who have become friends.  No-one was visiting; my family are scattered far and wide and I much prefer to see them for longer throughout the year than a quick hello for my birthday.
That way one can happily see them leave with a brave smile rather than being choked with sobs -wondering is this the last time?

Happily it was Tuesday the day of the weekly meeting of what started as a bereavement group -which we prefer to call a friendship group.  Our fame has spread and we are now in the teens in spite of Veronica and Peter absconding to Devon - they met and married in the group about 2 years ago and  Sylvia who is gamely recovering from a stroke.
Elaine has taken over trying to keep us on track and gives us a calendar with the month's venues (we like variety) and very often we all turn up at the correct one.  She is a great cake maker and brought me a red velvet cake to share - with some candles.

Elaine has taught for years, knows masses of people and - now in her later years - invigilates.  She had a meeting in Taunton and offered me a lift.  She knows the area backwards, scorns the main roads and the journey was mainly down primrose and snowdrop bespattered lanes.  We parted in town and - full of cake I eschewed lunch and did the shops.  I had a senior moment in Boots when I tried to pay for a lipstick with a WH Smith's Birthday voucher.  A few hours later a pot of tea in Debenham's seemed an attractive idea.  It was very quiet - Tuesday must be a good day; I got a window seat, a smashing pot of tea., some delicious fruit toast with lashings of butter and all for £3.60.  I thought I was in Heaven.  Then it was time to get some food treats from M&S - my elder son comes at Easter and rendezvous with Elaine in the café where the counter service is unbelievable snail like.  Really!
Full  of tea I daringly had a small expresso.

The drive home was very busy but gave us plenty of time to chat and swap notes.  Elaine wouldn't come in as she was cooking but there was a note to say flowers and chocolate had been delivered to a neighbour. Realising what day it was they insisted I had a sherry with them and in spite of the fact I don't really drink sherry these days and was knackered I'm glad I did.  They are fellow cruisers had had a similar bad experience with the same Shipping  Line, the sherry was excellent and it was a pleasant end to the day.  A measure of how exhausted I was-I fell asleep and missed the first 20 minutes of 'Happy Valley'.

Whilst I have been writing this a late present has been delivered- a mug inscribed with 'World's Okayest Mum'.
My cup runneth over.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Pride andPrejudice

An Imperfect Life


Pride and Prejudice

Chapter 10


 Back in hospital I was delighted to discover I was going on Heywood – a surgical ward where, on
the whole, patients were admitted, had the op and went home fit and well.  This would be much less
emotionally taxing than Borchardt Ward where many of the patients didn’t survive and I was thankful
for the respite. 

  As soon as I walked on the ward I could feel the difference.  It seemed lighter and brighter and many of the children were sitting up and taking notice.  There were two Ward Sisters and a Staff Nurse.  After we had bathed the children – some were well enough to go to the bathroom – Sister said I was to accompany Staff and help her with the dressings.  I watched carefully as she set up the trolley using instruments that had been boiled up in the ward steriliser.  There were different trolleys for different procedures and we had to learn them.  The dressings and bandages which we prepared when the children were asleep after lunch were stored in a metal drum.  This was then taken to theatre and sterilised in a giant autoclave.

Staff Nurse Bond was a sturdy Yorkshire lass and very quickly earned my respect as she dressed these very delicate mastoidectomy wounds (an operation to remove diseased air cells in the mastoid bone, which is behind the ear).  She made – what could have been a very painful experience for the child as normal as having a bed bath and I determined to try and emulate her skill.  I was allowed to put the bandage on when she had finished.  In those days we used a crepe bandage taking a turn round the forehead and then making a neat pattern going round and round above the ear and then below the ear.  I had been quite good at it in PTS and was pleased when Staff said “Well done Barnes!”

  After that we did the abdominals and again I admired the skill and the immediate effect of dressing the wounds and putting a clean dressing on.
  Many of the patients were T’s and A’s (tonsils and adenoids).  Before WW2 it was the norm to

remove them at the first sign of trouble.  I had mine out aged three.  During the war the hospitals

were more stretched, the lists got longer and longer and it was realised that in most cases, by the age

of eight, the problem had disappeared.

.  The one thing we came to dread were ‘bleeders’: patients who bled unremittingly after their op.  A close watch was kept on their pulse rate to monitor this, but our hearts would sink if there was a child who was a redhead or had a certain wishy- washy, mousy coloured hair coupled with a pasty skin.  I don’t know if there is a scientific explanation for why these patients were more likely to bleed, but we student nurses believed they did.  
I was certainly enjoying being on a surgical ward – the snag was going to theatre which could be

nerve wracking when you didn’t know what to expect.

.  The theatre staff were super efficient with low fuses as I had already discovered; Heaven help you if you had forgotten theatre socks or any of the things you were meant to remember.  Fortunately the ward was just opposite the theatre so I didn’t have the long trek down the main corridor.  We wheeled the trolley – with patient - into the small anaesthetic room.  The anaesthetist was an Irish lady with grey hair and a sharp manner.  You wouldn’t want to irritate her.  She had a whacking great diamond on her finger and I stared, fascinated as she spilt ether on it, as well as on the mask she placed over the child’s face. It was mesmerising and I used to wonder if I was soaking up the ether myself.

   The consultants were treated like gods; a hot water bottle for this one – special soap for that one.  In my ignorance I thought they were great fuss-pots but of course the soap was for an allergy and the hot water bottle to warm the consultant’s hands before he examined a child.  Nevertheless when the ENT specialist – another lady - entered the ward in white theatre gum boots and a lamp on her head, there were a few sniggers when a child called out:  ‘Coo look!  A miner!’

  Throughout our trials and tribulations we were sustained by the solidarity of our set, the original PTS.  During that initial three months we had bonded together.  Now we were doing different jobs on different wards with different time off.  But mostly we were in the same Home and we were like family, a great comfort during the trials and tribulations.  There was wastage of course and out of the 21 original student nurses only nine of us took our Finals.  Some found it exhausting and stressful.  Some found the discipline too harsh.  On the whole I found the older Sisters quite fair and kind but some of the younger ones could make life very difficult if they didn’t like you.

  I was lucky most of the time- until towards the end of my training.
One of our set – Ginny - was on the ward with me and we discovered that she lived in Padiham, just north of our valley and we would travel on the same bus.  Most of the girls came from around the Manchester area and there was a subtle difference; the staff in Kendal Milne’s Store used to blench when it was Rossendale Wakes Week, and they were over-run with the strange folk from my valley.  Ginny and I spoke the same language and became close friends.

  Just before my eighteenth birthday I got a lovely surprise: an invitation from Jamie to go as his partner to a Commemoration Ball in Oxford.  I told Maddie when I phoned her and she said it would be a wonderful experience.  I couldn’t wait to tell Mum and Dad on my day off.  Ginny and I travelled home together taking the bus to Manchester from outside the hospital and crossing the city on foot to Moseley Street Bus Station.  Not a very nice place to be on your own after dark. (Surely it wasn’t named after Oswald?)  We discussed what I should wear for the Ball. 

  “I’ve got to find the fare to Oxford so I’ll probably wear that white lace Maddie gave me.”

“Oh you look lovely in that – but if you’re fed up with it why not borrow my new one.  You lent me your bridesmaid’s dress.  I’ll bring it back with me tomorrow. ‘

“Thanks Ginny – it’ll be smashing to wear something that isn’t white.”

  Maddie and Paul had been visiting for a few days – staying with the Aunts – as they always did.  My excitement was dampened when Mum said they knew about the invitation.

“Maddie said it would be a wonderful experience and Ginny’s going to lend me her new dress so I’ve just got the fare to find and I can…”

  I could see from their faces there was something wrong and my voice faded.

  Dad cleared his throat and put on his really serious- quite cross face.

“Pat we don’t want yer to go!”

I could feel my jaw drop and was speechless.

“I’ve ‘ad a word wi’ Paul an’ ‘e sez them Balls go on all night an’ end up wi’ orgies on’t river.

“But Dad our Maddie’s been to one and she told me on the phone it would be a wonderful experience and Paul - he’s never been to one – he’s been out in India and -and Japan..”  I was beginning to splutter.

“I’ve said me say an’ that’s that.  May – I’m off.”  And off he went to the pub or Granddad’s or wherever he needed to go to escape my blethering.

  “Mum it’s not fair – I’m 18 next month.  You let Maddie get married at 19.  YOU got married at 18 and pregnant!”

“That’s enough Pat!”

“Mum you’ve met Jamie- you know he’s a decent lad.  He would look after me I know he would.”

“|Your Dad’s made up his mind!”

 “It’s ridiculous – I’ve lived away from home since I was16 and a half.  I could have slept with a whole squadron in St Annes if I’d wanted to.  I’m not that kind of girl.  I thought you and Dad knew that.”  By now the tears were starting to flow and I got hiccups.

“Your Daddy’s just trying to protect you”.  So there we were.  With Mum I could usually talk her round but Dad was immovable if he believed he was right and the devil of it was I could cope with anything but his disapproval.  The thing that really got me was that he took the word of ‘a bloody Southerner’ over his own daughter’s.

Paul was very persuasive – he had convinced my parents that Maddie should marry him before she had finished college.

When I told Ginny the next day she was both incredulous and sympathetic.  I had to write to Jamie that unfortunately I now had to refuse his invitation.

  Out of the blue I had a letter from Sean Malloy, Paul’s best man at the wedding who was at the same college as Paul, inviting me to his Commemoration Ball.  When I got over the shock I was angry to discover that this was acceptable to my parents- presumably because he was a friend of Paul’s.  This seemed to me to be blatant hypocrisy.  Pride and prejudice made me spurn the invitation in spite of Jamie pointing out that if I went to Oxford, at least we would see each other.

  By my next day off things had calmed down; Dad and Evan had gone to the match, Paul had gone back to Oxford so Mum, Maddie and I had a lovely girly day.  After supper Mum said we would walk down to the Aunts.  As we strolled along the Avenues and through the park Maddie started to talk about her marriage.  It seemed all was not well in Paradise, but Mum cut her off.

  “You’ve made your bed Maddie- you must lie on it!”

That seemed a bit harsh to me but that was Mum for you. I remembered Adrian’s words: “Now Paul’s married to a girl like Maddie he should buck his ideas up.”

However, all should be well because I then got the news that Maddie was pregnant.


Friday, February 19, 2016

More old photies

                                             Left to right Maddie, Pat, Evan, Mum,Dad.
 Skinnier days.
 Mum, Dad, my two boys and me in the Lakes
I remember all of these clearly but especially our frightening Head aka Herman.  Poor man had been in France in WW1. He terrified me so when he asked me what 11x 11was I froze.  As he turned  away to get the cane out of the cupboard I was saved by Roy Huges - third boy from the right on the next to back row who told me the answer which I can never remember.  The head mistress - Mrs Chadwick was my favourite teacher.  I am front row at the left.  Two of the girls behind me are life long friends and we chat on the phone regularly.  Three years later I got my scholarship to the Grammar School
God bless all - especially Roy.  Sorry the photo is a bit blurry.
Click to enlarge.
Hooray- the first time for weeks I have been able to post photies

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Dreaming Spires and Bedpans

Chapter 9

Dreaming Spires and Bedpans.

    Now that we had completed P.T.S. to prepare us to be let loose for our month’s trial on the wards we were all wondering where that would be -  whether on a surgical or a medical ward.

“What’s the difference Pat?  You’re the one with experience.”

“Well I’ve never nursed very sick children.  It was a Convalescent Home remember.”

“But you must have some idea,” Delia persisted.

“OK - well speaking very generally - on a surgical ward patients are admitted, have the op, have their stitches out and go home – if all goes well.”

“And on a medical ward?”

“It’s a much slower process and requires a lot of day to day nursing care and patience.  Some of the patients will be unconscious so you have to think for them and keep them comfortable.  Anyway we’ll know our fate soon enough.  Sister has just put the list on the notice board.”

  Clustered round the notice board I felt my face flush as I saw that for the next month I would be on one of the three medical wards – Borchardt Ward. I knew there would be patients suffering from tubercular meningitis and leukaemia – both fatal diseases in the forties, so it was going to be harrowing.  Everyone knew someone with TB, before the advent of safe milk.  

  We were extras on the ward so there was time to get to know some of the thirty odd patients including half a dozen babies.  There were two baby nurses and I longed to be one of them looking after the babies but I had to help generally at first. 

  The wards had very tall windows by each bed (if a patient had a high temperature we were told to open a window) and at each end of the ward in the middle of the room were two large tiled edifices – waist high - with fires at each end protected by fire guards.  In the centre was Sister’s desk always with a vase of flowers.  First thing in the morning we would group round the desk whilst the night nurses gave their report and Sister would give us our orders.  Each nurses had six patients each and she was responsible for all their toilet and treatments.  There was usually an extra nurse who would cover off duty and days off.

  I got a shock the first week when Sister said:

“Nurse Barnes.  Get Tom Sargent ready for theatre please.”  As we were a medical ward this was unexpected.  I was told to get woollen socks from one of the cupboards in the vestibule - it was essential to keep the patient’s feet warm during an operation – but when I got there the cupboard was bare – of woollen socks.  I searched the other cupboards – fruitlessly.

  I rushed to Staff Nurse (running is only allowed if there is fire or haemorrhage involved.

“I can’t find – there aren’t any – I’ve looked in all the cupboards I…

  Sensing my rising panic she said:

“Go to the nearest Surgical Ward – that’s Wrigley next ward on the left and borrow some socks.  You’d better be quick!”

On Wrigley I found people were not inspired to move quickly when requested by an unbelted Nurse – we only were allowed to wear a belt if we successfully passed the month’s trial - and by the time I got back to the ward Staff Nurse was looking hassled.  Thank Heaven she had put Tom on a trolley and dressed him in a theatre gown.

“You’ve really got to get a move on now Barnes – Sister Violet has been on the phone and the whole theatre is waiting for Tom!”  I gulped – we had all heard about the Theatre Sister who ate probationers for breakfast in spite of her resemblance to a curly haired Violet Elizabeth Bott of “Just William” fame.

  Staff Nurse helped me manoeuvre the heavy trolley outside the ward and then left me to it.  I looked down the corridor - the length of the Hospital where the Theatre was sited and I could just see three irate figures gesturing angrily in my direction.  I took a deep breath, put one arm protectively over Tom and pushed with all my might towards theatre and the trolley forged straight into the wall on the side of the corridor.

I yanked it back and pushed again.  This time it forged straight ahead into the opposite wall.  By this time we were almost at HoldenWard.  Only Wrigley, Liebert and Heywood wards to go and we’d almost be there.  I tried not to look at the three figures – who now seemed to be dancing.  By the time I reached Heyood they raced towards me and snatched Tom and trolley out of my grasp. I reflected that Medical and Surgical are two different worlds and never the twain should mix.  Ideally.

  Sister Moon was one of the older ones and was kind and motherly.  This helped when we had to nurse patients with T.B meningitis and leukaemia –fatal diseases in those days.

  One little girl on the ward came from a wealthy family and had been given her own cow, which tragically turned out to be tubercular.   Over the years progress has been made; we have clean milk, TB is rare and leukaemia can be cured, but in the forties, these were dread diseases and careful nursing was all-important to keep the patients comfortable and as happy as possible.  Nursing children spoils you as far as nursing adults is concerned.  They are incredibly brave and warrant love and affection.  Whenever I am afraid of some ordeal I have to go through, I remember Edward, a boy of ten who had to have intramuscular injections every four hours.  He would look at me with his big brown eyes and say, ‘Just wait till I get my grip Nurse,’ and he would grip the bed head, have the injection and then let me give him a hug.  I once persuaded a senior nurse to give me an intramuscular injection so I would know what it felt like.  I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to have one every four hours.

Parents were allowed to visit once a week, on Sundays from 3pm till 4pm and they were very much under the eagle eye of Sister.  There was no sitting on beds, no children visitors and only parents were allowed.  Hard as it may have been for the parents normally the children became used to us after a day or so and the big pay off was there was no cross infection.  We would have died of shame. Each ward had its own maids and the wards were spotless.  There was a smell that was mixture of floor polish and disinfectant.  From the entrance to the ward you would see that all the bed castors were turned inwards at the correct angle and all pillow case openings were away from the door.  This attention to detail was carried through in all aspects of nursing care, and the sloppiness one sometimes sees in today’s hospitals concerns me.  As a junior nurse, one’s first duty in the morning was to wipe down the beds and lockers with Dettol and then check the children’s heads for nits.  Matron did a ward round every day but never at the same time and you and the ward had better be looking immaculate.  There was a cleaner Mrs Wray who spent all day going from one end of the main corridor, on her hands and knees, scrubbing.  I flinched every time I had to walk over it and she would give me a weary smile as I apologised.

  Friends used to ask how I could bear to nurse children so ill and the answer was the children were inspiring and it was possible to have happy times together.   What used to finish me was when I looked at the parent’s faces when they came on the ward on a Sunday.  I would have to retreat into the Sluice, have a good blub and then get back on the ward. 
  At last the month’s trial was over; I was given my grey belt and a few months’ respite before the Preliminary State Exam in the autumn.  There was the Christmas Ball (held in January) and my trip to Oxford to look forward to. Life was good.

The Christmas Ball was fun.  It was formal (before the War the men wore white tie and tails) and Matron would invite the army or naval officers from nearby bases.  Historically lesser ranks weren’t considered suitable for us nurses.  We also had an informal dance every month in the Recreation Room and there was a steady flow of young men – engineers, undergrads and service men all under the watchful eye of Matron, so there was no malarking.  You could, of course sneak out into the grounds on the pretext of showing the visitors the wards from the outside, but you’d better not linger too long in the shrubbery. 

  I had a beautiful white lace dress for the Ball– handed down from Maddie, with a bunch of violets pinned to my bosom.  I met a nice sailor from Kent and arranged to see him when I came back from Oxford.  Actually I wasn’t very good with boys and it soon fizzled out.  Mostly I regarded them as chums and when they started getting soppy my interest waned.  On the rare occasions I fancied someone, I behaved in such an off-putting way I frightened them off.  Such a bore!    I was only seventeen and expected I would get better with age.
   Gran was excited about her forthcoming trip to Rhode Island in the States - to visit Auntie Jean who was expecting her first baby. Evan was swotting for School Cert and planning to leave school afterwards and train as a mining engineer.  How would my little brother manage a career without me there to look after him?

 There was a happy reunion with Annie who was enjoying her Fever Training and mighty relieved to have been spared all the swotting she would have had to do had she joined me in P.T.S.

At last it was time to take the train to Oxford.   I had saved up enough money – as long as I was careful.  Travelling overnight was cheaper but it was a difficult cross country journey and I had difficulty keeping awake – I had been on duty during the day and I was nervous of missing my changes.

The excitement of travelling alone at night dwindled when a strange, beefy man with a long ginger beard boarded the train at Melton Mowbray, took off his shoes and put his feet on the seat beside me.  It was early in the morning when I arrived and the sight of those ‘dreaming spires‘and the mist rising from the river made Oxford seem another world and quite beautiful.

  Maddie met me and we went for a much needed coffee in the High.  She showed me the Ashmolean Museum where her Art School – the Slade – had been evacuated during the war which gave her the precious gift of being educated in such a special place.  I still thought she was mad to throw it all away to marry Paul but knew better than to say so.

I was getting exhausted.

“Maddie can we save any more sightseeing for another day?  I’m going to sleep standing up.”

“Sorry Pat I forgot you hadn’t slept for a while.  We’ll get the bus and be home before lunch.  By the way we’ve got an old army friend of Paul’s staying – Adrian - you’ll like him, he’s nice.  Oh and we’ve been invited to tea in Jamie’s rooms later in the week.”

That last snippet was much more interesting.  I remembered how much I enjoyed meeting the two brothers – Jamie and Liam.  The third one Dylan less so but I would just keep out of his reach.

After a few hours sleep I felt bright as a button and soon Maddie and I were chattering and giggling non stop – much to Paul’s annoyance.  I don’t think he was delighted we were seeing Liam and Jamie - I think if Maddie hadn’t already met Paul before Oxford she would have been much closer to Liam.

The days passed pleasantly enough but it was clear the highlight of my week would be tea at Jamie’s.

  On the day I made sure my hair was freshly washed and wore a fine wool suit because it made me look older and a yellow sweater because the girls in our set said it  made my hair look lighter.

I loved seeing the colleges- they exuded atmosphere and were such gracious old buildings – like nothing you would ever see in Lancashire. It really felt like another world.

When we reached the porter’s lodge there was someone standing in front of the notice board and as we spoke to the porter he turned round and it was Jamie.  Gosh!  I had forgotten those dark gypsy- ish good looks.  After we greeted Jamie- he and I darting shy glances at each other - he led the way up a winding staircase to his rooms.

Liam and Dylan were already there and there was a roaring fire.

It wasn’t long before all shyness had worn off and we were chatting and catching up on the last couple of years.  There was an oar on the wall which Jamie had won in an Eight’s race but Liam was the star oarsman and he was happy to share his skill with us.  Seated on the floor he demonstrated various rowing techniques.

  “Oooh Liam,” I blurted out. “what short legs you’ve got!”  It was true; if he had been in proportion he would have been 7’ tall.  Liam looked at me thunderstruck and the others rocked with laughter- Jamie nearly fell off his chair.  Northern girls are nothing if not direct – something I have tried to curb over the years.

Roy Hudd, the famous Music Hall star was trying to make the difficult transition from stand- up comedy to serious acting and was being interviewed by the late lamented Dennis Potter at his home – with a view to acting in one of Potter’s prestigious plays.

Both men got on like a house on fire and without ever mentioning the reason for the meeting, Dennis invited Roy to stay for lunch whereupon Roy said he couldn’t because his wife was sitting in the car down stairs.

“Bring her up,” he was told.  Roy went down to collect his wife – another Pat – also a Lancastrian.  As she walked in the room her first words were:

“Well has he got the job then?”

Jamie gave us a splendid tea- buttered crumpets, chocolate cake and good strong tea complete with strainer and a brightly coloured tea- cosy which his mother had knitted clearly using up wool she had used to knit the boy’s Fair Isle pullovers.  I hadn’t seen Maddie so animated for a long time – marriage seemed to have sobered her somewhat.  When all the food had gone I started clearing up the dishes and carried them to the small kitchenette.  Jamie joined me and we washed up and he asked if he could write to me.  He always covered any such request with a joke – as if he wasn’t really serious – but I really liked him and loved getting letters, so I said yes.

On the last morning of my stay I was washing up yet again with Adrian (Maddie and Paul were at work).  I was taken aback when he said:

“Now that Paul’s married to a girl like Maddie he should buck his ideas up.”

I had no idea what he meant and he didn’t volunteer any more information.  He had

 been out in India with Paul and knew him pretty well.  He very kindly took me to the

Station and I said good bye to him and au revoir to Oxford.