Monday, February 06, 2006

BESIDE THE SEASIDE

Story contd

In 1946, although the war was over, we led a life of bleak austerity under the Labour Government. The Prime minister was Clement Attlee – dry as dust compared to the more flamboyant Churchill. Food and sweet rationing was to continue for another seven years and the Black market, with its spivs flourished.

Mum and I looked up at the rambling Gothic edifice which was to be my home for the next fourteen months. It was perched on sand hills with their strange tufted grasses, and the only neighbour was a huge convent manned by nuns in their gowns. The door was answered by a daffy looking maid, who greeted us with,
‘Hello, I’m Dotty.’ And showed us to Matron’s office whilst I struggled to stifle hysterical giggles.

Any levity disappeared face to face with Matron. She was elderly but spry with a scrubbed pink face and neat white hair under a lace cap tied with a bow under her chin. The expression on her face was stern but it softened when she spoke to my mother. I was to have one day off a week and if it was convenient I could have the night before off so I could spend a night at home. In all circumstances the well being of the children would come first. 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 was one of the kindest people I have ever met and I came to realise the evils of anti-Semitism.

The hierarchy was Matron, Staff Nurse (Staffy), Assistant Nurse and six probationers.
Two of us had started the same day but as I was the last to arrive I was the most junior. There were two maids and Mrs Mack the cook. A feminine household apart from Mr Morgan – the boiler man – who came in each day to tend the monster in the cellar. Matron showed us the room I would share with Mather – the other new girl, and then it was time for Mum to leave. I flung my arms round her and felt my eyes begin to prickle but Mum gave me a little shake and said, ‘Now just behave yourself Pat.’

No time to feel homesick – there were up to thirty children ranging from babes in arms to fourteen year olds. Mostly they came from the city 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 left rosy-cheeked, clean, well fed and boisterous. God knows what they went back to but at least the bombing was over. At last I felt I was doing something.

Maddie was about to go back up to Oxbridge and decide to pay me a visit first. I looked forward to it and arranged to have a 2pm to 5pm off duty. Matron had gone on holiday soon after my arrival and there was relaxed, easy going atmosphere which I took to be the norm. At the last minute Maddie changed the plan so she could kill two birds with one stone. She had a friend a few miles up the coast and I was to take a tram there and we would all meet up for tea. The tram took forever and by the time we all met up in the cafĂ© it was almost time for me to leave but Maddie was having none of it and 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 were 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 Staffy seemed to be fine about it but next day when Matron returned I was told to be in Matron’s office first thing in the morning and I didn’t sleep a wink all night. I realised that Maddie and I now lived in different worlds with different strictures and it was always going to be so.

18 comments:

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Oh no, oh no! What is Matron going to say?

AndrewM said...

Now you're for it!

PI said...

Zinnia and AndrewM: Do I detect a touch of schadenfreude?

fjl said...

This reminds of that Carrie's war, the levity... 'Go to bed in Druid's Bottom'. Mrs Gotobed. People seems to have experienced the ends of the earth! ' Hello, I'm Dotty.' :0)

PI said...

fjl: Dear Dotty - daft as a brush.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I confess, Pat - schadenfreude is why I read most things!!

PI said...

Zinnia: Tiens!(tweaks mustachios)
anozzer piece in ze jig-saw puzzle!

kenju said...

I look forward to hearing what Matron said!

PI said...

kenju; I was just this minute reading your comment on Hoss's blog. Telepathy?

OldHorsetailSnake said...

No, spanking! Please, no. And no rulers across the knuckles, either.

PI said...

Hoss: You've got me nervous now.

Katy Newton said...

Ooh dear. Nothing like a very long journey knowing that you're cruising for a bruising at the end of it, so to speak.

Katy Newton said...

Ooh dear. Nothing like a very long journey knowing that you're cruising for a bruising at the end of it, so to speak.

R. Sherman said...

You've got me hooked! I need a new installment.

Cheers.

Growing Up said...

I can't wait to read what happens next. that was a great story Pat.

PI said...

GU and R Sherman: Thanks and my nose will be on the grindstone tomorrow. Promise.

Guyana-Gyal said...

Hooo boy, my cuz and her pals used to tell me about the matrons. And the medical students too.

Are all matrons dragons?

PI said...

GG: Yes they are - but in my exoerience in a nice way.