Monday, September 25, 2006



Just as I thought I was going to be friendless along came Vanessa.  She had joined the hospital as a second year nurse, having done her general nursing and so was already State Registered.  I first noticed her standing languidly by the tea urn in the dining room.  She was tall and willowy with blonde hair and only needed a couple of borzoi to be a dead ringer for Diana the Huntress.

I didn’t get to know her until our final year when Home Sister said as we were both senior nurses we would have the privilege of sharing the bedroom in the Admin Block.  This room was special; up in the eaves of the main hospital, above sick bay and above the doctor’s quarters – so remote it wasn’t regularly inspected.  And it had a fire-escape and a fireplace.

It was a cold October and Vanessa thought it would be fun to have a fire so we would have the luxury of dressing and undressing in the warm.  But how on earth would we  get the coal up two floors I wondered.  Next thing I knew I was following Vanessa down the main corridor, blessing the fact that she was so tall and had been given the longest cloak in the hospital.  It reached the floor and completely hid the two buckets of coal she was carrying.

We kept that fire going for three days until Home Sister happened to notice smoke coming from a normally dormant chimney.  She was a great sport and after playing hell with us made us promise we would never do it again.  Thankfully, she didn’t tell Matron. ( Thanks Sister W).  Not all the sisters were so kind and understanding.  Vanessa – who the medical staff nick-named Snake- hips was made very unhappy by two bitchy Sisters whose ward she was on and I had a problem with one of the Night Sisters.

Being so isolated we didn’t get the usual wake up call from the maids and had to rely on an ancient alarm clock. It was very large and had two brass bells attached.  One morning it didn’t go off and I was late for breakfast.  This particular Sister got hold of the alarm clock, managed to get it ringing and to prove her point came striding down the main corridor swinging the pealing clock triumphantly.  Once on night duty, she was so unreasonable and unfair that I determined to go to Matron and hand my notice in.  Fortunately by the time I came off duty I had calmed down and decided it would be silly to throw all the training away because I had a problem with one Sister.  Common sense prevailed.

Compared to the normal Spartan single bedrooms ours had a bohemian feel to it; posters of Margot Fonteyn decorated the walls, there were dried flowers in the fireplace and there was a delicious aroma – a mixture of pot- pourri, fresh fruit and Vanessa’s scent.

In October I decided to go to the hospital dance.  I had heard that Andrew had left the area so I wouldn’t bump into him.  After a few dances I noticed there was a  bunch of  chaps who apparently were engineers  from Metro –Vickers.  One in particular seemed rather ebullient and even went up to Matron to have a chat – a rare occurrence with invited guests.  He seemed to stare at me a lot and finally came up and asked for a dance.  He told me later he had said no way was he going to ask that conceited looking girl to dance.  I had never met anyone quite like him and haven’t to this day.  He said his name was William.


apprentice said...

The cold thing is so accurate. Even in the 60s there was little central heating and my borother ansd sister and I used to fight for poll position in front of the electric fire to get dressed in the morning.

I remember getting chilblains by being kept out in the freezing school playground.

Nursing did have its bullies and power junkies, shame we can't harrness the best of the old and the new though.

fjl said...

She sounds like me ;-)

PI said...

apprentice: huddling over the fire gave you horrid scorch marks on your legs!

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

I can just see the two of you up there in your bohemian garrett with dried flowers in the fireplace. It sounds lovely.

That's a shame about the spite of some of the other nurses. It sounds like plain old ugly jealousy of you and Vanessa and your plum room. It sounds like they made you miserable there for a while. I'm glad you didn't let them put you off though, Pat. That's my girl!

How 'bout this William then? Cute?

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

My granny's house didn't get central heating 'til the early 80s. I remember scorch marks from the three-bar fire in my bedroom there very well! The chimneys weren't in use and on windy days the wind would howl and whistle in them causing old soot to fall on the electric fire. When I was staying with her it took a mammoth effort every morning to leave the fire and go out be-kneesocked into the chilly air for school.

PI said...

Sam: I wish I'd known about Vanessa's bullying. She didn't tell me for years. She certainly brightened my last year in training. Cute isn't really a word I could associate with William. As for central heating - old habits die hard and although we have it, I can't be doing with double glazing and stuffing inwalls. Don't like living in an hermeticaly sealed box. Just as well we have so much glass it would cost a king's ransom.

R. Sherman said...

Your room sounds like the apartment in south St. Louis my mom shared with a friend after she graduated from high school and went to work as a bookkeeper. It was in an old building, and they never could keep it warm in the winter.


kenju said...

Did you see much of William after that?

PI said...

Randall: how strange - it would be round about the same time too. We had a fire escape - I'm sure your Ma was a better behaved girl than I was.

Now Judy : I could tell you but then I would have to kill you:)

Guyana-Gyal said...

I used to think that some of those dreadful Sisters were only from this neck of the woods. But now I'm learning they're everywhere. Even the doctors quiver in fear, hee hee.

That room sounds cosy even though it was cold.

Can't wait to hear more about William.

PI said...

GG: the majority were fine and Matron would always give you a fair hearing if things got too bad. As I have said before only eleven of our original twenty one nurses stayed the course.
You will hear more of William!