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.



kenju said...

Pat, you are a marvelous storyteller!! I don't want to stop reading!

Anonymous said...

You are lucky to have such vivid memories from your early days! Most of mine have been erased after my accident! I get certain recalls, but not in any detail.

AndrewM said...

Good work.

Pat said...

Judy: thank you - as long as you keep reading I'll keep writing D.V.

John: that must be so frustrating. At least you have your Dad who will share many of the same memories. Most of my older family and friends are gone.

AndrewM: thank you:)

Kim Ayres said...

Fancy you leading your big sister astray with ciggies... ;)

Pat said...

Kim: someone is skating on thin ice!

SDC said...

For some reason, your telling of the way things were in your family/house reminds me of an old CBC interview clip on Youtube of Lady Mary Soames talking about her mother and growing up as a Churchill.

Again, I admire your bravery for bringing to light the crimes (yes, crimes) perpetrated against you as a child and as a young woman. Men (and women) who do these terrible things count on the silence of their victims to continue to do what they do.

Pat said...

SDC: golly our household and the Churchill household on the face of things would be very different but on reflection maybe the ethos wasn't that different. Winston was a very great influence in those days. As kids we felt as long as he was in the driving seat we would come through.
As for the 'crimes'- even now I want to sweep them under the carpet and I really hope the young girls and women of today would have the courage to speak out then and there. I am reminded of Jesus calling out - in a crowded situation 'somebody touched me and I felt the virtue go out of me'. Please don't think I am likening myself to Jesus. Very far from it.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

So fascinating and I look forward to more, more, more, my dear Pat......You write so wonderfully well, my dear!
I remember when the War ended in Europe and then.....the Summer of 1945---I had just turned 14----The Atomic Bomb was tested in New Mexico and we were in Reno, NV. getting my mothers divorce and they tested the Bomb and we heard it and felt it.....A few days later---maybe a week or more, they dropped the Bombs on Japan and the War in the Pacific was over. The way you felt about Churchill was the way we felt about Franklin Roosevelt.....Unfortunately he did not live to see the end of the War with Germany or Japan.
I truly LOVE reading your memories Pat.....You have lived such an interesting and varied life, my dear.....Can't wait till the next installment!

angryparsnip said...

Pat I am so enjoying your wonderful story telling
and can't wait for the next part.

Thank You so much for all your kind words.
cheers, parsnip

Pat said...

Naomi: we also thought very highly of F.D.R. Apart from being a great president I thought he had great charisma and reminded me of Ray Milland. It was tragic he didn't survive the war. I wonder if he would have done what Truman did. The argument was always that dropping the bomb saved thousands of Allied lives.
So glad it evokes memories and I hope they are mostly good ones.

Parsnip: it's not the same without you. I hope life is settling down again and you are not feeling too sad. I'm glad you are enjoying 'An Imperfect Life'.

neena maiya (aka guyana gyal) said...

I'm saving this for my Sunday morning in my verandah!!

Pat said...

Neena: look out for the full stops:)

Pat said...

Windows 10 has changed my incoming comments box making it difficult to find so this is an experiment.
BTW if you are enjoying 'An Imperfect Life ' and you have a blog please spread the word. It is quite free. Thank you:)

Exile on Pain Street said...

I love that you remember the movie you saw that afternoon. Nice touch. You've dug yourself quite a ditch, Pat. You can't stop now and just leave us wondering what happens next.

Pat said...

Exile: won't stop now but there will be the odd pause. For instance I am taking a holiday in October. Who could forget'Brief Encounter'?

James said...

Dear Pat,
Still can't find where my last comment got to. Perhaps I didn't sign in AFTER submitting it. Will do so now. See if that makes a difference!

Yours, James.

Pat said...

James: your comment went to 'gold satin and cravats' an earlier post.
Hope all is clear now.

Granny Annie said...

Pat, thanks for sticking with me on my blog. I hope to be back on a more regular basis and can't wait to spend time with your story.

Pat said...

Granny Annie : look forward to you being back on form:)

neena maiya (aka guyana gyal) said...

I'm stopping to say I LOVE IT...

...gone to read the rest.

Oh delicious Sunday pastime, reading this.

Pat said...

Neena: thanks - that's really encouraging.