Wednesday, December 16, 2015

No Sand-'ills in Salford

Chapter 8

There’s no sand’ills in Salford!”

  Sitting on the Yelloway bus going west to the seaside I was returning to the Convalescent Home for the last time.  This bus was usually filled with happy people in holiday mood.  From now on I would be going south on a Ribble bus through dreary mill towns to Manchester but Annie would be with me and we could face the gloom together.

  I was looking forward to telling her about the holiday in the Lakes.

In the Nurses’ Sitting Room there was a parcel for me: a pair of precious silk stockings from James one of the chaps we met in the Lakes.  For some reason this offended me (who can understand the psyche of a teen-age girl - I couldn’t understand myself) and I returned them.  And yes I’m ashamed of my stupid pride and rudeness.  Serve me right – I never heard from him again.

  I caught a glimpse of Annie as she took the children out onto the sand hills.  There was no time to talk but I could tell from her face there was something wrong.

It was after supper before we had a chance to talk.

“Pat – I’ve got something to tell you.”  I noticed she had tears in her eyes.

“What’s the matter Annie?  Is there something wrong at home?” 

“No – everything’s fine there.”

“Well what is it?  Come on you know you can tell me anything.”

“I’m sorry Pat – I -I’m not coming to Pendlebury with you.”

I stared at my friend unbelieving.  Going to Pendlebury together had been our main topic of conversation for months and I believed she was as excited about it as I was.

“I’ve been talking it over with Staffie and she thinks I’d be mad to tie myself down for three years and anyway I think the whole thing will be too difficult for me I’m not as clever as you so I’m going to do my Fevers instead.’

“But Annie –“

“Don’t try to talk me round Pat.  I’ve made my mind up!”

Before I could raise my jaw to its normal place she said:

“I’ve got to go - I’m expecting a phone call from home.  I’ll see you in the morning.”  At the doorway she turned round,

“I’m really looking forward to hearing all about the holiday,” and with that she was gone.  I sank onto my bed and now it was my turn for tears.

  The next day - on my off duty, I rushed to the Post Office to ring Mum at work and she – as always - helped me to put things in perspective’

  ‘Don’t worry Pat luv, you and Annie will always be friends and this Staffie may be right.  It may all be too much for Annie.  Not just the physical work but all the exams.  We know from Isabel it’s a tough three years.”

  I thought about Staffie; I had found her stunning and cool and had been in her thrall as she held court with us in the evenings.  It seemed there was a little more to her than we thought.  Apparently she lived locally, was married to a taxi driver and mingled with a wild bohemian set.  One of the maids had spotted her at the Pleasure Beach in an ice cream van, dressed in a mink coat with lots of bling and selling ice cream.  Not that there is anything wrong with that but I’m quite sure Matron Jones – now retired - had no idea about this.  What was wrong – in my opinion - was to use a young girl’s insecurities to influence her to change her career plan.  She had tried to do exactly the same with me but I didn’t take the brain washing seriously.  To my mind there was no comparison between a Fever trained nurse and a Pendlebury trained Nurse.  Pen was the Great Ormond Street of the north.

  In the event Annie and another nurse left to do their Fevers training.  The sad thing was that eventually Fever Hospitals became defunct.  Mum was right about one thing though - my friendship with Annie survived to this day.

  Before long it was time to say goodbye to the friends who had been my family for the last 18 months and to set off with my old tin trunk to the city.  The two maids Bridie and Dotty, Mrs Mack the cook and Mr Moreland the boiler man had been the constants during my time at St Annes and we shed a few tears on parting.

  I was glad of Mum’s company on the bus to Manchester.   Once there we had to cross the city and get a bus to Pendlebury.  As we reached the city outskirts I looked out on streets blackened with soot, grease and grime; we passed Strangeways Prison and it was like looking at the gates of Hell.

“Oh Mum!  Where are my lovely sand - hills?

“There’s no sand-’ills in Salford,” was Mum’s answer!

  At last we reached the hospital and were directed across the main road to a large Victorian  edifice – Jesson House which was to be the home of the 21 young girls who now made up PTS, the Preliminary Training School.

It was time to hug Mum good bye again.

“Be good Pat.  See you on your day off.”

“Bye Mum.  Thanks for coming with me.”

The first thing that greeted us as we entered the House was a large decorated picture on the wall which said:

“Enter ye to learn.  Go forth to serve.”

We were shown into a large room and told to help ourselves to tea which was in a large urn.  There was also a large slab of Huntley and Palmers fruit cake cut into manageable pieces.  Once we were settled Sister Tutor introduced herself as Sister Watson.  She wore spectacles and exuded a quiet intelligence.  A little nun - like in appearance with a scrubbed clean face that had never known makeup and which lit up when she smiled.

She introduced us to the other two members of staff –Sister Lee – small, bird- like with a worried expression and a Staff Nurse – Nurse Anderson her large, angular body emanating common sense and no nonsense!

For the next three months we would have Lectures and Practical Sessions in another old house further up the road.

  We would not be allowed to touch a patient until we had successfully completed the three months and passed the exam at the end of it.  Then we would be given our

 grey belts; grey for first year, navy for second year and white for third year.

It was a bit like being back at school.  We would have lectures by the Consultants and Nursing points from Sister Tutor (we sometimes wished she would go and sit on them).

  Sick room cookery was taught at a nearby college and once a week we played hockey.  I was to share a room with Freda an older girl who had been in the army and Delia who was my age and who eventually became a gold medallist. 

Sister decided that as I was the only one with any nursing experience I would be the week’s leader which meant that, with the help of one other, I would prepare breakfast for the first week.  By this time I had a raging headache which seemed to last for days.   I missed the delicate pastel colours and the fresh air of St Annes but in Pendlebury we had the most fantastic, dramatic sun–sets created – I was told - by the intense pollution in Manchester and its environs.

The good news was a letter from Maddie, now ensconced in Oxford. reminding me that in February I was to pay them a visit when I would see Liam and Jamie again. 

  It was hard work with lectures every day, practical nursing sessions, copying up notes and trying to absorb all the information, but it was also a lot of fun.  We each had the same off- duty so there was always someone ready for a trip to Eccles to sample the cakes, or a jaunt to the local flea-pit to see a flick.  At bed-time Freda would regale us with tales of what she got up to in the army and we would discuss our hopes and dreams – usually scoffing our sweet rations at the same time.  Apart from Freda who was older, we were mostly aged about eighteen.  Some of the girls had come straight from school and some had had office jobs.  I was the only one with any experience but was also the youngest.  As we walked from Jesson House to the hospital for our meals in uniform and protected from the elements by our scarlet lined navy cloaks, we would catch glimpses of the wards and the ‘real’ nurses and wonder if we would be capable of coping in three months time.  The practical sessions were enjoyable, where one of us would act as patient. We would learn how to give a  bed bath, without the patient freezing to death and with modesty preserved at all times – only exposing the part of the body to be washed and washing the private bits under a towel.  Great care was given to pressure points and throughout my training bed sores were unknown - the hospital would have died of shame. 
  Of all the girls, Turner stood out.  She was different in that she had no trace of a Lancashire accent, had been expensively educated and oozed confidence from every pore.  She was always first – to ask and answer questions, to collect her post and in line at meal times – always head of the queue.  When we started sick room cookery lessons at the local technical college, it was more noticeable than ever as there was a shortage of equipment. The more diffident of us who would stand back to let others go first and would then be racing against the clock in order to complete the recipe in time.  As we were awarded marks each week which would affect our final result, we started to get a bit twitchy.  Our cookery tutor was a timid little woman who appeared to be completely mesmerised by Turner.  On the day of the final cookery exam we were all nervous.  Poor marks in this exam could influence the final PTS result.  If we didn’t pass we were out.   Turner excelled herself. She whistled round the room like a whirlwind, grabbing, lunging, and clattering in order to be first to collect equipment and ingredients and present the tutor with the perfect invalid’s stew.  We followed in her wake as best we could.  And then disaster!  In her haste Turner had grabbed what she thought was a bottle of gravy browning to give her stew the perfect brown hue and was devastated to see it turn scarlet.  Inadvertently she had grabbed a bottle of cochineal.  For once the tutor asserted herself and awarded Turner nil points which we all thought was a bit hard.  Not long afterwards she left, we had lost our first probationer and the original twenty-one became twenty.

  Annie had embarked on Fever Training with another St Anne's nurse and like me was missing the carefree, open air life at the sea-side. We were now miles apart in different towns and it was difficult to coincide our off-duty. We agreed to wait until one of us was on holiday to get together. There was no shortage of friends. Our set really bonded during the schooling session known as 'Block' and a nucleus of us would be friends until death.  The days were enlivened by lectures from the consultants. One adjured us never to leave furniture polish around as his children had eaten some and had hallucinated for days. Another painted a vivid picture of a typical TB patient - fair, delicate skin, rosy cheeks and long eyelashes.
  " He might have been describing you Pat," said Freda,  "Good job we have regular mantoux tests to test for T.B.  
   Yet another consultant described the physical signs of a syphilis patient with a dropped saddle nose and teeth, remarkably similar to the sister tutor sitting in on the lecture. His descriptions of the slow deterioration of the victim ending in G.P.I. - General Paralysis of the Insane - was so horrific it could have put us off sex for life. Actually there wasn't a lot of it about - sex I mean- in our neck of the woods. The odd, bright young thing who talked about sex before marriage was regarded as being no better than she should be. During my time at the hospital there were a couple of pregnancies but they were both 'nice girls'.  As Greer Garson proclaimed in ‘Blossoms in the Dust’:

Bad girls don't have babies.’

Then too if you wanted to wear white on your wedding day you had to be ‘pure’ obviously

  At last it was exam time. Most of us passed and were now deemed fit to go on the wards and practice our new skills on the patients - under strict supervision - for a month’s trial.  Then I was off to Oxford to visit Maddie and Paul and maybe see Liam and Jamie the lads who had stopped off in Rossendale en route to climbing in Skye.

That should be fun.


Kim Ayres said...

I'd better not send you those silk stockings then...

AndrewM said...

This all sound quite familiar in a UK hospital / nurse regard. The NHS only started in 1948. Were you aware of how things had been before?

Pat said...

Kim: trust you to rub it in. I feel bad enough already. Pearls before swine leaps to minds:)

Andrew: my time was '47 to '51. I don't remember any massive changes during that period but then maybe a Children's Hospital would remain the same. The great thing about Pen was the nursing care was immaculate. All the staff - nursing, domestic - every employee in the hospital was devoted to the welfare of the children and we didn't have cross infection. If that meant the parents only visited once a week - for an hour- so be it.

About Last Weekend said...

Funny, cute. I wonder if you thought at the time that silk stocking were too intimate? I can see that

Pat said...

ALW: I think that is probably it. Silk stockings - even now are sexy. In the forties they were almost forbidden fruit. Ah me!

Mage said...

What a wonderful bio. It's wonderful of you to write of this. :)

angryparsnip said...

I alway wait to ready your post when I have the time to sit with a coffee and enjoy your story.

cheers, parsnip

Pat said...

Mage: it is my pleasure and so nice to have comments.

Parsnip: That's nice to hear. There's lots more to come.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

A great pleasure to follow your story, my dear Pat.....You have done so very many things in your life and it is really Amazing! I look forward to more and more.....! (Have a wonderful trip, my dear!)

James said...

Have just made a ckicken stew but I don't think I put cochineal in it! - James.

Pat said...

Naomi:and it is a pleasure to have such lovely friends to read it.

Otherwise life would be very lonely. The trip was a steep learning curve:)

James: of course you didn't. You are far to sensible:)

Exile on Pain Street said...

I love the details. You description of the sisters of Jesson House is fantastic. What a memory! Great stuff. Keep it coming.

Pat said...

Exile: memory is a funny thing. I now find it difficult to remember places I know I have visited in the past. Fortunately as far as 'An Imperfect Life' is concerned I started working on it ten years ago when
it was still fresh in my noddle.

neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

Silk stockings of all things. What on earth was that boy thinking? Even now, if a man sends a woman that, he is sending a sexy message.

As for bed-sores. They pop up more these days.

Your stories here remind me of the days I hung out with student nurses when I was at uni. My cousin was a student then and I heard all their study tales. Gloooorious days.

[I'm catching up here...I don't like to read your memoirs in a rush...I like to take my time, relish].

Pat said...

Neena: take your time Neena. I'm delighted you are reading 'An imperfect Life', and so glad you get it about the silk stockings. Silly boy. He would be in his nineties now:)