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.’