An Imperfect Life
Chapter 12 Slums and
“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
convalescing after his tonsillectomy. Bless him!” Wales
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
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. Manchester
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
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. Oxford
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.
”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
for one pound 2
shillings and seven pence. Oxford
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
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
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
with Gran where she showed me all the sights including 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, London
“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
, 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 Manchester
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. Dunham Park
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
and wondered if I would like to join him.
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
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. Scotland
“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.