Saturday, July 14, 2018

Interlude
 
 
Over the last month I have been having health problems and investigations.
 
So far nothing sinister has turned up and I feel hopeful that I may have turned a corner
 
and can at least resume the next chapter of 'An Imperfect Life' as I catch up with
 
everything else I have neglected.
 
Here's hoping and thank you for your endless patience.
 
Lot of love,
 
Pat.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018


An Imperfect Life

 

Leaving the North

 

Chapter 30

 
 

  In the end I was thankful we were going over to the Jones’s for lunch.  It would take my mind off William’s departure.  It would be the first time in my life that I would be alone overnight.  The prospect of being alone in an apartment over a shop which was empty between the hours of 5.30pm and 9am, made it worse.  Gran was in the States and everybody else had their own lives.  I would just have to get used to it.

“William did I tell you when I spoke to Bridie on the phone she said her niece would be there.  The point being she lives in London and could be helpful to us when we move down.”

John and Bridie greeted us warmly, gave us drinks and whilst the two chaps discussed William’s appointment, Bridie showed me her collection of china figurines.  But where was the niece?

“Oh poor girl – she’s had such a time of it lately she’s worn out so I made her have a lie in.  She’ll be down before lunch.  Now did I tell you Pat she’s a model and has just been put under contract to J Arthur Rank – no less?  My sister’s beside herself!  Marta’s only eighteen – would you credit it now?

Bridies’sister – who was Irish of course had married an Italian and the result was Signorina Marti Rossi.  I couldn’t wait to meet her.

“Hi everybody!”

There in the doorway was Marta herself.  Pausing just long enough for us to take in her remarkable presence and retrieve our jaws from the floor, she advanced towards us.  Eighteen she may have been but she had the sophistication of a forty year old.

“Pat- this is my niece Marta Rossi and Marta this is William- Pat’s husband.”

Marta gave us each a dazzling smile and an elegant hand shake.  She had a pleasant musky smell.  I don’t know about William but I was captivated.  I had never seen anyone like her before in the flesh.  Thank God I’d washed my hair but I wished I’d put on more make-up.  She was taller then me, as slim and with similar colouring but her hair was very short- like Ingrid Bergman’s in ’ForWhomTheBell Tolls.’  She had highlights before anyone knew about them.  She looked very chic but told me later her clothes ‘cost nothing’ that it was how you put them together that mattered.

She wore a dark grey pencil skirt with a white open- necked shirt.  Her waist was clinched with a scarlet belt and a jaunty scarf round her neck tied the whole outfit together.

Over lunch she told us she had started out doing photographic modelling and was sent as a ‘special’ (a step up from an extra) to work on a film.  Here she was spotted by Dirk Bogarde who told Rank they would be mad if they didn’t put her under contract.  Maybe it occurred to him- with her slim build - she would make a suitable leading lady for him; he was quite slight.  So they did and all was set for her to have a brilliant career.

“Marta did I tell you that Pat and William are going down to London for William’s new job and Pat has to find a job for herself?”

Marta turned her blue/green eyes on me and studied me from head to toe.

 

 

“You would be photogenic.  You can’t always tell but with those cheekbones you are very lucky.  I still have puppy fat and have to suck my cheeks in like this.”  She demonstrated and for a moment had Dietrich-like cheekbones.

‘‘Look when you come down give me a ring.  Auntie Bridie will give you my number.  I’ll arrange for you to meet my agent and see what she thinks.’’

I nearly burst out laughing- it was so ridiculous.  Me – a model; who couldn’t walk in a straight line, who had a blushing problem, had been schooled never to raise my head above the parapet, lacked confidence and had a tendency to knock knees.

Looking back it occurs to me that Bridie might have planned the whole thing.  She was a wily old bird and had always been very kind and caring towards me.

  All too soon it was time to go- I could have listened to Marta’s husky accented voice all day.  I was pretty sure William would pour cold water on the whole idea.  Quite right too – but it was fun to day dream.

        ‘’What did you think of Marta?’’

“She seemed to know what she was talking about.”

“But what did you think of her idea of me trying to model?”

He gave me one of his grown up looks.

“You’ve always been very pretty dear.  And remember that photograph I took? That won in a national newspaper.  You’ve nothing to lose.  You might as well give it a go.  You’d have to stop nursing when we start a family.”

Why did it always make me furious when William said I was ‘very pretty’?

  The next day his mother Dodie came over to see him before he left for London.  She was soon to leave herself; Wallace and Fleur had found her an apartment in Southsea within reach of them but not too close.  Her house had been sold, and some of her excess furniture was being stored for us until we were settled in a house.

I had mixed feelings saying good bye to William at the station.  Part of me was dreading being alone at night but I also felt a frisson at being able to please myself what I did in my spare time; I could eat what I liked, go to bed when I liked – keep the light on - reading all night if I chose.  My job would keep me occupied during the day; I just wasn’t sure how many week-ends I could cope alone.

  The first week-end I phoned William at his brother’s house and he seemed quite cheerful.  He had been looking round a town called New Maldon for a flat, was settling in the job and said I should probably hand in my notice now.  When I told Sister she was very sweet and said how much I’d be missed and the ward and the children had never looked so well cared for before I came.  That was thanks to my training school RMCH – fondly known as ‘Pen’ short for Pendlebury.

  I did what all lonely people do - kept the radio on from dawn till dusk and had long chats with shop keepers and the ladies in the hat shop, who found it odd that William didn’t come home at the week-end.  The second week-end on my own I was really fed up.  Why did everybody have to be away at the same time and then I remembered Keith Barker.  He was a bachelor we had come to know – quite studious with a dry sense of humour and we both liked him – which was something of a rarity.  On an impulse I rang him and asked if he would like to go for a walk on Sunday morning.

He immediately said yes and we arranged to meet at 10.30am.

The minute I hung up I regretted it.  What had I done?  A married woman asking a man out.  I was overcome with guilt and didn’t know what to do about it without making an utter fool of myself.  I couldn’t phone him again and say I’d made a mistake – I decided to go for a walk to calm myself down.  After a while I realised I was near Carol’s antique shop and had a brainwave.  She was a level headed person and a good friend, maybe she would help me out.  When I told Carol what I’d done she roared with laughter, said I was an idiot to get my knickers in such a twist and of course she would join us.  It turned out to be quite enjoyable after the first flicker of surprise when Keith saw Carol, we had a lovely walk and then they both came back and had a simple lunch with me.

That night I phoned William who had been enjoying one of Fleur’s dinner parties.  I put my foot down very firmly and said he had better be home the next week-end.  Something in my voice must have rung a bell and he got the message.  By Saturday I was in high spirits – everywhere was spick and span, there were fresh flowers, I’d made a trifle, bought a bottle of wine and there was a chicken (still a treat in the fifties) roasting in the oven.  Even the ladies in the shop were excited and beamed at us as we returned from the station.  We both had missed each other and for a while basked in a happy glow.  The bell rang from down stairs to warn us that someone was coming up; the door opened and in walked Dodie her arms outstretched to embrace her son.  Just when William and I were about to have a romantic meal together after a three week separation.  I dashed into the bathroom to try to conceal my frustration and tears.  After rinsing my face with cold water and some deep breathing I went back into the living room.  William had made her a cup of tea and I’m fairly sure he must have had a word because Dodie said,

“I know you’ve cooked a delicious meal and don’t worry I’m not stopping.  I just wanted to make sure William was alright.  I’ll just finish my tea and leave you in peace.

  Now I felt guilty.  However she did go and we had the evening I had planned

“The flat in New Malden is fine so I’m going to move in and you work out your notice Pat, arrange for the furniture to go into store and then you can join me.”

“I’m longing to see what it’s like William.  Tell me all about it,”

“Actually the owners – the Sweeneys- are very anxious to meet you so it’s probably a good idea for you to come down next week-end.”

All my frustration and angst disappeared and I was excited at all the lovely adventures ahead of us.  The Southerners couldn’t be all bad could they?

 

 

 

Monday, May 07, 2018


An Imperfect Life

Changes

Chapter 29

 

 

“OH WILLIAM!”

“What’s up?”

“Just come and look at this!”

William ran down the steps into the small kitchen – concern on his face.

“My new honeymoon underwear – ruined!  Just look at it,” I whined.

We had acquired a new washer which you filled up and emptied manually but it washed – preferably whites and coloureds separately.  No-one told me that Dodie had dyed William’s white naval shirts a burnt sienna colour.  Now I had matching underwear.

As far as house cleaning went I was satisfactory.  In hospital we had learned the science of cleaning and practised it daily, so my paint work was washed regularly and cleaning started from the ceiling and progressed downwards, with all the guff vacuumed up at the end.  But there had been a few disasters.

Trying to emulate Dodie who made scrumptious red currant jelly which we had with roast lamb, I got as far as slinging a muslin bag full of boiled red currants between the kitchen taps only to realise with dismay, that the red liquid vanishing down the plug hole was the jelly- not the mess in the muslin.

A valuable lesson to learn: read the whole recipe before you start cooking.

 

We had been given a pressure cooker as a wedding present and for years it was our only cooking pan.  Sadly one day I had the heat too high, bringing the pressure up too quickly and the whole kitchen, from the ceiling downwards was sprayed with boiling stewed apple.  A lovely fresh smell but sticky underfoot.

 

“We’re invited for Christmas to Fernhill.  Mummy’s invited too.”   Fernhill was Fleur and Wally’s beautiful new home and I could tell from William’s face that he was delighted at the prospect.  My job apparently was to make the Christmas pud’.  I found an old war-time recipe and used grated carrot to cut down on sugar.  I really concentrated, following every step with the greatest of care and I can honestly say it was the best Christmas pud’ I’ve ever tasted.

 

“I’m going to take some extra time off work – I’ll write to Fleur and tell her we’ll be arriving a few days early.”

I thought this was a rotten idea remembering how Mum and Gran used to get in a state with Christmas preparations but William would not be swayed.

 

There was a mile long narrow lane to reach the pretty white house deep in the Hampshire countryside.  The grounds were littered with ornamental stone mushrooms and one of the outhouses alone would have made a splendid house.

When we arrived I took one look at Fleur’s face and wanted to run for the hills.  Thanks to the Christmas post our letter hadn’t arrived and poor Wallace had to cope with the fall out.

The house was filled with Fleur’s mother’s beautiful furniture.  The dining room chairs were all carvers with women’s torsos carved on the uprights of the arms.  It amused me to watch the men’s hands slip casually on to the carved bosoms.  This seemed to have a soothing effect on them.

Fleur ran the house as her mother had done with different napkins for breakfast, lunch and dinner and such things as the basins in the bedrooms cleaned daily.  The difference being that her mother had staff and Fleur didn’t even have a ‘daily’ (cleaner).  When I offered to help – a little light dusting in mind, I would be likely to be presented with a bucket of potatoes to peel or a similar arduous task.

 

She worked very hard herself – eyes narrowed to avoid the smoke from the cigarette wedged in the corner of her mouth and we were always rewarded with a suitably stiff naval libation – G and T with ice and a slice at lunchtime and a Horse’s Neck (brandy and ginger) or three at dinner.

It seemed there was a lot of work to be done outdoors so William and Wallace disappeared after breakfast and returned for meals – having enormous fun.  I admired Fleur greatly but we didn’t have much in common so the highlights were mealtimes which were excellent, although one knew all the beautiful china and crystal would be washed very carefully by yours truly.

 

“For God’s sake don’t break anything Pat!  All this stuff comes from Greylands (her old home) and is irreplaceable,”

 Mealtimes were quite noisy.  Wallace had an acerbic wit, especially after sundown and Fleur would give her raucous laugh which would bring on her smoker’s cough.  Dodie getting her Willies and Wallys confused had me in stitches which would start my endless hiccups.

The delicious meals were cooked on an enormous Aga which ran on fuel and sometimes had the temerity to go out.  That was the time to take the children for a long walk until things had quietened down.  It was an interesting Christmas and I learnt a lot.  The brother’s got on well with William quite happy to do as his elder brother wished.  I felt a little homesick for my family and was happy to be back in our more humble home again.  Did William ever wish he had married into money I wondered?

 

We decided to give a party.  We had made lots of friends during our time in Altrincham and were within reach of some old ones.  I stipulated that the room should be warm and welcoming - it was before central heating – and there should be plenty of food (my responsibility) and drink (William’s). Our cuisine was not very sophisticated in the fifties but the aim was to mop up the alcohol and allay people’s hunger so we had cheddar and pineapple bites, bridge rolls with tasty fillings, sausage rolls and masses of trifle, fruit salad and cream.  I realised that to have a successful party I – the hostess should sacrifice my evening and just look after everybody.  William kept the beer, wine and cider flowing and a choice of soft drinks.  When everybody had eaten and was sitting in a happy haze - sipping on the floor - I relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the evening.  I got a kick out of bringing people from different areas of our life together.

“Bill meet Diana.  Or did you meet at our wedding?  Oh no, of course we didn’t know you then.  Well you must be sure to come to the divorce!”

I don’t know why I said it. Maybe it was the drink. There was a nanosecond silence and then everyone laughed

 

We were pleased that our joint effort had been successful.  Some time earlier we had been invited to a party the Jones were giving for their daughter Libby and for me it had been a disaster.  He was William’s boss – tall with a craggy face and the debonair manner of a forties film star.  His wife Bridie was small, plump with wild hair, full of fun and a captivating Irish brogue.  The two of them together were fantastic company but I felt a little sorry for Libby - a nurse who was in her early twenties and somewhat overshadowed by her scintillating parents.  The other guests were mainly nursing friends of Libby.  One of them stood out – Ruth – a gutsy, attractive, sturdy girl with dark curly hair and fresh colouring.  She was very animated and hit it off with William who was probably the most attractive man there.  As the evening wore on they seemed to get more and more excited and I was feeling uncomfortable.  When finally William drank some wine out of Ruth’s shoe I fled to the bathroom and had a weep.  I was angry with myself for being such a wimp - maybe I had PMT- it wasn’t universally recognised then, but I felt hurt and lonely.  I understood why he did it but I wished he could relax and not feel he had to prove something all the time.  I got over it – we had had this successful party and in the summer we would go sailing which always brought out the best in William; not in a flotilla this time and somewhere more adventurous than the Broads.

 

“When shall I ask for time off William?”

“Leave it for a while - I’m going to start applying for a new job.”

This was news to me.  He explained that he wanted to diversify and change the direction of his career towards research and that would probably mean a move down south so I would be leaving anyway.

I’m ashamed to say I quailed at the thought of living amongst ‘bloody southerners’

 

“What about your mother?”

“I expect she’ll sell the house in Norfolk and buy an apartment near Wallace and Fleur now they are settled in Hampshire.”

 

We planned to live in a commuting area to London and considered places within a 20 mile radius.  I favoured north to make visiting my family easier but William preferred south to be accessible to his.

 

He applied to British Iron and Steel Research Association in Battersea and was invited for an interview.  I had been nursing, at different levels since I was sixteen and working as I now did, part-time was unsatisfactory.  I needed to do something different but decided to keep my job until our plans were firm and we moved south.

 

I was afraid William’s stammer would affect his interview but it never seemed to hold him back; he came through with flying colours and they offered him the job.  Mum and Dad weren’t fazed when I told them we would be living at the other end of the country.  They were having the time of their lives.  They now had a small car and the world was their oyster.  Gran spent most of the time in the States, Evan was happily married and Maddie had met a radio officer and they were contemplating marriage when their divorces were absolute.

 

We decided William would accept the job, go down alone and live in digs until he found somewhere for us to rent, when I would join him.  The plan then would be for us to buy a house so that we weren’t spending all our earnings on rent.  He said we would see how long we could last living apart, to save money.  I thought this was not a good idea.  William was quite happy to spend the week-ends with his brother but I didn’t relish being alone for an indefinite period just to save money.

 

Meanwhile the Jones invited us to lunch the week-end before William left.  I tried to cry off remembering my humiliation I had felt at the party but William said we owed it to them to go as John had obviously given him a great reference.  They were a sweet couple and this was lunch – not a party- so I relented.  Little did I know that this lunch party would have such an effect on my life.  And I nearly missed it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

 
Sorry!
 
 
 
 
I'm limited to short, sharp bursts at the computer just now so I regret chapter 29 will have to be posted even later than usual.
 
Hope to be back to normal before long.  Keep the faith.

Monday, March 19, 2018

William's photo that won the Daily Express 'Miss Zipp' prize.  Sailors will note that Pat was actually stationary at the time

Friday, March 16, 2018

 
Pat actually sailing

Thursday, March 15, 2018


An Imperfect Life

 
William’s Passion

 
Chapter 28

 
 
“Pat!”

I turned to look at William - he was standing with his eyes half closed – a sure sign he was trying to say something, which was odd as normally he never stammered with me.

“Sit down I want to tell you something.”

Devoured with curiosity I plonked myself in one of our new Parker Knowle arm chairs.

“There’s something I’ve been keeping from you.”

“What…

“Don’t interrupt – just listen!”

William sat in the other armchair and I waited expectantly whilst he cleared his throat.

“Actually since I was a young boy I’ve been mad keen on sailing.”

“Well yes Dodie showed me some snaps of you in a small boat sailing on the Broads.  She said what a splendid sailor you were – but then she would wouldn’t she?”

“Actually it’s more than that – it’s somewhat of a passion.”

“Why on earth didn’t you tell me before?”

“Well that’s the point – I was afraid it would put you off.  In fact I almost suggested we charted a sailing boat for our honeymoon but decided not to risk it and anyway I knew you were just as passionate about climbing mountains.”

“Well that was jolly generous of you.  But now it’s your turn.  Right?  So let’s fix it for our summer holiday and I’ll book some time off.”

  William leaned back in his chair and looked happier than I’ve seen him look for sometime.

   He was anxious that I should enjoy sailing and thought a holiday on the Broads would be a gentle introduction and decided we would join a flotilla of sailing boats.  For a couple of weeks we could forget Dodie and all our responsibilities.

  We all met up in Yarmouth - there were six boats and crew.  Bertie who planned it all was in charge.  His side kick was Cyril who was also his crew.  Bertie ordained that the skippers i.e. the husbands would meet up each morning to discuss the day’s sailing and the crew i.e. the wives would be informed in due course.  This was years before Women’s Lib but I have always had a Bolshie streak (I blame my Irish Gran) and the idea of ‘the men’ telling the ‘little women’ how they were going to spend every day of their holiday had me muttering.  Quite loudly. 

  The first task was to get the flotilla safely under the bridge and out the other side.

  “We’ll get all the boats tied up to me and to each other and I’ll guide all the boats under the bridge,” proclaimed Bertie, “and Cyril!”

“Yes Bertie.”

“Cyril you bring up the rear in the small dinghy.  Tie up to one of the boats.”

“Aye aye Skipper!”

 

William who had been brought up on the Broads knew that with wind and tide this was not going to work.  He tried to explain this to Bertie but Bertie had the wind in his sails and wouldn’t listen so William and I quietly sailed through alone, moored the boat and watched from the bridge.

  As soon as Bertie started leading the flotilla it all went horribly wrong.  The boats caught up with him, overtook him and swirled round, bumping and banging whilst the crew frantically threw out their fenders - designed to protect the boats from damage.

Skippers screamed at their crew to rescue all the cushions now floating in the river and Yarmouth came to a halt to watch the funniest sight they’d seen for years.

William tried to help by shouting instructions but couldn’t be heard over the melee.

My sides ached and I had a bad case of hiccups.  Just when we thought we couldn’t laugh anymore Cyril - who resembled an older Billy Bunter appeared to be going backwards – his stolid frame a small mountain in the tiny dinghy.  Alas the rope tethering him to the boats had broken.

  It was sunset by the time everyone was on the other side of the bridge and it was decided - by the men - of course, that a destination would be chosen each morning and then we would all make our own way there and meet up in the evening.  Sounded good to me.

  I enjoyed seeing William in his element.  He was a natural sailor and being on a boat brought out the best in him.  He worked hard to teach me about wind and tides and slowly I began to absorb it- mainly through hands on experience; getting the feel of the wind and learning when to come about when tacking.  He explained that tacking is when you have to zig- zag to find the wind to push you forward and I learned there is an art to knowing how long to leave it before yanking the tiller over and going on the other tack.  He was endlessly patient and the most generous of sailors; there was no hogging the wheel as some men are wont to do.

  I loved the Norfolk countryside with its rushes and reeds and prolific wildlife; the only sounds - bird song and the ripple of water as the breeze nudged us along.  Occasionally we would meet a motor cruiser or ‘gin palace’ as we called them.  They were meant to give way to sail but the message hadn’t got through to some of the skippers, in their yachting caps and blazers, and we had a few near misses.

  There was always lots to do; lowering the mast when we came to a bridge, cooking, tidying up, cheesing the ropes but doing chores was much more fun on a sailing boat.  When we reached the open broad we could really let rip and cut through the water like a knife, heeling right over - my panic controlled by Williams deft handling.

He encouraged me to go out alone in the little dinghy.  At first I was slowly drifting in circles and then the wind caught the sail, I pulled on the rope – hand on the tiller and WHOOSH – we were off and I laughed out loud - poised between elation and terror.

  William took a photo of me in the boat and was so pleased with it he sent it to the ‘Miss Zipp’ Daily Express competition.

The caption read: ’A girl steers a boat thoughtfully, as serene as the sea she sails on.’

In fact we were tied up at the time and no way would I have done serious sailing scantily dressed but William was delighted with the prize money. A most successful holiday.

  I had made two new girlfriends- very different from each other but they both worked in shops.  Carol was fairly serious and managed an antique shop.  She was boyish – with an Eton crop, very practical and a gifted furniture restorer.  She had worked on a bow-fronted chest of drawers that Dodie had given to us repairing the damage, polishing the mahogany and fitting elegant brass handles.  She also guided me through the tricky business of making pelmets with velvet, buckram and gold bobbles.

In stark contrast Lily- who worked in her father’s newsagent’s shop was pretty, bubbly and a bit ditsy.  Her fiancée was an Oxford undergrad which stirred a few memories.  I really enjoyed being silly and light- hearted with her.  They both helped me get over my occasional down times.  I saw Lily most days when I picked up a news paper. At the end of the summer she said she was thinking of joining the SAPS – the Sale Amateur Players and did I fancy being a Sap too?  They were about to produce a Somerset Maugham play and would I like to go with her to the audition.  Would I?  Just try stopping me.  I knew William’s stammer would probably preclude him from acting but thought he might be interested in a backstage job.  He wasn’t and I didn’t blame him.  His job was physically tiring and he was happy to sink into a book after dinner.  I sometimes felt the book he hadn’t read hadn’t been written.  He haunted second hand book shops- never paying more than a few pence for them.  If any of the family or friends showed a flicker of interest in any subject William would have a book on it or wouldn’t rest until he had found one.

  The play ‘Before the Party’ concerned ‘a murder lurking beneath the surface of a socially respectable household.’  There were parts for two men, four women and a school girl Susan.  Both Lily and I had our eyes on the part of the young widow.  Lily was very excited as she was shortly going to Oxford to visit her fiancé and I was delighted to be asked to help her shop for a new wardrobe.  We agreed that whoever won the part the other would accept graciously and may the best man win.

  The committee were seated round a table in a separate room and we had to take turns to go in and read for them.  Eventually it was our turn and Lily went in first.  She seemed quite happy when she came out so I took a deep breath and went in.  I told them I would like to read the part of the young widow and there was an uncomfortable silence.

“Actually Pat, we’ve decided that Lily is perfect for that part.  Would you mind reading the part of the school girl?”

I gasped.  What a bleedin’ cheek!  Here was I – in my early twenties – older than Lily and a married woman to boot- me read the part of a school girl?

Meekly I sat down and looked at the script.  Choking with outrage and nerves I started to read - not knowing how to handle it.  I had to say something about a shilling and I stumbled and lisped a bit.  Hang on that sounded real.  There’s the key.

  When I had finished they were beaming at me.

“We’d love you to play Susan Pat,” the chairman himself spoke up and I said yes – already planning a gingham dress-hair in bunches and perhaps binding my bosom.

We went for a milk shake to celebrate.

William seemed pleased I had a part and the weeks of rehearsal passed quickly as they always do when you’re having fun.  The play was a success with mixed crits.  I treasured mine.

One performance which I exclude from any adverse criticism was that of Patricia ….. who is a young married woman but who lightly shed quite a few years to give a delightful portrayal of the inquisitive lisping schoolgirl.’

A case of arrested development?  At least I felt more mature then Lily.  She told me she was going to break off her engagement.

“I’m still very fond of him but I don’t feel ready for such commitment.”

“Oh Lily,” I commiserated, ”and you were so looking forward to going down to Oxford.”  (We always said ‘down to Oxford because geographically it was.)

“Oh I’m still going,” she said.  I stared at her, “Well I’ve got all my new clothes.”

 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


An Imperfect Life

 

Work, play and things that go bump in the night.

 

 Chapter 27

 
“How’d it go?” William rushed up the stairs eager to know if his wife was once more gainfully employed.
“Fine!  Sister was welcoming, I got on well with the children and the journey’s do-able.  It was a double decker bus so I could see the country side. By the way I started chatted to the chap behind me and guess what - he was the brother-in-law of Leo Genn – you know he was in that film ‘Green for Danger.’  Like an idiot I said he didn’t look like him.”
“Well he wouldn’t would he?”
“It was quite early in the morning,” I countered.

  I had just had my first day staffing on the Children’s Ward at a hospital in neighbouring Stockport and feeling relieved that it had all gone well.  Just one little niggle; there was another Staff Nurse - Nurse Kerry - who looked after the private patients.  They were in adjoining side wards, separate from my ward but under Sister’s jurisdiction and Kerry gave the impression that as far as she was concerned I was not welcome.  When I mentioned it to William he said I was being overly sensitive and expecting too much.
I decided to reserve judgement.
  I liked Sister – she was like a robin – small with a curved bosom and tiny stick like legs but at coffee time I was bombarded by questions from Nurse Kerry about my training, where had I trained, what had I done since, where had I worked – quite intrusive questions that would have been more suitable for a job interview.
“When are you going to take your fortnight’s holiday because I’m taking the last two weeks in July,” she announced.
“Well we haven’t really discussed it yet but normally we take a fortnight in the summer and a fortnight in the winter but I’m happy to fit in with any other arrange…“
“YOU CAN’T!” Her eyes flashed and I thought she was going to explode.  “You’re only a part time nurse – you’re only entitled to a fortnight.
I knew this wasn’t true after my experience in Sheffield.  I tried to explain but her face was scarlet and she was obviously going to fly off the handle so I kept quiet.  I was relieved when she was off the ward as she watched me like a hawk, waiting to criticise everything I did.  I reckoned if Sister was happy with my work – and she complimented me on how nice the children were looking - it was no concern of hers.
I had just finished a bed bath and was cleaning the trolley in the sluice when she came in watching my every move.
“Oh don’t you wear your wedding ring?”
“Of course I do.  I never take it off.”  I looked down at the third finger of my left hand and it was naked.  I had lost weight since I had been married and it must have slipped off in the soapy water whilst I was washing a child; the water that I had just emptied down the sluice.  I’d been married for over a year and the most important symbol: my gold wedding ring had just gone down the pan.  I felt a sudden chill of fear and my heart pounded.  Was my marriage going down the pan also?  I don’t why I should still be feeling some insecurity.  I had no reason to doubt William but he wasn’t very demonstrative and I came from a family unafraid of showing affection. 
  Sister was very sympathetic and rang for the engineer.  He examined the sluice and undid some valves but after he had poked around a bit he shook his head, the force of the water had swooshed my ring into the bowels of Stockport- gone forever.  When I told William he was not pleased but when he saw how upset I was he said it was no problem - we would get another but it would have to be an inexpensive one.  I didn’t care about that- it could be five thousand carat gold but it could never replace the real one.
  The next day I had other things to worry about.  Matron sent for me and said it had been brought to her notice that I had been unsettling the other nurses by telling them the holiday system was unfair.  I was speechless.  Then she went into a long spiel of how much she admired my old Matron and the Pendlebury Training School and that she had always done her best to be fair to everyone.  When I finally got my breath back it ended up with me assuring her I would happily accept the conditions of the hospital as long as I worked there, and what I had said was purely an observation.  I had no intention of inciting nurses to revolt - far from it.  Unions were beginning to appear in nursing and to me the possibility of nurses going on strike was totally abhorrent and is to this day.  The patients – the children –came first, now and forever as far as I was concerned.  Things are different now alas.
  When I got back to the ward I noticed Kerry was avoiding me which suited me fine.  From now on I would be wary of what I said to her.  My first instincts had been right.  She was a devious, cowardly sycophant and if my good relationship with Sister upset her - hard cheese!  With the passing of the years I have tried to take a more charitable view of her behaviour.  It didn’t help that she had a witchlike appearance and her smile was more like a baring of teeth.  I’m afraid I still think that to deliberately endanger someone’s livelihood is inexcusable.
  My sister Maddie had left the school in Scotland where her son was a boarder, to become a stewardess with BOAC.  She was enjoying flying round Europe – in the fifties it was rather more glamorous than just being a ‘trolley dolly’ in the sky.  It was also quite dangerous; once her plane was kept circling round for hours in India and she received an award from Sir Miles Thomas for keeping the passengers calm.  Tragically a girl who had been a senior at our grammar school and was also a stewardess was killed when the plane she was working on crashed in Italy.
  It was fun catching up with Maddie when she spent a week-end with us.  She liked Altrincham and thought we were incredibly lucky to have such a splendid flat.  There was still lots to do; both bedrooms had bare floors apart from a couple of rugs.
  We enjoyed the bottle of Chianti Maddie had brought.  It was sitting in a raffia basket – very decorative - so after we drank it I placed it in my alcove for treasures.
A couple of nights later we were awakened by an almighty bang.  Tremblingly we approached the living room, from whence the explosion had come, to find the bottle had exploded and left an obnoxious sticky deposit everywhere.  It had even leaked through onto the stairs below.
  Not long after this we were lying in bed one night drifting off to sleep when there was another terrific bang but this came from the street outside the bedroom window.  I gave William a wifely elbow to encourage him to investigate and as he crossed the floor he yelled.  Unfortunately his bare foot had snagged one of the nail heads protruding from the floor boards.  After I’d dressed it I insisted he absolutely had to have an anti–tetanus injection.  Reluctantly he agreed and the next day had the injection.  This caused a reaction and as a result he was off work for a week.  That took some living down.

  Married life wasn’t all a bowl of cherries; I must have been a bit of a pain with my flights of fancy, creative urges and general silliness and William seemed to regard his role in life was to bring me down to earth and put a damper on my enthusiasms.  He could be quite cutting and although I could give as good as I got, it was a downer and I felt my confidence being eroded.  I couldn’t believe it when a friend said how proud William was of me.  Sadly I was unaware of it.  With hindsight I think I should have been more economical with the truth when I told him how I felt about Jamie.  Jamie was never mentioned and I didn’t consciously think of him but I had a recurring dream where I was walking along the bank of a wide river.  In the distance on the opposite bank I saw Jamie walking towards me.  As he got closer I stopped to see what he would do but he just walked on by – ignoring me.
   Dodie came over each week on her day off and it wasn’t always the weekend thank goodness.  The two of them decided it was time they taught me how to play bridge.  A shame because I enjoy card games but they managed to put me off bridge for life.  Books were my escape with authors ranging from Upton Sinclair to Mary Webb and all stops betwixt.  Tennis was an absorbing interest both on court and on the radio.  It was much more enthralling to listen to Max Robertson’s radio commentaries than it ever is watching on the box.

 
  It was August 15th 1952 and in the South West of England – close to where Mum and Dad took us touring on the motor bike and sidecar a disaster was unfolding.  Lynmouth was a harbour-side village connected to its sister village Lynton by a Victorian Cliff Railway.  Thomas Gainsborough said it was ‘the most delightful place for a landscape painter this country can boast.’
In the twenty four hours before the flash flood, nine inches of rain had fallen on Exmoor – four miles away.  The water flowed off the moors into the confluence of the East Lyn and West Lyn rivers at Watersmeet and formed a raging torrent between the steep gorges.  The force of the water carried 40,000 tons of boulders and tree trunks onto the unsuspecting inhabitants.
It was about 9pm and villagers would be listening to the radio before bedtime and the residents of the Lyndale Hotel probably relaxing with their after dinner coffee.  Water surged into the Hotel and everybody fled to the first floor and then the second floor.  Houses, cars and people were swept out to sea as well as all the boats in the harbour.  Four main road bridges were swept away.  A fisher man, Ken Oxenholme
was in Lynmouth and desperately wanted to reach his wife and child who were in a caravan in the upper part of Lynton.  The road was impassable so he made his way up a steep gorge through the woods.  By now it was dark and through flashes of lightening he saw whole houses being swept away.
“They folded up like a pack of cards,” he said.  He could hear the agonising screams of the inhabitants, most of whom he knew.  Thirty four people lost their lives and there were many injured.  One woman’s body was never claimed.  Even now – decades later just driving up the fearsome road from Lynmouth to Lynton one can imagine the horror.
  There was some speculation the flash flooding could have been caused by the Ministry of Defence experimenting in rain making.  By dropping dry ice onto clouds, the idea was to start a heavy storm which would hamper enemy movements.  The M.O.D. has always denied this.  An acquaintance of ours met one of the survivors returning from a disastrous holiday by train.  She was still in shock, had lost all her belongings but, as she said she still had a home, unlike the people of Lynmouth.

Earlier in the year I had arranged with Sister a convenient time to take some leave (Nurse Kerry permitting of course) and William said it was time to tell me of his passion.  He said he had kept quiet about it when we were discussing the honeymoon as he didn’t want to put me off.

 

Friday, January 05, 2018


 

An Imperfect Life   

Chapter 26

 

 And Dodie came too!

 

Dodie planned to get a job as a companion where they would accept one dog - Havoc.  An old friend had agreed to have the two dachshunds.

“William I just don’t understand.  Your mother is a pensioner, totally deaf without her hearing aid – which is never switched on – a dicky heart and arthritis, why would she leave her lovely home and garden?”

William was silent.  I continued.

“She has a good social life –bridge in the winter, croquet in the summer – to say nothing of her tennis parties.  She can’t be short of money and if she is you told me she often lets half the house to Service families.”

“Maybe she just wants to be nearer family”

“Then it would make more sense to move to Hampshire where Wallace and Fleur are settled.  With her grand children.”

“When Mummy makes her mind up…”

I groaned inwardly.  When I said yes to William I didn’t think I was marrying his mother too.  Perhaps William felt the same about my family but Mum and Dad were very happy to get on with their lives now we had all left home.  Evan was married to Helen who was also a nurse.  Maddie was teaching at a boarding school in Scotland where her son Matthew was boarding , and Gran spent half the time with her other daughter, Janet and family in the States.  The truth was William was the apple of her eye.  No point in worrying about it.  I was fully occupied moving into our new flat; buying curtain material- a Jacobean print for the living room and a pretty blue silk fleur- de- lys pattern for the bedrooms.  I’ve never liked a lot of patterns but the dear old lady had come up trumps and had all the walls painted a harmless magnolia so we could afford some more intricate designs but that was the last time I chose a patterned carpet.

Out social life improved.  William had friends from his earlier stint at Metro Vickers and we would all meet up in one of the coffee shops on a Saturday morning and plan the rest of the week-end.  After years of being on duty at the week-ends I thoroughly enjoyed being part of a Café Society.

There was plenty to keep me occupied but after buying two Parker Knoll armchairs-

 

(60 year later still surviving in one of the son’s sitting room) money was getting scarce and it was time to start earning again.  William had opened a Post Office Account for me which pleased me very much until he explained that it was so we could both withdraw money on the same day in an emergency.  Certainly not so I could buy a pretty hat from out resident hat shop.  Think again Patricia!

I would have liked a change from nursing; working part-time was not the same and I missed the continuity and the camaraderie of our set.  Walking through the hat shop I thought what fun it would be to work there.  I love fashion and helping someone to choose the perfect hat seemed an admirable occupation but alas they were fully staffed.

  I didn’t have any luck in Altrincham but there was a Hospital with a Children’s Ward in Stockport – a neighbouring town.  I applied and was invited for an interview.

It meant walking down through the town to the Bus Station and then a cross country bus ride.  I would have to change at the hospital so if I did 9am to 3pm it would be like a full day’s work.   As long as they had a vacancy I should be fine.  As usual as soon as RMCH was named as my training school it was smiles all round and I was welcomed with open arms.

  Meanwhile there was a letter from Dodie saying she had an interview with a Mrs Fell – an elderly widow who lived in one of the wealthy villages nearby.  Originally the rich in the surrounding area used to get their staff from Altrincham.

“Mummy’s going to stay with us when she comes for the interview and she has asked us to arrange a refresher driving lesson as she feels that would be an asset.”

I spluttered over the tea I was drinking which got up my nose and it was some time before I could speak.

A week later William and I were sitting in the rear of a Motoring School car (the Instructor wasn’t keen but Dodie insisted) whilst she had a ‘Refresher’.

The Instructor asked her to reverse out of the parking space and William and I breathed a sigh of relief that the park was almost empty.  This wasn’t easy for Dodie and believe me when I say that now – in my dotage - Dodie has my total sympathy.  It was difficult for her to turn her head around with her arthritis and she kept getting her hearing aid wire caught on her glasses.  She adjusted her hearing aid and then couldn’t hear what he said.  We were slowly getting hysterical in the back.  It didn’t look as if we were going anywhere very fast so the Instructor decided to test her eyesight and asked her to read various number plates.  Then we had all the palaver of her cleaning her specs and getting the wind screen wipers going but it didn’t really help.  Her eyesight was not good.

   By now the instructor’s patience was a little threadbare and he called a halt.  I was a mess of hiccups – always happens when I suppress laughter - and tears were rolling down my cheeks.

“It isn’t possible for me to refresh your driving skills I’m afraid and it would be unsafe for you to drive a car with sight and hearing impairment and limited movement.”  William and I were in total agreement and Dodie cheered up when he said he wouldn’t charge her.

We took her for coffee and cakes to prepare her for the interview with Mrs Fell later on.

“D’ye know I’m not at all worried about the driving.  The world is full of road hogs these days.  Mrs Fell’s gardener has driven her up to now and as far as I am concerned he can continue to do so.”

“I’d like to see what kind of a household you could be living in Mummy so Pat and I will come with you to Mrs Fell’s”

Dodie was delighted and so we all turned up on Mrs Fell’s doorstep.  It was an imposing house with a lovely garden in one of the posh villages near Altrincham.  Mrs Fell’s cleaning lady answered the door and invited us in.  We were shown into a dark, frowsty drawing room where Mrs Fell was sitting in a high-backed wing chair with – surprisingly - a tightly rolled up newspaper in her hand.  She wore tinted glasses and the way she leant forward and peered at us indicated she was also visually impaired.  An ancient terrier type dog - Major - was sitting listlessly at her feet.  Major was clearly no habitué of the grooming kennels and had a strong doggie –to put it politely- smell.

  We introduced ourselves and asked if we could look round the garden whilst she and Dodie got to know each other.  After a suitable interval we went back inside where the two old ladies seemed to be getting on well.  They shared an interest in dogs and gardens and Mrs Fell was anxious to demonstrate Major’s tricks.  She rose unsteadily from her chair and peering down at the dog, now also on his feet, she told him to,

“Die for your country Major!”

Major might have been a little hard of hearing- he also was quite elderly- and he just wagged his tail.  Mrs Fell’s voice got louder and firmer.

“Die for your country Major!”  To further encourage him she started belting the poor creature with the rolled up newspaper until at last he got the message and sank to the ground.  Sighs of relief all round and old Major got a doggie choc.

  Back at the flat Dodie told us she had accepted the job and – to our surprise was very enthusiastic.  There was a Cook/Housekeeper, a Cleaner and a Gardener; Dodie’s brief was to act as companion to Mrs Fell and as they had much in common- including late husbands who had served in WW1- she didn’t visualise any problem.

She would have plenty of time off to come and visit us- it couldn’t be better.

I had to admire her courage but I sent a silent prayer up above that her days off wouldn’t be every week-end.  William seemed quite happy and the plan was to join Dodie in Norfolk next week-end to help her prepare the house for letting.

“Mummy will let us have any furniture or linen we need for the flat,” William said cheerfully.  Goody goody gumdrops!

  It was very late on Friday when we arrived so we had barely two days to do it in.  In the broad – unforgiving - daylight it was clear that a thorough spring – cleaning was needed, followed by a few coats of paint but Dodie was more concerned that we should ‘spud the drive’ i.e. pull out all the weeds embalmed in the gravel.

“Oh and by the way,” she told us,”some people are coming to look over the house sometime in the early evening.”  Great!  I left the drive to William and concentrated on the kitchen and bathroom.  After all I was part of the family now – honour was at stake.  I would always be a Northern lass at heart and we all know cleanliness is next to godliness.

  When I examined the old wooden plate rack on the wall in the kitchen where we put the dishes to drain I faltered – just for a moment- and then started furiously scrubbing.  By 5pm we were exhausted.  Dodie had put fresh flowers everywhere and flicked a duster so as far as she was concerned it was Show Time!  All fur coat and no knickers as Gran would have said.

  They arrived promptly at 6pm – a flight lieutenant and his wife.  We passed a pleasant hour on the veranda, sipping amontillado and chatting.

They were dog lovers so were pleased to hear their dog would be welcome.  Eventually they were given a brief trip round the house and a longer one round the garden- which was in a much better state.  I did wonder if Dodie had deliberately chosen to show them round in the gloaming but it worked.  They rented the house, Dodie moved up to Mrs Fell’s and we inherited extra furniture and linen.

I was becoming accustomed to married life.  William was kind and honest but not one for the romantic gesture.  Birthdays were remembered, but why would one need a card a well as a present?  And as f or an eternity ring- we’d only been married for a year.  Sadly I realised I would just have to lump it – he wasn’t going to change.  He did have remarkable reflexes.  One night we came back to the flat and there was a mouse a few feet away.  With an enormous leap William pounced on it and killed it whilst I had hysterics.  His brother Wallace was the same and once slapped a wasp away from a car driver’s face.  The car driver was none too pleased but I suppose a slap is marginally better than a sting?

No time to fret; on Monday I would start my new job staffing on the Children’s Ward.