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.



Granny Annie said...

This story such a reminder of my first marriage. We were young and lived in the attic of an old house. It also reminded me that in the workplace women are often their own worst enemies. Your writing is wonderful Pat.

Pat said...

Granny Annie: lovely to hear from you. Yes our paths were very similar in many ways. Little did we know what was to come.

kenju said...

I agree with Annie, you write so well. Nurse Kerry was indeed a troublemaker. Boo to her.

William’s passion?? I thought you were.

Pat said...

Judy: great to have you and Annie on my side. Fortunately for all concerned William's passion was not another woman- to the best of my knowledge.

Exile on Pain Street said...

That's it?! You leave us hanging with William's passion?! A dastardly writer's trick.

There's a Nurse Kerry in every place of employment. Lying in wait to make those around him/her miserable. It's part of the human condition.

I'm sorry to hear about your ring. It's best to have a Zen approach to life and not be so attached to material things but when it comes to wedding rings, all bets for meditative bliss are off.

Horrific story about the floods. How do you rise above that sort of horror?

A fantastic post. AS ALWAYS.

Pat said...

Exile: you are so demanding - there's no pleasing you.
Many years later I got my last wedding ring and when a doctor said he may have to cut it off(broken wrist)I sobbed and said I would die first.

angryparsnip said...

Pat you are such a terrific writer. Now I can not wait a second more to find out what happens next.
I have met Nurse Kerry in many jobs. Such "people" are vile.
Not sure I like William ...

cheers, parsnip and mandibles

Pat said...

Parsnip: Yes Nurse Kerry was a bit of a trial. The thing about William - in the relationship there wasn't a goodie and a baddie - just two people in a difficult marriage. I don't regret it or I wouldn't have my two wonderful boys. I think William would probably feel the same.

Anonymous said...

Love reading your Imperfect Life!

As others have said, there’s a Kerry everywhere, usually insecure and aware of their own shortcomings so want to bring others down to their perceived level.

I would have howled for days if my wedding ring had slipped off like that ... quite understand your feelings. They donl’t call those screens on drains ring-catchers for nothing!

I have a feeling I can guess what William’s passion was (from previous publication!) but I won’t give the game away!

Pat said...

Rosneath: Oooh I'd never heard the 'ring catcher' expression. My readers are very knowledgeable which is great. Thanks for keeping my secret.

savannah said...

I will have had the same husband for 49 years (as of March 8 of this year), but in that time, I've had 3 wedding rings. First one was stolen, second lost, and third is sitting in a dish on my nightstand. I just realised that I only wear it when I'm going out! xoxo

P.s. Love your writing and like the others can't wait to find out about William's passion! ;) It really is true about EVERY workplace having a "Kerry" on site!

Pat said...

Savannah: Congratulations! You both have done a wonderful job with a lovely family. No marriage is easy and I hope you will continue to reap the rewards for many, many more years.xoxoxox

Kim Ayres said...

I'm on my 2nd wedding ring - the first came off at the beach. Fortunately when Maggie and I got married we had no money, so our wedding rings are basic silver celtic knots that cost about £10 each. Sentimentally it was sad to lose it, but it didn't cost a fortune to replace.
Did you ever figure out what caused the bottle to explode?

Pat said...

Kim: No - we just accepted it and when we told people about it no-one seemed unduly surprised. Did we leave the cork in? Can't remember. Would I risk it again? NO!

Anonymous said...

I like it whenever people come together and share views.
Great site, keep it up!

Pat said...

Anon: thank you. I it is lovely as a writer to get feed back and communication from both old and new fiends.

Pat said...

Oh my goodness that should be FRIENDS not FIENDS!

Pat said...

To the two anonymous commenters I appreciate your comments but I'm afraid anon won't do. You need a name.