Monday, June 27, 2016

Everything's coming up roses and daffodils.

An Imperfect Life                         Chapter 13

Everything’s coming up roses and daffodils.


  “Barnes!  You’re wanted on the phone!”

I’d just about had enough of copying notes up so it was a welcome diversion.  Even more so when I discovered it was Maria - the mother of one of my favourite patients David Miller. He was a little Jewish boy – aged seven, who had told me he was sad he wouldn’t be able to marry me as I was a Christian.  Now he was better and home his parents Hector and Maria had kept in touch and Maria was inviting me to visit them the following Friday.

Maria met me in town and we went to Hector’s office - he was a solicitor and it was always fun to be around him.  I was introduced to all the staff as the modern equivalent of Florence Nightingale and

then Hector drove us home, where the children - David had two younger sisters - were being looked after by their nanny.  Because it was Friday night it was their special evening of Shabbat and at dinner there were candles and wine.   Hector wore a skull cap and recited from a religious book.  It was a beautiful ceremony and I felt privileged to be there.  Maria was like a surrogate mother and had a friendly interest in my doings.  When I told her about the Ball she said I must spend that night with them.

“It’ll be too late to turn up at the Hospital and it’s too far to go home to Rossendale. It makes sense to come back here.”   I warned her it would be very late but she said not to worry and gave me a key:  one problem solved.

 Andrew was delighted when I told him.

“That’s great Pat! My pal Bill has an old banger and we’ll come and pick you up and deliver you to the Millers after the dance.  Just one thing Pat; I need you to find a partner for Bill,”

 This was easier said than done.  It didn’t help that I had never met Bill and all my close friends were either on night duty, on holiday or reluctant to go on a blind date.  Eventually Mary – a quiet studious girl in the set above me, agreed to go.  Now the only problem was what to wear.
As far as shoes, gloves, jewellery and evening hand bags were concerned I had endless choice from my fellow blue belts.  The dress was going to be made by Mrs Driver a trusted dress-maker from home.  She copied a gorgeous gown from a Vogue photograph – a sculpted top of white figured velvet and a dreamy, floaty skirt.   We decided that ‘hair up’ would add a little sophistication and gravitas and practiced by sweeping it up and to one side.  This had the added benefit of covering an ear which I swear was larger than the other.  Sister Walters – Home Sister, however, objected.
 “But Sister it is off my collar.”
“It is inappropriate for duty, Nurse.  Change it!”

Make up was just a dusting of Helena Rubenstein silk powder, a touch of Tangee lipstick and

Elizabeth Arden’s Blue Grass perfume. 

 I didn’t tell Mum about the Ball until it was a fait accompli.  I didn’t want any nonsense from

Maddie’s husband Paul sticking his oar in.  He had already made a few snide remarks about Jamie

when he heard about the projected Lake District holiday but Dad seemed to have learnt his lesson and

 ignored it, thank goodness.

 This was a very happy time.  Mum and Dad treated me more like an adult and we enjoyed spending time together – relishing our walks and trips to the local flea-pit and amateur dramatics.  Gran could be moody and Maddie had a few emotional outbursts – but these soon blew over.  The work on the wards was rewarding and satisfying and my reports were good.  The friendships both on and off the wards gave life an added zest.

     At last the big day came and it was hectic; off duty at 1.45pm and then I took two buses to the Millers to leave my overnight stuff.  The next day, Sunday, was to be Maria’s birthday.  She was having a big party and I was glad I would be able to help.  After an afternoon of playing with the children Hector gave me a lift back to hospital and with the help of a couple of chums Mary and I got ready for the dance.
  We couldn’t help giggling when peeping from the shelter of the main entrance we spotted the car struggling up the drive.  Not only was the car an old banger it was tiny.  The boys looked immaculate in their special ‘mess undress’ and from the look on their faces we didn’t disappoint. 

. It was a beautiful June evening; the sky was aglow with one of the lurid scarlet sunsets that Manchester was famous for and it felt deliciously decadent to be setting off at that time of night.
Mary and I squashed into the back seat and we were off.

 When we finally reached the base two ratings darted forward to open the doors to find there were no handles.  By now any nervousness was dissipated with gales of laughter. 

  I caught my breath as we entered the ball room;  the décor was magical and there was a fountain and three bands.  There was a tremendous buzz everywhere and after my first ever gin and tonic I was dancing on air.  I remember one moment in the ladies cloakroom – fragrant with fresh roses - and a girl in a white dress was talking to an older woman.  Apparently it was mother and daughter and the girl was wearing her wedding dress as an evening gown and needed to be reassured that she looked great.  I thought she looked beautiful.  I wondered if being a naval wife meant you were constantly being checked to see if you measured up.  I wouldn’t like that at all I decided. 
 Mary and Bill seemed to be enjoying themselves.  I hoped she wasn’t going to get squiffy (inebriated) with all the hospitality but decided as she was older than me she would have enough sense not to.  The food was superb and demonstrated how brilliant the navy were at this sort of thing.  At some stage Andrew introduced me to the captain who was sweet and patted my hand.  I suppose it was the equivalent of me introducing someone to Matron – so naturally one would want it to go well.  Andrew seemed ecstatic and as the evening flew by I could have danced all night – a song not yet written in 1949 but I knew just how Eliza Dolittle felt. 

When it was time to leave the car wouldn’t start but the ratings – laughing their heads off - pushed us until it did.  Somewhere on the East Lancs road Andrew and I were sitting in the back seat, bumpily trying to kiss when the car lurched to a halt.  Bill and Mary vanished into the darkness.  I turned to Andrew aghast.

 “I don’t know Mary very well but I didn’t think she was that sort of girl.”  I felt worried and responsible.
“It’s OK Pat.  I asked Bill to give us some time alone.”
I looked at him in the gloom – suddenly stone cold sober.

 “Will you marry me Pat?”
I tried to pull myself together.  I just hadn’t seen this coming.  Part of me was amazed and thrilled that someone as gorgeous as Andrew would want to spend the rest of his life with me – that’s what marriage meant to most of us then – but part of me wished he hadn’t chosen this particular time.  This was our 23rd date since we met in January.  We had talked endlessly about our feelings, agreeing that we were physically drawn to each other; Andrew had said he thought he was in love with me but didn’t understand me.  That made two of us.  For my part I loved being with him – it was all very light-hearted.  Sometimes I found him unreliable when he said he would phone at a particular time and then didn’t and the letter he promised didn’t arrive but I had learnt to accept it as part of his persona. I had thought we were both content to let our relationship develop organically and just enjoy the ride.
“But Andrew you know I have to finish my training – it’s another two years."
I felt passionately about this.  I had been shocked when Maddie, who was gifted both academically and artistically and had won a place at the most prestigious Art School, had packed it all in to marry Paul,
“I understand – I want you to finish your training.  We don’t have to get married right away – say about Christmas, but I need to know before I go on leave, “   I gasped – that was a week away  “or at any rate before you go on holiday.”
Was that what this was all about - my climbing holiday with Ginny, Jamie and Jamie’s friend Alec?  I had been open about this from the start and recently he had asked if he ought to be worried about it and I said no.  Now I was getting worried.  Only this week I had had a letter from Jamie with our itinerary and he had booked all the hostels for the four of us.   I can’t help thinking that in today’s climate I would possibly by now have slept with one of them or both of them and things might have been clearer and certainly a lot less tense.  My head whirled, the idea of combining marriage with the concentrated mental and physical training we were undergoing was beyond my ken.  Somehow I had to convince him but at this moment Mary and Bill returned to the car and we set off again.
“You’ll have to guide me Pat,” Bill shouted.
We drove on – my mind racing round and round whilst my lips were returning Andrew’s kisses,

“For God’s sake you two!  Concentrate!”
Somehow we had ended up on Victoria Railway Station.
  It was very late by the time we reached the Millers and I was thankful I had a key.  We said a hasty goodbye – Andrew promising to phone the next day and I crept up to my room.

  The lovely thing about staying with the Millers was being wakened by the children in the morning; three little faces would peep round the door -
’Can we come in Pat?’ – and they would leap onto the bed and I would make up stories.  No time for that this morning; it was all hands to the pump to prepare for the party.  It was a beautiful day and soon the garden was swarming with adults and their children and there wasn’t a moment to think about anything.  After the last guests had left and the children were in bed. Hector poured us all a drink and Maria asked me about the dance.  I told them about the fun bits but waited until Maria and I were alone to tell her about Andrew’s proposal.  She sensed I was in a bit of a turmoil.

“I know what we’ll do Pat.  Your first night off Hector and I will drive you home to Rossendale so you can have a good chat with your mother.”

  I realised that was just what I needed and gave her a grateful hug. 
  By the time I got back to hospital I was very tired.  Mum rang and it was lovely to hear her voice.  I told her the Millers were bringing me over next week but didn’t tell her why.  Andrew – true to his word, had phoned twice and got me the third time.  He was very sweet and understanding and we arranged to meet during the week.  Then I had to get down to copying up more lectures.  When Andrew and I met I was late and we were both a bit down.  We went to see ‘The Kissing Bandit’ which was execrable and we couldn’t talk, so we abandoned it and discussed the situation.  He said he had to know before my holiday but finally agreed that I couldn’t just say yes or no.  It was an impasse: he wanted me to continue my training and I couldn’t visualise doing both.  Somehow we found ourselves talking about furniture and laughed with relief that we had got back our light-heartedness.  We laughed even more when Andrew mentioned he was Roman Catholic.  Remembering how Dad had reacted when he found Gran and me walking back from her church, I had a ‘West Side Story’ moment.  I told him to have a great leave and not to think about our problems.  “Like hell!” he said.

  I knew I was going to miss Andrew whilst he was on leave but it was good to have some breathing space.  On a sudden whim I phoned to tell him the Millers were taking me home to see Mum and Dad and that all was well which succeeded in mystifying him even more.  Oh dear!

 Two nights later the three of us set off and Hector had us in stitches trying to work the wind-screen wipers with his nose.  I wondered how they would all get on and what they would think of our small cramped house compared to their beautiful home.  Dad was a factory hand and Hector was a Jewish solicitor. I need not have worried.  Both Dad and Hector were wags and they entertained each other and us all with their stories and antics.  Mum had laid out a table of goodies and we munched and laughed the night away.  I had a quick word with Mum in the kitchen about the proposal and as usual she calmed me down with her -
‘Don’t worry Pat.  Just see what happens.’ 

  All too soon it was time to go and we sang in the car all the way to the Millers.  

“Hector it’s late for Pat to be going through Manchester.”

“I’ll drive her to the Hospital. No worries!”

“Can I come too?” Maria asked meekly.

I was surprised.   The women in our family would have taken it for granted that they could do as they pleased.  Hector said yes and we all laughed when Maria said she must first take her corsets off.  Like my mother she was cuddly and curvy.
  The next fortnight passed pleasantly playing lots of tennis – with Evan at home, and the girls at hospital.  One night I cut and set the hair of four nurses (they were very trusting) and plucked beetle- browed Delia’s eyebrows.  The medical ward I was on was demanding and quite stressful and it was good to relax with girly time.
  Andrew behaved impeccably – one post card, a silver card to celebrate our six month anniversary arriving on the precise date and a letter – loving and not at all hectoring.
Jamie wrote sounding deflated.  He had nearly finished Schools (exams) and had just had three six- hour Practicals on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  And he said he expected us to be able to cook at the Youth Hostels.  At least Maria had taught me how to make delicious tomato omelettes.
Andrew – back at base - phoned and we arranged to meet for the last time before my hols.  We saw ‘Passport to Pimlico’ which was amusing and we had a happy day.  Relationships are like a see-saw – rarely perfectly balanced – one or the other up in the air and the other feet touching the ground – the latter in control.  I seemed to be in control just now.  He had bought me some Chanel No 5 perfume but had forgotten to bring it.  I promised to write often and to phone as soon as we were back.
  At home the next day I went swimming with Dad in Jack Lodge and finished packing.  Next stop my beautiful Lake District. YIPPEE!




Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Queen Mum, Iona, no Belfast and back to Blighty.

Click on photos for best effect. 
Docking at Invergordon - snow on the hills.
A sedate little town - special to us as every summer Al's mother would take the long journey from London with her three boys and spend the summer on the grandfather's farm.  She told me once after paying the fare she had just a few pence left for a cup of tea or a cigarette and she chose a cigarette.  Different days.

The church - I had a peaceful morning wandering around, buying post cards to send to the Mackays and spotting the little jewellers where Alastair bought me some leaf- shaped gold earrings which I have managed not to lose.
Our lovely ship Boudicca.  462 cabins, 880 guests, 372 crew.

Forward pronounced 'forrard'.

Our next port of call was Scrabster near to the
castle of Mey and John O'Groats.  Above is the beach where the Royals would picnic before visiting the Queen Mum in her summer home.

The Castle of Mey having a bit of a face lift.  Part of the gardens - so beautifully tended.  No photography allowed indoors but a lovely experience in the home that reflected her charm and sense of fun.  Nothing stately about it.  There was a tailor's dummy dressed in her faded blue tweed suit  with a battered soft felt hat.  She always had a perfect posture.  By the dining table was the stool where she used to rest her gammy leg  - damaged by a boisterous young Prince Andrew on his scooter
The guides were very helpful and loved giving you snippets of gossip.  The pretty blue bedroom for Princess Margaret was never used by her.  Too cold!  So she slept elsewhere in the village.
They got one thing wrong when they said she only drank Champagne.  Her favourite tipple was Gin and Dubonnet.  Tea and shortbread in the café and then a stop at John O'Groats.  Not so interesting.

As we retuned to the ship we were piped a farewell.

The rain came but it was good to get back to our welcoming ship and a delicious dinner.
Next off to  the Isle of Mull where we anchored off Tobermory and took a tender to the shore.  Al and I once spent a week on Mull and the weather prevented us from reaching
   Iona where I hoped to see the Abbey and retreat.
A coach took us to the other side of Mull.

Across the water you can see the precious Isle of Iona.  Only a short stretch of water but not to be taken lightly.  Many people have drowned.

This time we'll make it safely.

A ruin en route to the Abbey

There it is.

John Smith's simple grave - easily missed.

Part of the grounds.  Walking back I stopped to have tea - quite an hospitable island but not as wild and remote as I had hoped.

Back we crossed to Mull.  I did a crossword - forgetting it was a short trip and missed everyone vacating the ferry but managed to get off in time!

Only a short distance from Iona but now Mull  was misty and murky

Back in Tobermory and there is our lovely Boudicca.

On board the tender.  I put my complete faith in the lovely young men when getting on and off the ships - one of the most hazardous times.

Oops! my untidy cabin.
Always nice to get back to friendly faces and swap stories over dinner.  We were all single and both men were named Bob which was handy.

This Bob had been a miner from the North East - great fun to tease:)

C'est fini!  I really enjoyed the cruise and didn't miss 'abroad' at all.
OOh I forgot to say: the penultimate day was a very long one -  next day was Belfast - I hadn't booked an excursion so I stayed on board and chilled.  Next time Belfast for sure!