Saturday, October 07, 2017

An Imperfect Life

 Chapter 24

Meeting the folks


“How can I help you my dear?”


The elderly doctor peered at me over his specs and to my horror I started to blub.  He handed me a tissue and listened carefully as - with the odd hiccup - I told him I had recently married, started a new job and the family were worried about my losing quite a lot of weight.  After a brief examination he asked lots of questions and then said,

“Like all young wives you are trying to do too much.  Just slow down and stop trying to be the perfect housewife.”

  Maybe it was silly to try to keep the flat up to Pendlebury’s standard of cleanliness. I felt comforted by his words and resolved to be less of a perfectionist.

  William was very keen to spend Christmas in Norfolk with his mother Dodie.  Then I would meet his elder brother Wallace, wife Fleur and their children Mark and Jane.  They had finished their tour of duty in Malta and were staying with Dodie until they found a house in the Portsmouth area.  Mum and Dad were a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t be spending my first Christmas away from hospital with them but were good sports about it.

We were met at the station by Wallace and I could sense William’s excitement at seeing his elder brother after a good few years.  They immediately got into an animated discussion - totally ignoring me which took the wind out of my sails.  I felt that if I dared to interrupt them I would be told “Shush darling – men talking!”

Thinking about it later I guessed it was an inverted shyness but then shyness and Wallace as I came to know him just didn’t make sense.

Both he and Fleur were quite autocratic and I never did discover who wore the trousers.  William as the younger brother was used to being bossed around and didn’t seem to mind it in the slightest but I felt my Irish blood stirring and asserted myself when I felt it was necessary.  The children were a credit to them – very sweet and well behaved.

It was the first Christmas since Dodie had lost her husband so we all concentrated on making it as happy a Christmas as possible.  She had a heart condition and occasionally she would clutch her chest and cry -

”Wally – Willy –Wally- my tablets please darlings!” – and the ’boys’ would leap to attention and get whatever was required.  At first I was very concerned but as time wore on realised this was a regular occurrence and not quite as urgent as I had feared.  Sometimes she would forget they were now grown men and say -

“Willy - Wally – Willy – on your new bicycle – do get the brandy please darling.”

Try as I may I never managed to get such blind obedience from William myself.

  Fleur was an heiress – her father had been in tea and she was genuinely posh.  She was great to have around on very formal occasions – knew exactly when to stand and when to sit in church and would have known exactly how to behave if the Queen had dropped  by (we were in Norfolk after all).  She was very practical and would tackle the most daunting of household jobs with a fag hanging out of her mouth, her pale blue eyes squinting from the smoke and her cut glass accent interspersed by a hacking cough.  By the same token should one offer to help - thinking in terms of a little light dusting one would be presented with a large bucket of potatoes.

Underneath the tough exteriors they were all quite human.  Wallace had said to his parents during the war –

“Mummy, Daddy you mustn’t use any petrol.  Those poor devils on tankers – they just go up in smoke!”

Both Dodie and Fleur were very kind to me – Dodie gave me lots of china for the flat

And Fleur gave me spare linen from her Mother’s old mansion.  She promised once they had got their furniture out of store she would let us have any spare.

Breakfast was interesting: we were all sitting round the table with porridge, eggs toast and marmalade etc and Dodie had a large plate of stale crusts in front of her.

“Mummy please don’t eat those stale crusts!”

“Darling they have to be eaten – we can’t waste good food.”

I felt obliged to point out that by the time we had scoffed the stale crusts the fresh bread would be stale.  That didn’t earn me any brownie points and made not a scrap of difference, Dodie was not only a tad eccentric bur stubborn to boot – a family trait it seemed.

Norfolk in winter was bitterly cold – icy winds blowing straight from Russia I assumed.  We had lots of bracing walks with the children and the dogs and then roasted chestnuts round the fire.  With no central heating it was so cold I even welcomed Annette (the fat dachshund) jumping on the bed to spread some warmth to the icy sheets.

All in all Christmas was a success.  I felt I understood William a little more now

and I had been made welcome by the family - with the reservation that they thought I was as nutty as I knew they were.

Back in Sheffield, excitement was running high in the hospital:  the new children’s department was completed and Marion Stein was to be the opener.  She was a beautiful Austrian pianist who had married Lord Harewood - always a lover of classical music.  His father was Lord Lascelles married to our Queen’s aunt so it was almost like having Royalty do the deed.

The New Children’s Department was a mile or so away but the Main Hospital was spruced up with an array of plant pots planted in the ground (removed after the visit)

  I was shocked when Matron told me I would be moving to the new Department and would be in charge of the theatre.  This gave me pause for thought; after managing to lose the poison cupboard keys whilst in training my theatre experience was limited so I was very relieved to hear that it was mainly a medical department and the only ops would be for pyloric stenosis and tracheotomies.  Pyloric stenosis is when a baby has projectile vomiting because of a thickening of the passage between the stomach and the small bowel which stops the milk from getting through. The operation to relieve this condition was discovered when a surgeon accidentally nicked the muscle and the condition was cured.

A tracheotomy is creating an opening in the windpipe to assist breathing.

We didn’t have sterile packs in those days, so all the instruments had to be sterilised and trolleys set up and Heaven help you if something was forgotten.  I resolved to get to know those two operations backwards.  This backfired somewhat - the surgeon was so impressed when we came to do the ops he asked Matron if I could be transferred to his theatre in the Main Hospital.  Not bloody likely I thought.  Matron agreed that as our time in Sheffield was soon to end it wasn’t worth uprooting me again.  The little theatre was not very busy and I spent a lot of time cleaning and sorting out cupboards.  One day I came across a bottle containing a brightly coloured liquid and idly removed the stopper to smell it.

My head started to swim and I heard a loud thumping noise.  Eek! I realised it must be an anaesthetic liquid, replaced the stopper and kept well away from that cupboard in future.

William and I loved to go to the cinema and one film that made a great impression on me at this time was Tennessee Williams’ ‘Streetcar named Desire,’ starring Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando.  It was electrifying.  No-one ever came close to Marlon in his prime, and although Vivien’s beauty was fading she proved once and for all that she could teach Larry a thing or two about screen acting.  I felt such empathy with the character Blanche Dubois –I had had a sort of break-down as a very young girl and was convinced at that time I would either have an early death or end up incarcerated in a mad house.  Happily I got it wrong – so far anyway.

Time to pack up and return to Manchester.  William was coming to the end of his training, I had to find a job and we both had to find somewhere to live.  We’d made the best of our tiny eyrie but sleeping in a rickety old put–u-up in a tiny one -room flat has a limited charm.  Fingers crossed.