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 CafĂ© 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 habituĂ© 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.