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.

Thursday, November 09, 2017


An Imperfect Life

Hither and Yon

Chapter 25

 
Pat “William can we get the dining room suite on Saturday please?”
 W “What dining–room suite?”
P “You know- the one I showed you in Cole’s window; a Welsh dresser with a Tudor rose and a refectory table and the chairs were covered in a lovely Jacobean print.  Oh and one of them was a carver.  Remember?
W “Oh yes!  Well we certainly can’t get it now.”
 P “Why not?”
W”Because we’re going back to Manchester – we haven’t got anywhere to live and
 the chances are we’ll have to settle for another furnished flat- and then what will we
 do with all that furniture?  You have to think these things through.
 P But William I have thought it through.  For a start I am NOT going to settle for a
 furnished flat and the store have said that once we’ve bought it they’ll keep it for us
 until were ready for it.
 W “We can do all these things in good time.  You may find something you like better
 when we get to Manchester.  There’s no rush.
  P This is EXACTLY what I want.  You know you aren’t interested in décor but it’s
  important to me.  I don’t mind leaving the practical things to you – you’re so much
  better at it- but please let me get on with the home–making.  We’ve got the money.
  Honestly William – I don’t want to lose it.
 W “Well I can’t talk about it now.  I’ll be late for work.
 Oh the frustration!  Our time in Sheffield was coming to an end and I had to face up
to an uncertain future and uncertainty was the state I found most difficult to cope
 with. 
 
I needed to count our blessings.  William was nearing the end of his apprenticeship,
 with a secure job and excellent prospects.  We both had good health and I should be
 able to get a job in the Manchester area but we had nowhere to live and some of the
 places round Manchester were really dismal and depressing.

That night William came bounding up the stairs with a big grin on his face.
“We can’t get that dining room suite this week-end …”
P “Well don’t think I‘m giving up on it because…”
W “Just listen for a minute!” 
 William had had a phone call at work from a Mr Cooper - a man he used to work for
at the Manchester Branch.  His mother in law had a hat shop in Altrincham and over
it was a two- bed-roomed flat.  This had been occupied by his daughter and her
husband but now they had bought a house and the flat was empty.
 The thing was that to get to the flat you had to go through the shop so it was
 vital that the old lady (she was 90) had someone she could trust.  Mr Cooper had
obviously put in a good word for William but he didn’t know me and his Mother- in
-law wanted to meet us both.

I knew Altrincham as a pleasant leafy town with good shops and the flat – on one of
the shopping streets was unfurnished.  We just had to make a good impression.
 We had to present ourselves at the hat-shop sometime on the Saturday morning and
as we walked up the main street from the station I thought what a pleasant town it was
and how convenient to live there with shops, transport and easy access to country
 side. I was told there was a splendid market which would delight Mum and Gran.

We found the shop near a convergence of roads; next door to a delicatessen – very
handy for a quick snack – if a trifle expensive.  There were trees in sight – which
softened the landscape.  I gave William a quick ‘fingers crossed’ before we entered
the shop and a neat looking lady with pearl ear-rings introduced herself as Clarice –
the assistant.  She took us through to a small back room with a blazing fire.
 
There were three women: a tiny old lady with tight white curls – the grand- mother, a
short plump lady – about 60 and what I call ‘posh Cheshire’ the mother and the 
 young married woman who was vacating the flat.
 
 I felt an instant connection with the grand-mother whose gimlet eyes looked right
through you.  In spite of her age you knew that she was the boss and I longed for her
approval.  The other two I was not so sure of.
 
William introducing us both started to stammer which seemed to embarrass the
 younger women so I said that this was William my husband, and I was
  Pat and we were very grateful to have this opportunity to look over the flat.  The
Mother said – of course they had to give it some thought – with the access being
through the shop, so they couldn’t promise anything, whereupon the Grandma told
 her grand- daughter to take us upstairs and show us the flat as we may not like it
 anyway. 

 We followed her upstairs and turned left down a passage into a large living
 room.  There was a fireplace, a tall window which looked out on a yard behind the
 shop, and an alcove with shelves- just crying out for my precious bric a brac and there
 were art deco lights.

  Through the door a couple of steps took you down into a medium sized
 kitchen with another long window; then through a door into a super bathroom.  The
 young couple had had it done when they first got married and the grand-daughter was
obviously reluctant to leave it behind.  The room was large and the suite a pretty
green.  Coloured suites were a great luxury - this was before the days of the blessed
avocado and I was charmed. 
 Back to the top of the stairs a door ahead led us into a
double bed-room and an even larger sized bed-room.  Both bed-room windows looked
 out onto the main street.  You could see where the furniture had been, so it was a bit
  shabby; there were acres of bare floor and it would need yards and yards of
curtaining but I already pictured a blazing fire- our Welsh dresser and furniture
and lots of space to have the family and parties.

 “Have you seen enough?”
 “Oh could I please just go quickly round again?”  She nodded and I raced round
 trying to absorb every detail whilst William asked her about transport to Trafford Park
 
Downstairs we thanked them for letting us see the flat and I said I thought it was
lovely and we would love to rent it if they thought we were suitable.
 The mother said they would have to give it some thought but the dear old lady said
her son-in law would be in touch next week.

  We went to one of the delectable cafés to recover.
“Oh William- it will be so marvellous living there.  Everything is perfect.  Do you
think they’ll let us have it?  The mother and daughter didn’t seem mad keen.’
 
“We’ll just have to be patient.  There’ll be other places I’m sure.”
“But we’ll never find anywhere as good as that and we’ve had enough of living in
  one room and our furniture will look so good and I know just…”
 
“We haven’t got any furniture.”
“Oh William!  Sometimes you’re such a wet blanket!”
 
But he was right of course – we’d just have to wait and see.  Back in our tiny eyrie I
 couldn’t stop thinking of that splendid flat in Altrincham.  Men seem to be able to
 just switch off and see what happens, but on Monday night when William got home
 from work, there was no mistaking the delight on his face.  Mr Cooper had phoned
 him and said his mother – in –law would be happy for us to have the flat.  The rent
 she wanted was within our capability and was quite reasonable.  God bless her.
 
The next day after work I rushed round to Cole’s store and my heart sank- my dining
 room suite was gone.  Praise be!  They had only taken it from display and I managed
to secure it – to be collected at a future date.  Happiness!  And to crown it all we were
 going with Mum and Dad at the week –end to Barry in North Wales sharing a
  caravan.  They were going on their motor bike and side-car and we were going on
 William’s motor bike.  It just felt a bit unstable on the pillion after having ridden in a
 sidecar for years- but beggars can’t be choosers.  We met up with them and arranged a
 rendezvous to stop for coffee. 
 We seemed to be going rather fast for my liking and
zooming in and out of the traffic when suddenly there was a bang and everything
went black.

When I came to I was lying on the side of the road, surrounded by people and a
 strange man was undoing my blouse.  I sat up quickly and asked him what he thought
 he was doing.
 
“I’m just making sure tight clothing isn’t restricting your breathing,” he said,” I’ve
 done a course in First Aid.”

 “I’m perfectly alright thank you.  Thank you very much –I’m fine.”  I looked around
for William.  Ah there he was – bending anxiously over that blasted bike.  He didn’t
look as if; he had been injured – just his pride dented maybe.
 
We had been lucky.  We didn’t wear protective clothing or safety helmets – no-one
did. My left foot was sore (the bike had fallen on it) and I felt shocked, but by the
time Mum and Dad caught up with us we were able to reassure them.  One thing was
certain – no way was I ever going on that bike again.  William and motor bikes just
didn’t mix.

 It was decided that William would take the bike to the nearby garage and then
 continue to Barry- either on the bike or public transport and I would travel with my
parents.  I rather hoped Mum would insist I rode in the side-car but she didn’t and I
spent a nervous hour or so cringing away from the overtaking traffic.
 
“Dad can’t you drive nearer the kerb – the traffic’s ever so close.”
 “No I can’t!  I’ve got yer Mum in there remember!”
 My fault for making light of my condition.  Much later in the day we all converged on
 the caravan.  By now the weather had broken and we looked out on a turbulent sea
 through windows blurred with torrential rain - which lasted all week-end

 I don’t remember seeing any more of Barry and spent most of the time curled up with
 a book whilst the other three played Monotony – endlessly.  The week-end had been a
washout and we were all relieved to get back to our respective homes.  Just a tiny scar
on my foot - a memento of Barry.
 
The next few weeks I spent happy hours sketching the flat from memory and deciding
 what would go where.  I wished I had the window measurements and I could have got
on with the curtains but as William pointed out as the flat was on the first floor we
could manage without for a while.

   Dodie was going to give us an old chest of drawers.  It was bow- fronted and I had
 seen a mahogany stand up mirror which would transform it into  an attractive
dressing table.  We bought a carpet from Coles.  It also had a Jacobean design and
would cover a fair bit of the living room and I would polish the surrounding floor
boards. 

 At last it was time to leave our tiny flat in Sheffield and start a new life in
Cheshire then in the weekly letter from Dodie she dropped a bombshell.  Now that we
were going to be settled she planned to let the house and come north to be near us.
For once I was speechless.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Monday, August 07, 2017

Back to reality


An Imperfect Life        

Chapter 23 Back to Reality.

 

“Tell me what’s wrong Mum.”

 “Maddie’s back,” her eyes were brimming now, “she’s left Paul.”
 
My first thought was for my dear little nephew Matthew.  Surely she hadn’t left him in Africa but

Mum reassured me.

“Mathew’s fine and they are both at the Aunts.  Maddie didn’t want to spoil your homecoming.  She said when things have settled down she’s coming to see you in Sheffield.”

“She ‘eld off leaving Africa until after’t wedding,” said Dad.  They both looked distressed.  Now I realised why the eldest aunt – Edith had been in tears when I walked down the aisle.

I remembered how Maddie and Paul had met when she and I were on holiday with the Aunts in Cleveleys.  Paul had been on embarkation leave; then they had a long separation followed by a romantic reunion and impassioned pleas to Mum and Dad to let them get married.  If only she had finished her training at the Slade.  How different she and I were - but then we’d had very different upbringings.  Now their marriage had ‘irretrievably broken down’.  One of the factors apparently was the threat to Matthew’s health.  Bilharzia- a disease caused by a parasitic worm found in ponds, streams and irrigation was rife where they had been living in Nigeria but the main reason was that the marriage had failed and Maddie was now a single parent.

William told me not to fret about it; there was nothing we could do and we would have our hands full settling down in Sheffield so I left a supportive letter for Maddie and urged her to come and see us soon.

  The next day, with as many of our belongings as we could carry we set off for our new home. 

  Although the couple whose home we were sharing had two young children – a boy of seven and a girl of nine, they were middle aged and it felt strange sharing their home.  We were given two rooms – their former dining room and a tiny bedroom with just enough room for a double bed pushed up against the wall and the use of the kitchen and bathroom.  The snag was we had to go through their living room to reach the kitchen.  The husband was very quiet and reminded me of an ancient mandarin and his wife was short and untidy with flyaway hair.  There was an atmosphere in the house; they were polite to us but spoke to each other in angry whispers.  The children were like most children, alternately sweet and naughty and the little boy would let off steam running round the house yelling “CORSETS!”

I tried to quell my misgivings- William took one look at the double bed in our bedroom and was as happy a sand-boy.

  There was great pressure at meal times to ensure we put everything we needed for the meal into the hatch and then – apologising profusely - go through their room where they would be having their meal.  One night back in our room I realised I had put all we needed in the hatch except the cutlery.

“William I can’t face disturbing them again – I’m going to climb through the hatch.”

“Don’t be silly- you ca---“

Too late I stood on a pouffe and pushed myself head first through the hatch and got well and truly stuck.  Terrified they would catch me with my head dangling over the kitchen floor I implored William to pull me back.  He did so with unnecessary gusto and we ended up on the floor – but at least it was on our side of the hatch.

  The wife went out to work and the husband stayed at home all day.  They hadn’t been clear about how much rent we would be paying and it transpired that they expected that I would look after the children and clean the house in return for the two rooms.  The wife confided in me and told me how she planned to leave her husband and was building up a case for a divorce and hinted that I could help her do this.

I planned to arrange an interview at the local hospital and I told William we had to find somewhere else to live if we had to scour every newsagent’s windows in Sheffield.

  William and I both wanted children - that had been the trigger that had caused me to say yes.  After talking it over we decided to give ourselves two years to get to know one another and prepare a home for our baby.  William needed to finish his apprenticeship and find a job and I needed to find a job as a trained nurse and earn some money.  Oh and urgently we needed to find somewhere else to live.

  Throughout his life William would always have, or would find a book on whatever subject I – or family and friends were interested in.  He haunted second hand book shops and rarely paid more than a few pence for the most academic of books.  Now he provided me with Dr Marie Stopes' ‘Married Love.’  She was a passionate feminist and the founder of Family Planning.  Fortunately there was an FP Clinic at Attercliffe Common where I had to show proof that I was married.  Then I was educated on the methods of contraception available.  I considered the following three:-

1        It could be left to the husband.

2        An internal coil could be fitted which would require changing every few months.

3        I could be fitted with a diaphragm which would be used in conjunction with spermicidal cream. (“Cream or Jelly,” as an assistant at Boots once bawled at me?)

The first was a nonstarter.  The second – I didn’t fancy having a foreign body inside me for months at a time so I settled for the third – which made it my responsibility.

I found if you followed the instructions and the timings it was fool proof.  The disadvantage - it was a bit messy and the diaphragm had a habit of jumping from one’s grasp, once it was lubricated.

That problem was sorted – now I had to find a job.  I decided to beard the lion in her den, called at the Hospital and asked to see Matron.  I was in luck – she agreed to see me.  It turned out she was a great admirer of our own Matron and held my training school in high esteem, so I was accepted once she had seen my references.  I was to be Staff Nurse in the Out Patients Department.  I was given my first outdoor uniform– a brown gabardine with a neat little hat.  I just prayed no-one would have a heart attack in the street whilst I was coming to work.

Every spare minute I was scanning newsagent’s windows and asking around for rooms to let.  One day I was approached by a Middle European woman teetering on high heels.
“Are you looking for somewhere to live?”

“Yes I am – er we are – My husband and I.”  She looked at my wedding ring.

“Well I have a house which I let out and the attic is vacant but it is very small.”

“Oh please could we come and see it?”

  When William came home from work we met up with the lady and she showed us the house.  It was on a hill in a nicer area and the attic was up a tiny flight of stairs.  At the top of the stairs was a minute kitchen with a skylight and one small room.  There was a gas fire and an enormous pipe skirting the room at waist height- so useful for airing clothes I thought.  Then there was a lumpy sofa which was a put- u-up where we would sleep.  We had to share the bathroom on the floor below but we both rejoiced to think we would have our own private eerie.  Some time after we had moved in we were told that our predecessor had died of polio on the very same sofa bed – even that didn’t dampen our spirits.  We reckoned this would be our home whilst we were in Sheffield.  It was very cheap - we would both be earning and soon we would be able to buy furniture.  There was a big department store called Coles and I had seen a lovely dining room suite.  It had a Welsh dresser with a Tudor Rose carved on it, a refectory table and the chairs were covered in a Jacobean print.

  It felt great to one of the grown up Work Force.  Hitherto I had been a glorified school girl-resident in the workplace and subject to rules and regulations.  It was a new experience to be setting out in my new brown uniform which often elicited an approving smile.  As I smiled back I prayed everyone would stay vertical. Only the educated few would realise I was RSCN – not SRN.

  At the Hospital everyone was friendly and there was a more relaxed atmosphere in Out Patients.  The area itself was much dirtier that I was used to; there were no clean air restrictions and I had noticed in our eerie the window sills were covered with sooty, greasy grime which needed to be washed weekly.  The poorer children often had dirty heads and impetigo was rife.  One poor boy’s face and scalp were covered and each day I had to clean him up and then treat the area with gentian violet which made him deep purple from the neck up.  I think that, paradoxically now people are cleaner, standards of hygiene have slipped.  In those days we didn’t need to be reminded to wash our hands or keep our hair away from faces and collars.  No way would we risk getting nasty skin diseases and pediculi in our hair.  Chefs nowadays think nothing of beating a mixture vigorously with their floppy hair shedding its detritus to the mix.

  We settled into the attic room and I had to get used to doing a day’s work, keeping the flat clean, seeing to the laundry and cooking a meal.  That was women’s work.  Our main relaxation was the cinema, books and the radio.

  Dodie, William’s mother used to breed dogs and her offspring were all over the country.  She remembered clients she had in Sheffield and more or less suggested they should get in touch with us which they dutifully did and invited us for coffee.  It was the custom to give guests coffee –usually instant and served in a blue or green Denby jug with biscuits or sandwiches rather than alcohol.  We were given bridge rolls with a tasty Polish ham garnished with bits of cucumber and from then on all my guests were served the same.  Slowly I was learning to be a  housewife and a hostess

  The people on the floor below, with whom we shared a bathroom were very pleasant.  The bathroom had a faulty lock and I was horrified one day to see a teapot spout appear round the door.  My scream stopped it dead in its tracks and it vanished along with a very embarrassed downstairs tenant.  Profuse apologies all round and a new bolt was fixed.

  Life was hectic.  Occasionally we would travel over the hills to my parents and be pampered.  Gran was back from the States and Maddie had a local job.  Everybody was concerned that I had lost quite a bit of weight and I had to promise to go to see the doctor.  My life had changed; although I had worked hard for years - nourishing meals had always been provided and I had no housework or laundry to do.  Then there was the sex – no wonder I was skinny.

Monday, June 26, 2017


An Imperfect Life.

 
Chapter 22

 
BINGO!

 

Exhausted after our marathon journey we spent a couple of days recovering.  I unpacked my trousseau and we did the deed.  I decided Rome wasn’t built in a day. Eventually the clouds lifted and with them our spirits and we started to enjoy our honeymoon.  It was exciting being surrounded by foreigners – the Scesaplana was a favourite resort hotel with the Dutch Royal Family.  An enormous Dutchman introduced us to ‘velvet liquid fire’ and Grand Marnier became our evening digestif.

  There were Italians and Swiss but one day a coach full of young men arrived and incredibly they turned out to be from Metro Vickers where William worked.  Even that didn’t dampen our spirits.

We became friendly with two older ladies from Edinburgh who were seasoned travellers.  They had a very good relationship with the rather dour head waiter who, following their example we called Rudolph.

“Pat dear – it’s probably not a good idea to call Rudolph Rudolph.”

“Oh but I thought that was his name.  I’m sure I heard you…

“You see my dear we used to come here before the war so Rudolph is an old friend and well - Flora and I are quite elderly so it is permissible.  However he is the Head Waiter and should be addressed as Herr Ober.”

  She told me this in such a gentle way I was grateful and we immediately took her advice and Herr Ober was less grumpy.  After all we had been enemies until recently.  It was a shock to see the graveyards full of photographs of young men in German uniform.  Some of them looked like children.

  I was mesmerised by the sparkling mountain - the Scesaplana which seemed to be whispering “climb me!”   When I heard the Metro Vickers lads were planning a climb I persuaded William that we should do it first rather then go up in a crowd.

At 10,000’ the mountain was almost three times the height of any mountain I‘d climbed, but as the village was itself high I reckoned we -  by now - should be acclimatised and wouldn’t go barmy as we got higher.  Dodie had made it clear that William had no climbing experience so I did feel responsible, asking lots of questions about the route and choosing a perfectly clear day for the climb.  Trained by Jamie and Alec in the Lakes I was fairly good at spotting routes.  It was a long slog but well way-marked.   As we got higher the greenery and rocks were covered with snow and when we eventually reached the top there was an amazing vista.  All around were distant peaks.

“Look William we’re surrounded by ice cream cones – upside down.  Aren’t you glad we did it?”

William grinned – I think he was glad.  We were fascinated by a man dressed in lederhosen who was preparing to scree- run down a rocky precipice.  It was far more dangerous than anything I had done in the lakes so I had no intention of suggesting we took that route.  As he set off his friends leant way over the edge calling out to guide him from above – shouting “Links! Links! Recht! Recht!”

Once he was out of sight there was a deathly silence and we trusted he had got down safely.

  It was very hot as we worked our way down the mountain – not a soul in sight so I took my shirt off.

We felt immensely proud chatting to the MV boys later in the bar and the next day they repeated our feat.

“I got a great shot of the glacier,” boasted one of them.  There was quite a lot of chat about the glacier and later, in our room I questioned William.

“I don’t remember any glacier.  Do you?”  William admitted he didn’t.

  For the briefest of times William was putty in my hands and - to my shame - we set off the next day to climb the mountain once more.  At the summit we met some English speaking climbers and discovered the large snowy waste at the bottom of the mountain was the glacier and we were about to traverse it for the fourth time.

Whilst all this activity was going on I was on a quest to find ‘the Big O’ (orgasm).

It was akin to catching a falling star or attempting to scoop up mercury from a broken thermometer.  I kept coming close until finally – BINGO!  It blew my socks off!

“Pat the desk gave me this telegram for you.”

My hands shook as I opened the orange envelope.  I screamed and William rushed over to comfort me.

“I’ve passed!  I’m State Registered!”

I explained that I had left sufficient money for Matron to send a telegram to tell me the results

“Good old Matron.  She actually paid for an extra word - CONGRATULATIONS! Wasn’t that nice of her? “

I had the big O and an R.S.C.N - all in one day.  William just grinned.

Walking round the Austrian countryside was pure Von Trapp although the musical had not yet been written.  The hills were alive – with the sound of cow bells, the children and adults were dressed in quaint costumes, there were tiny churches and the whole area had a fairy tale feel.  The shepherds were very friendly and would offer us a schnapps and we ignored their very ripe smell.  I suppose washing lederhosen isn’t the easiest thing to do. We learned to greet the villagers with a cheery “Grus Gott!”  One woman replied with a cut glass accent “Good morning- actually I’m from Chelsea!”

 It was so sad wandering round the church yards and seeing photos of young men in uniform their lives cut short by the awful war.

  The day after our second ascent I woke up blinded.  All that glittering snow had given me snow blindness.

William was very solicitous.

“Time to slow down a bit.  After all we are on honeymoon.”  After a day in a darkened room I was fine but made sure to wear sun glasses for the rest of the time.

One of the weird things about the hotel; the bathrooms were at the end of the main corridor and were kept locked.  The drill was you had to ring for the chambermaid, she would run you a bath, provide you with towels and charge you x amount of Austrian Schillings.  The first time I did this the water was cool.  We wondered if this was a local custom as in Greece where the moussaka is never hot by the end of the day.  As the water in our hand basin was really hot and William was out I decided to have a really good stand–up wash.  In wartime days it was the custom to bathe once a week with just five inches of water; some people painted a line round the bathtub but as a nurse I was accustomed to a daily hot bath.  Half way through my ablutions the door handle rattled – it was William- also a little rattled to find the door locked.

“Give me quarter of an hour William I’m having a wash.”

What I didn’t realise was that he had come upstairs with some of the MV boys who were in the room opposite and who were vastly amused at his discomfiture.  Sorry William.  I was learning that privacy in marriage was a rare commodity.

  We had formed a small group of friends with a couple of the younger MV boys and two charming Swiss girls and set out on a long coach trip to Bologna in Italy between the Apennines and the Adriatic coast.  Bologna with its wide piazzas, marble floors and dusky red buildings –La Rossa - as it is known - was a great contrast to our Austrian idyll.  The food and shops were tempting and the dazzling scenery en route was well worth the gruelling journey.

  The capital of the Vorarlberg is Bregenz on Lake Constance which is bordered by Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  Every summer since 1946 an opera has been performed on a floating stage on the lake and our gang of six had the great good fortune to attend this spectacle.  We spent the afternoon in a small boat and requested the chaps to “Regardez la soleil,” whilst we changed into our cossies for a swim before the opera.  I can’t remember the name of the opera sadly and research has been fruitless – it was July/August 1951 but I do remember being moved by the beauty of the voices drifting over the lake – shimmering in the setting sun.

  As the honeymoon came to an end I realised what a lucky girl I was.  Less than two years earlier, I had believed that life worth living was over.  I had managed to banish Jamie from my conscious mind but Maddie always kept in touch with his brother Liam.  Many years later I heard that Liam told Jamie I had married someone who had been in the Navy and Jamie assumed it was Andrew.

A year later he married the older woman.

  It was time to return to real life in a strange town – Sheffield.  William was in the final part of his apprenticeship and I had to find a job.  First we had to collect our wedding presents from Mum and Dad and then settle in the two rooms we were renting from the man we met in the street.  I felt I had come to Austria a girl and was leaving as a woman.  Would people be able to tell?  Did I look any different?  I was longing to see Mum and Dad and tell them about the people we had met and the mountains we had climbed but as soon as I saw their faces I knew something was wrong.  Mum had beautiful blue/green eyes and when she was distressed they were a clear turquoise.

“What’s the matter Mum?”

 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

'The Kiss'
 
 
 
 
Our French son - having read Chapter 21 has kindly sent this beautiful photo of Rodin's 'The Kiss' last seen by me in London 1951

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Havoc our corgi who appears in Chapter 21- in her younger days.  The photo was taken by Lisa Sheridan - photographer to HM and mother of the actress Lisa Sheridan who starred in the film Genevieve.  Roger Moore was a model at the time - often used by Lisa but sadly our paths never crossed.