Monday, September 19, 2016

French River Cruising. Final Part.

 Cruising down the Seine.
 Next port of call Montoir-de - Bretagne.  This was somewhat of a concrete jungle.  I was told submarines were stored here during the war and once ashore it had a dreadful wasteland feel to it.  I was with a passenger with mobility problems so it was difficult to get away from the concrete.
 We persevered and at last found a sea shore and a café and then slowly returned to the ferry bus for our ship

 A lovely tree in beautiful Bordeaux.
 We spent 2 nights here and I was able to wander round the streets which reminded me of Paris.

 A lovely little church near a delightful square for coffee.  Such a relief to have Braemar in my sights.  Impossible to get lost.  Here we were cruising the Garonne and Gironde rivers.
On board alone it is very easy to get the days confused and as a result I missed one of my excursions.
It was 'leisurely Rochelle' in a pony and trap.  Friends tod me it was very bumpy so I gave myself a talking to and won't do that again.  Two of the best excursions I had already done and two were booked up by the time I had decided.  However Trevarez Castle  was a treat.
 We drove through pleasant countryside from Lorient.  There are really beautiful gardens in France but as the main plants here are rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas and hydrangeas it was mainly the beauty of the woodland and surroundings that attracted.  There are various exhibitions in the outbuildings
 Here is our guide leading us up the garden path.
 Trevarez Castle was built in the early 20th century and looks down over the scenic Aulne Valley
 You can see why it is named the Pink castle.  Alas on Sunday 30th July it was bombed by the RAF and subsequently partly destroyed.  It was bought by the Finistere council and buildings and gardens have been beautifully restored.  It is very much a work in progress and inside much of it is like an immaculate bomb site.  One dreads to think how much it is costing and who is to pay?  Not the RAF I'm fairly sure.
 There is a fantastic drop from the castle to the Aulne Valley.  These shots were taken from the terrace

 Part of the ongoing restoration.  Its going to be divine one day.
 Finally we repaired to the Orangery and had tea or coffee with a cake which appeared a little dry but had a delicious filling of prune puree which saved its bacon.
Au revoir France.  A bientot.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

French River Cruising Part 2

 Next came Rouen situated on the banks of the Seine and described by Victor Hugo as the city of a hundred spires.  It is the capital of Normandy and has inspired artists and writer in the past.  The cathedral - with its Gothic façade has been immortalised by Monet.

 Scattered around the streets are 2' high concrete pillars which become invisible should you stop to  look in a shop window or chat with a friend resulting in shins becoming an interesting navy blue colour.  All fading now.
 Rouen is the capital of Normandy and has distinctive architecture.

 The cathedral is very impressive outside but I was disappointed with the interior.  It suffered from bombing in WW2 and seems to have been neglected.  We were on a tour and the guide didn't wait for everyone to gather so must of us missed the commentary and as she had no microphone and didn't project her voice we missed most of the commentary and I missed seeing the tomb where the heart of Richard the Lionheart is buried.
 Above is the famous astronomical clock - the oldest in France1389  It just has the one hour hand and is a thing of beauty.
 In the Place du Vieux Marche we entered the Chapel commemorating Joan of Arc
and I was startled to realise that although she led the French army to victory she was only 19 when she was burnt alive.
Here is a structure on the site of her pyre.
"Saint Joan of Arc was burnt alive in the Old Market Square in Rouen, France on the morning of May 30, 1431, pronounced a heretic, relapse and idolater. Her ashes were gathered and thrown into the Seine River. According to witnesses present at her execution, during the final moments of her life she saw several priests with tears in their eyes. Turning to them she said, "All you priests who are here, I beg you to say a Mass for me, every one of you."
I met two nice women - Anne and Sue  and also Eve from Cornwall who is doing the same Amalfi coast cruise next year.

French River Cruising

  Part 1
 My cabin in chaos.  It's late afternoon - I've yet to unpack.  It's lifeboat drill and early dinner is 6.15pm
 As our captain says 'Ladies and yentle men out beautiful chip Braemar where a year last Christmas I broke my arm learning the slow foxtrot.  Don't worry boys - I shall keep my promise not to dance.
 Our first port of call - lovely Honfleur.  a classic French experience.  A casual coffee where my French was understood.  Helping a fellow passenger buy pyjamas - apparently he had forgotten them and then an aperitif watching the boats bobbing and the world go by- with a delicious lunch to look forward to.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Call of the Running Tide

It's that time again.  French Rivers in September - who could resist?  The Bayeux tapestry I did years ago when my elder son was a teenager and Monet's garden I did when our French family were living in Paris but I've never been to Bordeaux and there are plenty of other excursions to choose from.

I shall take my camera.  This inability to post photos can't last for ever.  Back soon.  Keep the faith.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Chapter 15 

Back to Reality


“Hey!  Break it up you two.  It’s great to see you Jamie!” 

Alec was grinning from ear to ear – at last he wasn’t solely responsible for two inexperienced climbers.

I realised Jamie had been travelling all night,

”I’ll go and fix an extra breakfast with the warden and Alec show Jamie where the showers are.  It’s all been paid for remember.  Ginny go and grab a table please.”

We had just one more night before the end of our magical holiday and decided to simply do the long walk to Keswick with no deviations so we could catch up on our doings and give Jamie a chance to recover from his ordeal.  He told me he had confided in one of his uncles about our falling in love and the uncle had strongly urged him to get back here before the end of the holiday.  I blessed that uncle.   Maddie had once met Jamie’s parents and said only ‘a guid Scots girl’ would be good enough for their sons but Liam, his elder brother at Yale married Ruth – an Austrian Jewess who – with her parents had fled the holocaust.

 He showed me an enormous darning needle that his grandfather used to darn his socks – he had left it to Jamie.

  Another beautiful day and although there was an air of melancholy that our happy foursome was coming to an end Jamie was coming home with me and we would have Saturday and part of Sunday together.  I decided that when I got home I would do the unheard of and phone Matron to ask if I could have an extra day – Monday - as my day off.

 We turned up by Rogue Herries – climbed lots of walls and whilst resting under a bridge were caught up by four American girls. They were very friendly and seemed mesmerised by Jamie.  To our amusement and Jamie’s discomfiture they asked if they could take a photo of him.  They did so and went on their way whilst we teased Jamie unmercifully.  It was an eye opener- I had always been fairly immune to his good looks – it was himself I loved.

  By the time we reached Keswick we were tired, hot, dirty and hungry so we went in search of food.  To our horror (Ginny and I) we saw our least favourite Ward Sister – a chilling reminder that all good things come to an end.  It didn’t stop us demolishing Fairy Floss, cherries, peaches and short bread however.

  The hostel was a bit of a disappointment but Ginny and I donned our dresses for the last time, we all had a very merry supper and set off for a local tavern.  After drinking cider all sadness disappeared.  Jamie and I had a prolonged goodnight kiss and inadvertently were locked out of the hostel.  Safely inside again we adjourned to the stairs until rudely interrupted by the assistant warden and dispatched to our separate dormitories.

Both Ginny and I woke early and at 4.45 am walked down to the lake and saw Keswick in all its early morning glory.  A mist was rising and four beautiful chestnut horses were standing under a tree.  We gazed at them in awed silence.

  After breakfast and our obligatory duties we found a café and had one of our usual feasts – a last supper before we bade a tearful farewell to Alec.  What a star he had been.  Jamie and he were meeting up in Scotland later to climb in Skye.  I wondered if

the four of us would ever come together again.  On the bus to Ambleside we admired the scenery and decided Thirlmere was our favourite lake.  Ginny and I went to collect the rucksack we had left there and Jamie went to buy sandwiches – Heaven Forefend that we should go a couple of hours without food.  At Kendal Ginny found she had the wrong rucksack.  Jamie didn’t flap - just dashed off again to sort it whilst we two girls applied Nivea cream in Kendal High Street in a last frantic effort to achieve a honey brown skin tone.  Tans were rare in the forties – nobody went abroad for holidays. We were both fair so the nearest we ever got was a pinky gold.

 As the scenery changed from green hills and mountains to industrial towns with blackened factories I felt the usual droop in spirits at leaving the Lakes.  I knew Ginny felt the same and we tried hard to keep smiling when we said goodbye. Neither of us knew where our next assignment would be.

  At last we were home and it felt really special having Jamie there.  Mum and Dad were very sympathetic about the loss of his grandfather and marvelled at all we had accomplished on our holiday. 

“Honestly Dad if you and Mum hadn’t dragged us up Hellvellyn and Skidaw when I was knee high to a grasshopper – I couldn’t have done it.”

“You would have been proud of her Mr Barnes.”  Jamie was my champion.

  When Maddie appeared I told them I was going to finish with Andrew.  After supper we walked Maddie down to the aunts and on the way back I stopped at the phone booth opposite the Globe Mill.   I told Jamie I was going to try to get hold of Andrew.

To my amazement I actually got straight through to him.  Trying to keep my voice normal I told him I was back and would get in touch as soon as I knew my off- duty and arrange to meet.  I had to tell him in person but I was dreading it.

  Back home we had a lovely chat with Mum and Dad and then – exhausted went to bed- I in the room I shared with Gran  - she was in the States visiting her other daughter – and Jamie in Evan’s room – he was on holiday.

Next morning I saw my parents off, made breakfast and took a cup of tea to Jamie.

I completely forgot it was Wakes Week when all the shops were closed and when Rossendale lived up to its nickname – The Valley of Death - and let poor Jamie go off in a fruitless search for a haircut.  I didn’t mind the longer locks but Jamie dressed for climbing was looking decidedly scruffy – especially in the trouser department, so I purloined a pair of Evan’s trousers – beautifully pressed – Mum was an excellent valet - and then he looked presentable if a little rakish.

The only time my sweet-tempered brother got angry with me was when he discovered what I had done.  So sorry Evan.

  We went to the Aunts for tea and came back with Maddie - our chaperone and her baby.  I enjoyed showing off my skill bathing and feeding the baby.  As baby nurse on the wards I was used to doing six of the little loves every four hours.

Eventually with Maddie and the baby in bed we were alone.  At last.

Mum had left us a ‘wimbry pie’ – a sort of blueberry grown wild on the moors.  We demolished it and with purple mouths talked and spooned and looked at the stars.

  During the week-end we were often alone together late at night, lights off, curtains open and the ghostly moonlight shining in.  I had never been in such a position before – alone with someone I loved and the freedom to do anything we wanted to.  I felt Jamie was the most wonderful man/boy I had ever met and trusted him completely.  I felt yearnings and wanted to stay enfolded in his arms for ever.  As we got more passionate Jamie - in a shaky voice said he respected the fact that we were in my father’s house and he would not betray that trust.  I knew he was right and this delicious, warm, oozy feeling would have to be enough until we were married.  I just wished I had been wearing a prettier petticoat instead of one of my mother’s which was too big for me and I'd had to knot the straps.

  I took Jamie to a farm in the Ribble Valley where we used to stay.  They had known me since I was a child and I was proud to show him off whilst Mrs Walker gave him the once - over; always a bit unnerving as her eyes looked in different directions, but he passed muster and we were given a splendid lunch.

“Eee's a gud ‘un Pat.  ‘Ang on to’im!" she said as I hugged her goodbye.

When we got home Maddie had been joined by Paul – her husband.  I wondered how he would behave as originally it was he who stopped me going to the Commem. Ball with Jamie.  To all intents and purposes they appeared to get on- there was a lot of bonhomie- which didn’t seem totally natural to me.  I cooked my speciality- Tomato Omelette for us all and then Jamie and I went to look at the Unitarian Church where Maddie and Paul had been married.

On our last night we stayed up till dawn.  It was time to return to hospital, get back to work and tell Andrew I couldn’t see him anymore.  Jamie was meeting up with the Climbing Club in Skye.

After a last walk over the hills we had lunch, said goodbye to Maddie and Paul and thanked them for chaperoning us.  We caught the 4.15 bus to Manchester and to take our minds off our sadness went to see ‘The Great Gatsby’ at the Odeon but Jamie had a headache so we came out.  The city was hot and oppressive, there was nowhere to eat so we took the bus back to the Hospital and sat in a field.  I told Jamie of my fears- working with desperately sick children- what if I made a mistake- it was such a huge responsibility.  He tried to reassure me and we kissed good night.

“I‘ll see you in the morning Jamie. As soon as I get in I’ll ask if I can have my off-duty in the morning.  I’ll get off at 10am and go straight to Moseley Street Bus Station so I can wave good bye.”

  I rushed up the hospital steps and went straight to the notice board to look at the rota.

My spirits dropped:  I was relief baby nurse on Wrigley.  Baby nurses can never have a morning off – with six babies to bathe and feed there is too much to do.

Although the post was excellent it was too late for a letter. Mum and Dad didn’t have a phone and mobiles were unheard of.

  Next morning the frustration was awful as I pictured Jamie waiting fruitlessly.  Determined to make some sort of progress I phoned Andrew and we made arrangements to meet outside the hospital that evening.

Jamie had been very specific about how I should tell Andrew; I should keep it brief- not go for a drink and not kiss him so I was behaving like an automaton.  Andrew said he could tell from my voice something was up.  We walked and said not very much.  He behaved perfectly; he had brought chocolates and perfume which he insisted I accept.  It was a shocking contrast to all the happy times we had had together and I hated it.  We said goodbye and as I walked up the Hospital drive I bumped into Nurse Mitchell who had passed us in the road.

“You both looked terrible – as if someone had just died.”

I was really sad to lose someone with whom I had shared such light-hearted, happy times.  I love perfume but to this day I can’t use Chanel No 5.





Monday, July 25, 2016

It must be love.

An Imperfect Life

Chapter 14

It must be love!

There were going to be four of us on our trip to the Lakes – Jamie, his climbing pal Alec - another Oxford undergrad
 - my nursing friend Ginny and me.  It helped that Mum and Dad knew and liked Ginny and now I was nineteen they had at last decided they could trust me.  Ginny and I were travelling up by bus and the boys were hitch- hiking from Oxford.

“I promised Jamie we would travel fairly light Gin.”

“The heaviest things are these wretched boots with all the nails.  If we travel in them there should be bags of room.”

“Let’s make a list of essentials“ I suggested, “and take it from there.  We need rain gear, sweaters- it can be freezing in the mountains - shirts, underwear and say one pretty outfit for any special occasion.”

“We’re not likely to be meeting Royalty Pat.”

“You never know!”

At last we were on the bus with our bulging rucksacks.  Being away from the wards and the strict discipline affected out spirits and we were light hearted, giggly and excited.  At Lancaster Bus Station we caught a glimpse of them striding past our bus.

They looked like Greek gods and – like the silly young girls we were - we cowered in our seats so they wouldn’t spot us.

At last we reached the hostel. It was a relief to get off the bus and listen to the silence broken only by bees buzzing and birds tweeting.  The weather was perfect – sizzling in fact - so we ditched the sweaters we had travelled in and put on shorts and cotton tops.  We chatted to everyone in sight and then sunbathed in a field where we could spot the boys’ approach.  The meeting went off smoothly and our shyness soon wore off.

After supper we did our duties – washing up  - and went for a walk in the meadows  spattered with wild flowers in delicate pastel colours.  After Manchester the air was fragrant with wild herbs and blossoms.  Alec managed to annoy a bull who gave chase and, inadvertently Ginny kicked me in the eye as we both scrambled over the wall.  No great harm done and we sat and chatted in the evening sun.

Before bed I wrote to Andrew as promised.

  The moment of truth came the next day when Ginny and I staggered when we attempted to put our rucksacks on our backs.  The boys were brilliant- Jamie taking charge.

“Take out every thing that isn’t absolutely necessary and put it in Pat’s rucksack which we’ll leave in Ambleside Bus Station. Put the light stuff in Ginny’s rucksack and you both can take turns in carrying it.  Any extraneous stuff that you want (this included my book-sized diary) we will put in our rucksacks.”  Were they not true gentlemen?  Yes I do feel ashamed but it was a different age.

We blessed them later – when we were struggling up Red Screes in a heat wave.  We had cherries, peaches, crisps and packed lunches but no water and the heat had dried up the streams.  What were we thinking?

The boys climbed the steep slopes with long loping strides but then would wait for us to catch up – with encouraging words.  Ginny who wasn’t used to mountains was doing well.

“Did you do this with your Mum and Dad Pat?

  I laughed, “The big difference was that Dad would drive us in the motor bike and sidecar to the mountain – we would all climb it, come down and drive back to the camping ground.”

“Whereas the boys plan a route from A to B regardless of the fact that there may be two or three steep climbs in between,” groaned Ginny.

“And all the hostels have been booked so we are committed.”

“Lets get to the top of this slope and then we’ll have a refreshment break.  You’re both doing great!”   There was a twinkle in Jamie’s eyes but his encouragement got us going again.

We had a treacherous descent down the other side with the tantalising sight of the Kirkstone Pass Inn, which we prayed would be open.  It was and we celebrated with ice- cream, milk and cider.  We were very thirsty.

As we weaved our way – we girls somewhat unsteadily- along the valley towards Patterdale we came upon Brother’s Water and sobered up with an icy swim.  Quite a dangerous thing to do but it revived us and I enjoyed seeing Jamie in his swimming trunks.  He was taller than Andrew –very slim – lovely shoulders and narrow hips.  His skin and hair were much darker than his brother Liam and already he was looking quite bronzed.

By the time we reached the hostel we were tired and hungry.  Food and drink became of paramount importance and I still remember the raspberries and custard that we were given for dessert.  We had had years of going without the more delicious eats and had a lot of catching up to do.  We repaired to the White Lion – the local pub and sampled the local cider.  We had become a close knit unit of four and both Jamie and Alec had proved themselves to be ideal climbing companions.  I wrote to Andrew.

  The first time I climbed Helvellyn with Mum, Dad and Evan we had stared awestruck from the summit at Striding Edge – a razor’s edge path with airy drops on either side.

“We’re not using that route – too dangerous!” said Dad.  Now with Alec and Jamie, it was our route for the morning unless, they said, it was foggy or there was a high wind.  We left Patterdale and had a hard slog up to the Edge. Once on it- as long as you concentrated and were careful it wasn’t too bad, with views of Red Tarn to the right and the summit of Helvellyn ahead.  The last bit was a rough scramble and we managed to miss the Gough Memorial where the body of Charles Gough was found in 1803.  He had been killed by a rock fall and three months later he was found with his dog still guarding his remains.  By the time we were descending Dolly Wagon it was tea-time – the most important time of the day.  Around 3pm we would start to get twitchy.  Would this be the day we would fail to find a tea-place?  We were like a bunch of old ladies- salivating at the thought of the crumpets, muffins and scones oozing butter, jam and cream.  And then there were the cakes and pastries.

  To cut down on weight we hadn’t bothered with pack lunches and hadn’t eaten since breakfast.  We were in luck and stuffed ourselves silly.  The Hostel was run very efficiently by two ex- army chaps.  After supper we ambled round Grasmere ending up at The Traveller’s Rest, then had to race cross country to be back in time for curfew.  Since my visit to Oxford Jamie and I had got in the habit of giving each other a dispassionate kiss at bed-time - as he said - the kind that I would give the family.  This night Jamie kissed me and I knew I’d been kissed.  He then told me I was scared stiff of men.  This was news to me but I was confused - trying not to enjoy the moment too much and be loyal to Andrew.  Both Ginny and I were experiencing that heightened awareness that being removed from the stresses and tragedies of working with very sick children can bring.  The beautiful, carefree environment we were in only served to make the experience surreal.  Neither Alec nor Ginny were romantically involved with each other and we both felt utterly safe, as if in the care of two older brothers.  Now things were getting complicated and each day Jamie and I were slowly but inexorably getting too close for comfort.   I wrote to Andrew.
The next couple of days we relaxed more - walking round Elterwater and Blea Tarn, Dungeon Ghyll and the Langdales - where Sarah and I had climbed three years earlier.  Jamie and I did a lot of loitering on little stone bridges staring into the mesmerising water looking for fish and being enveloped by a growing sweetness that was hard to resist.  We left Elterwater and walked over Hard Knott Pass and Wrynose.

I found an Irish tweed flat cap which Jamie coveted and there was much bargaining with biscuits and chocolate as barter.   We began to get punch drunk walking endlessly with our rucksacks and were all feeling high spirited.  That night we were going to visit some old climbing friends of Alec.  They were distinguished climbers – he had been on the reserve team for Everest and his first wife had been killed in an avalanche.  They now ran a pub in Boot and Ginny and I decided it was time to put on our glad rags and show the boys why dresses and pearls were not just a waste of space.

  We were excited about meeting these famous friends of Alec.  Both of us had pretty dresses, were burnished by the sun, and were bubbling with laughter and anticipation. Even the boys had made an effort and looked unusually spruce. We ambled along the lane in the evening sun and saw in the distance a gaggle of boy scouts.  One – a little fat boy in baggy shorts – was intent on scratching his bum.  This amused us all but Ginny and I started that awful helpless giggling which persists the more you try to control it.  I could hear my mother’s voice in my ear.  “There’ll be tears before bed-time!”  As usual she was right.

  As we neared the inn a man recognised Jamie and said there was a telegram for him in the pub.  All laughter gone, we entered the pub to be greeted by people with serious faces.  Silently Alec’s friend handed over the telegram to Jamie and I propelled him to a bench to sit down.  He opened it and read it sitting very still- the owner of the Inn got him a brandy and we waited for him to tell us what was wrong.

 Jamie cleared his throat as he always did when he had something important to say,

‘My grandfather has died.’
Although the family were Scots born and bred - Jamie, his two brothers and his parents lived in London.  Throughout his life the highlight of the year had been the trip to their paternal grandfather’s farm in the Highlands where they would spend the summer.  Not only had Jamie lost a much loved grandfather but the happiest part of his life had come to an end. 
Sid and Jane – Alec’s friends – brought us coffee and sat down with us to help us decide what to do.  Clearly Jamie had to get up to Scotland as soon as possible.  His parents and the younger son Duncan were already at the farm but his elder brother Liam was now at Yale in the States.  It was too late to do anything tonight but he would get the first train in the morning.  The station was some way away so Sid lent Jamie a bicycle.  Jamie didn’t want to spoil Alec’s reunion with his friends so we put the sadness on hold and sat enthralled by the stories the two mountaineers had to tell us.
All too soon it was time to get back to the hostel. 

“Jamie - Ginny and I will rush back to the hostel and explain to the warden what’s happened. We’ll take the bike and you and Pat come on afterwards.”

Dear Alec – he had seen what was happening over the last few days and wanted to give us a little time alone.  We took our time walking back – so different to a few hours earlier when I had been helpless with laughter.  At the bridge we said good night three times and went to our respective dormitories.  I couldn’t sleep and got up at 4am to wait for Jamie.  Soon he appeared looking sad and tired.  We walked to the bridge and talked of the croft we would have when we were married.  It was romantic nonsense but it seemed real at the time.  We planned the next few days so that we would really be together all the time.  Jamie knew the entire route we were taking, which was a comfort.  Back in the hostel the warden had made Jamie a decent breakfast and some tea for me.  Then I rode the bike down to the bridge and we clung together and said good bye for the last time.  Jamie watched whilst I walked back to the hostel and then I watched as he rode away.  Everybody was busy getting breakfast and packing up so I sneaked out to the bridge and let out all the emotion I had been hiding for Jamie’s sake and sobbed my heart out – except that my heart wasn’t there anymore.  I knew without a shadow of a doubt that for the first time in my life I was truly, deeply, madly in love.  With Jamie.  For ever and ever.

  Jamie liked my hair loose and had asked me to keep it in bunches whilst he was away.  I think if I had had false teeth he would have asked me to remove them.  A chastened trio set off on the long, long valley of Upper Eskdale and each rock and tuft of grass seemed to remind me that Jamie was gone.  His departure made Ginny and me realise that this glorious holiday wouldn’t last for ever and soon we would have the stomach churning ‘back on duty’ not knowing which ward we would be on and whether it was day or night duty.  In contrast the boys would have the whole summer climbing in Skye.  Poor Alec looked care-worn.  He had made up the quartet as a favour to Jamie and now he was solely responsible for two ditsy girls with few climbing skills and absolutely no sense of direction.  The holiday had been planned to give us a ‘breaking in period’ to acclimatise us and now we were to start ’the big stuff.’  No wonder he was apprehensive.  Ginny and I had a quiet word and decided that:
A/ we must make the most of the rest of the holiday.

 B/ We must be good and sensible and do all we could to make life easier for Alec.  He was the Daddy now. 

Alec had two passions: climbing and music – especially Gilbert and Sullivan so we peppered him with questions about rock climbing – what he had done, the different grades of climbs, what he would do in Skye, rope work and how to abseil.  Soon our spirits rose, Alec was in his element and when the weather worsened and we were soaked in a deluge we sang ‘Three little Maids from school are we’ and ‘The Lord High Executioner’. We were rain happy.  As a further tribute to him – demonstrating our trust and esteem - we made him Controller of the Kendal Mint Cake. This is a hard rock like substance – very sugary, which has been fortifying climbers since 1936 and was used on the successful Everest expedition.  Very small amounts were doled out to us when Alec deemed we had deserved them.  We ate our pack lunch sheltering under a bridge and then tackled Scafell Pike and saw where Sid (last night’s host at the pub) had discovered the climb down to Sty Head Pass.  Honister Pass was next on the agenda and then, thankfully the hostel.  By now we were recognising faces and there was a very matey atmosphere.  We were intrigued by Ben – a rotund fair- haired lad who never seemed to exert himself and yet every time we reached a peak Ben would be sitting there – usually scoffing something – like a benign Buddha.  Weird!
I wrote to Jamie and left the letter with the warden to post the next day.  In those days you could post a letter – even in remote places and know it would be delivered the next day and you could have a reply the day after.  There would be at least two posts a day and they were totally reliable.  Whatever happened to our Royal Mail?
  After supper Alec told us what he had in store for us the next day; so Ginny and I didn’t sleep too well that night.  The ‘big stuff’ Alec had promised we were going to do, wasn’t the only thing that had me tossing and turning that night. I wondered how Jamie was coping; there was no sign of him returning and time was running out.  As soon as we knew about Jamie’s grand-father’s death I had written to my parents to beg them to let me bring Jamie home after the Lakes for the couple of days I had before returning to hospital.  The difficulty was that that was precisely when it was Wakes Week, when all the mills and shops close down for the annual holiday and - as surely as night follows day - when they themselves would be going on holiday.  Even after my parents had retired they stuck rigidly to these dates. Of course they would never agree to our staying in the house alone. Gran - as usual - was in the States visiting Auntie Janet so I also wrote to Maddie, who was at the aunts, to ask if she would come home to chaperone us.  It seemed so cruel that we should be separated at this special time.  Then there was Andrew.  These last few days everything had become crystal clear.  I had to tell him; but I couldn’t just write a ‘dear John’ letter I had to tell him in person and I dreaded it.  Before we left the hostel I asked the warden to please be sure he posted the letter to Jamie and then concentrated on what Alec had in store for us. 

 We went over Brandreth and Green Gable and then Great Gable and Alec showed us how to scree run down Great Gable.  It really was awesome but we trusted Alec implicitly; you were really using the mountain as an escalator -  and digging your heels in and the zigzagging from side to side, more or less ensured you didn’t go hurtling off  the mountain.  Now it is considered a danger to the environment and is banned in some countries.

  There is a memorial on Great Gable to twenty four members of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District who died in WW1 and a service is held there every year on Remembrance Sunday.  Then there was Black Sail Pass where we met up with, by now, familiar hostellers who told us they had seen Ben on Great Gable – having a snack as usual and no hint of how he had got his portly frame there.  Somehow we found the energy to race up Scarth Gap and then dropped down into Buttermere (not literally) going very fast.  Buttermere is an enchanting little lake; we had seen so much beauty in one day that it would surely help us to survive the rest of the year in the Manchester environs.  Alec was frightfully pleased with us and when we found a welcoming farm for tea, a kind of happiness reigned. We ate lashings of bread, butter and jam followed by scones and then a nice old man gave us his.  We walked swiftly over Buttermere singing our hearts out.  When we reached the hostel, which had the nicest wardens yet, Alec told me all we had done, so I could copy it in my diary whilst we waited for supper.  After an overcast day the sun came out in the evening. We slept like tops!

   Another gruelling day – we were getting very fit.  We went up Dale Head – a steep and rough climb and once the mist had lifted there were stunning views of the valley, Great Gable and Scafell and we spotted some of our hostel friends steaming over the railway track. We then went on to Eel Crags where we could see Borrowdale on the left and Newlands on the right and dropped down to Maiden Moor via a pony track with great views of Derwentwater.  There were beautiful colours on the hills – a deep turquoise and Ginny and I just wanted to leap into the Newlands Valley – it looked so enticing.  An extremely blustery wind came up and we donned our macks for the long haul onto the moor.  The endless trek down to Grange played havoc with our knees and at the bottom – sweaty and exhausted, we closed our eyes listened to the babbling brook and imagined it was a hot sunny day.  I posted a letter to Jamie and then the heavens opened and the three of us squashed into a telephone kiosk to shelter.  Alec told us that the whole of Borrowdale had been given to the monks of Furness by Alice de Rumeli in 1209 and that Grange was where they stored their grain and also the salt made at the salt springs near the village.
  We walked to the famous Bowder Stone and agreed that even in the rain, Borrowdale is probably the most beautiful valley in Britain.  At the nearby studio we bought mementoes and I got some hairy Harris Tweed ties as gifts.  Later on my father, my brother, Paul and Jamie were all wearing them one night and were asked if it were some sort of club.  We signed Jamie’s name in the visitor’s book and wished he were with us.  By now we were shattered and had tea at Hazel Bank – the site of Rogue Herries House – the famous chronicle written by Sir Hugh Walpole.  Back at the hostel we had a merry sing-song with our friends after supper and they said they thought I was sixteen so my hair came out of Jamie’s ‘bunches’ before you could say Jack Robinson!
  Next day there were letters from Jamie, Maddie and Mum; most importantly Mum was very sympathetic about Jamie’s bereavement and said of course he could stay.  Maddie said yes she would chaperone (I never doubted it – she loved to know all that was going on and to be in the centre of any drama).  Jamie’s letter was very loving but it didn’t sound as if he would be able to get away in time.  Next day was going to be a comparatively easy day – we were all stiff and aching so we walked to Seatoller and bade goodbye to friends who were going home then bussed to Keswick and bought vital food supplies - biscuits and cherries.  After coffee we took a bus to Braithwaite and walked for miles in another deluge.  We found a bridge to sit under to have our lunch and Ginny and I laughed at the sight of Alec, for once speechless with raindrops dripping down his noble nose - all enthusiasm sapped.  We were all soaked to the skin but as so often happens, our spirits suddenly rose and before long we were singing our heads off.  Later we saw Walpole’s house and found a lovely place for tea with copper kettle, warming pans and spinning wheels.  In the beautifully carpeted hall we felt obliged to remove our boots, smooth ourselves down as best we could and opened the door  to a room full of posh northerners (and there aren’t many posher) taking tea – and what a tea.  I could blame our behaviour on privations during the war but we were just greedy pigs, which is why we were the last to leave and ate every scrap that had been left by the posh folk.
  There was a storm raging by the time we reached the hostel so Ginny and I donned our cossies and literally bathed in the river that ran through the grounds.  After supper I wrote to Jamie.  Next morning with only two days left, my spirits dropped when I saw there was no letter from him. Turning away from the notice board I bumped in to someone who had just come through the doorway.  I was blinded by the sun but I felt two strong arms round me and Jamie’s rough unshaven cheek, and the smell of his old tweed jacket and I clung to him and wouldn’t let him out of my sight.  It was July 21st - and I didn’t have a clue that two years later, on that very day I would be married.



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!