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



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.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Chapter 21

An Imperfect Life                        Chapter 21
Next Stop the Altar
“Barnes !  You’re wanted on the phone.”
 Trying to arrange an instant marriage just before Finals was too much.  It was
 “Great news!  I’ve been allowed to purchase my discharge.  I don’t have to go to   
   Korea and we can go back to having our wedding in July.”  William was ecstatic and
 predictably I burst into tears.  I wish I could remember how much we had to pay.  £11 sticks in my
 mind, or was that the cost of the material for my wedding dress?  Or was that the amount Uncle Bill
left me in his will?  Or was it all three?  At least now I had time to plan.  The bridesmaids were still
not singing from the same hymn sheet so I put them on hold.  Dad had his ‘boiled ham suit’- so called
because he always wore it at weddings and funerals where boiled ham was always on the menu.  It
was black jacket and striped trousers so it made sense for the men to hire the same and then I’d be

sure William would look respectable.  Toppers and tail would be inappropriate.
He did look fine on the day- apart from the thick ex- navy woollen socks he chose to wear.
Mrs Driver had been making my dresses for years and her daughter, who was studying fashion did six designs for me to choose from.  She wasn’t thrilled when I chose the top of one and the bottom of another (I couldn’t resist having a spray of orange blossom over my bum) but sweetly gave way.
I tried to keep the cost down for Mum and Dad’s sake; it was the custom for the bride’s parents to pay for everything except the flowers and taxis.  Maddie had held her reception in a hotel in Waterfoot but I longed to get away from the blackened hills – they were in those days - and into the beautiful countryside not too far away.
Does the ‘Black Bull still exist in Rimmington I wonder?
We rode over on the motorbike one sunny evening and it was green and leafy and alive with bird song.
“Would you like champagne for the toast?”
“Oooh yes please.”  And then they told us how much it would cost for 60 people and we settled for sherry.  This was the North so we were getting a three course sit down meal.  Naturally.
  Everything seemed to be falling into place and then in May William’s father died.  Although we knew he was quite ill it was a great shock for William and he rushed home for the funeral.  I was sad that I would never meet him.  Like many veterans of /WW1 his health had suffered.  He had been senior master at Lord Nelson’s old school for many years and many of his ex pupils were there.
William told me that he and his brother- on compassionate leave from the navy found themselves grinning with nerves but when the choir sang ‘Abide with me.’
“I was finished and couldn’t hold back the tears.”
“We should postpone the wedding William.” But William said his father would have wished us to carry on with our plans to marry July 21st 1951.
  When William’s elder brother Wallace had married his parents had given the couple a sum of money; Fleur - his bride came from a moneyed family.  Dodie consulted an old family friend to see if, now she was widowed, she should do the same for William.  The friend said she should treat both boys equally.
  William decided we should have a decent honey moon and unselfishly – knowing how I felt about mountains - put his own passion for sailing on hold and booked three weeks in the Vorarlberg in Austria.  He was afraid sailing would put me off but eventually our happiest times were our sailing days.  Dodie was convinced William would fall off the first mountain he climbed.
  At last Finals were over and I was free to leave.  I arranged that Matron would cable the results to our hotel in Brand- a mountain village William had chosen in preference to one called Lech.  I had three whole weeks before the wedding so William asked me if I would spend it with his mother in Norfolk.  He also gave me a book by Van de Velde on sex to prepare me for married life.
  Norfolk was another world.  The village was feudal and Dodie pre –war.  So very different from deepest, darkest Lancashire.  There was tennis and croquet on the lawn (Dodie was a demon with a mallet), lunch parties and always afternoon tea with the water boiled in a silver kettle on a spirit lamp.  To this day it sits on my Welsh dresser- regularly cleaned but no longer used.  The house was sprawling – shabby but charming with bowls of roses from the garden on the old polished tables.
 William had asked his boyhood friend- Gerry Brown - who lived next door to keep an eye on me.  He was a gentle soul with glasses and sprutty black hair and was to be our best man.  He had never met a girl from the North so did some goggling.  A typical bachelor I was delighted when some years later he met his own girl from the North, married her, had four children and never looked back.
  Dodie was very hospitable, took me to see the sights and the lovely beaches and gradually I met most of the family friends.  We went to Norwich one day and Dodie bought me a beautiful leather hand bag in crushed strawberry – the exact shade of my going away suit.  The break hadn’t been all peaches and cream.  Dodie was very deaf, had a noisy whistling hearing aid so I sympathised when she took it out.  I found my ‘Bacup talk’ used by factory girls in the mill – exaggerated enunciations and facial expressions - very useful.  One day she sent me out with the three dogs – even William raised his eye brows when I told him.  The dogs were two dachshunds – Annette a fat happy dog, Brunette a miniature dachs and neurotic as all get out and Havoc a welsh corgi well named.  They hated each other with a passion.  I got as far as the garden gate and then all hell let loose.  I was caught up in their leads with three snapping, snarling beasts going bananas. A car stopped and the driver tried to help me and finally Dodie appeared and sprayed them with pepper I think it was.  In spite of all that by the end of three weeks I felt rested and ready for anything.  Just as well as Mum greeted me with the news that I’d lost a bridesmaid.
Vanessa and Abe had called with the news that she couldn’t get time off to be bridesmaid (she now had a sister’s post in London.)  They had given us a pressure cooker as a wedding present and it was my sole cooker for years.  Even this didn’t dampen my spirits.  Now Annie could have her wine coloured dress instead of the dreaded stripes.  Next stop the altar.
  Just before the wedding William was told he would do the rest of his apprentice ship in the Sheffield steel works; so for one long weary day we pounded the pavements of this unfamiliar city looking for somewhere to live.  A pretty hopeless task in the early fifties.  We read notices in local shops and asked people on the street – to no avail.  Just as we were about to give up and go home a harmless looking man with a toothbrush moustache and flat hair approached us.
“Excuse me.  I hope you don’t mind me asking but are you looking for somewhere to live?”  Once he was satisfied we were gainfully employed and respectable- the nursing bit went down a treat - he told us that he and his wife and two children could let us have two rooms and the use of the kitchen.  There was just time to see them before catching the train home
  That wedding day in July the weather was perfect and I remembered ‘Happy is the bride the sun shines on.’  I determined to enjoy every moment.  At home we had a bathroom with a bath but the hot tap gurgled and spat out hot water grudgingly- evermore so with each additional bath.  I told the family politely but firmly that today of all days I was to have the first bath and to my surprise they agreed.  The morning passed in a haze but at last it was just Dad and me alone waiting for the taxi.  I couldn’t believe how calm I felt.  I loved my dress, Dad looked great and my family and friends would be waiting at the Church.  And with any luck so would William.  Why didn’t I feel nervous?  Walking up the path to the Church I remembered how Evan and I used to follow this same path, reluctantly every Sunday morning.  Walking slowly down the aisle it seemed everyone turned round and smiled at me.  Except for the eldest of the aunts and she was crying.  What was that all about?  William and Gerry were beaming and looking incredibly smart and Annie was a lovely bridesmaid in her favourite claret colour.  Her wealthy parents had treated her to a dress in a rich fabric which probably cost the earth and she had pink feathers in her hair.
  When we got to the part where we plight our troth it was William’s turn.  There was silence and I realised his stammer was the reason he had been keen to get married at sea.  I looked at him and smiled encouragingly and he smiled back and still nothing.  I could feel everybody willing him to speak but William and I were perfectly calm and in the end the Reverend Sokell said it all for him, so in theory I was married to him.
  There were great waves of relief as we walked down the other aisle to the triumphant swell of the organ.  Now we could relax and have fun.  All the guests were taken to Rimmington by coach and I was so glade we had chosen the countryside where the fields were not blackened by the cotton mills and the birds were singing.  The heat was sizzling but the inn was cool and it felt really special greeting our guests.  Three nurses from our set had travelled from London and the Miller family were my special guests: the daughter had been left at home but young David was there, his eyes out on stalks.
  Dodie- still in mourning for William’s father was resplendent in black and white.
She had asked William were we church or chapel, crust or crumb?  Now she could see for herself.  She seemed to be enjoying herself and was treated to true Northern hospitality.  After the toasts Hector asked if he might say something.
“I expect you are wondering what we – a Jewish family - are doing at Pat’s wedding.”
He went on how to explain how we had met when I nursed his son David and how I had become part of the family.  By the time he had finished I decided that if ever I wanted a character reference Hector was my man.
The afternoon flew by and it was time to leave for our long journey.  I changed into the going away suit – crushed strawberry with shoes and bag to match and a pale duck egg blue blouse.  Jerry was driving us to Manchester in his old banger where we would get the overnight bus to London.  It would be some time before we saw the marital bed.  The time passed pleasantly enough as we reminisced, like an old married couple about the wedding and the guests.  Three whole weeks in the mountains - and foreign ones at that.  Nowadays everybody goes abroad bur then it was really special.
Thankfully William was a member of the Victory Club in London - we were tired and travel-stained so we had a wash and brush up and left our luggage there.
After breakfast we ambled up Petticoat Lane and William bought me nylons.  The boat to France didn’t leave till 5pm so we spent the day visiting museums (I was dazzled by Rodin’s sculpture ‘the Kiss’) and parks At last we were on the boat for France standing in a crowd.  There was a strong petrol smell and a man was violently sick.  He picked up a cloth lying on the deck and wiped himself down   We stared as a matelot rushed up and energetically hoisted the besmirched flag.
By the time we were on the train that would take us through France and Switzerland to Austria we were exhausted.  In the early hours of Monday morning I wriggled from under William’s head which weighed a ton, looked down at the smelly- socked feet of the man sitting opposite me and wondered why we hadn’t settled for a shorter honey moon with more comfortable travelling arrangements.  At last on Monday afternoon we arrived at the Scesaplana hotel named after the towering mountain.  It looked charming its balconies bedecked with scarlet geraniums but the mountain was shrouded in thick cloud and we could see nothing beyond the remains of an avalanche which had struck the village that week.  It was Monday afternoon when we were shown to our twin bedded room.  We were too exhausted to do anything but sleep and I would have sold my soul for a cuppa.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Still here - just.
Serves me right .  I forgot to say goodbye before leaving for my seventh and - I have decided my last cruise.  In brief it was ill -fated;  at least three helicopter rescues and an ambulance in Sicily then one stopped counting.  When I was confined to my cabin with a hacking cough  - along with many other passengers, it occurred to me that the only time I have felt really ill in the last four and a half years was when I was on board and at my lowest point I was scared I could be dumped in a foreign hospital to peter out alone.
  Safely back home, drugs finished I'm getting back on track and ready to welcome my various family visits.
Sicily, Amalfi and Cartagena were all memorable but please forgive me if I concentrate on getting back to normal.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

An Imperfect Life

Chapter 20.


  By the end of the evening we both knew quite a bit more about each other.

William was twenty five – my senior by five years.  As Mum said when she first met him,

‘He’s a man Pat, isn’t he?’

He had been in the navy and was indignant at the amount of space allotted to a

Rating compared with that of an officer.  His brother was a serving officer in the

Royal Navy – and was married with two children.  William had just left Leeds

University (First Class Hons) and started an apprenticeship with Metro Vickers.  I

found him perfectly natural and easy to talk to and it didn’t occur to either of us to leave each other after that first dance.  We arranged to meet in ten days time.

William said he had to go back to Leeds to pick up a book-case and’ clear things up’.

I got the impression that he was ending something.  When we met again I was

 surprised how easily we slipped into a natural relationship with none of the awkwardness one sometimes experiences with a new acquaintance.  This felt more like a comfortable old glove.  

  “By the way Pat there’s something I must tell you.  I’ve got a stammer.”  Considering we had been talking pretty non-stop since we met – this came as a surprise.  His beautiful speaking voice had been the first thing that attracted me to him.  However, when he bought some chocolates for the cinema, I saw how bad it could be.  It seemed to vary according to whom he was speaking.  It never embarrassed him or stopped him speaking whenever he felt like it.

One of his friends later told me William had been a member of the Debating Society

and when his allotted speaking time was up he said he should have longer because of his stammer.  This friend also said he had never seen such a change come over someone, since we had met.

 His parents- both teachers who had met whilst teaching at a school named Sexey’s - had sent him to be treated by Lionel Logue – the man who famously treated King George VI.  However William decided that no ‘trick cyclist’ was going to teach him how to speak, so it was a total waste of money.

  On our first date, ten days after we met, William asked me to marry him which rather took my breath away. I told him about Jamie and said I didn’t think I could ever love anyone else. This Probably was not a sensible thing to do but it didn’t seem to daunt him. He said I probably needed time and he could wait, so we agreed to wait six months when I would be twenty- one in March. Meanwhile we would continue getting to know each other.
  Vanessa had started going out with Abe who was at Manchester University and at Christmas the four of us were going to a Fancy Dress Ball. The men made the minimum of effort – Abe in a Noel Coward dressing gown with a long cigarette holder and William, for no particular reason, in dungarees. Fancy Dress was right up Vanessa’s street and she took charge. I was to be Nell Gwyn, complete with oranges, and a purple satin dress trimmed with white muslin. Vanessa thought it was too prudish and attacked the neckline with a pair of scissors, which left little to the imagination and forced me to stay upright all evening.  Vanessa was magnificent as Cleopatra – draped in a white sheet on which she had painted hieroglyphics with gold paint. Her sandals got the gold paint treatment along with a rubber catheter which she wound round her brow and which looked exactly like a golden asp.
We had a great time and I felt – amongst all those rowdy students - completely safe with William. At one stage he had gone to get us all a drink and a student grabbed me, lifted me high into the air, spinning me round whilst I desperately tried to keep in my dress. William appeared, gave an almighty roar and the student dropped me and fled.  We were very late back at the hospital and for the first time took advantage of our fire-escape. Abe and William came up too and we gave them a snifter of the peach brandy Vanessa had bought for a Christmas treat.

As we said a lingering good night William shocked me by saying:

“You know Pat I think you should have made up your mind.  If you haven’t by now that is an answer in itself.”

In spite of the night cap I didn’t sleep much that night.  I was feeling pressured.  It was just January – my birthday wasn’t till March.  As a Pisces I find decisions difficult except on the rare occasions that I’m swept along by a tide of conviction.  The last year had dented my self confidence and I was no longer sure I wanted to do further training – assuming I got my RSCN.  I had been honest with William and told him I could never love anyone as I loved Jamie and he accepted that.  Or so I thought.  Of one thing I was certain – I wanted children of my own and instinct told me that William would be a great father.  I would probably never meet anyone like him again.  He was kind, he had the common touch; equally at home talking to the lord of the manor or a dustman and people took to him.  He had a first class brain, was honest, trustworthy and honourable.  He appeared to be deeply in love and I knew he would take care of me – like that lovely song ‘Someone to watch over me.’ Would it be enough for both of us?  Could I trust his judgement?  

I first met Jamie when I was fifteen, but I was nineteen before I realised I loved him.  Might not the same thing happen with William?

 On the other hand he had very strong convictions and didn’t hesitate to air them, regardless of other people, which sometimes caused upset.  I suspected he was stubborn.  In the first flush of love I could usually sweet-talk him round but what about after we were married?  How I wished Maddie were around.  In the past I had resented her interference but now I really needed her ‘take’ on the situation.

Then there was his stammer; I was proud that he hardly stammered at all with me.  He was full of ideas and with his mind racing ahead, I found it very moving when he struggled to get the words out.  But I didn’t want to marry him out of compassion.  I prayed for guidance and the next time we met I took one look at his face and said ‘Yes.’ and was swept along by his joy and enthusiasm.
William said we should phone his mother and he wanted me to speak to her.  I  

think the whole idea took her by surprise.  She had had William late in life and in those days a late child was often looked on as companion for old age.  William had been educated at home until he was eleven and his mother adored him. 

‘I hope you know what you are taking on.’ she said but I took this to be her sense of humour.  Conversation was difficult as she was very deaf and usually kept her hearing aid switched off.  Sadly William’s father who had been an officer in WW1 was now virtually bed-ridden with heart problems so would be unable to attend the wedding. We planned to have it in late July – it was now January.
  “William I think you should come home with me on my next day off – then you can ask Dad for my hand.”  William agreed it would be a good idea.

 One night William came to meet me on his motor bike and he was wearing an old rubber mackintosh.  He had lost the belt and tied some rope around the waist.  I determined no way was he going to show up at home looking like that, so we had a serious talk about his sartorial appearance. I was going to take as much trouble with his appearance on the big day as with my own.  On my day off we met in Manchester and instead of going to the bus station went to a stop on the edge of town.  It was not a very salubrious part of Manchester and my heart sank when the bus came and the conductor said it was full.

“‘Oh please let us on.  I’m a nurse – it’s my day off and I’m going home.”  His face softened and he extended his arm to help me up.

 “And I hope your rabbits die!” came William’s voice from behind.
“Right!  Off!’ The conductor’s face hardened and he almost shoved me off the platform.  I turned to look at William – totally unaware of what he had done.
During our enforced wait in the sleazy area, I explained to William that if he had resisted the urge to condemn the bus conductor’s rabbits to an early death, we would now be on the bus and halfway home.  William, in his wrath had not noticed the conductor’s face soften, nor yet his proffered arm to help me up.  He listened, a little abashed and apologised.  I thought it ironic that his stammer didn’t prevent the snappy crack that would be better left unsaid.
  There was a warm welcome and one of Mum’s special high teas waiting for us and William relished both.  After tea I went into the kitchen with Mum to wash up and let the men get on with the business of ‘permission to marry.’  Before we’d even started the cutlery, Dad appeared with a big grin on his face.
“What happened Dad?”
“Well t’lad couldn’t get it out an’ I knew what he wanted to say so I said it were alright and you could get wed!”

“Thanks Dad.”  You’d think they were glad to get rid of me,

“When were you thinking of?”
“July – as soon as I have finished my Finals.”

“Eeh Pat- couldn’t ye wait a year?  We’ve just bought t’three-piece suite”’
Mum caught sight of my face and said.

“Never mind we can manage it” Good old Mum!  Well, she held the purse strings so she should know.

   Over the week-end we discussed the arrangements and William suggested we got married at sea where, as long as you were three miles out, the captain could marry you.  I said I wanted to be married by our minister.  He and his wife had been kind, helpful and supportive during my teen-age years and when William saw the simple church (alas no more) he agreed. 

 It was a shame that Gran would be in the States, Maddie and family in Africa and William’s brother a serving officer and his family in Malta.
  William sent off for an engagement ring that he had seen in a catalogue.
 “Goodness," said Vanessa when she saw it, “I’ve never seen such a tiny diamond.  You can get really good sized zircons for the same money.”

I forgave her and asked her to be bridesmaid.  I also asked Annie, my old friend from the Convalescent Home.  We all met in Manchester and as often happens when you introduce your special friends to each other it didn’t go well.  Vanessa had a vision of them wearing striped creations in yellow and black.

 ‘We’ll look like bloody big wasps!’ moaned Annie.

  There was so much to think about and Finals were looming which was giving me nightmares.  William’s poor father had a heart attack and when he was convalescing his mother wrote how she was pushing his bed out onto the veranda every day so he could enjoy the spring sunshine.  This worried William and his brother as she was no spring chicken and had angina.  And then a bombshell!
  William met me one evening looking desperately worried.  He had been called up.
‘Not another bloody war!’ I screeched.  Apparently when he left the Navy he was given the option of signing on as a Reservist.  This meant he would get an income of 1s 1d a day (about 14p but it went much further then) and as he was going to University he jumped at the chance.  Now however the Korean War had broken out; conflict between the Communist North and the American occupied Republic of South Korea.  I couldn’t understand why the British Navy had to be involved.  Maybe now history is repeating itself.  I wondered if someone was trying to tell me something.  William was insistent that we should bring the wedding forward – even if it meant we had to get married in a registry office, he just wanted to be married.  He was going off to war - anything could happen - I had to agree.  I went to see Matron and explained what had happened.  She was very sympathetic and said I could have leave to get married and would then return to take my Finals and make up the time after the exams.  There were a few tears shed.  Most of my close friends had left so the people who didn’t know me very well, assumed I was pregnant and had to get married.  I was so sick of wars.

  I was on the brink of a nervous break-down, what with last minute swotting and trying to arrange a ‘shot gun wedding’.






Saturday, March 11, 2017

Some Faces
Pat and Ginny earlier in the Lakes before it all went pear shaped.

Blue belts Kate, Pat and Ginny back row 
Kate arising from the Welsh sea apparently fully clothed and pearls of course. 
Pat and Gerhardt.  It was quite scary 
Pat with the lovely German girls.
The German party 1949 who we had been taught to hate. 

Sunday, March 05, 2017

An Imperfect Life.  Chapter 19
New Faces and Places.

“You’ve been dumped.  Now you know what it feels like.  Get over it!”

 So I told myself but it was a lonely time with Ginny engrossed in her new boy friend

and our set halved with nurses leaving, unable to withstand the stresses and strains of

  caring for very sick children.

   My immediate problem was what to do with the fortnight’s holiday in February –

 planned as a  trip to Oxford to be with Jamie.

 Just lately I had been working on the wards with Kate – a member of our set.  She

 was a really good person – without being pi and I found her a very comforting


Kate told me about Plas y Nant - a Christian Fellowship House in North Wales.

  “It’s a beautiful spot – if you like mountains. There’s graded outdoor activities with

 leaders in charge but I have to warn you Pat - there are prayers morning and night.”

   When she showed me a snap of this old house nestled amongst

 pine trees and surrounded by mountains I had no hesitation in accepting an

 invitation to join her.  I knew it was going to be a special place.  Betws Garmon, is five miles SE of
 Carnarvan – an area of mountains, llyns, (lakes) waterfalls and glens.  Plas itself was a rambling old
building in grounds that begged to be explored.

When we arrived there the gardens were fragrant with the smell of pine and as we crunched our way up the drive we had a fantastic view of a mountain – the Elephant and Llyn Quellyn. 
When we first saw the Elephant – you can guess its shape – it was diamond encrusted as a result of

all the minute slivers of ice scattered over it.   Because of the time of year Kate and I were the only

guests, with an influx of walkers at the week-end.  This didn’t trouble us as we both needed respite

and Lena, the manager, made sure we got it.   Kate was a bit worried about my finger nails; off duty

I wore Peggy Sage nail varnish a pale pink natural shade.

 “Pat I’m a bit worried Lena may be shocked at your nail varnish.”
“Kate if she objects I promise I’ll remove it.”

 We couldn’t wear it on duty of course but since my break up with Jamie a bit of steel had entered my

 soul and I no longer felt obliged to try desperately to please everybody.

 Lena was a gentle looking lady – slight, with fuzzy hair and large owlish glasses.
  In spite of her delicate appearance she had complete control over all guests at all times, even the

rowdy ones in the larger parties.  We were privileged to have her undivided attention during the week

 and I certainly found peace and tranquillity.  One of the charming customs of the house - when it was

occupied by men and women – was the evening ritual when the men would gather outside the

conservatory and serenade the women with the song ‘Good Night Ladies.’  I can’t remember what we

 sang back to them and neither can Kate.  Our memories are slightly conflicting because I believed

we had wandered over the Pyg track – just the two of us – in fog, but Kate said we climbed Snowdon

in a party.  Maybe it was Crib Goch I remember with a lonely sheep dog for company. It felt very

daring and was quite dangerous. We certainly climbed at least two mountains, read lots of poetry and

 enjoyed Knickerbocker Glories in Caernarfon.  Lena said we ought to return in the summer when

there would be team leaders and graded walks and climbs.  This was our final year of training, with

more responsibility and lots of studying so we decided to repeat the experiment in the summer and

booked then and there.

  There were to be a lot of changes in the next few months - some I was aware of and some came as a surprise.  One thing was certain, the remaining members of our set would take their finals in October and then leave.  I would have to stick it out for another six months when I would be old enough to take State Finals.  And then what?

 When I got back from Plas it was my birthday – twenty and still unmarried - unlike Mum and Maddie.  I still went out with boys but imagined I would have platonic relationships for the rest of my life.  I wasn’t going to mope - just be realistic.
Maddie told me that Liam- Jamie’s elder brother had met a girl at Yale and they were to be married.  She was Jewish and her family had escaped from Austria before the war.  So much for Jamie’s father’s dream of his sons marrying nice Scottish girls. 

Maddie dropped the bombshell that Paul - her husband - had got a job in Africa and the three of them were going out there to live.  We were all going to miss them – especially Mum, Dad and the Aunts.
Evan had got a serious girl friend and Gran was in the States again so Mum and Dad were having the time of their lives with just themselves to think about.  I knew I would never live at home again but felt a bit rudderless.  Still I had another year before I had to decide what to do next.  I saw much less of Ginny as she was fully occupied with her fiancĂ©e.
  Kate and I were very thankful when August came along and we set off for Plas once more.  It was very different in the summer - beautiful gardens, crystal clear views and a great buzz of excitement as people settled in and started getting to know one another. There was a lovely feeling of fellowship and we were excited to hear there was a German Party – it was 1950 and the war was still fresh in our memories.  I spotted them in the garden bunched together and looking a bit glowery.  I cursed the fact that I didn’t know any German except ‘Ich liebe dich’ – the song ‘I love you.’  I went up to a young man with a thunder cloud on his brow and said ‘Ich’ pointing at myself, ‘Pat.’  Then I pointed at him questioningly and said ‘Dich?’- meaning I’m Pat who are you.  I now think this is possibly an intimate way of speaking rather like the French tu- toying but I had no idea then. .He beamed from ear to ear and told me, in excellent English that he was Gerhard and - still with a happy smile introduced me to the rest of the party.  I’m not sure what he said to them but from then on there was no stand - offishness and Germans and Brits alike spent the next week walking, eating, laughing and praying together.  They had all been children during the war - like us, and we were able to rid ourselves of the belief that all Germans were wicked.  We giggled when the boys stood outside serenading us and sang ‘Merrily we yoll along.’ instead of ’roll along.’  There was a lot of joshing and teasing.  One of the Brits was Johnnie - a wag- and the last night he sang a song about all the characters which ended up with a chorus of ‘Pat and Gerhard’ to every body’s amusement and Gerhard demanded a copy.  It was the sort of holiday where one felt one loved everybody but it was all light-hearted - nothing serious.
  Back in hospital the rest of my set were madly swotting for the Finals in October and I was thankful that I had another six months breathing space. October marked the end of the three years I had been training

  Just as I thought I was going to be friendless along came Vanessa.  She had joined the hospital as a second year nurse, having done her general nursing and so was already State Registered.  I first noticed her standing languidly by the tea urn in the dining room.  She was tall and willowy with blonde hair and only needed a couple of borzoi to be a dead ringer for Diana the Huntress.  I didn’t get to know her until our final year when Home Sister said as we were both senior nurses we would have the privilege of sharing the bedroom in the Admin Block.  This room was special; up in the eaves of the main hospital, above sick bay and above the doctor’s quarters - so remote it wasn’t regularly inspected.  And it had a fire-escape and a fireplace. It was a cold October and Vanessa thought it would be fun to have a fire so we would have the luxury of dressing and undressing in the warm.  But how on earth would we get the coal up two floors I wondered.  Next thing I knew I was following Vanessa down the main corridor; blessing the fact that she was so tall and had been given the longest cloak in the hospital.  It reached the floor and completely hid the two buckets of coal she was carrying.  We kept that fire going for three days until Home Sister happened to notice smoke coming from a normally dormant chimney.  She was a great sport and after playing hell with us made us promise we would never do it again.  Thankfully, she didn’t tell Matron, (thanks Sister Walters).
  Not all the sisters were so kind and understanding.  Vanessa - who the medical staff nick-named Snake-Hips was made very unhappy by two bitchy Sisters whose ward she was on and I had a problem with one of the Night Sisters. I was sad that Vanessa only told me about this in later years. .Being so isolated we didn’t get the usual wake up call from the maids and had to rely on an ancient alarm clock.  It was very large and had two brass bells attached.  One morning it didn’t go off and I was late for breakfast.  This particular Night Sister was big and bouncy and somewhat of an exhibitionist.  She glared at me through her dark framed spectacles got hold of the alarm clock, managed to get it ringing and to prove her point went striding down the main corridor swinging the pealing clock triumphantly.  Once on night duty she was so unreasonable and unfair that I became enraged and determined to go to Matron and hand in my notice.

 “Pat you can’t throw away the last four years training just because that cow was bitchy to you.  You know what she’s like.  The other night Jones took her 11pm coffee – on the dot - Sister decided it was too weak and poured it onto the main corridor floor,” Kate tried to reason with me.  Fortunately by the time I came off duty I had calmed down and agreed it would be silly to throw all the years of training away because I had a problem with one Sister.  Common sense prevailed.

    Compared to the normal Spartan single bedrooms ours had a bohemian feel to it;
posters of Margot Fonteyn decorated the walls, there were dried flowers in the fireplace and there

was a delicious aroma – a mixture of pot pourri, fresh fruit and Vanessa’s scent.

   In October I decided to go to the hospital dance.  I had heard that Andrew had left the area so I wouldn’t bump into him.  After a few dances I noticed there was a bunch of chaps who apparently were engineers from Metro-Vickers.

 One in particular seemed rather ebullient and even went up to Matron to have a chat - a rare occurrence with invited guests.  He seemed to stare at me a lot and finally came up and asked for a dance.  He told me later he had said no way was he going to ask that conceited looking girl to dance.  I had never met anyone quite like him and haven’t to this day.  He said his name was William.