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Last month I reached the grand age of 75, so I am now one of the “vulnerable elderly citizens”  (almost as beloved of politicians as the “hard working families!”)

My first gift was a free TV licence from the government

On the Sunday before my birthday we visited our local stately home with the family and had a splendid cream tea in the Orangerie. (Gracious living at its best)

On the actual day Jennie gave us a birthday party tea, complete with balloons and hats!

Two days later Jennie and I went to see an excellent production of “War Horse” at the Millennium Centre.

When I see 75 written down it looks so old. Inside I still feel 35, still 8st  with all the energy I had then. Sadly I am no longer 8st and though the spirit may be willing the body is not and as for walking miles forget it!

Can it really be 70 years since the little girl with two fair plaits eagerly joined the mixed infants at Bentinck  School? I was the youngest of the family and all the cousins and had been so envious of my brother and cousins when they went to school.

64 years ago that same little girl walked along the boulevard,proudly wearing the scarlet and grey uniform of the grammar school.

56 years ago I started my Nursing training.

52 years ago I visited Norway for the first time and so began about 10 years of sharing my time between England and Norway.

The first babies I delivered will now be over 50, I wonder how they have lived their lives.

48 years ago I had my great adventure on the Bergensfjord.

41 years ago I married JW

35 years ago I had my lovely daughter, Jennie.

Since then the years have just telescoped into one another and Jennie is grown up with a family of her own and my grandchildren are growing up at a rapid rate. I do have one consolation in that my 2 year old granddaughter is a carbon copy of her mother so I have the joy of those early years, (which flew by so rapidly)  all over again.


What helped to form my character?

From my genealogy research I have discovered my ancestors were the first influences in the genes they handed down. I had a gardener, a lacemaker and a framework knitter. There were several treasurers and my father was treasurer of various societies, my mother always managed the household finances adeptly, and I have been treasurer of the local WI and PTA, whereas JW dislikes anything to do with accounts. Stangely when we traced some of his ancestors we found farmers and a journalist (and he thought he had decided on hos career in those two occupations all by himself!) The gene which propelled some of my ancestors to be village constables passed me by fortunately as I am only 5 feet tall 🙂 This one went to my brother as he was in the Met for a while.

The family environment I grew up in gave me my moral code, dislike of waste, fear of debt and sense of humour and general optimism. My parents had a dislike of dependency, injustice, intolerence,greed and envy, and I like to think I learned this from them.

My school gave me  the confidence to pursue my chosen career. If I had wanted to go to university there would have been no worries about funding as there were no tuition fees and a grant was made for living expenses, so no worries about carrying a debt for 30 years. Spending money was easily earned in the long holidays as there was plenty of temporary work available to students. When we made our choices I don’t remember anyone thinking about the salary they earned, we just wanted a job we enjoyed and felt was worthwhile.

My mind was broadened when I started nursing. I hadn’t realised what a sheltered life I had led until I met people from vastly different backgrounds from mine. I remember listening with amazement to two of the girls in my set talking disparagingly about their parents. My brother and I might have complained to each other in private about something my Dad had been strict about, but we would have defended him to anyone outside the family. We had this same loyalty to the hospital, our “set”, our doctors and our wards. I feel so sad when I read accounts of those in the profession now where they all seem to have been set against one another, hospital against GP, nurses against doctors, bureaucrats against everybody. This all seems to have come about since they introduced competition and market forces. It seems not to be the same service anymore just a market of customers (not patients anymore!) and the cheapest providers.

I was never very ambitious and never had yearnings to be a matron, I just wanted to be with the patients. If I had wanted to do administration I would have done business studies. This was understood then, but now that every other job seems to have “administator” or “manager”  in the description, I think you would be considered a bit odd, weak or incapable of anything better.

My horizons were broaden further when I did midwifery and met people from many nations and different cultures, when I travelled and lived abroad and through the usual trials and tribulations of life.

I have never been wealthy but some periods have been more affluent than others, but we always coped even in the lean times and have appreciated the more affluent times all the more.

I don’t think I developed a ruthless streak so never had yearnings to be a politician or business person. I just wanted a happy marriage and family life, a career I enjoyed and to stay independent, all of which I think I have achieved.

Until I was 9 years old there was no NHS. If people were sick they had to pay or rely on old wives remedies or charity.

We were fortunate because we belonged to a “friendly society” and paid a small sum each week which covered us for GP visits and convalescent homes. It may also have paid partly for dentists and opticians, but I am not sure about that. The GP I worked with in the 60s and 70s had been in practice for nearly 40 years and some of the patients remembered him in his younger days before the war when he was known as the “Shilling Doctor” because he charged one shilling per consultation (this included a bottle of medicine)

After the NHS came in (which at the beginning included  free dentures and free spectacles) you suddenly saw toothless people sporting wide letterbox style grins with their new free teeth and even quite young people had protruding or discoloured teeth replaced with dazzling white ones.

Free hospital treatment (before, you had to pay what the almoner calculated you could afford) meant that they were no longer regarded as the place of last resort for the poor and only one step up from the workhouse, but as somewhere you would be given the best care available at that time.

When I entered the nursing profession (1958) it was considered an honourable profession which worked with the medical profession and the physios and radiographers etc. not under them and not over them.  Contrary to Nurse Anne’s opinion we were from good educational backgrounds and chose nursing because we wanted to nurse, not because we were too dim to go to university! Many of my set had the educational requirements to pursue a degree based occupation but we chose not to. If I had wanted to I was given every opportunity to study medicine, but I did not take them and have never regretted the decision, though with this degree obsessed generation and the administrative staff who are more interested in statistics and bits of paper, than the way patients are treated, I doubt if I would make the same decision now. Dr John Crippen  posted a letter from an ex nurse’s husband  on April 4th which explained why an excellent nurse has now taken a non clinical job.

We were given an excellent training both theoretically and practically. We had a book which we took on every ward and at the end of the three months there the sister filled in all the tasks at which we were proficient. By the end of our third year this had to be completely filled otherwise we could not take the final exam as it was sent off with the exam papers and results of the oral and practical exams to GNC for assessment before we were awarded State Registration, only then were we legally entitled to call ourselves Nurse without the Student prefix.

Nurse Anne accuses us of “rose tinted specs” and says there were “needless deaths” in the bad old days. Of course there were deaths then which wouldn’t happen now, but remember that antibiotics, kidney dialysis, steroids and cancer drugs were in their relative infancy and keyhole surgery and transplants hadn’t become everyday surgery so yes maybe there were more deaths from those kind of illnesses,  but,we did not have patients dying from hospital acquired diseases, starvation or neglect! She says nurses were “seen and not heard.”  Tell that to sisters Gadd, Underwood, Jaeger and Tillotson and Matron Pierce amongst others. Everyone listened to them from junior nurses and doctors to senior consultants!

Many of the things she complains about would not not have happened when I was training. A recently qualified SRN would not need mentoring, we had been mentored for three years. In another post she explained why it appears that nurses congregate around the nurses station, she claims that all sorts of staff gather there for recreation breaks etc. They would not have dared to eat their lunch in sister’s office and were easily recognised by the uniforms they wore and would not have been mistaken for nurses anyway.

She cites another occasion when they could not deal with patients and their relatives because she was laying up crash trolleys and the auxilliaries were busy trying to do the beds etc. If they had nurses learning on the ward, the 1st years could be trusted to do basic nursing care, 2nd or 3rd years could lay up the trolleys and assist the houseman with the “crashed” patients  leaving her free to catch up with paperwork, deal with relatives and scheduled drugs.

The system started to go wrong when the structure was removed, the trained nurses were graded and given numbers and moved further away from the patients, sisters no longer seem to run their own wards with responsibility only to Matron and goodness only knows what the multiple matrons do now. They don’t appear to run the hospital or even have day to day contact with patients and staff.  The people giving orders appear to be an army of bureaucrats. According to Dr Crippen the medical side is just the same and the consultants no longer have “firms” of registrars, housemen and students, so, if nurses are taking over more of the jobs they did, where do the junior doctors get their practical training?

I think when Nurse Anne writes about traditionally trained nurses she is unaware of how nursing was in the days when the public gave us respect and were well cared for and we got a great deal more job satisfaction than she seems to get now. The rot had well and truly set in over 20 years before  she came into nursing, when the bureaucrats had been allowed to steal the authority we once had. I don’t suppose she will ever agree with me, how can she if she has only experienced nursing in the modern era, but I  have experienced both, as a patient and as a nurse and I know which one I prefer, and I’ll bet that given the choice the patients would agree. They don’t give a fig whether a nurse has a degree or was state registered, just that they are looked after properly in a clean environment. After all the hospital is supposed to be run for the purpose of treating patients isn’t it? Not to provide work for bureaucrats and medical staff.

I was tagged to list 6 things which make me happy, so here goes.

1) My family of course. It is said that you are given your family but choose your friends, well my family are the friends I would choose anyway. My husband of 35+ years has always been there for me and supported me in whatever I do however much I must have exasperated him over the years! My lovely daughter  helps me, giggles with me and stops me feeling old. Her husband GG sorts out my digital equipment and helps to drag me into the 21st century and they have given us two lively and gorgeous grandsons, who think I am the fount of all knowledge because I watch Dr Who and understand about Cybermen and Daleks etc.

2) I love opening my Christmas cards and finding a letter inside from one of my far flung family or friends reminding me of the fortunate life I have had. A secure and happy childhood provided by loving parents, a protective beloved elder brother and large extended family. Happy schooldays, a fulfilling and varied career in nursing, several years in Norway, and happy years as a wife and Mum.

3) It makes me happy when I buy a sad looking plant from the bargain bin at the nursery and see it flourish into a magnificent specimen.

4) I am happy whenone of  my favourite authors publishes a new book, especially when it is an ongoing saga or features characters that I have become familiar over the years.

5) I get very happy when I discover another ancestor for the family tree I have been working on in the past few years, or a third or fourth cousin gets in touch with me and fills in another gap or two.

6) I feel happy and peaceful looking up at the night sky in the country, away from city lights. This was even more magical when I lived in a mountain village in Norway and stood in the snow looking up at the vast universe.

One of my nursing friends was one of those people to whom THINGS happen! She could turn any crisis into a drama. She is the one who washed all the thermometers in hot water, fortunately the days had passed when nurses had to pay for broken thermometers, but she had a sticky time explaining it to our rather humourless Sister. Her next misadventure was when she was told to clean the dentures of some of the elderly patients and she collected them all together in a bowl! True, some of the patients said their teeth fitted much better after they had been cleaned, but it took her some time to pair them and reassign them to their (sometimes new 🙂 ) owners.

 Another salubrious job we had as junior nurses was collecting the metal sputum cups every morning, emptying them and washing them,ugh. We were supposed to examine the contents for abnormalities but Kate was even more squeamish than the rest of us and just tipped them down the bedpan washer between stomach heavings. One day she heard a suspiciously loud plop and found to her horror that she had just thrown a patient’s glass eye down into the Birmingham sewers. He had mistaken the sputum pot for a container for his glass eye, which he had removed for the night! I don’t remember how she coped with that one, but she survived to move to our second ward.

One day I was just about to go into the dining room when she caught up with me. She had her cloak carefully wrapped around her and was in a bit of a state as she gasped out, “You haven’t got time for lunch, we have to go out!” As nurses were constantly hungry this had to be desperate so I followed her to the Nurses Home. Once we were back in her room she showed me what she was clutching under her cloak. It was a rather soggy parcel which she unwrapped to display 3 very dead goldfish!

The ward Sister she was working was inordinately fond of the small aquarium which had been presented to her by a group of grateful patients. She had asked Kate to clean it for her and Kate had carefully filled a bowl with water and emptied the aquarium, put the fish into their temporary home, cleaned the aquarium, refilled  it and turned to the bowl for the fish to find them floating on the surface. She had inadvertantly filled it with hot water!

We spent our afternoon off touring the pet shops, where she regaled the owners with her sad story and holding up the dead fish while they tried to match them! We managed to get pretty near matches so on our return she was able to put in the replacements before Sister returned from her afternoon split shift (they had 1/2 hour longer than us.)  I don’t know whether Sister noticed but she never said anything, so once again Catastrophe Kate had got away with it!

PS. Kate finished her training, married an American and went on to have a distingished career as a Director of Nursing in New York!