In the village where I was born there was a cottage hospital and here, between finishing A levels and going to drama school, I went to work as a pre-student nurse. The work was mainly menial – making beds, emptying bed-pans and feeding patients. Since the ward I was on was Men’s Surgical, I was also expected to shave the patients. (Before you men get a fit of the horrors I’d better say I’m talking about their face.)
Why these lovely, mainly elderly gentlemen weren’t to be trusted with a razor I couldn’t say and never thought to ask. Maybe it was the absence of mirrors, considered by the ward sister an unnecessary frivolity. Whatever the reason, I was ordered to shave these old gentlemen and can still see their mild, benign faces striving not to register despair as I approached with water and shaving mug.
They never complained. They even thanked me. There they’d lie when the job was done, with as many patches on their face as a Restoration fop, except that these were bits of white tissue soaking up blood. Resignation, that’s what I remember most clearly, and a faint embarrassment when their visitors arrived.
Some of them went home after a while and no doubt wallowed in returned health and a flawless shave. Others died, usually at night, their empty morning bed made up so neatly it seemed to deny ever having had them as an occupant.
I can still remember them: Mr Peele, Mr Noel, Mr Broadbent, and others whose name escapes me though their faces are clear – always stuck about with bits of bloody paper, of course. Peace to you, Men’s Surgical.
The hay has been cut and lies in a green stripe next to the yellow stripe of stubble, so that the field looks like a fairground awning stretched out to dry.
From a distance the hedgerows seem covered in snow but it’s the may blossom, sometimes pink – brides and bridesmaids of the Green Man, who makes his home in the hawthorn.
Today I passed the white horse on the hill at Kilburn – one of those chalk cut-outs beloved of the English. As usual, it reminded me of J.L. Carr’s ‘A Month in the Country’. His publisher once asked him if he knew that there was already a book of that name (meaning Turgenev’s play). Carr replied, ”Oh, yes, but mine’s better.” He was right.
I was ten when the man we knew as Uncle Fred Jones came courting my mother. His wife, Aunt Constance, was hardly cold in her grave before his car, panting with love, chugged up the hill to our house.
At first my mother thought he wanted tea and sympathy. Gradually she realized he wanted her to change him from widower to bridegroom. She was horrified. Unfortunately she was too timid to tell him so. Her solution was to lock herself in her bedroom when he came and make us say she was ill.
He must have been accustomed to women being ill because it took him a long time to get the message. We got into the habit of keeping watch for him while we played in the garden. The first glimpse and we’d dash into the house with, ”Mummy, Uncle Fred’s here!” and she’d dash upstairs and bolt the door, leaving us to ‘entertain’ him.
For what seemed like hours Uncle Fred would lecture us about how as young ladies we should behave, then (perhaps to prove to my incarcerated mother what a good father he’d make) chase us up and down the stairs, sometimes with the lid of the coal scuttle on his head, bellowing like a bull and frightening us to death. Having never known a father, we weren’t used to men.
He was a nagger; he was fat; he could snap like a bad-tempered dog; he was, we agreed, an old goat. So we re-named him Naggy-Fatso-Doberman-Jonesie the goat-(Doberman for short). We would take delight in warning my mother of his imminent arrival bycalling out the whole name, including the bit in brackets. We would mutter it to one another and get a fit of the giggles while he preached at us.
Poor Uncle Fred. I know that he was lonely and I’m sure he meant well. But one day he stopped coming and none of us ever saw him again. I suppose he’s dead now – reunited with Aunt Constance at last.
A blog about the creation of Deadly Nevergreen(a thriller with more than a touch of the paranormal) . . . and anything else that occurs to mind . . . .