Working Lives

The SRN (2008)

Location: Berkshire & Norfolk

I was born in 1935, the youngest of three girls-so the war broke out when I was four. We lived in a large rented house with 1 acre of garden-my father worked in the salary department of a large biscuit factory-he was 17 years older than my mother and he had seen service in the First World War, but now was in the Home Guard and working extra in two munitions factories. He loved gardening and if I was able to, I would work in the garden rather than the house (I am the same today!) At the age of nine, I earned my first wages doing errands for the people around me in the village-sixpence. At eleven, I became a paper girl, but the bike with the papers used to get the better of me and fall over-I was also very scared of dogs-still am. My eldest sister was clever and worked hard, my middle sister brilliant, but lazy and I was the happy-go-lucky plodder! We all went to the same grammar school. I did the pre-nursing course-the teacher made it sound so interesting, because I was desperate to leave home (awful atmosphere-my father was not well and my sisters ruled the roost), I wrote for an interview to the local hospital, not telling anyone and got accepted-I was just 17. My sisters said I would stick it out for 2 weeks, my mother didn’t like the idea of “bare flesh” and my father said he just wanted me to be happy. 41 years later I retired from a wonderful job as a Senior Nursing Sister working for a large company. I retired sick, having a heart condition, at the age of 60. My career is as follows:

17-18- Pre-nursing at a convalescence hospital-male ward- motorbike accidents and T.B of the bones. Night duty at the age of 17: 28 bedded unit- very scary.

18-22: General training. Children’s Theatre, Medical Casualty, Ortho, etc. and Polio endemic- I was not protected by the vaccine. I caught T.B -worked with a very high ‘temperature’ and as a result, have a shadow on my lung (home sister advised to “do a little light-dusting, nurse.”) My father died suddenly when I was 19 from a ruptured aorta. I was given the news and expected to carry on working- I didn’t, but went home and took five days to be with my mother (still in her forties) and consequently, had to train not for 3 years 3 months, but 3 years and 6 months! All our lessons were taken in our off-duty time, so you might come off nights at 7.30am-study and have lectures at 12.30-grab some sleep and up again at 6pm. The salary was 3 pounds and loose change a month-all breakages paid for, no going out in uniform, no make-up, hair showing, lisle stockings- no rings and no getting married. In bed by 10pm- one late night for a dance say, if Matron approved!

I qualified as an S.R.N and received my certificate from Douglas Bader -who had been nursed in our group of hospitals, following his accident. Strong-willed, charming man- with a load of dirty jokes!

I got married and worked for two years in a private nursing home- I hated it and the abuse of the elderly. I had my son (now a G.P) and then a daughter who had brain damage and was profoundly deaf and an epileptic. When Gill was settled in a special school, I went back to work at a University Health Dept. looking after students- hippy period and free love. Drugs, LSD and the death of Elvis. I was given my own unit- for students, doing teacher training (6000 of them)- exam anxiety, booze and the Pill. I left that job and my husband, who worked at the university, left me for another woman. In 1982, I went to work for the M.O.D at Aldermaston-due to poor pension prospects, six years later, I went back to college and at a grand old age, sat my Occupational Health Certificate and then in 1988, got a senior post working for an oil company. Lots of chemical hazards to deal with and working 10-hour days, but with a very good salary. I got married again, to a lovely man, became ill, retired, had a few happy years and then my husband got bowel, liver and bone cancer- I nursed him at home for 5 years, but he died in 2005.

By then, I had moved from Berkshire to Norfolk with him. Norfolk made us feel very welcome. Now I work part-time in the summer season at a local stately home, thanks to the kindness of the owner. I love the work as a room and garden attendant, however, I am also the chairmen of a local senior citizens club; editor for Talking Time for the Blind; Committee member of our gardening club; community car driver; fund-raiser for Topping House Hospice; Speaker on amusing topics; Member of Our Future group and a keen traveler -Australia, New Zealand, Croatia, China, etc. I have 20 grandchildren-some step. My daughter is doing well and lives nearby and who knows, I may start courting again- keep taking the tablets! The real secret- laugh a lot.

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