Saturday, 30 October 2010

They're Like Little Horses - Part The Second

The hare was now up and running. There would be an expectant hush as the mechanical marvel approached the traps and then... an explosion of sound:- the bangclatter of the traps releasing, the the thudskitter of the dogs pounding relentlessly across the track, shoutcheering of the punters and the chatterdroning of the breathless and seemingly unbreathing commentators. And then, almost as soon as it had begun, it was over:- the dogs happily laying into a different fake rabbit thrown out for their amusement (except maybe for one smarter one who was now sniffing around the box which contained the recently covered deactivated rabbit), the disgusted snort and whispering tearing noise of punters discarding their useless betting slips (thus discounting them from our collection process - we only wanted pristine ones) and the shuffle of feet from those happy few queueing up to collect their winnings.

During the course of the night, we'd be allowed to pick out the odd greyhound for Ma and Pa to place a bet on. It was during this time that I developed my patented gambling technique which stills serves me on the very rare occasion that I place a bet - always pick the one with the pleasingly odd sounding name. Got one in the next race called Mary's Boy? no, thanks, think I'll give it a miss, ta. Got one called Lord Nifkin's Giraffe Meltdown? Stick some cash on it, that's the chap for me.

It worked surprisingly well for me on one of the last occasions that I went dahn the dogs. A friend I was with spent ages studying the form - their previous wins, conditions on each night, etc, etc - and lost about £30. I picked out ones with names like Claptrap A-Go-Go and came out ten quid up on the whole night (and that's good enough for me). It's a surefire winning system. Well, until it loses anyway.

As with the way of all things, ultimately Catford Greyhound Stadium's time has now passed and it's flashing series of neon lights depicting a greyhound running are blinking no more. But, as is also the way, the good times and the good memories live on.

Friday, 29 October 2010

They're Like Little Horses - Part The First

It was almost like you were chancing upon some illicit secret. The way we always used to get there involved parking up on a nearby side street and then heading towards the train tracks. aiming for a small, nondescript archway in the wall along the side. This lead you to a bridge leading over the train tracks. A couple of turns and then there it was in front of you. The bright gleaming neon, the sounds, the smells, the fake mechanical rabbit. Ah, Catford Greyhound Stadium, how we miss you.

We always loved a trip down the dogs, quite often with Nana and Grandad (Pop's Ma and Pa). I imagine that the cleaners were also pleased after we had visited. You see, for some inexplicable reason, Bro and I became obsessed with collecting the discarded tickets from the various different touts; even the ones you got from the Tote betting back then were quite stylised, like old bus tickets. Happy were we and despairing were our parents when we would come home with arms full of old and useless betting slips (all of which were discreetly disposed of shortly afterwards; not that this was ever a concern as, like the buckets full of mouldering conkers which also regularly vanished, these would be replenished at a later date). The key thing was that it kept us quietly occupied for much of the time, running up and own the steps outside.

The other occupier of the junior dog-goer's time was that of "spotting the hare". Fairly straightforward, you may think, surely it always starts in the same place. Not so, for the start line varies depending on the length of the race and so too does that of the hare. (OK, if we'd worked out where the start lines were for all of the different races, we'd have known but we didn't hold that info in our little heads.) There were two ways to perform said spotting - one was from afar from the comfort of the indoor stands and the other was from up close at track level (although, what with us being very short and the track being raised, we still had to be up on the stands a little bit).

If you were inside, a cry of "Thahare izrunig" would come over the PA and eager youthful eyes would scan the track for a glimpse of the rattling, wobbling, possibly supersonic (to our young minds anyway) faux lapin. If you outside, an electric hum would start up to be swiftly followed by a whistling, clattering sound as the automated circuit began and those eager eyes would begin their robotic rabbitic searching. There was no prize for the spotting of the hare, just the satisfaction of knowing that you had spotted it before the dogs had - everyone likes to be able to feel superior to a greyhound.

To Be Continued

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Pottymouth - Part The Second

Friday night was always the night that Nana came over to stay, quite often babysitting while Ma and Pa went out. This meant two things- a delivery of comics, chocolates and crisps with which to spoil us rotten and a selection of Nana-friendly programmes on the TV (with an occasional film or programme that we weren't allowed to watch as we could always convince Nana that Mum and Dad said it was OK). Coronation Street was non-negotiable - she'd always watched this and would continue to do so, right to the end - but the prime time 8 o/clock show was variable. Murder She Wrote (featuring that mass-murdering Angel of Death Jessica Fletcher who ended each show by using her freaky powers of persuasion to get some poor sap to confess and take the fall for her) was often the option but, if Dynasty was on, then we were in for a treat.

For Nana always got fully swept up in her soaps and none more so than that haven for people with extremely high shoulder pads, Dynasty. She very much enjoyed all the glitzy soap-based shenanigans and goings-o (a far cry from Corrie) but one character in particular would send her into near apoplexy. Whenever Joan Collins would grace the screen, playing the scheming and conniving Alexis, there was only one word that would escape Nana's lips:-


Oh, she took exception to Alexis did our Nana and every time we heard the word that rhymed with rich coming out of that sweet little old churchgoing dentured mouth, the Bro and I would be beside ourselves with glee. For kids love nothing more than hearing their nearest and dearest forget where they are and let slip with a little bit of a swear. To this day, this has cemented two things in my mind. Firstly, any mention of the programme Dynasty automatically makes me think of Nana swearing. Secondly, and most importantly, old people swearing is always guaranteed to amuse me in an extremely childish way.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Pottymouth - Part The First

Being a good Christian woman and born of a certain generation, Nana (of the Nurse Gladys variety) was not someone who was predisposed towards swearing. That's not to say that she particularly took offence at other people swearing - no, it just wasn't for her. However, as with any rule, there were naturally the exceptions - bizarrely for someone who was a church secretary for so many years, Christmas was often one of those times.

It all started on one Christmas way back when - I forget which one in particular. In our house, the alcohol has always flowed freely in celebratory times of family gathering. What can I say - we're a boozy lot. As kids, at the time of the Christmas, we were always allowed a couple of glasses of wine mixed heavily with orange juice and lemonade - never enough to get us pissed, of course, we weren't that sort of family. Nana had never been a big drinker but she was partial to a drop of sherry (and an occasional glass of stout on a Friday night) and, this being a festive time, she'd partaken of a little more sherry than usual.

I have to admit that I don't remember the specifics of the conversation but it had somehow turned to the subject of an animal's "doings" as Nana termed it (this is not unusual dinnertime conversation in our house). Knowing full well exactly what she meant but suspecting that the glasses of sherry may be starting to loosen her tongue somewhat, we pressed her to be more specific.

"Doings, Nana?" we queried, all innocent, like, hoping that we could push her further and little knowing that we would hit the jackpot.

"Yes, doings," said she in her Yorkshire accent. "You know." Pause. "Shit."

To her two grandsons, this was a moment of epiphany. Nana! Swearing! Saying one of the sweary words! The payingest paydirt of all time! Our shocked amusement was instant and total and thus began an annual tradition at our Christmas table - the swearing of the Nana. Some years it was successful, others less so (the trick was to correctly judge the sherry to Christmas dinner ratio). It always amused because, let's face it, little old ladies swearing is always funny but it never really recaptured that first explosive moment of surprise when she broke what was, to us litlle 'uns, quite the taboo.

Of course, we did hear her regularly use milder language, of which I was reminded the other day. I was surfing channels (to use a very 90s term) and an old repeat of 1980s supersoap Dynasty came on. Instantly, I was transported back a good twenty five years...

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Oh, I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

Littlehampton. To my junior mind, this was a magical fun palace, a distant seaside Xanadu* whose delights were many and bountiful. In reality, of course, it's a fairly small seafront with an amusement arcade and a mini-funfair but, to the Bro and me, it was many an hour of unselfconscious entertainment.

Nana and Grandad (on the Pa's side) were traditional in their choices of day out for a working class London born and bred family. They didn't have much in the way of money so day trips and holidays were always cheap and cheerful - a day at the beach, an outing for a bit of a flutter on the dogs or the gees-gees** or a week away at a holiday camp. The Bro and I always looked forward to any of these - partly because we loved spending time with Nana and Grandad but also because they enjoyed themselves so we enjoyed themselves.

Memories of Littlehampton:- are-we-there-yetting our way through the entire journey in the back of Grandad's car (driven by said grandparent as if he were still behind the wheel of a 16-wheeler articulated lorry and everyone could see him coming); sliding down one of those long bumpy slides in either a burlap-sack-type-thing or something resembling a welcome mat with a pocket at the end for you to stick your feet in (which would always have to be thrown back on the pile at the end for the people going up to take on their way) and initially going down them with Nana or Grandad until I got a bit older and was left to take Bro on there on my own; sitting on the round swivelly stools at the bingo game with Nana (you dropped in your coin to make the board in front of you light up for play), sliding across all the numbers as the bingo calling man shouted them out with the traditional patter ("All the ones - legs eleven! Two little ducks - quack quack - twenty two! Clicketty click - sixty six! Two fat ladies - eighty eight!"); riding the Mini Mouse rollercoaster which, while containing no loops or rolls, from a structural point of view was probably far more unsafe than any later rollercoasters we went on; being fascinated and unnerved by the Laughing Policeman machine and not being entirely convinced that it wasn't just a man in a suit; getting a friction burn on my elbow from Bro deciding he didn't like the Helter Skelter and trying to get off halfway through; and being obsessed by the Hall Of Mirrors and pretending that I didn't know the way out to make it last longer.

Of course, Littlehampton wasn't the only seaside town we visited with Nana and Grandad. Hastings, Broadstairs and naturally Margate (home of the legendary but now sadly defunct Bembom Brothers Amusement Park) were all popular destinations. You name it and we'd been sat there cheerfully in the drizzle on the stony beach, happily munching away at a Strawberry Mivvi.

Sadly, the thrill of the small town amusement park is something that has faded for me somewhat in recent years, wowed by the glitz and glamour of the big budget theme parks. But I still fondly remember those days, coming back with arms full of cuddly toys won by Nana on the bingo and Grandad on the grab machines and nursing a stomach ache caused by too many sweets and toffee apples. I may not appreciate them so much now but I definitely loved them back then.

* The stately pleasure dome as opposed to the Olivia Newton John film.

** That's horses for you non-South London types.

Friday, 22 October 2010


So, those few of you kind enough to stick around and come back to read after my three month hiatus (I thank you kindly) may well have noticed a distinct theme emerging in the last set of posts. Part of the reason for the long break was that I was struggling to find something to say in these posts and was running the risk of just repeating myself ad infinitum - either in terms of constantly banging on about the stuff I like or in terms of constantly writing about having nothing to write about. So I stopped. And left it. And came close to knocking the whole blogging thing on the head as there's nothing worse than someone just churning out crap for the sake of it.

Then, over the summer, I discovered a rather wonderful podcast (which I wholeheartedly recommend) called The Tobolwsky Files in which character actor Stephen Tobolowsky talks about his life. Fortunately, he knows exactly how to craft a rather wonderful story and has lived an extremely fascinating life. Now, I don't claim to have lived a fascinating life (although I have done some interesting things from time to time) but my family have certainly done interesting things and led interesting lives (for better and for worse) and it got me thinking. If I don't tell some of those stories, if I don't write some of them somewhere, then those stories are gone. And there's nothing worse than a story that got away.

So, for the time being (until my notoriously fickle attention span wanders off on to something else) I'm going to talk about my family and my life and make sure that those stories don't go. It won't be particularly ordered, it won't be particularly chronological, it'll flit about about hither and thither and back and forth but maybe it'll ultimately add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. Maybe not but I reckon it's worth a try.

That's also not to say that you won't still get the occasional uninformed and bile-ridden rambling - this is a blog after all. Just that those'll probably be fewer and farther between.

Right then, let's see what's in here....

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Shish And Shipsh - Part The Second

So, with a determined Nana in tow, we board the log flume, and, as is traditional with your standard log-flume-based ride, you have two smaller drops before you reach the main event. And they're both fine and we're all having fun and Nana seems to be actually enjoying it. Until we round the corner and are confronted with the main drop. Now that it's staring us right in the face, it seems a lot higher than it did when we were on the ground looking up. Quite a lot higher. At this point, Nana is thinking that it's entirely possible she's made a mistake and I'm thinking that maybe we're about to give a sweet little old lady a massive coronary.

Our little raft crests the peak of the flume and we begin to plummet. Nana, naturally fearful that her long life is reaching an unexpectedly premature end, opens her mouth to scream. As she does so, two things occur at once. The first is that her natural parenting instinct kicks in and she becomes fearful that my younger brother (seated directly in front of her) is about to fall out. Her first thought is to grab hold of him to ensure his safety (the fact that is considerably heavier than her and would simply pull her overboard with him has not occurred to her). The second thing that happens is, as her lips are parting for the scream to escape, she can feel the Polygrip on her dentures loosening and the ersatz choppers beginning to ease their way forwards to freedom.

Torn between whether to save Grandson The Younger from a theme park based death or to prevent him receiving concussion from a set of dentures propelled into the back of his head at high speed, Nana spends the mercifully brief downward journey with one hand clamped on the Brother and the other clamped tightly over her mouth to prevent tooth escape. Bro does not fall out, the dentures are secure in their mouth-based incarceration and Nana has been too distracted to have a heart attack. Everybody wins.

Of course, if she had lost her teeth, we could have spent the entire homeward journey getting her to say, "She sells sea shells on the sea shore". And she would've, too.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Shish and Shipsh - Part The First

Nurse Gladys was a side of our Nana that we didn't really see - she retired from nursing when I was quite young (in fact, Nana was on duty the day I was born and thus was the first person in this world to clap eyes on me; a sight my father was denied as, even in the mid-70s, men weren't allowed in the delivery room for the birth). No, the Gladys that we knew and loved was very much in the "doting grandmother" mode.

There is probably no finer example of unconditional love than that of a woman in her late sixties/early seventies (a woman who suffered from painful arthritis) willingly crawling around on her hands and knees pretending to be a giant lizard that has been extinct for many millions of years (and which she cannot even pronounce) solely for the amusement and mock terror of her extremely young grandchildren. Her love for us was not only to cause her physical discomfort but also some measure of teeth-based humiliation.

Dentistry being what it was when Nana was younger, she had, upon discovery of widespread tooth decay, been told that she needed her teeth removed. These were replaced by a set of dentures which, throughout her life, always caused her gum discomfort. While they may have been a source of discomfort to her (especially after a full day's wear), they were, of course, a source of amusement to us - children being blissfully unaware of many of the social niceties. Many was the time that poor Nana was subjected to pestering requests to take out her teeth and say "fish and chips"; more often than not in extremely public places such as the top deck of the bus to Woolwich. Nana, being a kind Christian woman and physically incapable of denying her grandsons anything they so desired, would eventually oblige to the hysterical and eye-watering delight of the two young boys (and the general amusement of the other passengers on the bus).

Yes, those teeth certainly provided their fair share of entertainment. The family outing to Chessington World Of Adventures being another case in point. Nana, at the very least well into her seventies by this point, was not overly disposed towards going on too many of the rides. Neither was Ma for that matter so at least they had company while the rest of us hared off to the main attractions. After sitting out most of them, Nana decides to give the log flume a go as it looks like quite a small drop. What we didn't spot until we were well and truly ensconced in the body of the queue was that we'd only been looking at the first drop. The third and final drop was quite high indeed. Still, it didn't look too bad from where we were standing and ex-Nurse Gladys, never one to shy away from something once she's put her mind to it, decides to go through with it....

To Be Concluded...

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Truck Drivin' Man - Part The Second

Grandad tends to talk about his fonder memories from his time during the war. Such as the time he was stationed in Belgium and walked in to a bar to find his brother Sid in there, propping up the bar. Not only that but the two of them were shortly joined but their brother-in-law Arthur. Small world. He also spent some time as a staff driver for the officers and was treated very well - occasionally being the recipient of crates of alcohol which were always gratefully received by all and sundry at the local alcohol-starved bars.

Being a driver is something about him that's a strong memory from when I was a wee lad. Like my grandfather on the other side of the family, Grandad took what work he could to support the family.As he was yet to hit retirement age when I was a nipper, the job that I remember him doing was that of a truck driver. And I mean proper truck driver. Massive, 16-wheeler, articulated type of jobbies.

There was something pleasingly intimidating about the vast lorry he used to drive - it used to make the street look small when he parked it up outside the maisonette he still inhabits. The fact that you had to clamber your way up quite a considerable distance before you even got to the seat was part of that. And then, once you were securely strapped in up there, the fact that you were up so high and able to look down upon all the other traffic (except maybe buses) was both impressive and a little scary all at the same time.

The trailer also held its fascinations as well. Firstly because it was this dark vast space full of crates and boxes and palates of stuff things, and secondly because said stuff and things were usually many, many, many remaindered books. You see, Grandad's job was haul off all these crates of misprinted books to be pulped. Generally, they were only missing the fly pages (those mysteriously blank pages you used to get at the front and back)without which they were technically unable to sell them - the upside of this being that we were never short of a free supply of technically unsellable but actually complete books for our reading delight.

They say that smell is one of the strongest aides to memory and I distinctly remember that lovely, papery, sawdusty smell of many, many new books all boxed up together. I was always an avid reader but this definitely helped to cement the appeal of books in my formative mind.

Other than helping to further my love of books, I'd have to say that Grandad was part of shaping my humour too (along with Ma and Pa, naturally). He loved nothing better than to sit and watch Tom & Jerry and Looney Tunes cartoons with us (and he is still amused by them, even in his 80s). Also, his fondness for old black and white comedy - Laurel & Hardy, Harold Lloyd, the Marx Brothers - has definitely filtered down to me; I still enjoy all of those to this day as does he. I guess I'm as much the product of my grandparents as I am my parents and not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to say that.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Truck Drivin' Man - Part The First

On the other hand, my paternal grandfather I know very well (having celebrated his 87th birthday last week). He may just have the man one name - he is, was and ever shall be the man they call Reg - but he still has a surprise or two in him. He alternates between cheeky wisecracking chappy with a twinkle in his eye and stereotypical grumpy old curmudgeon who doesn't know why you bother buying him a present, especially as he'll probably be dead by Christmas (a claim he's made most years for at least the last seven years).

Grandad grew up in a busy household, being the youngest of eleven (hmmm, or was it ten? I must admit, I always lose track). Unlike my maternal grandfather, he did join the army and go off to fight in the war at the age of about 19 or 20. He never really used to talk about his time in the war at all up until a few years ago - I think he saw some pretty horrendous things out there (as did a lot of people) and he naturally never talks about those things. Partly, though, the reason he doesn't tend to talk about it is that he feels ashamed about his contribution to the war effort - he feels that he didn't do his bit when he was needed. Of course, this was due to circumstances completely his control...

Grandad was part of a gun crew out in Egypt and was readying for an offensive. One day, he started to feel a bit on the peaky side, a bit under the weather... the next thing he knew, he was waking up in hospital. In turns that he'd caught diphtheria pretty badly - fortunately for Reg, they'd caught it in time. In order to recover, he was shipped back home and, once he was fighting fit again, sent back out into the fray. He was told to go back and join up with his unit but could see no sign of them. Eventually, he managed to find someone who knew their whereabouts only to receive the worst news possible - the whole crew had been killed in the action he'd missed out on while he was in hospital. While I for one am glad that he didn't get killed in that offensive (as I wouldn't be typing this now), Grandad has, I think, never really fully come to terms with that survivors guilt.

To Be Continued

Friday, 8 October 2010

A Man Named Jack? - Part The Second

My grandfather was a very bright man but circumstances conspired to prevent him from ever being able to utilise that intellect to its full potential. While his brothers were able to achieve some degree of satisfaction in the military and in journalism (in part thanks to the sacrifices my grandfather made), Jack took what work he could in order to support the family. That's not to say that his work wasn't valued. During the war, he was excused from service as his work in the munitions factory was considered more vital to the war effort.

Circumstances being the emotionless sequences of events that they are, my grandfather was once again cast into less than fortunate circumstances as, once the war was over and Britain's colonial influence over India came to its end, the family were forced to "return" to England. I say "return" for they had been born and bred in India so England wasn't really there home (but then, as the former oppressors, neither were they particularly welcome in India).

Jack fond that post-war Britain was offering even less in terms of employment. He took a job as a cleaner on the Tube, determined to get enough together to make ends meet. Being a man of single-minded intent )often described as stubbornness), he stuck with his job and eventually worked his way up from cleaner to a management position at London Underground.

That stubbornness is something that Mum says she sees in me - when my mind is made up, it is very definitely made up (that's not to say that I don't waver, hesitate, vacillate or procrastinate - just that, on those occasions when a decision is made, it's final). Ultimately, though, this "done is done" attitude may well have been my grandfather's undoing.

You see, Jack was a smoking man. From a very young age, he'd been a smoking man. And we're talking serious smoking here - three packets a day. Unfiltered in those days, too, and probably composed of more tar than tobacco. However, after nearly fifty years of hefty nicotine intake, Jack reached a jumping point. It was Budget time and my grandfather announced that, if the price of tobacco were to rise once again, he would no longer be counted amongst the ranks of the smoking. Lo and behold, the price did rise. And lo and behold, his lungs were untroubled by the stain of smoke again.

Perversely for such a heavy smoker, he's always been a healthy man but, having denied his body the drug it had depended on for so long, his health began to suffer. My mother remember him getting ill more often but, still having that stubborn streak, he hid just how ill he was getting. Eventually, he succumbed to a heart attack and my Nana, having been a professional nurse all of her working life, never forgave herself for not seeing the symptoms sooner.

But he lives on - in the silly sense of humour that was passed to my mum, my brother and me and in the shiny head and slightly stooping walk of yours truly. That man named Wilfred who everybody knew as Jack.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

A Man Named Jack? - Part The First

I never knew my maternal grandfather (he who was husband to Nurse Gladys); he died before my parents even met. He does live on in some form, though, in the bald-headed, bearded, round-shouldered personage that is me (at least according to Nana anyway who would frequently comment on my resemblance to him).

The world knew him as Jack, right up until he died when it emerged that his name wasn't Jack at all. I know what you're thinking - you're thinking, "Aha, his name was really John" as we all know that Jack is short for John (although how a word that is exactly the same length as another can be short for it, I've never quite understood). Well, I'm afraid that's where you would be wrong as his real name was, in fact, Wilfred. Yep, that's right, Wilfred.

How had this come to be? Well, it transpires that when my grandfather was born, his parents had somewhat of a difference of opinion. His mother was adamant that he would take the name of Wilfred. His father had other ideas. The boy was to be named Jack and that was to be the end of it. His mother was insistent - Wilfred was the name that was going on the birth certificate. Fine, said his father, you can put what you like on the birth certificate but I shall call him Jack. And so Jack he was until his dying day.

Jack was born into the British Raj out in Poona, India. They were by no means a wealthy family but being English in a country which was dominated as part of the (admittedly dwindling at this point) British Empire meant that they still had servants and domestics to cater for their needs. Life in Poona was made tougher for my grandfather by the death of his father when my grandfather was still very young. However, being the eldest child, this made him by default the new man of the house and so, things being what they were in those days, his schooling was abandoned so that he go out into the wide world and find gainful employment to support his mother and younger siblings...

To Be Concluded...

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Nurse Gladys And Mary Ellen Baines - Part The Third

Mary Ellen Baines had been exposed and humiliated and, with an urge for revenge worthy of a Mafia don burning inside her, she plotted her retribution. Said retribution was to be confectionery based in nature...

On a regular basis, the Baines family brought their beloved (or at least fondly tolerated) Mary Ellen a packet of lovely biscuits to help ease the time in this medical Bastille to which, in all likelihood, they had probably consigned her. Now, as you are probably expecting, these packets of biscuits started to disappear. The Bainesian accusatory finger was pointed squarely at Nurse Gladys who, quite clearly, "had it in for her". The family naturally sided with their beloved relative (or simply went along with her as they were all in favour of the quite life - one of the two). Once again, Nurse Gladys was performing her Columbo impression in full investigative mode.

A fresh packet of biscuits was delivered. That night, Nurse Gladys mounted a fresh vigil on her determined nemesis. Again, once she was convinced that she was unobserved, Mary Ellen Baines sallied forth from her bed once more and, armed with the newly acquired biscuit packet, snuck her way over the line cupboard, secreting the aforementioned confection within.

Nana was no one's fool. She'd tried the confrontation route and this had yielded no results. It was time to play the woman at her own game. Nurse Gladys waited until Mary Ellen Baines had returned to her bed, let her drift off to bed and then made her move...

The next day, once again the family Baines were firmly ensconced at the bedside. As per the newly established routine, biscuit-based accusations began to fly. The packet had vanished and the evil that was Nurse Gladys was definitely to blame. My grandmother begged to differ. Was dear, sweet Mary Ellen sure that the biscuits were gone? Had they checked everywhere? Of course she was sure, insisted the Baines woman, did Nurse Gladys think she was insane? Not at all, assured Nurse Gladys, but she was really sure that she'd checked the bedside table?

Naturally they had, claimed the bed-bound one, of course they'd checked there. Well, how about the bed, maybe under he pillows, suggested Nurse Gladys. If they hadn't checked there then they hadn't checked everywhere.

And so the pillows were duly lifted and, yes, Nurse Gladys' move in their chess game was revealed. For there, under the pillows, was an open packet of biscuits, crumbs akimbo. The family were suitably apologetic for besmirching a hard-working nurse's good name and, from henceforth, Mary Ellen Baines' Gladys-baiting shenanigans were not given the credence they once were. For this was Nurse Gladys' domain and woe betide anyone who tried to usurp her...

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Nurse Gladys And Mary Ellen Baines - Part The Second

I don't recall Nana ever mentioning what Mary Ellen Baines' specific psychiatric problem was. In those days, you didn't always necessarily get so specific a description of mental illnesses (the ward that Nana worked was simply referred to as "the mental ward"). What I do know was that she had it in for Nana and that Nana would always remember her run-in with Mary Ellen Baines. (And a small side note here:- whenever Nana would tell this story to us, she would always refer to the woman in question as Mary Ellen Baines. Never "Mary Ellen" or "Mrs Baines" or "that bloody Baines woman". Always "Mary Ellen Baines' in full and always said with a sense of exasperation. Anyway, I digress.)

Why the woman took exception to her, my Nana never knew but exception she did take. The early indication that perhaps the Baines woman had taken a dislike to her came when she chased Nurse Gladys round a table wielding a kitchen knife she'd managed to get hold of. That sort of thing tends to hint towards a rather strong dislike at the very least. Fortunately, that was only instance of threatened physical violence between the two of them but Mary Ellen Baines found other ways to continue her campaign against Nana...

One of the more mundane aspects of the job being the bringing round of the patient's cup of tea. All very straightforward except that, on every occasion that Nurse Gladys was the one to deliver the tea, Mary Ellen Baines complains that her tea is cold. And, upon being checked, it is. Absolutely stone cold. Now, Nurse Gladys was baffled by this for, every day, she serves the patients hot tea from the same urn and, when checked, all of theirs are still hot or, at the very least, warm.

Stumped by this mystery and, from their suspicious looks when they come to visit, beginning to think that the Baines family are convinced that she's the one with the problem, Nurse Gladys was determined to get to the bottom of this. So, one afternoon, she served the tea as normal but, with a surreptitious stealth that MI6 would be proud of, she hung back out of sight to observe Mary Ellen Baines with a cup of tea that is nothing less than piping hot.

The Baines woman had a quick check about to see if anyone was watching (not noticing the sneaky surveillance of Nursey Nana), maneuvered herself out of bed and slunk off with her steaming cup. Maintaining a discreet distance, Nurse Gladys set off in hot pursuit. Mary Ellen Baines made her way to the ladies room and, with one last quick about, crept her way inside. Quick as flash, Nurse Gladys caught her in the act. Said act? Emptying out half of her cup of tea into the sink and topping it up with cold water.

Having been caught in the act, Mary Ellen Baines was duly chastised and our Nana was absolved of all blame in The Case Of The Cold Tea. However, like Holmes and Moriarty, their rivalry was not yet over (it won't be spoiling anything, though, by telling you that this rivalry doesn't end with the two of them plunging over the waterfall - unless that is you haven't read "The Final Problem" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in which case I have just spoiled that. Sorry.)

To Be Concluded...

Monday, 4 October 2010

Nurse Gladys And Mary Ellen Baines - Part The First

Our Nana was one of the kindest, gentlest souls you could ever hope to meet. At least, that's exactly who she was if you were a member of her beloved family (a family she was happy to extend to all of our friends who were also permitted to refer to her as Nana) or one of her cherished circle of friends. If, however, you were one of the people who knew her professionally and tended to refer to her as "Sister" as she went about her duties on the wards then it was a slightly different kettle of fish for she ruled her domain with a stern sense of authority.

She worked on many different wards in her time as a nurse and saw some pretty harrowing things (particularly during the war and also in her time on the children's ward which she vowed never to do again) but she never really told us about that. No, the two stories that stick in my mind about Nana's time as a nurse are the one about the teeth and the one where she got herself an honest-to-goodness nemesis.

The teeth, then. Working on a ward for the elderly, many of the tasks were those traditionally associated with those of an elder disposition. One case in point being that, due to their advanced years, a large number of patients on the ward were in need of false teeth (mainly to assist in the chewing of food and also to stop their sentences sounding like they were composed of shushing noises). As such, one of the nightly tasks for the nurse on duty was to collect in said dentures from the patients and store them safely for the night.

Nurse Gladys (for this was how our Nana was known) was on denture duty one fine night. She had the tray and did her rounds, storing all them neatly and efficiently away on the tray for later. Gnashers duly collected, she makes her way to the cupboard to store them... and drops them all over the floor. Quick as a flash and before the noise can be investigated, she scoops up the errant chompers and swiftly disperses them about the tray before tucking it swiftly away for the night.

Next morning. There is consternation on the ward. For some unknown reason, not a single pair of dentures seems to fit any of the patients despite them all being a perfect fit the night before. Nurse Gladys is called upon to explain. How is this possible? Our Nana, being a decent and upstanding Christian woman, does the only thing she possibly could in the situation - she lies and says that everything was absolutely fine when she collected them the previous night before sauntering off to resume her duties.

However, it was when her time on the psychiatric ward that earned her what could only be described as her nemesis...

To Be Furthered...