Monday, 16 January 2017

My mother's gift to me.

My mother introduced me to literature with stories. Bedtime stories and anytime stories. My early favourites included the Beatrix Potter books and Alison Uttley’s Little Grey Rabbit series. I loved My Naughty Little Sister, by Dorothy Edwards. That's what my older sisters called me, but I knew that the child in the book was naughtier than anything I could come up with, because she did lots of really silly things which I viewed with a four-year-old's contempt. However I was rather impressed when she went on a train journey by herself with only the guard to keep an eye on her. I also liked the Milly Molly Mandy series, by Joyce Lankester Brisley, especially as I had my own Little Friend Susan. I did wish Milly Molly Mandy would choose something other than stripes for her dresses though. She nearly did once. 

Like many children I also listened to 'Listen With Mother' with my mother! Co-incidentally it was first broadcast on this very day in 1950.

Learning to read was effortless and seemingly took no time at all so I read books for myself by age five or six but still liked my mother reading to me. One book that I enjoyed was Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John. Set in Switzerland it featured children who skied to school in winter which sounded wonderful, although I imagined the walk back up the mountains must have been a bit of a hike. Our house had plenty of books, including some of my mother’s childhood books and those belonging to my three older sisters. I read them all.

Stories didn’t end with books. I also loved those that my mother made up or the real stories about her childhood in Australia of which I never tired. When I helped my mother with household chores such as washing up, we made up stories with one of us starting and the other taking over. The best story we created went on for weeks about a crazy family who lived in the country and led a rather bohemian life, of which their father’s relations heartily disapproved. The step-mother, who bucked the trend by being nice to her step-children, was called Lorraine but she changed it to Raine as the children were Wood, Heath, Moore, and Brooke and she thought it fitted in better. Father was a little more conventional - I can’t remember if he had a name or not – so we got him out of the way much of the time by sending him abroad to work. 

As I grew older I devoured the children’s classics including two favourites, Little Women and Anne of Green Gables and we would discuss what happened after the stories ended or have conversations about the characters as if they were our neighbours and friends. We especially liked Anne and the inhabitants of Avonlea. These discussions continued as I met the characters in adult classics including Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice.

We often compared our real neighbours to characters. Barbara Pym’s novels teemed with people from our village, which had its share of helpful ladies. We also loved the Mitford autobiographies and novels and happily chatted about Farve aka Uncle Matthew and his frightful rages as well as the sisters’ exploits. How we envied the Hons cupboard as our house had no such cosy delight.

In recent years our book discussions remained one of our favourite subjects in our regular phone-call chats, along with family news. My mother continued to read both fiction and non-fiction – she liked memoirs of interesting people – until the last few weeks of her life. She would often dip into favourite familiars if she felt too tired to tackle something new. It wasn’t so long ago that we visited Tara to have tea with Scarlett and Mammy to see if Rhett had returned. We knew exactly how that story ended – don’t be misled by published sequels.

My mother was also very supportive of my writing, and was pleased about my few modest successes. A couple of years ago she passed me several exercise books of her writings over the years about life on the farm where we lived when my siblings and I were children.  

Of all my memories of her, the literary memories are among my most precious. I'm going to miss our chats about our book friends.


Kathleen Hazel Bamfield, née Stephens. May 1921-January 2017.



Saturday, 14 January 2017

Lit Ward 10 Under Threat.

The Reader by Mary Cassatt, 1877
Dr Read’s blood pressure was far too high. Nurse Gorgeous took off the monitor and hustled him into the miniscule staff room of Lit Ward 10, made him sit down in the only comfortable chair and fetched him several books. ‘You’re not going back on that ward until your blood pressure is down,’ she instructed him. For a moment she thought he was going to argue but he meekly turned to the first page of Decline and Fall, a choice he felt was apt.

After an hour’s reading Nurse Gorgeous checked his blood pressure and was reassured that he was improving but she wasn’t letting him back on the ward. However it was time for an important meeting. She bleeped Dr De Licious who was helping out in the overcrowded admissions ward.

‘Our ward is under threat,’ Dr Read told his staff. ‘The Chief Exec will close us down unless we can come up with a massive savings plan. The surgical ward has had to take three of our beds, and with the pressure they’re under I couldn’t refuse. They’ve had to take Nurse Page too as she’s primarily a surgical nurse. The only reason the Chief Exec hasn’t cut off our funding altogether is our outcomes, which have remained excellent with the exception of that unspeakable man…’ he stopped.

His colleagues knew who he was talking about. The Minister for Health was Lit 10’s only failure. Far from being turned in to a nicer person during his stay on the ward a year ago, he’d become far worse since his discharge. All three felt he deserved to end up in The Hague for crimes against humanity. ‘Article 7, section k,’ muttered Dr de Licious.

They formulated a workable plan. They reluctantly decided that Lit Ward 10 must become a day ward with just two beds on a general ward for those who had other medical needs besides Lit Therapy. They had already established a successful dayroom programme for staff requiring Lit Therapy. Many staff taken ill during shifts had found Lit Therapy prevented further days of sick leave. 

Dr Read had also instigated an out-reach programme to most other wards with great success. The only disadvantage being a number of books they supplied went home with these patients on discharge and were never seen again. However it was a small price to pay and had resulted in the hospital having a much smaller drugs bill. This was the reason the Chief Exec had allowed Lit Ward 10 to carry on at all. He didn’t hold with such nonsense as reading. Far better to give people lots of medication with long complicated names but even he had to acknowledge reading was cheaper and savings were the order of the day.

Nurse Gorgeous found a manager’s office on the second floor that was used for only one hour a week. She requisitioned it for the new Lit Ward 10. The Chief Exec had to admit this was better use of a bright airy office which had several comfortable chairs, a very nice set of fitted shelves containing one book, its own kitchenette and a large walk-in cupboard which would do as a staff room, so long as no more than two people were it in at the same time.     
    
The office was currently used by one of the consultants for her weekly team meeting simply because it was always empty but she agreed to officially relocate to the hot-desk suite (a draughty porta-cabin) but secretly held the meetings in her secretary’s house over the road from the hospital. Nobody knew whose office it was until a cleaner recalled it had belonged to the Chief Exec’s Bright Ideas Manager, who had precisely one idea, then gone on holiday and never returned. No one had missed him in over six months. The single book on the shelf was a copy of How to Get Ideas. Its efficacy seemed in doubt.

The new Lit Ward 10 was ready with a minimum of fuss. It had been nicely decorated six months ago owing to the BIM’s one idea and needed only a few more chairs, a couple of occasional tables and a coffee machine. Dr De Licious and Nurse Gorgeous headed for Ikea after work with a shopping list and some money from the League of Friends.

One of the porters volunteered to relocate the books and equipment from the old ward in his own time. He had been admitted to Lit Ward 10 after collapsing with exhaustion near the end of an 18 hour shift. He had been put to bed, allowed to sleep for hours on end and awoke to a cup of hot chocolate, breakfast and a copy of The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra which had revived his flagging spirits. Life had been so much better since, even with the long shifts he still had to endure. Besides, Nurse Gorgeous was a smasher. Lovely girl – that Dr de Licious should get on and propose, he thought as he trundled the books to their new home. A copy of Animal Farm fell from the pile. He stopped to replace it.

The following day the patients took their seats in the comfy chairs and opened their books. An atmosphere of peace and content settled over the new room. Letta, the ward’s housekeeper, mixed up her special brew of Jamaican hot chocolate and took it round to the patients and staff. It wasn’t the same as the old ward, which now housed the increasing number of surgical patients from a nearby hospital which had been downsized, but the staff knew they would continue to do a great job in restoring people’s equilibrium and help them cope with the constant messes made by the government and its unspeakable ministers.

A patient brought in a donations box and everybody slipped a few coins or notes in. By the end of the first week there was enough for a number of new books, supplies of hot chocolate and a fresh bottle of gin. The patients knew that they were benefitting from the best NHS medicine in the world and wanted this to remain for perpetuity. Lit Ward 10 would survive – at least for the time being. 

What books would you recommend Nurse Gorgeous buys with the donations?