School had finished for the day. Although it was understood we had to go straight home to make poor Mabel a cup of tea, and I was usually the first one home, I’d been distracted and started playing with my friends. Suddenly remembering Mabel’s needs came before anything or anyone else, I raced in through the back door some ten minutes later than I should, but was still the first in. The drill was to make a mug of tea for Mabel using her mug and no other. I was ever mindful of the strict instructions drummed into us all, ‘Don’t drink out of Mabel’s mug; it’s the one with the red cotton wrapped around the handle!’ in the same vein we always knew which was Mabel’s knife, fork and spoon as they also had red cotton wrapped around the handles.
Mabel was very weak by now and Mam spent hours trying to get her to eat more, for in those days appetite was equated with getting better. Now at dinner time today, weak as she was, Mabel had asked,
‘Mam, that rabbit gravy is lovely; is there any left I can have?’
Of course, the gravy would have quickly been cleaned up but today, what Mabel didn’t know, was Mam hadn’t had her own meal yet, so the little extra gravy Mabel received came from Mam’s plate. As Mabel had been too weak and fragile to come downstairs for the last week or so, she missed Mam’s sleight of hand but Mam was thrilled to bits and went back to work to tell the girls all about Mabel’s returned appetite. Years later Mam told me,
Our pal, Wag, was a Roman Catholic which meant very little to us except for his stories of how the teaching nuns in his school could swing a really vicious, stinging strap when some brash youngster (Wag) failed to toe the line. As I remember, the nuns had a house on the Mere Road close to Dale Street.
Wag served as an altar boy. Religion was never discussed but if all Catholic mums and dads were as kind and caring as his lovely Mam & Dad, then I was all for the Catholic faith! (Although when the mood was on her, Wag’s Mam had a tongue like a wasp sting!)
Periodically, the local Sacred Heart Catholic Church held a procession which was well worth seeing, in fact people came from near and far to witness it. It was one of the highlights of the social, as well as church calendar and the streets would be thronged along the processional route.
Sister and Nurse Gilbert were on duty that Saturday afternoon in 1935 and another nurse, Nurse Carr, who stabbed me in the wrist drawing off what seemed to be gallons of black looking blood. After this I was handed over to Nurse Gilbert whilst Mam and Sister went off into another room to effect the handing over of yours truly into Sister’s care. It was at this point Mam paid off the first instalment of my keep. I knew belts would be tightened in the Hastings’ household for the next few months.
Nurse Gilbert took me first into the ablutions block. She filled the largest bath I’d ever seen with hot soapy water and then, without even a by your leave, I was stripped and dipped and thoroughly scrubbed! I can still smell that rich, soapy, steamy, carbolic smelling hospital bathroom to this day even though most of my time in the bath was spent with me telling Nurse Gilbert Mam had already washed me down thoroughly only that morning! Cleaner than clean, I was then rubbed dry with a coarse hospital towel until blood was very nearly drawn, and then finished off with several big smacking kisses. I decided then that I was going to like Nurse Gilbert.
Years later Mam told me that besides having a large cavity in the top of my lung, they’d found neither lung was drawing properly and both were in a near state of collapse. (Trust me to go the whole hog!) Not to put too fine a point on it, a lot of expert chest doctors were shaking their heads and ‘tut, tutting’ over yours truly’s chest X-rays!
Frankly, had I known, I wouldn’t have been too bothered because:
The appointed Saturday arrived. I can’t remember if I’d been told I was going to hospital. If I had, it didn’t worry me unduly. I had my dinner in the normal way after being scrubbed and cleaned until I swear I shone!
Clean clothes were put on me and always, when being prepared for anything special, our Ted’s bony finger was hooked under my chin and my head tilted back at an impossible angle whilst he put a parting in my hair. Never once whilst performing this simple service for me did he meet my enquiring gaze nor use his favourite expression used at times such as this,
‘Keep your bloody head still or I’ll give you a bloody good hiding!’
That alone should’ve told me I was in bad trouble!
Then it was time to go. I clearly remember it being a truly lovely day. The sun had been shining and a gentle breeze was wafting the curtains of the living room. The window was open, I think because Mabel was downstairs with us and we had to watch those germs, although we never let on to her. The tenseness in the air had got through to me and I wanted to get off, otherwise I was going to start to cry. I had a new comic pushed down the side of my sock, a favourite place in those days of short trousers. On the floor was a small case, although where that had come from, God only knows! I suppose it was borrowed. It contained only pyjamas and this puzzled me, for you see the penny hadn’t dropped I was going to be admitted to the ‘Sanny.’
That familiar cry of yesteryear, whose echoes can still be heard to this day, reverberated through our poor living room that early morning. How those men, and sometimes women, made a living even today still confounds me but that piercing cry, so much a part of those days, heralded the arrival of those whose bread & butter depended upon discarded rubbish which by rights should’ve gone into the dustbin, never to be resurrected.
It was a health hazard sitting, as all the rubbish did, on the open cart. The Rag Man would take virtually anything that might raise a few coppers. God knows where he took the bottles, rags, stinking rabbit skins etc., etc., and rumour had it the Rag Men would also dispose of dead dogs & cats by selling them to people keeping pigs (and quite a lot of people did), to be boiled up in swill coppers along with tasty items like old cabbage leaves, rotten potatoes and discarded pieces of ‘gone off’ fish crawling with maggots, from the local chippy!