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Part II Groby Road Sanatorium
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:
a) I felt very well thank you very much and
b) I was madly in love with dear Nurse Gilbert.
Poor Mam, now mithered to death, set off to visit Maisie in the Isolation Ward (Only looking through windows at patients permitted!) Now I had the time to weigh up Sister Moore more closely. First thing I noticed was that Sister had a big wart on her chin from whence several long hairs protruded. She had a stiffly starched grey cap on her iron grey hair and this was tied under her chin with a pretty lace bow. Her uniform was also grey and around her waist was a belt with an elaborate silver buckle. That wart was what attracted and fascinated me most, and my eyes went back to it even though our Mam had told me so many times, ‘It’s rude to stare!’
I realised all had gone very quiet and, on raising my eyes my gaze met Sister’s head on. I smiled shyly, nervously, the whole time holding her eyes with my own and then just for a split second I saw in her eyes the same something I’d seen in Wag’s mother’s eyes whenever she looked at him, no matter how naughty he’d been, and I knew everything would be all right; for deep down this was a very kind and caring lady who liked children and this was an all-male, mostly adult male, ward. Guess who was going to benefit? Those deeply penetrating eyes that could put the most difficult adult patients and visitors back into line, had given her away!
‘Now, Norman’ she began. ‘I’ve explained to your mother that for us to stand any chance of getting you better, you will be absolute bed!’
This bothered me not one jot because I had no idea what ‘absolute bed’ meant! It meant of course that once I was in bed, I was to stay in bed, and not get out! Some hope!!
I was put to bed in a two bed cubicle next to the Sister and Nurses station. I felt very lonely and frightened. Mam had gone, so had Sister, and so I did what every small boy does in those circumstances…..I put my head under the sheets and had a good cry, emerging only after various sounds and then voices told me that others were now in the cubicle with me.
Red eyed from my weeping I now saw the other bed was about to be occupied by another youngster about a year younger than me. He was introduced as Frankie Jordan!
‘Say hello to the other little boy, Frankie dear!’
In answer, ‘Frankie dear’ put out his tongue at me!
Although Frankie’s mum assured me she thought her treasure and I were going to be the very best of friends, well frankly, I had my doubts!
The dear boy’s mum then departed holding a hankie to her face whilst Frankie went under the bedclothes to have a good cry, just like I’d done. We soon settled in however and with the mums out of the way in came Sister to read us the house rules. It was just like being back at home: Don’t do this and don’t do that……and then the biggy…..AND DON’T GET OUT OF BED! Sister then played what she saw as her trump card by producing a large tin whilst at the same time informing us,
‘This is my sweets tin and if you disobey me the magic will go out of it and the tin will not fill up with a fresh lot of sweets after the first lot are eaten!’
I don’t know about Frankie but I was more than prepared to go along with that load of rubbish about magic if it meant sweeties at the end of the day! Sister then departed.
In a flash Frankie was out of his bed. (We were inside at that point and so not overlooked) He fished about in his locker and took out a box of wooden play bricks which I thought were rather babyish for a boy of his age.
Caught red handed, for Sister, who was wise to the ways of young boys, had simply stood just outside our cubicle! So, we said ‘goodbye’ to our lockers.
I have to confess here and now that I’m not complaining injustice that my locker went as well, for Sister had caught me also; not quite fully out of bed but lying feet still in bed, stomach on the flat seat of my locker, groping around to see if the previous tenant had left anything worth having that I might claim. In bed for three minutes and one strike down: ‘One up to Sister!’
Frankie was still holding onto his box of square wooden bricks so I asked whether he didn’t think they were rather babyish? In reply he threw one of them at me which, in retaliation, I threw back, hitting him on the forehead and drawing a smidgeon of blood! His howls would have woken the dead, which I would’ve preferred rather than what they did do ie bring Sister in post haste! I bet her backside hadn’t touched her chair from the first episode! Three or so minutes since we’d been told ‘absolute bed’ and now we’d both had a monumental ‘bollocking’ from Sister! Not bad, eh!? I wouldn’t have minded so much but behind Sister’s back Frankie was laughing like a drain, and my Nurse Gilbert who’d just appeared at the door, was obviously on Sister’s side!
Revenge is sweet though and, as those who were now in charge of us disappeared out of the door, I could see I was going to get my revenge almost at once, for on the wall behind each of our beds was a red emergency button which we’d been warned by Sister not to tinker with; a plan began to form.
‘Frankie?’ I began ‘Why don’t we play a game of throwing one of your wooden bricks to each other and see if we can catch it!’
I then pointed out there was a gap of about 5 feet between our beds and this would make things more interesting in the catching.
Frankie tossed the brick to me; I tossed it back. He threw the brick at me etc., etc. Then I threw a short one and the brick rolled under Frankie’s bed.
‘You threw it, so you can get it!’ said my little chum.
‘Not likely’ said rotten old me ‘they’re your bricks so you can get it out!’ Stymied, Frankie could only glare at me. I had him and he knew it. First of all he leaned out of bed and, supporting himself with one arm on the floor, he leaned right over to an impossible angle trying to get his brick back. But no go; it was right up against the wall, as was his bed. Red in the face, he tried again and then gave up!
‘Come on’ he said ‘you threw it, you ought to get it; fair’s fair.’
I refused! Beaten, he whispered,
‘Can you hear if that Sister’s coming?’ I assured him all was quiet. He gingerly crept out of bed, the whole while casting anxious glances to see or hear if Sister was coming.
‘It’s all quiet’ I hissed, and now committed, he dived right under the bed so all I could see was his bare little bum sticking up in the air as he groped about. You’ve guessed it; I had already pressed the red emergency bell push and, hardly had I had the time to take my finger off the button when Sister was in the room. She didn’t make a sound nor did she hesitate for, seeing the bare soles of his feet and his even barer bottom, she took a ‘gosh’ almighty swipe at it. Frankie squealed and shot back from under the bed, so fast he cracked his head on the iron bed frame.
Sister was breathing blue fire!
‘You naughty, naughty boy! What did I tell you about staying in your bed; and YOU….. don’t touch that alarm button under any circumstances, it’s for emerg…….’
Here, she stopped short, puzzled. She looked first at the by now bawling Frankie Jordan, then she looked at my bell push, then squarely at me! I waited for the ceiling to fall in on me or for the lightning bolt to strike! Thinking hard, she again looked from one to the other of us and, meeting my, ‘please miss, it wasn’t me’ gaze, I swear a look of admiration went over her face. This, she checked, before it turned into a grin and, turning on her heels, she left us to get on with it!
The revised score was now Frankie Jordan ONE; Norman Hastings ONE!
By teatime, having lost our lockers, Frankie’s play bricks and then the hospital ear phones (we’d discovered we could unscrew them but sadly, not put them back together again as per Arthur and the wireless) our little room looked rather bare. Verdict? All in all, a very uneventful day!
(Norman: Through My Eyes. A social and personal history of Leicester – Amazon)

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