Reelin’ in the years
IT WAS MY 21ST BIRTHDAY – January 29th, 1971 – and the postal strike was on. No post for me, then, from my folks in Cumbria, waiting in my own personal docket in the nurses’ home: no curiously-shaped envelopes or brown paper parcels gummed up with sealing wax – nothing! I’d moved to Newcastle the previous September to train as a nurse and, much as I loved it here, occasional butterflies of homesickness invaded my stomach.
At 7am that day, I was rudely awakened, as ever, by the deep clanging of a big brass bell – home sister’s pride and joy! I jumped out of bed, nerve-wracked and confused. “I’ll never get used to that damned bell!” I remonstrated, hurriedly donning a dressing gown, heading for the showers. I opened the door of my tiny room, bare-walled, sparsely-furnished with bed, dresser and wardrobe, like a nun’s cell … and …
… yelled a gaggle of my fellow nurses in discordant harmonies – I was in heaven, believe me! – inundating me with cards and presents galore, some from my ‘happy birthday’ choir and some passed on from the girls still slaving away on night duty.
“Come in, you lot!” I screamed over the hilarity. “Get some cake!”
I had stashed away my beautiful 21st cake under the bed, hoping it hadn’t caught an infestation of cobwebs during its stay in my unique storage facility.
Sticking avidly to the motto of nurses everywhere – ‘work hard, play harder’ – ‘the gang’, a round dozen of us, planned to set the town alight at ‘Change Is’ nightclub to celebrate my coming of age. No such thing, in those days, of getting the ‘key of the door’ at 18. You were still a kid at 18 then – couldn’t even vote!
I looked at the clock – 7.30. 7.30!! – I was on duty at 8. “Bye girls!” I shouted, running to the showers like an Olympic athlete. I showered quickly – uniform on, starched cap and collar in situ, hair pinned up, all in the blink of an eye. Wrapping my cloak around me, I was just in time for hand-over on the ward.
Lolling petulantly in the office, bearing a mammoth grudge, I glared at our villainous sister.
“Good morning, nurse. Happy birthday!” she said, glowing with pride because she had remembered!
“Thank you, Sister”, I replied respectfully. But it wasn’t how I felt.
She had refused my timely request in the off-duty book for days off around my birthday – and what had she done? Rewarded me with two split shifts, that’s what – malevolent old cow!
‘Cow’ was a gross profanity back then, – truly! We weren’t the hippy, drug-taking, ‘disrespectful-to-our-elders’ generation that the media said we were – and ‘real’ swearing was left to the terraces of the football ground, despite rumours to the contrary.
My afternoon off was dedicated to a bubble bath, hair wash and laying out my glad rags on my candlewick bedspread. My outfit for the occasion was a shiny, purple satin ‘A’-line mini-dress – just below my knicker-line – and a pair of stack-heeled boots, purple, to match the dress. “Fab!” I thought, humming happily to Freda Payne’s ‘Band of Gold’ on my transistor radio.
Back on duty in my pristine uniform from 5.30 to 9pm for a busy evening shift – then out with the girls for my ‘happy 21st’ Feeling tired? Yes! Raring to go? Oh, yes!