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Auntie Gert Continued....

Trafalgar Square London
During my visits to London . . .
I remember seeing the bomb-damaged buildings - with purple loosestrife and rosebay willow herb blossoming out of every crevice, which was to be wondered at with delight. Auntie Gert took Ann and I everywhere in London to see the sights. I remember visiting the Law Courts distinctly, but I feel sure we also went to the museums [they weren’t bombed were they?] and the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. Auntie Gert declared that she would not take us up the Monument – and that we would have to do that ourselves! We both had the opportunity to do so, as Ann did her Nursing Training in London and, subsequently, I followed 2½ years later.

In the first paragraph of my letter [1] to Edwin Hipsey, I have explained {before} that JH was rather an unassertive and indecisive young adult and so was very apprehensive of personal relationships at any level. When I was 16 (in 1957) Auntie Gert took me with her to spend Christmas with Florrie, who was a long-time friend from the days when Auntie Gert, Mummy, and Uncle Alec had lived in Sheffield as children. Florrie’s house ‘boasted’ of an outdoor toilet in which there was no electric light, and so . . . anyone who went to the toilet in the dark had to take a torch with them. I found this most distressing, as I had started my menstrual periods when I was 15¼ and was still rather shy of coping with the ‘necessaries’. Auntie Gert gave a laugh of sheer surprise – I’m sure it was not meant unkindly – when she observed the contents of my suitcase contained packages wrapped in newspaper: she said that Florrie could have burnt them on the open coal fire – which of course is exactly what my mother did with my sanitary towels at home . . . I wonder what happened to the STs in the summer? At least my mother was spared the chore of washing towels made out of strips of old sheets: by her daughters’ time, Dr White had started the manufacture of disposables!

Auntie subsequently told me that she had invited me to go away with her at Christmas - having been told by my parents that I had had some sort of upset at school. [This is a story I have only told once, and will not be re-iterating.] I have no doubt that parents and children – mutually – have stories to tell which they realise, sometimes many years later, caused distress to the whole family.

Auntie Gert was undoubtedly ‘a woman of the world’ and consequently could talk to JH, or Ann, frankly about all things to do with growing up. It was not that I was uniformed about ‘the facts of life’ but I do remember Auntie explaining precisely about the oldest profession in the world, prostitution, when I was already a teenager. Also, I can remember Ann and AG having a conversation about Ingrid [2], Ann’s niece by marriage: Ingrid had had a gap year of sorts and gone off with her boyfriend for an ‘adventurous’ trip; the tenure of the two ladies’ conversation was to imply that Ingrid would be considered henceforth ‘no better than she should be and she had, indeed, fallen far short of what she should be’! How the accepted mores of the world of young people has changed since the 1960s, but even then I felt that I was receiving dual contradictory messages about all things to do with ‘the facts of life’.
April 1969: Broads’ half-deckers returning to  Barton Turf
When Ann had first met my brother-in-law, Walter, I had enrolled with a further education evening class in London held in a school a short bus ride from the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, but back in my day it was not possible to have a regular evening off: the Sister of the ward I was working on had an immutable fortnightly roster on which her Staff Nurse only had every second Wednesday off. So I decided to have another go at learning German at evening classes when I came to Plymouth to do my Midwifery Training in 1965. At the classes at the Plymouth College of Technology – which is now the University – I met Marjorie. Being a friendly Welsh lady, Marjorie invited me round to her home for a cup of tea, and a chat . . . and I met her husband, Gordon. Pointing out that Marjorie was from Wales – is not meant to imply that English people are not friendly: but I did have a sailing companion, Mike, who worked for the Hospital’s Pathology Services. Mike’s wife was from Wales and was heard to say ‘In Wales folks put the kettle on the hob when unexpected visitors call, but in England folks take the kettle off the hob!’

At that time Marjorie was Deputy Head Mistress at a secondary school in Torpoint; Gordon was writing scores for a music publisher - not many software music-writing packages or computers on which to use them . . . then. Gordon started his teacher training as a mature student at St Luke’s Science and Sports College in Exeter. In 1969 Marjorie was destined to be one of the escorts of a group of school pupils on an educational trip to the continent: Marjorie heard JH talking about the Mirror sailing dingy - which the Hospital’s Social Club had purchased - and . . . about JH’s intention to attend a sailing course on the Norfolk Broads organised under the auspices of the Central Council for Physical Recreation. So Marjorie suggested that Gordon accompanied JH in an activity that might look appropriate on his future CV, and said activity would keep him occupied whilst his wife was away on school business! Gordon was a little ‘reticent’ about his enthusiasm for this adventure but, suffice to say, we both travelled up to the Norfolk Broads where we were housed in the classrooms of a local school - all the girls in one room sleeping on camp beds, and the boys in another room. I say ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ as Gordon and I were by far the oldest in the group – except for Joe Ash – who had just bought himself a sailing boat to occupy his time during his retirement, and he sailed in the ‘Never can tell I’ – which was a broads half-decker - with Gordon and JH, and our instructor who was a schoolteacher from Devon. Gordon kept in touch with Joe briefly, and I seem to remember receiving reports of all sorts of sailing disasters.
Jennifer Worth was Night Sister at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in the 1960s when JH was a Student Nurse.  Her book, 'Call the Midwife' was serialised for BBC Television, sadly Mrs Worth died just before filming started in 2009
This story is still about Auntie Gert who, prior to our departure, sent JH a letter which more or less said ‘you should not be going away with someone else’s husband. Gordon should go away with his wife’ - and more in that vein. I was 28 at that time and had been in the Nursing Profession and had had the responsibilities of a State Registered Nurse after qualifying, and had already qualified as a State Certified Midwife. I wrote back to AG to the effect that she had got ‘the wrong end of the stick completely’ and that I trusted that my repost to her letter would not diminish the affectionate relationship between us. Nothing further about this letter, and my reply, was ever mentioned again. but I feel sure that I gained self-esteem - and so gained the confidence to ‘break out’ from the influences of a emotionally demanding mother, and release myself from my Aunt’s self appointed role as my ‘moral guardian’ . . almost. As time progressed, my friendship with Marjorie and Gordon could not fail to be mentioned and, although out and out disapproval was not expressed, my friendship with Marjorie was also ‘open to question’.

After undertaking our sailing course, Gordon and I called on my school friend Anne who, at the time, was living in Kings Lyn. I don’t think Gordon was dreadfully impressed with Anne’s culinary efforts but then – he was married to a domestic science teacher! Gordon then drove his Volkswagen Beetle down to Maidenhead so that we could call in on my mother . . . who did say with some amusement (but in private) that she had some ‘difficulty’ (perceived by herself) in explaining her daughter’s trip away with Gordon - to the members of her lampshade-making class who were still forgathered in the living room! I don’t think the ladies gave my arrival with a gentleman friend a moment’s thought.

[1] Link to Jeanette's letter 2nd January 1996

[2] This forename has been changed