Someone said that as you get older ,you may not remember what you have had for dinner last night ,but you can recall the taste of a meal you have when you were nine years old! It is true to some extents ; as y write about your past you you can recall all the details in vivid detail, and often that is not what you want to do! It depends on the details innit!
Am sorry if I take so long before continuing with what I am writing, but often it takes me days ,even weeks to dislodge the detailed memory which has surfaced.
As I said in the last episode, I had met the man who was going to be my life partner but it was not all plain sailing. He came from a large , very orthodox family, where he was the first to go to university, he was also the oldest of his nine brothers and sisters. The family ,especially his mother were banking on him to support the family, marry his first cousin and stay in the family home ,managing the finances with his salary, they could not fathom and found it very threatening that he was attracted to someone who was “estranged’ from her family, was living alone and doing a job. A woman living and working on her own is immediately labelled as undesirable, expected to have a questionable character and is a big no no!
There was no hope of his family ever accepting me, lucky for us that he had applied to the UK to work and complete his post graduation ,and within a year of our relationship ,his job offer arrived and he had to leave for the UK. The best thing ever happened to both of us!
He was in the UK for about a year before I joined him, i had secured an offer from one of the London teaching hospital for further training in nursing.
I still remember the day I arrived in the UK, it was the 5th of March, there has been a snow storm the day before ,and the temperature was below freezing, though the sun was shining, I had arrived wearing a rather nice silk Saree and open sandals. Heathrow in the 1970 ,didn’t have the tunnels to walk through once you disembarked. I had to walk the whole length of the runway to get to the terminal. There were mounds of cleared snow and a slim path to walk through. The first thing which struck me was the silence. India is so noisy ,as there are so many people around. At any given time the footpaths are spilling over ,and they all talk very loudly,simly to be heard over the masses.
Another thing which was remarkable was the cleanliness and open spaces. There wasn’t a piece of paper to be seen on the ground, no spilling dustbins anywhere, and despite there being loads of people queueing at the passport controls and many others walking around ,there was a hush. You couldn’t hear anyone talking ,laughing or even looking at you. Everyone was minding his own business.Something I have never come across before, I came from a country where everything is everyone els’s business. People look at you from head to toe, and think nothing of asking probing questions ,chatting to strangers is a national characteristic.
I entered the UK without a hitch looking forward to start my new life. I wanted to be here,I have heard so much about this country, from the regular BBC World service, and their cut glass accent , to this pictures in those glossy magazines of glittering Christmas trees, women with complexion made of roses and cream. I Knew I had to create a place for myself. I was in the country where I wanted to live, not the other way round.
Our journey on a coach from the airport to the city of London was so exciting, we were at the brink of starting a new life ,on our terms, of our choosing ;far from the judging and preaching society we have just left behind. We went to Kent , where my my husband was working, in those days the hospital provided accommodation for their staff, with dining rooms and a catering service. Doctors quarters were rather posh, we had a large room with an attached bathroom . This was a huge hospital , a very old and spacious building with huge grounds and a team of gardeners keeping it picturesque. There were so many roses in many colours and sizes, and the gardeners were charming men who took great delight in educating me about them.
The dining room was very posh, a huge dining table which could seat 10-15 people, covered in a starched linen table cloth and napkins and silver cutlery. food was served in huge silver platters, and the Chef ,Eric was a delight. A big bear of a man ,with a flushed red face a tall Chef’s hat and apron and he would come round after every sitting to ask if everything was to our satisfaction. Always a three course meal, steamed puddings and cheese and biscuits and coffee afterwards. Coffee used to be served in the lounge ,where there was a television and a record player ,as well as a grand piano and next to it a well stocked library. They did look after their doctors well. The accommodation ,with maid service was free. Laundry was collected every week and delivered immaculate free of charge and meals cost next to nothing . And coffee and tea was always on tap downstairs ,in silver Samovars and silver coffee pots!
That was the best and most lavish life I lived in the UK! We moved from there to Surrey, and I started my training. I was living in the Nurses Home ,where there was a Home sister and a Matron to look after us. I used to go to Surrey on my days off where my husband was working, we still didn’t have to courage to live together as were not married, apart from my days off or the odd weekend. In my group of “student nurses” we were from all across the world. We had Chinese , Greek, Nigerian, Italian and Spanish girls I was the only one from the Subcontinent.
I loved my life in the Nurses Home, Matron and the Home Sister cared deeply for their charges. We had our own dining room, and kitchen was manned all times, to accommodate nurses coming on and off shifts. And it was al free. Those of us on the early shift ( starting at 7.30) hd to be at breakfast by 7am. The Home sister will be there with a list of all those who should be there, if you skipped breakfast as you slept late, and tried to avoid her by sneaking off to duty without breakfast, she would know!
She will corner you on the ward and take you to dining room in your coffee break mid morning, when she would sit you down and make sure you had something to eat before you went back. And if you did it more than a few times then you have to see matron!
Our nurses home was surrounded with greenery and well tended garden.Scattered seating among roses and other shrubs where we could sit and read or just sit. A lounge where we there was a t.v. but was never much watched. Lights off and door locked at ten PM. And none of us ever complained about it ever. We just felt protected and looked after.
The atmosphere on the wards was very different too, the ward sister was your boss and mentor ,but never your friend. Though if you needed support she was always there to hold your hand, she knew our strengths and weaknesses and always cared for our welfare. Patient always came first and we all knew that we all had a common goal ,to deliver patient care to the best of our ability and do it with compassion and discipline.
It was hard work too we worked 40-42 hours a week, but we were young and had energy, never felt we were over burdened or used. Our days off were eagerly awaited and throughly enjoyed, we made most of every minute.
I was in the second year of my training when I was summoned to the matron’s office. She was a small woman ,with piercing blue eyes and a mouth with rarely smiled, but when she did it lit up her whole face. Immaculately turned out, she wore a green uniform (compared to our pink) ,an apron and a frilly hat. It was always a matter of concern if you were summoned to her office. You quickly mentally scanned your past week/life to search for what you might have done to be in the situation.
When you entered her office, you stood inside the door trying to compose yourself while she scanned your uniform, your hair ,if you were wearing any jewellery and whether your shoes were polished and your tights had a ladder.
She did a quick scan and asked me to come forward and sit down, I was trying to slow my heart beat, it felt as if it was drumming in my ears. Though she has never ever been unkind to any of us, but we all were in aw of her. Perhaps that was her unique skill!
“So how long have you been engaged and when is he going to make an honest woman of you?
She said rather slowly without taking her eyes from my face.
We weren’t officially engaged as such , but knew we were going to be married at some point!
Well..I gulped. Some three years”.
Hmm, she said , enough time for you both to have made up your mind, you tell that young man of yours that I want to see him ,ask him to make an appointment to see me. You can go now. She said.
I mumbled thank you and bolted. Well I thought he can explain it to her, as he was the one dithering due to the pressure from his family. He was already sending half of his salary to India , and they were putting pressure on him not to marry me. You have to remember that he was a very obedient family man with a rather domineering father and who was groomed to live for supporting his family. By then we had known each other for nearly three years and though I was not desperate but i did want some kind of commitment.