I can't deny that back in 1974, and halfway through my student nurse training at Gt Ormond Street Children's Hospital in the heart of Bloomsbury, I wasn't bitterly disappointed to discover that the expected secondment for the year's State Registered Nurse training sandwiched into our Registered Sick Children's Nurse course was to be at the London Hospital in Whitechapel and not, as we had been led to believe, Addenbrookes in Cambridge.
Not that the two other choices held that much allure either, with apologies to Watford General and the Hammersmith.
I'd always fancied a taste of the Cambridge life and a bit of punting on the Cam, even if it was as a nurse rather than a university student, but any pleadings were to no avail. With hopes of getting out of the city dashed, and defeated by the cost of rent and transport, we gave up our flat next to Haringey Dog Stadium, and my friend Wiz (later my bridesmaid and probably reading this and laughing) and I moved into the most dire and depressed looking nurses home known to mankind (second only to the one attached to GOS in Guilford Street that is, where it was common to find pigeons nesting under your bed if you left the window open) in the heart of London's East End.
This was the mid-1970s, we would be slum-dwellers, the Monopoly board told us as much.
Cavell Home in East Mount Street.
Despite the blurred result of this Kodak Instamatic picture, (taken on the bridge that crossed from Cavell Home into the hospital so you didn't actually have to risk setting foot in the East End in uniform,) I think it's still as plain as a pike staff that despite those nice flared jeans I wasn't impressed...
Cavell Home was dark and forbidding and when I pitched up with my luggage including a trunk now full of books, and porters bursting a blood vessel getting them up the steps, you could almost see the ancient cage lift shudder at the mere thought of what was ahead. The rooms were tiny, you had to trek miles to the bathroom and your washing was always getting pinched, plus needs must, we were going to have to nurse moany old grown-ups, instead of sweet and lovely little babies.
We were going to have to whisper on night duty for fear of waking them up when we had been used to having the radio on in SCBU.
We were going to have lift twenty-five stone people in and out of bed, not cradle and smile at 3lb babies in our arms.
No more reading children bedtime stories before you went off to supper on a late shift.
Grown-ups did unexpected things like have heart attacks and embolisms when you least expected it and you still couldn't run.
Women seemed to want bedpans and cups of tea and bedpans and Horlicks again and again in an endless 24/7 cycle.
No more sweet little cots and pink or blue counterpanes with nursery rhymes on them, instead thirty great big beds to strip, change and remake every morning, big heavy mattresses and a thing called a 'donkey', a sandbag wrapped in a sheet, that you placed strategically in front of a patient's feet to stop them sliding down the bed...which admittedly did save you the trouble of constantly having to lift them back up the bed.
And then three months of night duty in Casualty pumping out stomachs ...always cabbage ...always carrots ...sorry but true.
There were small advantages of course, like Mens Surgical and medical students, and cheap stereos and black and white TVs out on the market stalls but there's no denying it, we were unsettled and perhaps it was all blighted the more for me with the death of my brother halfway through the year.
Worse were the draconian Cavell Home rules and regulations imposed on us after the freedom of our Haringey pad, a watchful warden who ensured we signed in any male visitors and signed them out again by 10pm. But I guess at least we felt safe because after all we had all been brought up to know this as Kray and Ripper territory, brown end of the Monopoly board just past 'Go' and definitely not the bit of London you traversed voluntarily, let alone lived in.
How times have changed.
It was clear when we set foot in the London that we were working in a hospital laden with a tradition and history to match that of Gt Ormond St, but could we haven given a fig for it and who was Edith Cavell anyway?
Shot during the First World War, Anna Neagle in the film?
No, we were homesick for what we now realised was the light and joy of the Alma Mater and if discipline could have been stricter anywhere than Gt Ormond Street it was here at the London, where the ward sisters were called by the name of their ward as if they had entered a sort of marriage contract with it, and we appeared having been thrust upon them to throw the orderly betrothal into chaos, cast the two asunder and unplight the troth with our ineptitude....sorry, I had to run with that image for a minute there.
Sister Paulin would hold morning prayers (as if calling on all the help she could muster to cope with us) in the bit of the ward called The Big End, clutching the wooden prayer board, akin to an outsized table-tennis bat, with the London Hospital prayer inscribed on it.
Here's Sister Paulin's Big End in the 1930s, little had changed by the 1970s.
I watched Sister Paulin and that prayer board for eight weeks and by the end of that time had mastered the little cross-thumbed way she held it, niftily doing a sign of the cross with said thumbs and all without dropping the board, and all to a ward full of Jewish patients.
The London Hospital nurses wore uniforms incorporating vast acres of lilac check fabric all gathered in most unflatteringly at the waist, so even if you had no hips you didn't stand an earthly, leg of mutton sleeves that blessed you with bingo wings regardless, and dresses which almost touched the floor, all in stark contrast to our rather skimpy pink and white stripes.
But we all muddled along, frequently incurring the wrath but they tolerated us, and we made the best of it and I mustn't grumble because I did meet Bookhound there, so we stuck out our year before returning 'home' for our final year's training.
So that's how I've felt about all that for ...hmm... thirty-five years or so now, hard hard work, essential training, occasionally exciting (the famous ballet dancer who Sir Anton Dolin came to visit and Dame Margot sent flowers, or the day Evel Knievel was brought in after didn't make it over the buses at Wembley Stadium) and I'm wondering if it's too late to take all that slight sense of unimpressed disenchantment with the London back?
Is my fifty-something self allowed to do a bit of a U-turn on the twenty-one year old me?
Do a complete volte-face?
Best do it publicly and get it over with in that case.
Because having just finished Edith Cavell by Diana Souhami, how immensely proud I now feel to have unwittingly walked in London Hospital-trained Edith Cavell's footsteps.
I'll be sharing my thoughts about the book very soon, but it's a long time since I have read a biography which has moved me quite as much as this one, and how impossibly hard I found it to read through to an ending that is barely imaginable and one that had been least expected by everyone at the time including Edith herself.
Cavell Home was being built during the First World War (I knew it, you could tell ) financed from a fund raised by the Daily Mirror , and following the execution on October 12th 1915 of Edith Cavell by German occupying forces in Belgium, Queen Alexandra requested that the name be changed from the Queen Alexandra to the Cavell Home, which it was.
Strange how little my callow self appreciated these things at the time, and how refreshing to discover that age and a book can inform and impose a different order on a period of my life I thought I knew so well.
Better late than etc.