My thanks to Karen at Cornflower for the heads up in December about a new literary magazine.
The Scribbler - A Retrospective Literary Review is the newest venture from Shirley Neilson, once the owner of The Children's Bookshop in Edinburgh and now the publisher of Greyladies Books, adult books by women authors who more usually wrote for children. Greyladies a neat gap-filling fusion of both Persephone Books and Girls Gone By Publishing
At £7 (inc.postage) this all seemed enticing enough to sample, my copy arrived by return and I have been delighted to read it. Interesting articles on novels set in girls' schools, crime and scandal in those schools, an author spotlight on Lorna Hill, a Books That Shaped My Life feature and some excellent reviews as well as a literary trail around the Scottish Borders and a short story by D.E.Stevenson.
I wrote about Sister Anne Resigns here, and have had a smile because at the time I wrote this...
Well, having discovered Greyladies and perused the books on offer, and having foresworn that now 'retired' (and have you noticed it says as much at the top of the blog) I really don't want to read about anything remotely medical or nurse-like for at least six months. This in order to create a few degrees of separation, so I immediately ordered Sister Anne Resigns by Josephine Elder.
I read The Encircled Heart soon after and so it was time for Doctor's Children.
When Barbara's husband deserts her, she uproots her family of four children to London where she resumes her career as a doctor. Written at the time of the launch of the National Health Service in 1948, and by a practising GP, this presents an interesting picture of how a single parent who is also a professional woman copes with the prevailing ethos that a woman's place, and certainly a married woman's place, is in the home.
The Maitlands are a typical post-war family of two very distinct halves, the two older and two younger children, mother Barbara is a doctor, father Francis an artist, and when he ups sticks and leaves Barbara has no problem reviving her career and securing a post as a Medical Officer, whisking the children and the indispensable Aunt Ruth off to a new life in London with the 'unquestioned efficiency' for which she is famed.
'The engine of Barbara's life, which had stalled stuttered and threatened to crash, soared again.'
I was intrigued on many fronts, not least by the seemingly innocent mention of a donkey in a hospital setting.
Josephine Elder (Dr Olive Potter) was one of the first four women to train at the London Hospital, she knew about the donkeys too.
Young Antonia finds herself in hospital for an eye operation...
'She rolled some hospital phrases round on her tongue - on-duty, off-duty, night duty, staff nurse, theatre-pro, runner, house-surgeon, draw-sheet, donkey...'
'Did you know you had a donkey in your bed when you were in the London?' I dropped in casually to Bookhound over coffee.
To say he looked alarmed at connotations various was an understatement.
Many of you will know that I met my beloved in 1975 whilst he was a patient at the London Hospital.
Quick resume...I nursed him for a week of night duty after a lung operation and the rest is history, and these days I'd probably be struck off for misconduct. But he rang me up after he'd gone home, and in those days nurses never refused a free meal, and he had a car with a good sized boot which was always a priority when choosing a boyfriend because we all moved around London so much, and so I said yes.
Anyway back to this donkey...gosh reading those thoughts of Antonia took me right back, and if you trained or worked at the London Hospital in Whitechapel (especially before it became the Royal London) you too will know of what Josephine Elder writes.
A donkey was a simple device to stop a patient from sliding down the bed when sitting up, a sandbag wrapped in a sheet, the ends twisted like a Christmas Cracker, the sandbag placed at the feet and the ends tucked under the mattress. Simple, comfortable and effective and thinking back they probably also fulfilled Sister's need for the patients to look 'tidy' and not to be slouching in case the Bishop of Stepney called in for an unexpected visit. It was Trevor Huddleston in those days, he often did 'pop in' and we all knew the drill. Pleat the bed curtains neatly and make sure all the bed wheels were facing the same direction...little things like that which I am sure the Bishop appreciated.
But can you just imagine putting a bag of dirty old sand in a patient's bed these days, and thinking about it they were probably all left over from the war anyway, as this postcard I picked up in the hospital museum, of a nurse ringing the emergency bell surely testifies...who knows where they'd been.
Almost as bad as a vase of flowers on the bedside table, Infection Control would have a conniption.
The next thread of interest in Doctor's Children was the Clinic.
Barbara finds herself working as the doctor based in a Community Clinic alongside two health visitors. Miss Finch and Miss Maclean who live together.
I started my thirty years as a health visitor in 1977 based in a rural clinic and worked with many of those same women. Single, utterly devoted to their job and (to my concealed amusement I must confess) utterly devoted to the clinic doctor. Doctor's word was sacrosanct, doctor must never be kept waiting, and the degree of subserviance required was never going to be handed down to me.
I can still remember the ripples of shock around the building when I called the doctor by her first name.
Josephine Elder, herself a GP (Dr Olive Potter) pinpoints it all to perfection, whilst also revealing the many obstacles and prejudices that women faced in the workplace in the late 1940s and through the 1950s. Post-war those freedoms were there to be reigned in, the domestic role for women was paramount.
This is all set against a backdrop of discontent within the medical profession about the establishment of the NHS, and let us not forget that somewhere in the midst of this are the four children of the book's title. Cynthia, Richard, Antonia and Christopher must all find their way in the world, choosing their own independent paths rather than those assumed or prescribed by their mother. In a way, whilst deadly serious things do happen, they all benefit from the fact that much of the time Barbara is too busy to notice.
I think you can tell I have had a lovely wallow in Doctor's Children, sometimes nothing else will do so how pleased I am to have this primrose-coloured Greyladies trio on the shelf. But what a rich source of information about early NHS life and work Josephine Elder's novels are too, if this is of interest don't miss these.
Girls Gone By publish several of Josephine Elder's school novels and have plans to publish them all, rating her in the top rank, so it's back to school for me, that's where I'm off to next...
Meanwhile it's time we shared those nursing-themed novels again...any suggestions