A SELF HISTORY – Chapter Six
A series of weekly published chapters by Ken The Pen written in a humerous and informative style.
A SELF HISTORY CHAPTER 8
HISTORY MEETS LITERATURE
For four years life had continued well, I tended to be accident prone though I made little fuss, but had a few broken arms, shoulder, and collar bone fractures until one day I was again sent to hospital where I think that I lived for almost six months. I didn’t miss my family much since I had been away from them so much in my early life and nurses at the hospital loved me after I made a breakthrough for them and they did the same for me in two different ways. My reason for being in hospital was a mystery to me, I had blood tests and x-rays, I was weighed, measured, and poked and prodded by doctors or nurses at any time of the day, but apart from that was free to go anywhere I chose within the hospital, even to other wards where I could roam as I liked. The only limitation being that every morning, someone came in and gave lessons with most of the children, just as if we were in school. Then one day one of the nurses brought me a book when she came on duty with one of the most memorable things that had ever been given to me. The nurse had bought it especially as a surprise present for my birthday and the book was called “Lamb’s Tales”. I couldn’t understand a lot of it because it was written in quite old-fashioned English, and often used words that I had never heard before, but to me it was quite magical. I would go to any of the nurses at any time and say “What does this mean?” or “what is that word?” or “How do you say this?” They all helped and when they didn’t know the answer, they would send me to someone who might, all of the nurses got as much pleasure from helping me as I did from asking them, for help. It was obviously September, so the weather was at its best, and because I had the freedom to go where I pleased in the afternoons. I used often to go outside the hospital and across the lawn then up the hill facing us. It seemed like every day, but probably I went there about three or four times a week in reality. Once there I would lie atop the hill looking down toward the hospital, where I could watch all the people visiting or the gardeners and porters, as they made their way around the grounds, before looking down to read until it grew cooler or someone came out and called me down for teatime. The book took me into a different world from all the children’s books I had ever seen before, and it introduced me to a man called William Shakespeare! Gradually it opened up the world of Keats, Byron and Shelley, William Blake, Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling and a host of others writers; which had led me further into the world of books. My favourite nurse had brought me magic, as a present for my birthday! The Book’s complete title was actually “Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare” and I took it everywhere.
December gave me the unexpected opportunity to repay the nurses collectively for their spoiling of me, they had been trying to find a child who would agree to be covered in plaster of Paris including the covering of the head and face. Nobody would agree to being covered up as they were too afraid, having seen people with broken arms being covered with hard plaster casts. I overheard two of the nurses talking about this one day and said “Oh I’ll do that for you”. I quite liked the thought of the hospital having “mini me’s” all over the ward. There was a short interrogation by the nurses and the ward sister, but they weren’t too fussy because they needed someone to use as a guinea pig, and knew that they could always call a halt if I got scared. I think we took three days in all to make the models they needed, they wrapped me from neck to feet in bandage, then applied the plaster of Paris and had to wait for it to dry before cutting down each side of me and prising the cast apart. A couple of the nurses then re-joined the split casts while I was being re-cast by two other nurses to make the next body. In the meantime, of course, the ward needed to be run, medicines distributed and treatment given, meals served and doctor’s visits, so our production line was fitted around the real world. Really the most worrying part for them was whether I would be okay for the heads to be cast, but to me it was more or less the same. Once the heads were fitted, we ended up with a pile of child sized models which were then painted and clothed and fitted with caps or bonnets or wool strips for hair. The Christmas tree and decorations rounded off the end of our ward and made a wonderful display, I had made my own contribution to the children and nurses. During her visits my mother had been bringing me some small farm animals and a tractor to play with at the hospital; at the same time and unknown to me the staff had all been buying the odd sheep, horse, goat, cow, lamb or even goose and chicken. When I was thought to be tested enough and ready to leave the hospital, most of the nurses came to present them to me as a going away present, some nurses even came in on their day off, because they had really grown fond of me during my long stay at the hospital. My biggest present though had been the wonderful book that the nurse had given me. I never discovered why I had been sent there, but while recently researching this particular Pyrford Hospital on the National Archives, I found that it was listed as St Martin’s Orthopaedic Hospital and Special School Pyrford, Rowley Bristow near Woking. Interestingly it had originally been classified rather quaintly, as the “Beatrix Ward for Waifs and Strays.” I was really elated that I was able now, to identify myself as “A Waif and Stray.” although I wouldn’t have known then exactly what that meant. Anyway, I had been housed in the Beatrix Ward, which I presume was the orthopaedic section, whose purpose was to analyse my bone structure and composition. My tests completed it had been time again to go home.
REPERCUSSIONS AND CATCH UP
While I had been in hospital my father had given my rabbit to my cousin Herbert who’d said he’d like to have one of his own and I was quite happy about that. When I returned home, my father and I had built a wooden farmyard with buildings and gated walls, which was the envy of all of my friends, especially with the myriad animals it contained, but that was to prove short-lived, thanks to an unexpected holiday. A few days after my homecoming our whole family went to stay for a few days at my uncle Herbert’s home in Haywards Heath and I met my aunt Emily for the first time, but it would not be a happy first meeting. While we men went into the nearest forest to chat and cut saplings for making bows and arrows, my aunt Emily was showing my mother and sister how to cut up strips of clothing that were worn out, to make rag rugs and my mother really took to it seriously. We all got back for lunch where aunt was checking the dinner while Babs and my mother laid the table, then we all sat down and in came roast potatoes, carrots, cabbage Yorkshire pudding and gravy, then Emily went back for the meat. When she came out somebody said “Oh great its rabbit, we don’t often have rabbit.” There was a bit of silence then my mother said “Where did you get it?” “Oh, it’s the one that Johnny brought us a few months ago,” said Herbert, “It’s fully grown now, so we thought we’d share it with you.” I jumped up and stormed out of the room, I couldn’t believe it! Rabbit was expensive in those days if you could even get it from a butcher’s, the only people who could get it normally were people who worked on the farms, or poachers. My dad had given it to them because I couldn’t look after it in hospital, but to them it was just a thing that you would feed until it was big enough to eat. I was to upset to stay there so Emily sent someone to my aunty May, her sister, who also lived in Haywards Heath, and who I had also never met before. My aunty May agreed to let me sleep at her house while we were visiting aunty Emily; I told my mother that I didn’t want to go to Emily’s house ever again. Ironically, I went back to their house many times and she came to see us just as often, and she soon became my favourite of all my relatives. I wasn’t friendly to my uncle Herbert any more, or his son Herbert even though they came to see us about a month later and spent the night at our house. About one week after Uncle Herbert and his son had left, I realised that my farm buildings and all the animals had disappeared and when I asked about them my father told me that he had given them to Herbert junior because he had loved them so much and I didn’t! My protests were met with a threat of a thick ear and knowing my father as I did, I knew that it was no idle threat, but the damage then had already been done, and they were so far away that there was no way of getting them back. My father was an accomplished and skilful carpenter though and though I never saw the farm pieces again, there were other wooden toys made for me; it didn’t make up for the kindness of the nurses though. There was one more little adventure in store while we were living in Hollandwood, my sister had been missing her best friend Carol from Leyton although they had kept writing to each other. One day, she told me that wanted to run away to London and asked me for help. We went out day after day picking hundreds of primroses and violets from the fields and hedges, making them into posies and went all around Petworth selling them from house to house then hid the money under a rock in the wood behind our house. When we had enough money, I went to Petworth with Babs and saw her off to London from Petworth station. When I got home my mother asked me where Babs was and I said I hadn’t seen her all day, I had to go out looking for her but obviously with no luck. My mother called the police and they came out and questioned me, but then the police in Petworth came out and said they had received a call from the police in Leyton to say that a Mrs Ramsey had phoned to say that Babs was safe with her and Carol. Carol had let her into their house when her parents were out then she hid in Carols room till Mrs Ramsey came home and heard the girls. Babs was allowed to stay with them for a week and it was arranged between my mother and Carol’s, that Carol would come down to stay with us for a week at the time of the next holiday. That carried on for some while as the girls took turns to go and stay at the other’s family during alternate holidays; as in every other case, I was given the blame for having started it off, since it was I who had thought of selling flowers to get Babs’ train fare! I had quite enjoyed living at Hollandwood, but had mixed feelings as well, I had certainly learned a great deal more about the countryside and about nature in general, I had enjoyed being driven to a nice school in a really lovely setting and quite spoiled by a teacher who loved to spend a lot of time in my company, to talk about fossils and wildlife during lunchtimes. I wasn’t really knowledgeable about wildlife, but because of my walks with my father, I had learned much about nature. His talks with me, even if unintentionally, informed me about rabbits and hares, foxes and hedgehogs, moths or butterfly’s, bird nesting habits and how to identify eggs, or even a bird from a discarded feather. I could impart so many such things to Miss Stilwell that she really wanted to hear about and I even took blown birds’ eggs from my collection to show her and my classmates, so we all benefitted. I absorbed history through the enthusiasm and joy that Miss Stilwell had for it, but she gained as much about nature from me and would make me explain or repeat things and even took notes. I enjoyed being credited with saving Mrs Hoskins even though it wasn’t really that dramatic, but we re-met a few years later and she still felt the same way. On the other hand, I had been separated once again from my family, and had returned home to discover that while I was away my mother had given birth to a new baby. This one was born in Hollandwood and was called Colin Anthony, so I had been away when each of my brothers had been born. Also, even though I had enjoyed my time spent with the staff and children at the hospital, I had also loved Hollandwood just for itself. One thing was certain, with all that had happened to me there had been enough adventures in Hollandwood, it must now surely, be time to move once again, but I didn’t think we’d ever find a place as nice again.
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