Chapter 6: Goodbye to Farming
So I found myself at an induction camp for Airwomen in Lancashire for square-bashing and a lot of fruitless scrubbing and polishing of already scrubbed and polished surfaces. I had never been a 'girly' person since childhood and must have seemed a very queer fish with my rough ways so didn't fit in very well with the others. However after a medical training camp I qualified as a medic and got brass flashes on the jacket and so to an RAF hospital and work on the wards.
Nurses are now accorded respect and admiration and rightly so. We, however, were addressed as 'Orderly' even though we did all the jobs of a nurse. Ward sister was a formidable Flight Lieutenant and kept us firmly in line, running her white gloved hands over the floors under the beds and making us hide in the sluice when the Doctor Squadron Leader make his rounds.
National Service was still in force then and we had several lads working on the wards who chose nursing as a soft option to fill in their time.They had no interest in the medical profession at all and did as little work as possible,but their merry quips and practical jokes did a lot to ease the iron atmosphere. I never minded covering up for them. I was on night duty with one of these chaps. The temperature, pulse and blood pressure rounds were very time consuming as each aspect had to be done separately. Nowadays a clever machine does it all. Anyway my little scamp of a colleague put his feet up on sisters hallowed desk and remarked to our patients "Everyone all right then?" None of them liked to demur so he filled in the charts as everyone normal and when it got dark he climbed into one of the empty beds till morning leaving muggins here to do the work. Night Sister turned a blind eye of course.
At night time we had to sign in with duty sergeant and once in it was a heinous offence to go out again. A jolly little sport and I sneaked out one night, got on my motor bike and went swimming in a reservoir with some airmen. We were caught and given a severe dressing down by the crusty old C.O. "You are as much use in that uniform as a bad nut in a nutshell" he shouted.
"You must think we're nuts" said my friend.
We were given 14 days confined to barracks and had to clean all the lavatories in the hospital with Lysol but it was worth it. As a further punishment I was put on a ward for officer's wives. These tiresome women spent a lot of their time knitting and we were kept on the hop to pick up balls of wool that fell to the floor with much snapping of fingers and cries of 'Orderly'. One irritating old thing made a big fuss about complexion cream, finishing with 'my astringent'. I got so hacked off with all this. We were supposed to warm the bedpans before shoving them under the regal behinds. I got an ice cold one and said to her "Here's an astringent for your bottom". I wanted out and I think they were only too glad to let me go.
I read "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier at this time and got all keen on Cornwall. The only way I could get to see it was to find another milking job and found one near Helston. My trusty motor bike got me there in record time and I remember the atmospheric thrill of crossing the foggy gloom of Bodmin Moor. It is a wonderful county and I explored all the places, Tintagel, Bedruthan, Kynance and Kennack Sands. This was a lesser known cove, just rocks and clear azure sea but I went there because it was just down the road from my place of work.
This was the usual dairy farm which drew a final line under my agricultural career. It was so rough and how they managed to get their milk passed by the milk marketing board is a mystery. At milking time there was no nonsense about grooming and washing. The old farmer kept his milking apron hanging on the cowshed door. This garment was unbelievable. A length of frayed sacking stiff with sour milk tied round with twine. To see him milk the cows was to put you off for life. He donned his apron, got his bucket and from his cow squirted milk over his hands to lubricate them then he dragged the milk out with miserly little squirts. No fine head of foam here. His wet hands loosened the grime on the poor udder and brownish drops fell into the bucket along with the milk and dead flies. Yet who was I to be fastidious. Those Cornish folk had consumed this milk all their lives especially in the form of the famous clotted cream or 'ream' as they call it and very bonny they looked on it too. The recipe, if you're interested, is; take a gallon of cream, put it in a washing up bowl and stand it on a low heat, a thick scum will form on top. Remove bowl from heat, take a saucer and skim off your clotted cream. Apply this nourishing topping to anything from stewed prunes to Cornish pasties.
The old man with the hands had a son, he had a penchant for sailors and making fairy cakes and yet he was another who treated the animals with callous cruelty. When I remonstrated he said indignantly "That's what animals are for". I felt we had no meeting of minds so I sold the motor bike, bought an Austin 7 and set off back to Brighton and a normal life.
The day of my journey it snowed heavily. I loaded up Josephine, that was her name, with all the worldly goods and set off .The road was a mass of icy bumps and channels. My brave little chariot was like a small black ant stumbling over a plate of cold porridge. I sat huddled over the wheel willing her to keep going, which she did bless her, until we came to the steepest hills when she balked and there was nothing for it but to jump out and steer with one hand and push with the other. We formed a strange attachment to each other. At one point we got a rousing cheer from a party of young motorists who overtook us in style, although that wouldn't have been very difficult, I should think we did not get above 15 m.p,h, all the time. We arrived at my parent's house in Brighton and that was that.
Very regretfully I had to sell Josephine for economic reasons and set about trying to be a girl. This meant washing in hot water, putting on face cream, wearing a frock and stockings and trying to be feminine. I got various `townie' jobs and gradually became civilised. Then I married and had 3 daughters.
I am getting on now but still when driving through the country I like to notice when the harvest starts, how straight they do their ploughing and how sleek the cattle, and I like to be out in the rain and find a forgotten piece of wilderness.