Thursday, 28 May 2009


One of the great things about being mobile was that we visited the family, most of whom lived in Kent, a lot more than hitherto. It was on one of these trips that fate dealt us another blow.
My sister Tina (Croom) and her husband David lived in Erith, Kent. They had been very good to us when John was hospitalised, sharing the task of looking after Lynne with another of my sisters Sandie (Weechuff). It was good now to be able to visit them as a complete family and just for pleasure.
Tina and I were in the house, chatting and making tea, while Arthur and David played in the garden with the three children. They were taking turns to throw the children up in he air, and swing them round. Arthur swung John and, ever mindful of his bad legs, lowered him to the floor. As his feet hit the ground, John started crying and yelling. I rushed out to find David looking very worried and Arthur cradling a very distressed John in his arms.
‘Give him to me’ I said, gently taking him from Arthur… I looked down at his leg while I held him close trying to comfort him. I could see that the shape wasn’t right. ‘I think he’s got a broken leg’ I whispered, so as not to frighten John.
‘It can’t be, I was being very gentle with him,’ said Arthur, who was so upset to think that he was responsible for John’s pain. Tina rang for an ambulance and both Arthur and I were thankful that it had been Arthur’s turn to do whatever it was that caused the accident, and not David’s. Poor David was shocked and worried, and he wasn’t even responsible.
I went in the ambulance with John, and Arthur followed behind in our car. Since we weren’t au fait with the area, Arthur had great difficulty in keeping up with the ambulance, especially as it went through red traffic lights.
The doctor in the Casualty Department confirmed our worst fears. John had, indeed, broken his leg. The thought of him being in a Kent hospital for weeks, with Arthur and I in London, and the other two children with Tina and Sandie, didn’t bear thinking about. In any case, we wanted, above all else, for John to be cared for by Mr. Lloyd-Roberts at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.
The Erith hospital agreed that, instead of plastering John’s leg, they would splint it so that we could lay him in the back of the estate car and drive to Great Ormond Street. They phoned he Children’s Hospital to let them know that we were coming and, after a quick phone call to Tina to arrange for Philip and Lynne to be left for the time being, we set off. The journey was a horrible nightmare for all of us. John’s leg was stretched out and on either side were wooden splints held in place by bandages. Arthur had to drive extremely carefully so that John’s leg wasn’t jolted by any humps or holes in the road. Each time the car jerked a little, John would scream out. All I could do to help him was to stroke his hair, hold his hand, and tell him it would soon be all right.
It was one o’clock in the morning when we finally arrived. John was taken into X-ray and we waited nervously for news. We were so worried in case his first operation had been ‘undone’ and he had been set back to square one again. The doctor told us that John would be put into traction and plaster, and we would know more the next day.
We crept into the ward to say goodnight to him. He was once again under sedation, tucked up in a hospital bed, in a ward that was dark and very quiet. With a lump in my throat I kissed him and we whispered ‘Good-night, God bless,’ and then we slipped silently away, and drove home to an unexpectedly empty and lonely flat. Before going to bed I went into the children’s room. I gazed at the empty beds and the rumpled nightclothes that had been discarded so excitedly that morning. How could such a lovely day out end in such a cruel, miserable manner?
It turned out that no one was really to blame for the accident. While playing, John had landed on the side of his foot. Because he had a steel plate fixed to the thighbone, the bone wasn’t able to bend as it normally would. Instead, the plate acted as a lever and just snapped John’s bone in half. It was one of those one in a million chances that happened.
John wasn’t too long in hospital this time and, in due course, the plaster was removed and we all settled back into some sort of normality.
To be continued…

Friday, 15 May 2009


So far, our beautiful new car had been a blessing, enabling us to travel back and forth between Kent, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Oakfield Road. I can’t even begin to imagine how we would have coped without it. It was as though it had been sent by providence, to help us survive our ordeal. It was, however, now time to use it for the purpose that we had envisaged when we first set eyes on it. A holiday.
And what a holiday that was. We packed so much into those two weeks. Our base camp was to be in Somerset, where we’d rented a holiday chalet. We all bundled into the car, with our dog Rusty sitting in the front seat with me. He loved travelling with his head out of the partially opened window, his fur and ‘chops’ billowing in the wind.
Our luggage, which comprised of a large expanding suitcase (a left-over from our honeymoon) and several bulky egg-packing boxes, was all securely strapped to the roof rack with webbing straps ‘borrowed’ from Midland Bank.
We were all in a happy holiday mood, as we set off singing at the top of our voices: ‘We’re all going on our summer holiday’.
We arrived at the site tired and hungry, so I made something quick to eat and we relaxed till the next day.
The car was parked under the trees next to our chalet and, after breakfast, we all packed into it ready for our first outing. It wouldn’t start! We were horrified. In those days, we hadn’t yet joined the Automobile Assn. And, as I said earlier, Arthur knew next to nothing about the mechanics of a car.
The God of Automobiles was still with us, however. In the next chalet was a family group consisting of two married couples and a young girl of about twelve. It was the two men, however, who had been sent from heaven. One was a train engineer and the other a car mechanic. Without any more ado, they took off their jackets, rolled up their sleeved and disappeared under the bonnet of our car. They were obviously in their element. Their womenfolk looked on happily as the men flung oily rags, spanners and feeler gauges around.
Arthur and I were understandably worried that this might herald the end of our touring holiday and, as more and more of the engine was dissembled, we became increasingly fearful.
Philip sat on the grass at Arthur’s feet watching the unfolding of events, and then uttered one of his most memorable remarks ‘Dad, I can see all the hairs up your nose.’ It wasn’t only the way that he said it, but his completely inappropriate timing, that lifted the gloom of the occasion and reduced everyone to helpless laughter.
In no time at all, the car was miraculously repaired and running better than ever. We couldn’t believe our good fortune, and all offers of payment or reward were absolutely refused.
The young girl, whose name now escapes me, became quite attached to Lynne and the boys. Her family left a few days before we did, and she bought sweets out of her pocket money and ceremoniously handed them out to out three children.
During that holiday we visited the Cheddar Gorge, Wookey Hole, Castel Coch, Cardiff, Stonehenge, Exeter Moors, Newport, and lots of other places. The children saw the wild ponies on the moors, and witnessed wild pigs trotting up and down a village street, in and out of front gardens. They visited the place where cheddar cheeses were made, and went down into deep caves with beautiful stalagmite formations. See pictures above.

On one of our car trips during the holiday, we inadvertently came across Aberfan where, in October 1966, an avalanche of black coal slag demolished the school in a matter of seconds, killing 116 children and 28 adults, following the collapse of an adjacent slag heap. Because Aberfan was a small mining village this disaster removed almost a complete generation from it’s midst.
Although this had happened a couple of years before, it still sent an overwhelming feeling of horror and sadness through me as I saw the school site and the empty cottages opposite, still half full of dried sludge. I quietly hugged my three children and thanked God for them.
To be contd…

Saturday, 9 May 2009


Lynne and Philip were sent to stay with my mum, and sisters Sandie and Tina in rotation, which upset me a great deal. I hated the idea that they might think they were being pushed aside, while we stayed with John. Lynne, as usual, was very grown up about it, taking Philip under her wing and explaining all the whys and wherefores. Philip, however, didn’t accept the situation very well. He became jealous of all the extra attention. He resented staying with aunties, and also all the fuss that John generated. He once said to me ‘it isn’t fair: why is it always John that gets ill?’
Of course, we tried to make it up to Lynne and Philip. I wrote them letters and sent them goodies. We spoke to them on the phone each day and tried to explain what was happening, but I think Philip kept a chip on his shoulder for a few years. I was once again being torn in different directions. However, I knew that Lynne was very level headed and sensible, and that she and Philip were in good and very caring hands, so my time and attention had to be given to John who was really going through it and needed us more than ever.
Each morning I would see Arthur off to work, and then catch the train to the hospital. I would spend the entire day there, not only looking after John, but also helping with all the other children on his ward. Arthur would come straight from work at five o’clock and spend an hour with John and me. Then we would say goodnight to John and travel back to Oakfield road, telephone Lynne and Philip, and snatch a couple of hours to ourselves before going to bed. The next day it would start all over again. This went on for weeks and was quite exhausting, day after day. The only deviation to this routine was my driving lesson. Once a week, on top of all else, I would rush directly to the driving school and do an hour of reversing round corners or hill starting.
The day of my second driving test, which my instructor I and now knew I was capable of passing, arrived. Murphy’s law lay down that it was also to be the time that John was having his second hip operation. I must admit that, on the day, my mind was more on John than the examiner. I failed, but only just. Nothing worse than ‘driving too close to stationary vehicles’.
I really was shattered not to have passed, but decided I had far too much going on in my life at that time to continue. I would re-start driving lessons when John was entirely better: a completely wrong decision since, as it turned out, I never again sat behind the wheel of a car.
Not only did we visit John every day, but all my family at one time or other made the trip from Kent to visit, as did Arthur’s mum and dad, his brother Bill and sister-in-law Jean. This went on for weeks and weeks, and then they said that John could come home. He had plates screwed into both his thighbones, and was encased in plaster of Paris from his armpits down to his toes. He couldn’t sit up or move anything except his arms and head. The poor little mite had to eat and drink flat on his back. He couldn’t go to the toilet properly, and, since he couldn’t even partially sit up, wasn’t able to play or amuse himself. The only way I could go shopping was to take him laying flat on his back, on a sort of mattress on wheels. Life wasn’t easy, but it was wonderful to have all my children back home together.
When John said that he needed to go to he toilet, this entailed holding a bottle at a very funny angle, and a lot of strategic positioning, which used to make him laugh. But a week later, it wasn’t a laughing matter. He said he’s finished, and I removed the bottle from the bed. I nearly died of fright. His urine was the colour of red wine. I immediately made a phone call to the children’s hospital that said we should bring him straight back. I phoned Arthur who hurried home from work. Off we sped to the hospital, leaving poor Philip and Lynne with Aunty Minnie and Ruby, once again.
After more tests, we were told that John’s kidney had a tube running from it that was malformed. He’s been born with a ‘kink’ in the tube, which probably wouldn’t have given any trouble under normal circumstances. Because he’d been lying on his back for so long, there’d been a build up of calcium at the kink and a stone had formed. There would have to be yet another operation. Poor John was only three years old and was clocking up his third major operation. Once again he rose to the occasion and was the perfect patient.
This time he was already known to the nurses and Sister, and was treated like an old friend. The surgeon had to remove the plaster that encased John’ body in order to perform the operation. This time he had tubes running from the new incision and into a urine bag attached to his bed. He wasn’t allowed to run around with his bag on wheels like the other children, because of the troubles with his legs.When he was discharged from the hospital on this occasion, things were a little better. They decided to put the plaster on only one of his legs so that they could keep an eye on his new operation site. Now John wore a plaster of Paris equivalent to a pair of long johns with one leg cut off.