Thursday, May 08, 2008

My memories of Nurse Glenys Davies – Ann (1950-54)

Nurse Glen and Ann -1950

Opening my Craig-y-nos album, after more than 50 years, gave me quite a jolt. I know not what to expect.

To start with I thought it had been destroyed, burnt in all the kerfuffle of the family farm, Ty-Llangenny, being sold in a vicious family dispute that ended in the Cardiff courts.

But no, my sister-in-law Doreen had saved it.
Now it arrives in the post at my home, Bridge of Allan, a small town on the edge of the Scottish Highlands, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Crickhowell, the area I grew up in.

I open the album with some trepidation. What ghosts from the past will leap out to remind me of my four lost years as a child incarcerated in a remote Welsh castle?

My fears are unfounded. The first photo is of Nurse Glenys Jones and myself, smiling, and wearing a sunhat out on the balcony. Phew! Relief. I flick through the album. These are happy photos.

Auntie Maggie with Ann, 1950

Lots more pictures of Nurse Glen and “Auntie Maggie”, their warmth, humour and friendliness caught forever and immortalised in little 3x3 images taken on my Brownie box camera.

True, there are gaps in the album for mother had edited out those photos where I looked close to death.

Today - Ann and Nurse Glen

and in 1950...

So it was with mixed feelings that I met up again with Nurse Glenys Davies at Craig-y-nos Castle. (“Auntie Maggie”, sadly, having already died some five years earlier).

We chat about the past. For Nurse Glenys is now 82 years of age and after leaving Craig-y-nos where she was for 30 years she left to become manager of a residential home. Thee years later she married and is now Mrs Jones.

“You remember the big table in the middle of the ward where you used to eat your food?” asks Nurse Glenys.
I shake my head. So much has been forgotten.

I have only one memory of that table, of a winter evening in a raging snowstorm and we were brought in from the balcony by a new, very young night nurse who was shocked to find us sleeping outside with snow piling up on our beds.
In fact we were quite happy for snow was a big adventure in our lives and we were all safely ensconced under our tarpaulins. Still we did not object to her plan, sensing some fun ahead for we hardly knew the girls inside Ward 2. They were a separate community even with their own “ward boss” like we too on the balcony had our own “balcony boss”, a position allocated automatically to the eldest girl.

“I will bring your beds into the ward for the night” she said so much to our surprise and delight we were wheeled into the centre of Ward 2.

We are in heaven. We spend the rest of the night- or what seems like the best part of the night, running from bed to bed and dancing on the table.

Sister Morgan is most displeased the following morning to find us installed inside Ward 2 and pushes us back out on you the balcony with the words:
“A bit of snow never harmed anyone”.

Unfortunately, the rumpus resulted in the new night nurse getting a terrible row and she came on duty the following night feeling very hurt.
“You are an ungrateful lot.”

That’s my only memory of the table in Ward 2.

Langford the porter with Ann in wheelchair, and unknown girl , before going for an x-ray

“What about Langford the porter? You must remember him with his trolley.”

Yes, of course, it was from Langford that I bought my comics. How could I ever forget those horror comics I devoured as a 9 year old? ( Years later I gather such magazines were banned from Britain but we read them with great gusto in Craig-y-nos- thanks to Langford and his trolley).

One story remains with me today.
I cannot pass a coach load of people without recalling that macabre tale of the little boy who ran away from home and hitched a lift in the night on a coach. When he got on he realized it was full of dead people all sitting there neatly in their seats…oh yes I remember Langford.

Miss White, the teacher, out on the balcony with Ann ( in bed) and Mary Davies

So the stories come pouring out.

We joke about the ward fire, or rather its absence. For only in the most dire weather conditions would Sister Morgan allow it to be lit.

Nurse Glen concedes:
“Sister Morgan was very tight as far as the coal was concerned. She would say “watch the fires”.
Absolutely. On those rare occasions when we were allowed a fire Miss White, the teacher, would sit hunched cover it as if her life depended on it, which it probably did for unlike us she was not hardened to the cold.

Ann with Bubbles, the budgie

I remind Nurse Glen of my budgies, Bubble and Squeak. Now it is her turn to shake her head.

She has no recollection of them at all though they were a lively presence in Ward 2 for years.

She does remember the tropical aquarium given us by Friends of the Hospital one Christmas.

“What about ghosts?” I ask. After spending 30 years living and working in the castle if there was anyone who should be able to recall strange, eerie happenings in the night then it must surely be Nurse Glen.

“I don't believe a word of it! I was there for 30 years and never saw a thing.
One evening I did decide to play a trick on Nurse Thomas.
I told her to come down at 7.30 to dispensary and I would have the drugs ready for her.
Well, I stood in the doorway with a sheet over my head and I could hear her coming down the long corridor and I jumped out. Oh yes, she got a fright!”

I mention Dr Huppert. But Nurse Glen is very discreet. Of course she remembers her.

And the cat. Thomas? Nurse Glen shudders. She always hated cats and had no time for Thomas who was owned by Dr Huppert but Sister Morgan used to try and entice away with extra food.
“They say Thomas used to sleep on Dr Huppert’s bed,” she says with a touch of disapproval in her voice.

On the back of one photo I have with Nurse Glen I have written, “being prepared” for an x-ray.
“What does that mean?”

“Well, you had been lying for months on your left side on 12 inch blocks. If we were to put you into a wheelchair you would have felt very giddy. So I would spend half an hour with you beforehand helping you to sit up.”

I remind her of some procedure I had called a phrenic. What was it?

All I know is that one morning I was wheeled down to the operating theatre, without warning after breakfast, and they cut something in my neck and I had to wear a plaster on it.

So I ask Nurse Glen, 50 odd years later, what was that all about? She explains.

Like hundreds of other “children of Craig-y-nos” Nurse Glen holds a very special place in all our hearts.

Without her and “Auntie Maggie” Craig-y-nos would have been an even colder and bleaker institution.

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