I’d love to have a cat now we’re getting on for 90 and don’t go abroad anymore. We don’t enjoy long airplane flights and schlepping our all-too-heavy baggage around, but we live on the 9th floor with a balcony and I couldn’t face a repeat of my experience with Rupert when I was a child and lived on the third floor with a balcony in Wentworth Dwellings in Petticoat Lane.
Rupert was a gorgeous black kitten who was as curious as are all baby animals. I was in tears remembering as I wrote about it in my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’.
Now blocked by a shutter and covered with graffiti, this was the Goulston Street entrance to 116 Wentworth Dwellings in what is known as Petticoat Lane, and where we lived until 1942. We children never knew the dark history of the landing above hours. It wasn’t until I started to research the history of Petticoat Lane for my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’, that I discovered that in the doorway of 119 Wentworth Dwellings, two floors above us, at 2.55 am on Sunday September 30th, 1888, PC Long found a blood-soaked piece of Catherine Eddowes’ apron. Her murderer, thought to be Jack the Ripper, had left her mutilated body in Mitre Street, some distance away. His reign of terror in the East End of London, killing and disembowelling local prostitutes, finally ended three years later, with the murder of Mary Jane Kelly.
Had we known it then, I’m sure we’d have played Jack the Ripper games instead of ‘Cops and Robbers’ or ‘Doctors and Nurses’.
And I thank all you lovely people who bought copies of ‘Woman in a White Coat.’
I quite liked his earlier more representational art, but it is his heavily textured abstract paintings that are so amazing. As you gaze at them you are drawn into some faraway place.
Art exhibitions always tempt me to take up drawing and painting again but what with Classical Greek, the Piano and Writing the sequel ’25 Houses’ to my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ I just haven’t found the time.
There’s nothing like a fruit scone with butter/ jam/ clotted cream for a mid morning snack or to fill a gap between dinner and bed.
I usually use only raisins but found I had nearly run out so I made up the quantity with currants. The scones still taste great!
These fruit scones freeze well so I can whip one out when I’m feeling peckish.
I always pick up the free Waitrose and Tesco magazines when I go supermarket shopping. Some recipes work well and others are a bit of a flop, but I’ve never tried one of Mary Berry’s recipes and have it fail.
Although I liked several of her surrealist paintings, I much preferred her later paintings, many from her stay at Sedonia, Arizona with Max Ernst – her abstracted ‘prismatic’ style. She wanted her pictures discovered slowly – ‘pictures that would shimmer and that you would discover something new every time you looked at them.’
One of my favourites is ‘Avalon’ – painted over 3 years from 1984-1987 . It is typical of her abstracted paintings, with parts of bodies and objects emerging from flower-like bursts of white and green.
I found her soft sculptures interesting though not particularly moving. The video at the end of the exhibition is excellent. Highly recommended.
Every time I go to an exhibition I think about taking up painting again – one of the many classes I took at Morley College and CityLit after I retired.
Read about my adventures at Further Education colleges in my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat.’
Buy Woman in a White Coat on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99
I have been so pleased with my red silicone Bundt Mold from Amazon that I bought my daughter Louise (here for Easter) one to take back to Spain.
The finished cake comes out easily with a professional-looking shiny finish. I use ‘Bake Easy’ spray to grease it, turn it upside down to drain off the excess, tip in some chopped nuts and shake the mold around to coat it.
I first made an Apple Cake in my Bundt Mold and this week baked a Carrot and Pistachio cake modified from Tesco magazine. Their recipe has a maple syrup, soft cheese and yogurt topping but I didn’t want the extra sugar content and I wanted to freeze what was over so I omitted it,
I still think about my lovely cookery teacher, Joyce, at Morley College every time I try a new recipe.
Read about my cookery escapades in my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat.’
Buy Woman in a White Coat on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99
Some of Dr Abby Waterman’s stories are funny and some sad. Listen to an episode from her childhood that made her want to be a doctor when she grew up
Chapter 2 Violet has Polio pp 29-30
Or read the text:
Buy Woman in a White Coat on Kindle at £2.99 or as a Paperback on Amazon at £9.99
‘Woman in a White Coat Chapter 2 pp 29-30
We all caught measles, chicken pox and whooping cough. The only immunisation we had was against smallpox – it left an ugly scar on your upper arm.
There was an outbreak of Infantile Paralysis (Polio) every summer and in all the schools there were children with leg braces to support limbs damaged by the disease. It wasn’t until 1955 that Dr Salk’s anti-polio vaccine became available.
It’s often difficult for patients to tell who’s who in hospital or to tell the difference between a young -looking house physician and a mature medical student.
When I started on the wards as a clinical medical student, I had already qualified as a dental surgeon and had a bit more gravitas than my friends. I always introduced myself quickly as being a student.
This excerpt from my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ describes my first day on the wards.
Listen to me reading this chapter or read it for yourself
You can buy Woman in a White Coat on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99
Chapter 14 Mrs Roberts pp 191-195
We stood outside the Bristow female medical ward, stethoscopes hanging nonchalantly out of our pockets, about to start our clinical attachments to the medical, surgical and obstetric firms.
Through the leaded windows in the double doors, we could see Sister’s desk, and the nurses in their blue and white striped dresses busying themselves about the patients. We hesitated, uncertain whether to go in or wait for our senior registrar.
Dr Evans, a tall red-haired man, strode up.
‘Well, what are you all standing about for, like a load of twits? You’ve been taught how to take a medical history and carry out a full physical examination. Get inside and collect your notes. We’ll meet in Sister’s office in three quarters of an hour.’
He handed each of us a buff-coloured folder. My patient was Mrs Mary Roberts.
Sister looked up.
‘One of my nurses will take you to your patients. I don’t want you students making a nuisance of yourselves. No coming in before eight in the morning, lunchtimes or during patients’ visiting hours.’
A nurse led me to a side room and deposited me by the bedside of the most enormous woman I had ever seen.
‘Our Mary’s quite a character. You may need some help when you come to examine her,’ she told me.
‘Good morning, Mrs Roberts,’ I said. ‘I’m your new student, Abby Waterman.’
‘Don’t be nervous, girl. I won’t bite you,’ Mrs Roberts wheezed. ‘Call me Mary. No-one calls me Mrs Roberts here.’
I pulled up a chair, sat down by her bed, and looked through the thick sheaf of notes. She’d been in and out of hospital many times.
The first two fingers of Mary’s podgy right hand were stained brown.
‘You may well look, dearie. They say it’s because of the ciggies that I’m like this.’
She coughed wetly, and spat into the sputum cup by her bed.
‘I’ve given them up loads of times, but they settle my nerves, they do.’
I wrote out a summary of Mary’s long medical history, and drew the curtains ready to examine her. The male students had to get a nurse to chaperone them if their patient was in a side room. Being a woman, that didn’t apply to me.
With a lot of struggling on my part, and heavy breathing on hers, I managed to wrestle her nightdress off. I stared with horror at her enormous breasts. The apex of the heart is under the left breast, but each breast looked as if it weighed several pounds. How on earth would I get a stethoscope underneath? When we were shown how to listen to the heart, we’d had a slim, elderly man to practise on.
Mary smiled at me.
‘They usually get a nurse to help, dear.’
I hurried out, but all the nurses looked busy. Finally, I saw a nurse with a red belt, a staff nurse.
‘Of course,’ she said. ‘Just give me five minutes to finish up, and I’ll send someone over.’
I told Mary to cover herself, and meanwhile looked at her swollen hands and feet. When I pressed the flesh of her ankles, my fingers left a dent which didn’t fill again for some time. She was having trouble catching her breath and her neck veins were engorged.
‘Superficial examination suggests the diagnosis of right-sided heart failure,’ I wrote.
A junior nurse bustled in, her starched apron crackling against her dress.
‘I’ve been sent over to give you a hand.’
She tried not to grin as she lifted a huge left breast with both hands, while I struggled to get the bell of my stethoscope underneath. The skin was red and sore from being constantly warm and damp. There was a strong smell of caked talcum powder.
By the time I’d completed my examination of Mary’s cardiovascular, respiratory and nervous systems, I was exhausted. The notes said she weighed seventeen stone, but it felt as if she weighed a ton.
‘I don’t really get on with the stuff they’re giving me,’ she said. ‘The heart pills make me feel sick, and I have to have a wee every few minutes because of the water tablets. But you should have seen me when I came in. More like a barrage balloon, I was.’
A deep rumbling laugh turned into a coughing fit. When she’d got her breath back, she said:
‘What wouldn’t I give for a tub of jellied eels? The hospital food is all mush.’
Tubby Isaacs Jellied Eel stall stood at the corner of Goulston Street and Aldgate. The red-faced, cheerful stallholder in his signature straw boater, white coat and black bow tie, used to call after me on my way home from St Margaret’s.
‘Lovely jellied eels, miss. Cockles and mussels, Alive Oh,’ he’d shout, knowing I would make a face. Eels and shellfish are forbidden to Jews.
I felt sick at the thought of those grey slices of eel on his stall. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to eat the disgusting things, even if they weren’t Jewish.
Over the next few weeks, I watched Mary’s vast bulk shrink, as the digoxin and diuretic pills began to work. One day, as I was checking her over, she started to cry.
‘They’re going to put me in the geriatric ward at St Mildred’s,’ she sobbed. ‘They say I can’t manage on my own. I live on the fourth floor, and there’s no lift. I can’t get my breath, even to go as far as the lavatory.’
‘Couldn’t you stay with one of your children?’
‘I haven’t heard from any of my kids in years. None of them’s ever been to see me in hospital. Two of the boys are inside, and I wouldn’t want to live with any of the others, even if they offered, which they wouldn’t.’
On my way home from Aldgate East station that night, I went up to Tubby Isaacs stall. I cringed at the sight of those mounds of cockles and whelks and other seafood I didn’t want to identify. To one side there was an enamel bowl full of clear jelly containing slices of jellied eel.
‘I’ll have a tub of jellied eels,’ I said, breathing through my mouth.
I hid the tub behind my books, away from my mother’s prying eyes, and thought about Mary in a geriatric ward. If she was lucky, it would be clean and cheerful, like the one at St Margaret’s, but that was only for short-term admissions. I’d visited a miserable urine-smelling long-stay ward, when my great aunt had her stroke. It was ghastly.
When I arrived next morning, Mary was dressed and waiting for the ambulance to take her to St Mildred’s. Her eyes were red and swollen. She clutched my hand.
‘I never thought it would come to this.’
‘This should cheer you up a bit,’ I said, and handed her the tub from Tubby Isaacs. Jellied Eels, Established 1919.
A smile lit up her face.
‘You’re a lovely girl, you know,’ she said. ‘You’ll go far, mark my words. You’ve got a heart of gold, you have, and there’s not many of them around.’
Well not a completely new library – a previous library moved across the road to sparkling new premises adjoining a super-convenient, very tempting, M & S Food Hall. Great to see at a time when libraries are closing down or losing staff.
A jolly mural in the entrance could keep a child busy for ages finding all the different animals and buildings. So different from the somber Victorian facades we’re so used to.
I miss the towering shelves in the old Whitechapel library stretching up to the 10 foot high ceilings. I used to have to stand on one of those rolling stools to reach.
Health and safety would have something to say about that now!
I was introduced by the Hellenic bookshop in London to ‘Streamlined Greek‘ by Bob Bass – an excellent workbook for beginners at Classical Greek from age 11 (children at school) to 87 – a retired pathologist like me. Unfortunately the shop didn’t have the essential Answer Book but I found both online and I am enjoying revision while on the Christmas break from my classical Greek class at CityLit.
I’d found our set books – the Oxford ‘Reading Greek’ series – very comprehensive but quite hard going, so Bob Bass’s book is a pleasant relief.
The flap of our letter box rattles. The post has arrived and with it the latest prospectus for Adult Education. I will definitely take Art History and Literature. Perhaps I will enrol for Classical Greek as well, and read the classics in the original.
I already have a small Greek vocabulary from when I was a dental student at St Margaret’s. I learned to say kallimera (good morning) and anoíxte to stóma sas (open your mouth) to patients from the local Greek Cypriot community. I have a larger Greek vocabulary derived from the many medical terms we had to learn. Maybe learning Greek will exercise my mind and grow some new brain cells to replace those I’ve lost over the years.