I have a marvellous bunch of readers who corrected my English when it was clunky, pointed out non sequiturs, found even more typos and kept up my spirits when I was flagging. Thank you all – family, friends, tutors and above all the Victoria Writing Circle who discussed every section week by week. Woman in a White Coat wouldn’t have existed without you.And as of now 3 agents want to see my manuscript!!
Among the many classes I attended after I retired was a very good watercolour class at Open Age – a valuable resource for the retired. I’m no artist but I had a great time. The image of a fruit bowl on my first blog The Beginning and further up Oh Dear show two more of my efforts.
My daughter Louise, her two children and I had a phase of covering all sorts of papier maché letters, boxes and animals with Decopatch paper. I used the covered letters as birthday cards. A and L were easy – all straight lines and sharp angles while S for Simon, B for Bernard, J for Jane were more tricky but the Decopatch paper is very forgiving.
I’m not counting my chickens yet, but my fantastic mentor, Stephanie Hale, has already found two agents willing to read my memoir Woman in a White Coat. It covers my life as a Harley Street dentist, co-owner of John Dobbie toyshops, consultant pathologist and director of a cancer research lab as well as the mother of four, married to the same wonderful man for nearly 60 years!!
I know There’s many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip but, having been told there’s no chance of getting a memoir published unless you’re a celebrity, at the very least it’s encouraging.
In his soliloquy ‘All the world’s a stage’ Jacques in As You Like It talks about the aged sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything but he doesn’t mention hearing. It’s come. I found I had to strain to hear my literature tutor’s lectures so I’ve got them – hearing aids. And they work – at least so far. I got them in Specsavers. I’d been getting my glasses there for years and saw a leaflet stating that they now do hearing aids. One-stop shopping!!
From time to time we sold fancy dress at our John Dobbie toyshop. The problem was having to stock them in a range of sizes. We only bought a supply when something took our fancy, especially if they were suitable for our own children.
It happens every time as I try to leave the country. As I go through security I set off the alarm. It’s that enormous piece of metal in my right femur that does it. Then I have to be patted down by a grim-faced female security guard. I suppose they’re not allowed to smile at a suspected terrorist, though they are helpful and all smiles once I’ve been frisked. I’ve thought of taking a doctor’s letter or my X-ray but I suppose they’d be discounted, since I couldn’t prove they related to me.
My daughter Louise was expecting her second baby any day, so I had flown to Spain to help look after her family. Instead I spent 10 days in Hopital San Dios on the hillside above San Sebastian. I had to get special permission from the surgeon to slip out and see my new grandson.
It was vanity, sheer vanity. I’d missed out on Doc Marten’s when they were all the rage and when I saw the thick-soled boots in the Ecco shop I couldn’t resist them. I should have given them to Oxfam after I tripped hurrying to get to the Post Office before it closed. That time I’d only skinned the palms of my hands and torn a hole in my jeans. When I tripped crossing the road in San Sebastian, I broke my hip. I had a total replacement under an epidural anaesthetic.
There was no nonsense about being woken at six in the morning as I would have been in an English hospital. Food seemed to arrive every couple of hours. It started with coffee and croissants at 8am; then mid-morning coffee and biscuits, a delicious three course lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, an equally delicious three course dinner and, of course, a snack before bedtime. The nurses worried that I didn’t eat enough but I just couldn’t eat it all. I worried I’d never be able to lose the weight I must have put on.
I was worried that the bone had fractured though a site of secondary spread from my breast cancer of 10 years before but it was osteoporosis and Anno Domini.
We used the lump sum I got when I retired to buy a terrace house in Nerja in the South of Spain..
When we bought No 6 Los Huertos, Nerja was a sleepy seaside village with cobbled streets, the occasional horse-drawn carriage and the classic white painted houses of the Alpujarras – the land south of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
From my memoir Woman in a White Coat The small delicatessen cum supermarket on the corner, a furniture shop and a hairdresser supplied us with everything we needed. For years we went there Christmas, Easter and in August – Joshua was still teaching at the dental hospital and had to take his summer holiday then – and one or other of our four children would join us. The simple fish restaurant 100 yards away served the catch of the day with crisp delicious chips cooked in locally pressed olive oil. Several restaurants in the centre served excellent local food. On Sundays we would drive up the steep road to Frigiliana, browse the craft shops, buy yet another pottery dish and eat lunch in one of the many restaurants.
We opened our john Dobbie toyshop on Monday April 1st 1963, two weeks before Easter. The little bow-fronted shop in Wimbledon Village with multiple small panes of glass was exactly right for a toy shop.
From my memoir Woman in a White Coat Simon was 2½ and Bernard 6 months old. It was still not allowed for the names of doctors or dentists to be associated with business, or to advertise in any way. Simon always called himself Dobbie and John Dobbie sounded like a good solid name. We took on a sparky red-headed manageress sent by the employment agency three doors away from our shop.
On Easter Sunday, Moira Keenan’s piece about John Dobbie appeared in the Sunday Times. We were off to a great start.
Had a wonderful 3 months working at NIH – libraries open 7am – midnight weekdays and open on Sundays. Our London medical school library was open 9.30am – 6pm weekdays only. The facilities were incredible. There was a supermarket in the basement – not for food, but for chemicals and laboratory equipment – test tubes, beakers, retort stands. You just needed your departmental card and a trolley. I was used to waiting 6 weeks just for a new measuring cylinder.
From my memoir Woman in a White Coat I’d got a bus out to the local shopping mall and on the way back I was the only passenger. The driver picked up on my English accent. ‘I’ve been to good old England,’ he said. ‘Did the whole country in a week. Where you staying while you’re here?’ I told him I was lodging in Julian Road. ‘No problem,’ he said, turning off the main road. He dropped me right at the door. ‘Glad to be of service, Ma’am,’ he said, waving goodbye. After six weeks at NIH I flew to London for a long weekend. On my return to Washington, I was scared when the driver of my taxi coming from the airport turned off the freeway. ‘Shouldn’t we be going straight on?’ I asked. ‘Just have to get some gas.’ I was sure that this was it – the day I’d be robbed, raped or murdered, or all three. I was wrong. After paying for the petrol ‘Well, that turnoff is down to me. I’ll switch the meter off now’ he said. He even carried in my case for me.
We went to Liverpool for a long weekend to see the Chagall exhibition at Tate Liverpool and visited their wonderful new library – so different from the library I belonged to when I lived in Petticoat Lane.
From my memoir Woman in a White Coat
I joined Whitechapel library as soon as I was five. Once a week I bundled up the books I had read and walked down Wentworth Street to the Commercial Street crossing. ‘Find a big man to take you across the road and make sure you hold his hand tight,’ my mother said. ‘No skipping or messing about as you go.’ I got used to the remarks about how little my hand was, and how the books were nearly as big as me. All I wanted, was to hurry up, get to the library as quickly as possible, and borrow some new books. Whitechapel Children’s Library was huge, with bookshelves stretching from floor to ceiling. You needed one of those rolling steps to reach the top. We were allowed to take out six books. I always chose at least one book of fairy tales and one myths and legends book. The Andrew Lang fairy books were my favourites and I was fascinated by the Aubrey Beardsley illustrations. I’d choose a book or two from the Angela Brazil’s girls’ boarding school stories and over the years moved on to boys’ books. I learned the cricket and rugby rules and thrilled to the Biggles books. I found Richmal Crompton’s ‘Just William’ books funny, but boring after the first couple. I had to be brave if I wanted to look something up in the Children’s Encyclopaedia. I had to climb the steep stairs up to the Reference Library, hurrying past the glass cases filled with stuffed animals. The foxes, with their big teeth and staring eyes, were especially frightening, and I hated seeing the tiny stuffed birds stuck on twigs.