the nurses home…

The Brook, Shooters Hill Road

1972, September

I arrived in London and took a cab to my nanny’s. She rented a bedsit in a delightful old house in Muswell Hill. It was owned by an elderly lady called Miss Dooley. The other tenants all seemed older than my nanny and she would tell me with a wicked gleam in her eye that she was the only married woman in the house.

There I stayed a few days until it was time to take the bus, then the tube to Blackwell Heath, the bus, the train, then another bus to the Brook Hospital in Woolwich. Whew, I don’t remember how long it would take me, just that it was a long journey with many changes. I really don’t remember my first days at nursing school. Obviously I was shown my room in the Nurses Home. Then we must have been shown around the hospital and the school. I recall my new class having to line up and receive blood tests for what I don’t have a clue. A poor wee lass from Wales fainted with fright at the sight of the needle…perhaps not a good start for her.

There were a number of men in my class as well they had their own nurses home. I was not the oldest nor the youngest. A few girls were fresh out of school at 17 or 18. There were a number of ‘older’ women who looked like they probably had kids and wanted to go back to school as their kids got older. There were also a fair smattering of young women from overseas…Malta, Gibralter, Hong Kong, Trinidad, are what comes to mind. Obviously not everyone in my class lived in residence. No-one I noticed had a room near mine.


Everyone seemed to be in the same boat, nervous, green neophytes. The girls that I eventually got friendly with were Sue, Marion, Diane, Jasmin, Naomi, and the sweet young Welsh girl whose name I cannot recall. Sue and Naomi lived at home with their parents.

Our rooms were very old-fashioned with a very dark wood dressing table, wardrobe, a modest set of drawers, a small desk with a couple of wooden chairs and a single bed with the dark wood headboard. My wall was a lurid dusky pink. All in all though it was a perfectly respectable room. There was a list of rules and regulations on the wall, nothing really unreasonable or unpredictable. I was on the second floor and I think that my room overlooked the courtyard which was surrounded on four sides by the nurses home. It was really quite pleasant, though really old.


an old photograph from google, but I swear my room looked like this in 1971…

There were kitchenettes on each floor or wing with cookers, toasters and small fridges, a sink and dish-rack and cupboards. There may have been pots and pans. The bathroom I believe consisted of a number of cubicles with showers. A separate room with a bathtub and then a numbers of loos. A couple of sitting rooms with couches, armchairs and a TV, maybe one without the TV. A payphone on each floor and in the lobby.There was also a front desk with a phone where we had to check in after a certain time of the night. There may even have been a night receptionist. No men of course were allowed in this nurses home, let alone the rooms.

The nursing school was more modern and actually been fairly recently built. A big lecture room and other classrooms for book work as well as practical praise. The instructors don’t spring to my mind save for one middle-aged butch looking woman with very short hair. I think she was no-nonsense and quite strict.

I enjoyed the practical aspect of the learning experience, however the biology and physiology and anatomy left me pretty flummoxed. If I had stayed there longer than I did I don’t think I would have passed my nursing school exams. I did quite lousy on most of them. I found it horribly difficult to get my head around the sciences studying in my pink room. Truth was I was very lonely and now that I come to think about it chronically depressed as well as having generalized free-floating anxiety. Not the whole year that I lived in Woolwich, but a lot of the time that I was in my dusky pink room in that nurses home, I was quite low.

I believe there were 2 blocks of classwork in each year, each about 2 to 3 months. I remember learning how to make a bed with hospital corners, do CPR and give an intramuscular injection. There must have been more of course.


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