Taggs Island & Glasgow

I hated moving to Canada at 15… I did not want to leave my home in Glasgow where we had lived for 10 years.  Unfortunately my dad lost his job at Scottish Television.  Uncle Peter, his brother had already emigrated to Canada and found work in television at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He suggested that Dad try his luck there.  In 1967, Canada was welcoming a huge influx of immigrants.  So off we sailed in August 1967.

High school ………. yuch ….. .keep to myself ………. difficult because of extreme self-consciousness due to my dark passenger (my gammy leg)… and also undiagnosed chronic depression (as it was more often than not in those days – ‘snap out of it’!!) come by so honestly from my Irish side.  I just wanted to disappear into the ground…

Fast forward to January, 1971, I had graduated from high school and decided to take a year to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  I got a part-time job, and saved up my money to make a trip back home (my parents kindly let me keep my money to do with what I wanted).  They say never go back in the first couple of years after emigrating.… As circumstances would have it, I went back, on my own, 4 years afterward.

Yes, I planned to visit my former home, Glasgow, but I first wanted to check out London.  Luckily for me my Nanny had a flat in Muswell Hill, and my aunty Bee lived on a houseboat on the River Thames with her boyfriend Ken and her daughter, Sh.  So my plan was to find a charter flight to London and stay with my Nanny, and somehow at some point, take a train or something to Glasgow.

I loved my first taste of London as a teenager.  I had spent my first 5 years of life living in Hackney, but that’s different.

My aunty Bee and Sh and Ken soon came to drive me to the houseboat, named the Vernette which was moored on Taggs Island.

What an adventure! It was January, so everywhere was so cold and damp!  I can’t remember the logistics of my staying on a houseboat for a few days.  I do remember there was a paraffin oil heater in the kitchen to warm up the interior, and Aunty Bee had sprinkled some dried rosemary on it, perhaps to hide the smell of the paraffin.

Aunty Bee and Sh, my cousin and I went exploring.  On the shore, close to the Vernette, were the amazing ruins of an old hotel.  Bee told me that they filmed some scenes of a movie there.  Actually the movie was A Clockwork Orange with Malcolm McDowell………. wow, exciting!  Apparently Bee and Sh were watching filming from a distance and poor Sh was asking her mum ‘what are they doing with that lady’?  I am not sure, but Bee said it was a nasty rape scene that they were watching.  I had tried to read the book, but could not get into it.  I did see the movie and hated all the wanton violence, rape, and psycho-pathological acts of these yobo’s or whatever they called themselves?…’droogs’??

Recently I Googled Tagg’s Island and Clockwork Orange movie information and finally found information about a very grand old hotel.  I found this wonderful photograph of the Karsino Hotel, Hampton Court.  I was so excited when I saw that the stairway and pillars matched my photo of the hotel ruins…

I took the pic at the bottom of the Vernette by the old hotel ruins

I took the pic at the bottom of the Vernette by the old hotel ruins

I felt pretty growed up, especially when Bee and Ken took me around to visit their London friends.  Ken  had access to, or owned a motor bike with a side car.  It was so much glorious fun when Sh and I squeezed into that sidecar and Ken took us for a ride along the island roads……….Halfway through my 3 week visit Ken very kindly drove me all the way up to Glasgow.  We travelled all night and arrived in Glasgow at about 8am on a Sunday morning.  I was lucky enough to have a place to stay in Glasgow.  The family who bought our house in 1967, still lived there and welcomed me with open arms.

I must say that seeing Glasgow again was a disappointment.  Maybe because it was winter, but as Ken drove me into that big city, all I could really see then was big, grey, grimy and gloomy…  I visited my 2 school friends, June and Frances and we even went to the Kelvin Hall annual fun fair, where I had enjoyed all the midway rides, rollercoasters and handsome lads who operated the rides, as well as the loud pulsating beats of Brit Sixties pop.  Keep On Running by the Spencer Davis Group always comes to my mind when I think back on my blossoming teens spent on an annual outing every winter after Christmas at Kelvin Hall.  However, speaking with my school friends, in my mind, I felt that I still had the world at my feet and the possibilities were many… I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to be?  My pals had both finished school, but June was quitting her job as she was getting married soon and Frances worked as a secretary in an office.  So I think that moving to Canada really changed my way of thinking……….. not settling for any old job, or getting married when you leave school … which seemed like the common thing to do in the old City of Glasgow back in the late 60s….  To be perfectly honest, I could not wait to catch my train a few days later and go back to London.  No disrespect intended to my old home of Glasgow, which a few years later, demolished a lot of the slum areas and had a renaissance of reconstruction and won some European awards for design and architecture… My heart now belonged to London!

my cousin Sh & I waiting for the bus to Gatwick Airport, just down the road from Taggs Island. Look at all the stuff I brought back with me........ mainly lovely London clothes!

my cousin Sh & I waiting for the bus to Gatwick Airport, just down the road from Taggs Island.  Aunty Bee took the photo.   Look at all the stuff I brought back with me…….. mainly lovely London clothes!

That trip, on my own, to London, was a pivotal point in planning my future…

friends in the workplace…

friends

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Can you believe how exquisite Sue’s handwriting is!!!

Funny thing, I didn’t think that I had any friends when I lived with Ty, as I was so absorbed in him.  I found these old letters from 2 people I do remember from JJ.  We continued to correspond after I left London and went back with my tail between my legs, to Toronto.  The letter above was from Sue B.  She had worked at JJ longer than most.  She was one of 2 head cashiers, younger than me and when I started at JJ, she showed me the ropes.  I thought she was really cool, but she also seemed somewhat cool (read dipped temperature interaction) toward sensitive old me.  She was so pretty, had long blonde hair parted in the middle and was always sweeping one side of her growing-out fringe out of her eyes.  I envied her swaggering walk. I loved her London (not sure which part of London) accent and thought she was so self-assured.  Turns out in reality, she was not so confident (like most of us I suppose), but she always managed to project a ‘what the hell, I don’t give a fuck what you think about, don’t mess me!!’ personna.

As I gradually got to know Sue at work and after work at the pub… sometimes the Argyle (close to the London Palladium) and other times the Phoenix, which seemed to be the JJ local… I realized that she was a really nice young woman with self-confidence issues (What!! her too??) and anxiety about her future.  She had completed school, but did not want to work in a shop for the rest of her life!  She had spent a year in Greece, learning the language as she worked in touristy pubs or clubs.  I told her she was amazingly brave to have been able to work in a foreign speaking country like she did!  Unfortunately we did not keep up our correspondences… (probably my fault, but who knows?)

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This letter was from Bill… a (younger than me … it seemed they all were as I reached my 25th birthday working at JJ) young man of about 23, who had hailed originally from Lebanon.  He had been brought up in London, but would occasionally pay a visit to relatives still living in Lebanon.  One day, after returning from a flying visit to Lebanon, which at that time was always in the news for death, bombs, destruction, shelling, smashed buildings…  (I dont remember the cause of the strife back then other than it degenerating into a civil war), Bill handed me a cassette tape and asked me to put it in the tape deck.  Thinking it was music, I did, only to be assaulted by the sound of loud machine guns, explosions and general mayhem!  Of course, Dennis (I think) the manager rushed over and exclaimed ‘what the hell is that??’  Billy, dark and swarthy, was full of male bravado, but once I got to know him, he was really a pussycat!!   Again, I don’t know whose fault is was that our correspondence ended.

You may  notice the self-fulfilling prophecy noted in both letters…………… that no-one from the old JJ days, writes back!

Of course if we had had smartphones back then…..   who knows.

Adventures in W. Germany via the Harwich-Hook Ferry

I MADE IT TO GERMANY

In summer 1976 when I was living in London with Ty, I got a letter from my MuM.  She was going to visit her stepmother, Clara, in Bickeburg, West (its was still divided then) Germany.  As I was relatively close to Europe, as opposed to North America where I usually lived, MuM asked if I would be able to join her there for a few days.

It was tough to arrange, especially with my low JJ wages, but luckily for me, MuM and DaD wired me some money.   I managed to arrange my holiday time at work and then it was on to a travel agency to find out how to get there.  It turned out that the cheapest way was to take a ferry and then a train.

hey, I found this recently showing the travel agency .information for this trip! and the name of the ferry...

hey, I found this recently showing the travel agency .information for this trip! and the name of the ferry…

Ty was okay with it all, even though there was no way he could afford a trip, he was pleased for me.  I packed lightly (quite a task for me, believe me), and took a train to Harwich in the morning where I got onto the overnight ferry.  I cannot  for the life of me remember the name of it and I am usually really into sailing vessels, but look what I found………my itinerary…it was called the Queen Julianna and from looking at the above post card, I had a berth #628 for my return trip…live and learn

the other side of the postcard...

the other side of the postcard…

As I had purchased the cheapest ferry ticket, I would not have a berth, but there were lots of seating areas, so that would be fine for me.  Later in the evening, after I had eaten, I decided to get a liqueur at the bar to make me sleepy.  Of course (not vanity… just life when you are a twentysomething blonde), a youngish guy tried to strike up a conversation with me.  He was Dutch, decent looking and told me he was delivering goods in his lorry which was in the ferry hold.  He spoke reasonable English and was quite nice and we chatted for a while as he bought me another drink.  He was knocking them back, but remained pleasant.  I cannot remember his name… but he asked me if I would like to see his lorry?  I was pleasantly buzzed, and said ‘sure’.  Looking back on it, I know I was dumb, dumb, dumb, taking a risk, but I had had (miserable, soul-destroying) one-night stands before if that was his game (if that was his game???!) and despite Ty at home (deep in my heart, I knew that my relationship with Ty would never survive longerm, and when I strayed, it was almost like a ‘there asshole’ – for all the times you poured your alcoholic shit on me)  I still had this overwhelming need to be seen as normal, desirable, and thus sometimes, fueled by booze, I stupidly took  risks.  I guess you could say, I decided to go with the flow with  the alcohol in my system providing Dutch courage (oh please excuse the pun).

As we finished our drinks and started to head out, a ferry steward grabbed my arm, pulled me away from the lorry driver, and said:  “Are you mad, if you go with him, you may never be seen again…the ferry hold is big and full of cars and lorries… young girls have disappeared forever down there”!   Oh my, oh my my my, I had not really thought of the (Looking for) Mr Goodbar (a book and movie made in the seventies with Diane Keaton highlighting the swingles scene and a psychopathic rapist/murderer) connection.  He led me away from Mr. Dutch, to a kitchen galley and said “I’m going to make you a cup of tea”!  He was a short, much older than me, about 40 or 50ish, and not a handsome man.  As he made the tea he told me “I’m going to find an empty berth for you so you can stay out of trouble”.  Wow I thought …. I told him that I couldn’t afford the cost of a berth, to which he replied “it’s okay, it’s empty anyway, there’ll be no cost)”.  Hey, how great was that.  I thanked him profusely. When I finished my tea, we headed down the corridor toward the berths.  When we got to the intended door, he put his arm around me and tried to pull me close …..it was then I could smell booze on his breath!  I pushed his arm off, and said ‘I am very grateful to you for doing this for me…..but no!………. luckily for me, that’s all it took for him to back off.

He knocked at the door, quietly ‘shouting’:  “it’s the steward, I am bringing in a passenger for the empty bed.”   We heard a muffled okay, and he unlocked the door.  As the cabin was in total darkness, he turned on his flashlight and pointed it to the upper bunk of a bunk bed affixed to the wall (of course).  There appeared to be a young woman sleeping on the lower bunk.  She mumbled ‘hi’.  The steward pointed to a night light, which I turned on so that I could see.  I thanked him again as he closed the door.   I quickly locked it……. phew!!

I told the young woman that I was sorry to have disturbed her.  She introduced herself, and I mentioned  the wolf situation to which she replied “yep, I know, that’s why I always get a berth”.

Talk about a double-edged sword!  I lay in the  safety of that berth, thinking how ridiculous it was that the steward  who ‘saved’ me from danger,  had the nerve to try it on himself!!!  Maybe the ferry staff were told to watch out for any sign of trouble with women?? I don’t know how come he stepped in and stopped me in the bar, but one thing I am quite sure of is that staff were not allowed to drink on duty.  Perhaps Mr. steward tried his luck all the time,  but backed off quickly when rebuffed, not wanting to lose his job.

Happily when I got up, ready to disembark at the Hook, I didn’t see either Mr Dutch or Mr steward at all.

Finally in Holland, I managed to find the train to take me to Dusseldorf.  I honestly don’t know how I did it, not speaking any Dutch… I remember trying to use a Dutch payphone, probably to call my mother in Bickeburg to let her know of my progress, Dutch coins, more buttons to press than the A and B buttons on the old British pay phones… I can’t remember if I succeeded or gave up on that telephone call.

me at a train station in Germany ... maybe on my journey, I shouldn't have worn this tee, which said "Easy Jeans"!!

me at a train station in Germany … maybe I shouldn’t have worn this tee on my journey!  it said: EASY JEANS!  The jeans are from JJ, and the golden plastic belt whose buckle says MISS LONDON I bought by mail order from the free weekly mag of the same name!

I got on the train and snoozed for a while.  The first stop before my destination was the Dutch – West German border.  The next thing I know, there are 2 burly armed German border guards in uniform walking through my carriage randomly (I think) checking passports.  They said ‘passeport bitte’ to me, and then spent a while perusing it, looking at each other, and whispering!  I was beginning to get alarmed, when one of the guards asked me something in German… I said ‘ich nicht spreche zie Deutsche’, one of the only phrases I know… they smiled and then the other guard spoke in English saying, “we were wondering why if you were born in Germany, did you leave??”  (I was born in Rinteln, an RAF base in Germany).  Then they started laughing and thankfully handed my passport back to me!  Whew, they had me going for a while…

see the man in scrubs at the window a minute after this photo was taken, he came out and told us that no photographs were allowed on RAF property... Lucky for us, he didn't ask for film when we told him I was born there!

see the man in scrubs at the window ~a~ minute after this photo was taken, he came out and told us that no photographs were allowed on RAF property… Lucky for us, he didn’t ask for film when we told him I was born there!

At last we pulled into Dusseldorf station …  yeahhhhh, there was my dear mum waiting for me.  It was so wonderful to see her after my experiences traveling there.  We went into a little cafe and she bought me some breakfast.  It didn’t taste so bad, but there was a feather in my scrambled eggs!! yuch

town hall in Oberhausen?

town hall in Oberhausen?

My stay in Germany was fine.  I got to meet Clara, mum’s cousin Gerda, and my uncle Gerd who was also visiting from Australia.  He was my mother’s brother, and had emigrated from Germany with his wife and young son in the late 1940s.  We also drove a lot on the autobahn… really fast!!

On my way back to London, I guess you could say I had become a little more of a seasoned traveler.  I paid extra for a berth, and stayed away from the bar…

my ‘dream’ comes true……….

Yeah, I wanted him so badly from the time I first saw him, through my (exploratory/// there is a better word) early adulthood!

Adventure is not really the word I would describe for life with an alcoholic partner, but for lack of a better word, here goes:

I moved in with Ty after I had written to him and his wife, asking if they could put me up for a while until I get myself settled finding a job at Great Ormond Street.  I received a reply from Ivy I think explaining how she and the kids had left him and moved in with her mother in Cambridge.  She added that Ty didn’t mind if I stayed in the Vic Park house for a bit!   I could not believe it — not that Ivy had left him (that was hardly a big surprise given what she had to put up with), but that he perhaps finally could be mine!!

It was late 1975 and I arrived at Heathrow.  As usual I was struggling with luggage, when a rocker type asked me if I needed any help.  He then proceeded to tell me that he has just returned from Australia where he and his band had been touring.  I had never heard of J McC, but I had heard of Wings.  When his chauffeur came to help him with his bags, he offered to take me to Hackney and I thought to myself ‘why not’?  I had already briefly explained that I was on my way to my digs with a friend in the eastend.  He told me that he lived in Epping Forest, but that he would be glad to drop me off.

The journey was fine.  I cannot remember exactly what we chatted about, but I do remember that there was definitely no spark!  He asked me if I was sure that I did not want to go home with him when we finally arrived at Vic Park Road.  I declined his ‘kind’ offer (a bird in the hand and all that) and thanked him profusely as I bade him farewell.  The chauffeur brought my bags up the steps to the front door and I thanked him and waved as the limo drove left.  I knocked at the door and down came Mr. Ty.  All my dreams & hopes came rushing into a flash of excitement ….. I’m here…. he’s here….omg~

He was really glad to see me and did not seem too drunk.  I told him about my ride from the airport and he told me how he had worked on a commercial for Venus and Mars fairly recently.  I don’t quite know if I believed him, but it was believable, maybe not then, but certainly when his life was more on the game.

He regaled me with tales about ‘wicked’ Ivy and her venture into witchcraft, affairs with assorted men.  Perhaps I nodded, but in my heart I figured that a more likely story was that Ivy had had enough living with an unstable, unpredictable potentially violent alcoholic and could take it no more.  I thought back to my last visits in 1972 when I lived in Woolwich.  Back then I was a student nurse at the Brooke/Memorial Hospital on Shooters Hill Road and Ivy whom I really loved, was his wife with 2 little kiddies living in their house on Vic Park.  I lasted almost a year at the hospital, but depression, loneliness, and lousy marks  finally won out and I left and went back home to Toronto in September, 1972, where I was luckily accepted into a Toronto school of nursing.

rowntreeI know Ivy worked very very hard to keep up a reasonable home for her and her kids and considering, for one thing, that she had no hot running water, probably little money and that Ty no doubt lost one job after another and money would have been sorely lacking.  I know she must have struggled major trying to live with the unreasonable partnership of Ty.  I know she loved him, but with 2 little kids, one of whom was quite developmentally delayed, she was a braver soul than me.  I have never heard from Ivy again.  I hope she knows that despite my infatuation with her husband, I never really acted on it, other than being with her and him and dreaming.  I give dear Ivy all the kudos in the world and hope that she found a better life for her and Tammi and Tim.

I slept in Timi’s old bedroom.  I think they left about 2 or 3 months before I arrived.  That room was on the first floor just by the water closet (with the pull chain and tank high up on the wall).  There was another room by the front door and that was Tys mother’s bedroom.  She lived in the basement where there was a whole other ‘flat’.

In the period of a year that we lived together, I don’t recall the day we first slept together…. or ‘consummated’ our relationship.  I remember that I was very happy to move to the bedroom on the 3rd floor, which used to be the sitting room and was now Ty’s bedroom.  Perhaps it wasn’t all sparks & lightning and the heaven’s opening, but I was very happy to at last be so close to the object of my desire!.

leaving the Brook, but not nursing

I am listening to some T REX, downloaded ‘the best of……’, a lot of the tracks I love (think Deborah) but I can’t remember the name of that particular LP, and boy does it take me back to long lonely evenings in  my room at the Nurses’ Home, ………….did not quite realize it back then, but I suffered from naturally acquired chronic depression from the Irish (north) side of my family, so I guess along with horrible withered leg (although the rest of me looked damn good), of which I was profoundly ASHAMED, I was a very low young woman that year, so despondent and self-conscious (although I loved the English nurses uniforms back then, I still had to bare that leg with the blue dress and white  pinny) and self-loathing, even though I seemed to have a reasonably attractive personality as I was befriended with an assortment of interesting young nurses, as well as the occasional male patient.

Very fortunate and so lucky for me when I, just turned 21, arrived in London in September, 1972, from my loving family in Toronto, my dear nanny lived in Muswell Hill and on occasion on my days off I would go to her and she would treat me like a princess, plus my bohemian Aunt Bee and there was also the object of my intense desire whom I had met a year earlier on a solo visit the city I idolized, (another married alcoholic man, whose wife I loved) were other kind shelters I could retreat to.  But the fact that my nursing theory marks were shit, although my nursing practice was very good, I found it difficult to study because of my desperate loneliness, depression, anxiety and perhaps a deep-seated apprehension that I might sink too low were too much to bear and I left the Brook at the end of my first year in London…….

bye

and continued my RN studies in Toronto, graduated in May 1974,

this was the last graduating class of TGH and all other such hospital schoolsIn 1974, the responsibility for training nurses was shifted from hospitals to the local community colleges. The School of Nursing, Toronto General Hospital ceased operations and was absorbed by George Brown College.

this was the last graduating class of TGH and all other such hospital schools
In 1974, the responsibility for training nurses was shifted from hospitals to the local community colleges. The School of Nursing, Toronto General Hospital ceased operations and was absorbed by George Brown College.

and nursed for 12 years,  and found it to be an extremely rewarding career, although horribly stressful and heartbreaking at times, there were moments of triumph and achievment and I believe I became a very good nurse.