Changing the Guard

“Going to run over” … “getting gear on now xx” the text messages read.

The Photographer and the Assistant carried on reading their Sunday papers. This was last Sunday as spring began to show her ever beautiful colours.

Sunday morning papers

Sunday morning papers


To know the whole story to the text you have to go back to the early 1980s. Margaret, a character very like an older midwife in the television series “Call The Midwife” is standing at the window watching her daughter in law and a small child in the garden. The child is two and is doing her best to help her very pregnant mother tie in the raspberry canes. It is spring and there might even be daffodils soon. Though disguising it, the “midwife” is worried. Four years ago she moved in with a young couple who both had careers. It was difficult to tell which one was the most ruthlessly ambitious, her son or daughter in law? Now she lived with the same son, a delicate daughter in law and a toddler and there was another baby on its way. She could not voice her feelings. She thought that her daughter in law had way overstepped the mark in being greedy for another child. On top of that she was not the easiest person to tell what to do. Only last week this tiny athsmatic creature had been told plainly that she was an “Elderly Primate” in front of a crowd of other younger mothers. Now, she was flatly refusing to go to the ante natal sessions Thank goodness she had persuaded her GP to see her, although even that was with her travelling on the back of the son’s motor bike.

Time moved on and the athsma returned. It got worse and the daughter in law was struggling, as was the GP who came to the house to see her now and discussed strategy with the elderly nurse.
This went on for a while until the baby was born. Her son had, at last got the car repaired and the new baby duly returned home. The athsma had not gone away and the GP called to find, to his amusement, that the daughter in law had defied the ex ward sister and gone for a walk with the new baby and the little girl. On her return, the doctor issued prescriptions, which could help this woman to breath. The baby was fine. It clearly had a splendid set of lungs and quite a strong personality. All was fine for a while. The baby loved sleep, lying in the garden and settling down to the Archers. The attention now shifted to the father, who had to go to work and feed the baby at night. His wife, he had been informed would never be able to get up during the night for fear of an attack, and that having more children was also off the agenda. His mother was mortified and did all she could, but she was in her seventies and had to conserve her strength for the day time. The child, the baby and the mother seemed able to continue quite well though.

Things ticked along. An early christening was arranged as the child’s maternal grandfather had terminal lung cancer. Despite being ill the child’s grandfather put on his best clothes and managed to attend a very happy spring event. There was bubbly, cake and heaps of daffodils amidst the sunshine. So many friends came that the street was packed with cars. The little child was overwhelmed with affection. It was all lovely. The Grandfather had a good look at this new arrival. He kept looking at it, but there was more than the thrill of another grandchild here. He took the grandmother aside and they had a nurse’s chat for he was also a nurse. Nothing was said and the party continued. When everyone had gone, the Grandmother took the baby to one side and announced that she didn’t think that it was thriving. The next day some local expert in babies appeared, but Margaret was not happy with goats milk as a solution to the problem. She took the baby, the child and the mother upstairs and took a bottle with her. For the first and only time in the house, the child took the feed and then sprayed all the walls of the room with milk. It could no longer be held in the child’s system. Margaret rang the GP, who accepted her experience and sent the child to hospital immediately. Rarely for a girl, the child had a condition where her gut closed up and she could no longer drink. The parents were relieved. It had taken so much longer to feed her than it ought to have done. The Royal Surrey County Hospital had quite a time with the baby. It cried so much at the specialist, it was so angry at being hungry, and got its fists out, that the surgeon operated that night, probably for the sake of peace and quiet. The parents slunk off for a decent nights sleep and Margaret felt that she had not lost her touch!

The baby now entered a spoilt phase for the rest of its life. Each time it was visited, it had a new frock and toys. It was clearly the best toy baby the nurses had! The little penguin that its mother and father had chosen was clearly inadequate. So the baby went from strength to strength. It fought everything with aplomb. Of course, it had athsma. That goes without saying. It could not eat anything too fatty, like its sister, who enjoyed wonderful health and to this day is tremendously strong. The baby, however, began to accept ill health as the norm. In her teenage years, she even spurred up with a cruel and rare illness, which meant regular scans. Her determination to attend university was a total obsession. She had a year out in France, where she lasted nine months and came home too ill to do anything for a week. Margaret, by now a very old lady always looked at her with a deep suspicion. She enjoyed the company of the girls every evening. They would share boiled sweets and terrible soaps on television. Granny’s room was always full of private goings on, but every time she looked at the little girl it was with caution.

The elder child went to university and became an environmentalist, of whom we are all proud.
The younger child, despite her parent’s pleadings was highly ambitious and despite their doubts, entered a Russell Group university, and despite truly awful health worked in a bar and on her degrees for six years. She followed her father and became a career led woman. At Uni, amongst some illnesses, she seriously damaged a leg and she later also broke it. She has a thorough determination to be well, so she eats and works her body almost to destruction. She has rarely had a day off work. Her latest hobbies are cycling and running. Just recently, between us, she beat Nick Baker and her whole group at running, so, on Sunday, she and the very large dog, ran over to see her parents. Her father put the kettle on, while the sweat poured off her. She had run the three miles from the little town, the long way round, of course. She explained to her mother that she thought that she had hit the runner’s wall and just had to stop and walk a bit. She was disgusted with herself and sat against the AGA panting with the dog. The dog was licking her. She is her new nurse. Sadly most adult children do not live this close to their parents. She saw the Moor and fell in love. Nothing was going to stop her living on it. Nothing!

So here is spring again and it is something special in our house, ever since 19XX (we couldn’t possibly tell you how old she is, that would never do), but soon, her father will lash out for another celebration meal that couldn’t be beat and plan another ambitious year for his two asthmatics kept going by NHS GPs and nurses ancient and modern.

To finish, Margaret, that very useful and much loved nurse had a short spell in a home before having a stroke. She had lived with the family for over twenty years. She had been a part of everything and loved these children. They were her life. She died just as the children left home, aged 93 cuddling the teddy that the girls had just brought her. She had a distinguished career as a nurse, being a Sister in the operating theatre in the Royal Surrey County Hospital during Dunkirk. She died talking about these patients, whose dreadful experiences never quite left her.


Sister Caplen RSCH 1939

Sister Caplen RSCH 1939

Owen, the children’s maternal grandfather, was attached to the Eighth Army before and during the war. He was a medical commando, who together with the SAS attended to the poor victims of Belsen. After the war he was taken on by Dr. Goodman at Stoke Mandeville Hospital and helped in the treatment of spinal injuries until his retirement. He smoked heavily as a result of his experiences and died of lung cancer 6 months after the christening.

Meanwhile, the Photographer and his Assistant live a charmed life. We can sit outside Blacks and enjoy some tea and a bun, talk to the sheep on the farm next door, have a drink in the garden, meet our mates at Hittisleigh market and enjoy that rarity, living alongside our daughter, who, of course doesn’t have much time to do any of that. She is too busy helping with the swimming pool, running with her mates, and having a drink at the rec. club. She has become a regular Moorland citizen. Look out if you see her running your way, her generation are coming!


A Hittisleigh whopper!

A Hittisleigh whopper!


The Photographer’s snapshots can be seen on Flickr (follow link) or the serious stuff is on Artfinder (follow link)

Any similarity between characters in this blog and real people, products or events is entirely co-incidental

Any similarity between “The Little Town” and Chagford is entirely deliberate, Click on this link to find out more. Visit Chagford



No gender stereotyping at Hittisleigh where everyone gets stuck in

No gender stereotyping at Hittisleigh where everyone gets stuck in

1 comment
  1. Neil Tappenden said:

    Thank you both

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