by Margaret Taylor, age 22 years
September to December, 1936
Meg continues her diary after a three year gap. She is now attending Medical College in London. The year of the three Kings.
- Sunday September 13th 1936 – starting at Medical School, holidays
- Monday September 14th 1936 – Jim’s climb, beach rescue
- Monday September 21st 1936 – Jim’s career, cold baths, fasting
- Monday October 26th 1936 – back to Medical School
- Thursday December 3rd 1936 – Medical training, fear of fainting
- Sunday December 6th 1936 -Edward VIII’s abdication, patient’s death
Sunday September 13th 1936
It is about three years ago that I finished my last diary, and since then I haven’t kept one, only scribbling once or twice when I felt the urge. I have had this book for about a week, and have been meaning to get started every day. Today is a good day to begin, although I never realised until I headed this with the date, for it is the 13th and 13 is my number, whether good or bad I’m not certain, but it dogs me on all occasions – exam numbers, bus tickets, cheques etc.
It would be no good trying to give an account of these last three years, so I mean to put down just the main events, and then go on as usual from now on. The book is the product of Auntie Tia’s 2/- birthday present, and should last me to a ripe old age, I should think.
[Note: It did! The last entry was in December 2010, when Meg was 96!]
I left school just two years ago, after being Head Girl for a term, captain of cricket for a season, and two years in the sixth, one with Miss Phillips , one with Miss Glenday.
I got the Mabel Sharman Crawford scholarship to L.S.M and Miss Glenday gave me the School Gamble scholarship.
The first month or two in London by myself was a bit of an agony, horribly lonely in the evenings, and waking in the morning with the sudden realisation of where I was – it makes me feel ‘that sinking feeling’ to remember it.
But although it is easy to remember feeling lonely, there was much more time when I was enjoying myself thoroughly and I don’t think that at any time I would have been glad to give up London and come back to work at the Bristol University. As time goes on I am more and more glad I managed to get into L.S.M. and had to come up and get along by myself.
I went into the Revision Course, and Freda Bulkeley was the only other fresher to go into it with me. There were about a dozen of us altogether, and there are only about six left together, and McClintock stays at L.S.M. in October when the rest of us go to hospital. During that first term I got to know nobody well, the first person to make any friendly overtures I remember was Birchenough, and at Physics I worked with King for a bit, and didn’t know quite what to make of her.
I liked and got to know Dr. Leyshon, and we had a long chat before 1st M.B. but since then, after passing at Christmas, I hardly see her at all.
During my second term and since then it has been Anatomy and Phys. with Pharm. lately. The work is jolly interesting and pretty hard. I have worked not over hard, but quite consistently, going to the library in the evenings. I passed 2nd M.B. in July, a couple of months ago, and start hospital work about the middle of October. In 2nd I did well in Anatomy, both papers and practicals, but in Phys. Cully said my paper was very weak – ‘most disappointing’ but the practical was good, and helped me through. Both Bulkeley and Westerman thought of taking Primary in December if possible, and I hoped to too. But after consultations the staff advised, in fact Heever declared, that we could not manage it, and had better wait for April if we wanted to do it. So we are still undecided.
People who got through 2nd with me were – Bulkeley, Westerman, Jones, Bennett, Chalmers, Mrs Yates, Whatley, Baker, and others. King was down in something – I hope only Pharm. McClintock and Oehlers down in Anatomy, Kohiyar and W.W. in Phys. and Paine, Hodkinson, Evans etc. failed in ‘something’. I am longing to go to hospital, although these summer holidays have been and are marvellous fun. We went to Teignmouth and had wonderful weather. Peggy Hale and Betty came with us, so we were seven. We bathed a lot, and had a very vigorous time. Betty behaved jolly well, is a fine kid and a grand soul to have on a holiday. Peggy and Alan behaved as conventional lovers all the time. I don’t know whether I feel jealous of their happiness. I don’t think so, but somehow their behaviour irritated me. The sight of them lying flat on the Lilo side by side, arms and legs mixed up, and faces or backs carefully exposed to the sun made me churn inside. They were the same everywhere, crowded beach, front garden of our digs, and, though perhaps I’m wrong, I couldn’t help thinking that when I am in love I shall never spread-eagle over my partner in full gaze of the public or even out of it. It is just the way we are made I suppose, but I mean to marry someone of the same make as myself.
Since we came back from Teignmouth , Peggy and Alan went for a holiday in Wales with four others, and from there to Bournemouth.. Alan returns here tomorrow, and Peggy also returns for work in a week or so. Betty went up to London to stay with Auntie Edith, and from there on to the Misses Perry’s, and her precious Maureen’s. Mummy took an excursion up for a shopping expedition on Thursday, and I would have gone with her, but Daddy had a feverish chill, and so I stayed at home.
Tennis has been my main relaxation these hols. as I joined the Clifton Club for the holidays and have played ever such a lot, and got better than I have been before. It is almost midnight so I’ll stop for now, but there is still heaps of those two years to fill up.
Monday September 14th 1936
I am officially working in the den now, but there is just nice time before lunch to write a little more in here, so I am deserting anatomy for the present.
While we were at Teignmouth several exciting things happened. Jim came down for a day about half-way through the holiday. We went across the river to Shalden, and over the rocks from there to a beach around the headland – Labrador – where the bathing was quite good, and there was a raft. We bathed before tea, and soon after Jim said he felt like a climb, and wanted to tackle the cliffs backing the beach. They looked fairly easy, some green shrub and bracken, brambles etc. growing over most of it, although it was pretty steep, especially near the top. Daddy, Betty and Pat also started, but came down after a few yards as the beginning was difficult. As Jim got further up we could see that the going was pretty hard and the footholds often precarious, and the easiest way up that we saw he said was impossible as the scrub was impenetrable. After ten minutes or so he was quite far up, and most people on the beach were gazing up at him. Some fishermen came up and said that the last boy who tried to climb up there had to be hauled to the top, and advised us to phone for the coastguards from the little café there. Mums was getting really anxious about him, and Daddy insisted upon climbing up part of the way to be able to hear what Jim said, as his shouts in reply to ours were drowned by the noise of the waves. Daddy disappeared in the undergrowth, and did not reappear for about a quarter of an hour by which time we were wondering which of the two was most dangerously situated. He had got up part of the way and reported that Jim was perfectly all right, and was going to climb to the top. By that time Jim was only a speck on the cliff, and we could only just make out his movements. When almost at the top he jumped and slithered and disappeared, and my heart somersaulted most uncomfortably, though luckily Mums wasn’t looking at that moment. However, he reappeared after a few minutes, and reached the top safely, turning round to wave cheerily before disappearing over the top. Mums had a horrid fright, for when turning back to look at him again she saw a seagull swooping down the cliff, and for a moment thought it was Jim tumbling. We were both jolly relieved when he reached safety, and remained rooted on the beach until we saw him safe. Daddy, Pat and Betty started climbing the cliff steps to reach him from above – which it turned out they could not have managed because of the nature of the ground above – before they saw him gain the top. And Alan and Peggy wandered off along the rocks to the next cove, and home to Dawlish soon after we began to get worried. I could not help thinking what selfish, thoughtless people they were to do that then. Jim got back before we did, and only had scratches, though plenty of them, to show for his adventure. I’m not sure whether we did not have a harder time than he did that afternoon.
Another adventure was one that happened to me, and in contrast to Jim’s, only lasted a couple of minutes or so. Pat and I had gone down for a bathe by ourselves before tea, nobody else being keen. It was towards the end of the rough seas we had during the second week, and the waves were still more rough than normally, and a nasty undercurrent was running out. We bathed, and then were sitting right on the edge of the water sunning ourselves before returning. After a few minutes there was a chorus of shouting from several bathers standing just within their depth, though probably out of it when the big waves came. They yelled ‘Help, help’ and were looking back beseechingly to people on the beach, to rescue a woman who was about twenty or thirty feet further out, and apparently drowning. As soon as I realised what was happening I jumped up and dashed in, wading as far as I could, and then swimming hard. I passed the group of bathers and got to the woman, who was just passively floating, head only just out of the water. As soon as I reached her she gave up all effort and just flopped, giving me all her weight to support. I wasn’t ready for this, and she went under for a moment, and it seemed ages before I could pull her head out of the water again. Then I put my right arm around her chest, and swam back as best I could, the bathers grabbing her as soon as I reached them. They let her go down too at first, but then carried her back to the beach all right, and I followed as far as the water’s edge, but then returned to Pat, as she had more than enough helpers. Nobody took any notice of me, being more interested in her, and in a man who had plunged in with all his clothes on. It was all over so quickly that I could hardly realise anything had happened when I was sitting down by Pat again. But I did feel very proud of having saved somebody, although all the time I knew quite well and recognised that in another minute or two somebody else would have reached her, and that I had run absolutely no risk as she was not far out, and had not struggled or anything.
So that made two bathing rescues in two years for me – the last one last year being Derek while we were surf-bathing at St. Owen’s at Jersey. But then, although that one was more difficult, and I was more laid out than he was when we got in, I always felt that it would have been my fault if he had been drowned, as I was left in charge of him. In his case however if I hadn’t got him nobody else would , and he would certainly have been drowned. We did not know then that St. Owen’s is very dangerous bathing just where we were, and since then we have heard of at least a dozen people drowned there. I wonder if the tradition will be continued next year!
Monday September 21st 1936
I haven’t made up the gap left by those last two years, but today there are the happenings of yesterday to record first.
Several months ago Jim broke the news that he had applied for a short-time commission in the R.A.F. He would have to train for about four years, and then be on the reserve list for another couple of years I think. He was paid a good lump sum – £500 I think – at the end of the four years, and pay during that time. He said it was really as a means of getting money, and that he hoped to have time for writing while training. We were all rather sorry he had fixed on this to do, as he wasn’t keen on it himself, and it seemed an awful waste of precious youth time. Nothing further was heard about it from the authorities until yesterday when Jim said he had had a letter giving him the time for an appointment in London this week. This brought another wave of discontent with the project, and after lunch yesterday when he, Dad, Alan, Betty and I were in the drawing room Daddy broached the subject, saying he and Mums were sorry Jim was deciding to join the R.A.F. and suggesting that the money he could save might be much less than he imagined. Jim agreed, saying that he was doubtful about that too. He, Dad and I then discussed any other ways of getting a living that we thought suitable. Jim said he thought possibly of returning to journalism, or getting sub-editor on a magazine etc. I suggested going to the University for a literature teaching degree, and Dad that he should see Sam Bensusan in London, and try to get a leg up from him. We discussed all these things and it came out that Jim was in the middle of a book which was shaping very well, and which it was his chief desire to finish. He said his previous one had been kept for several months by Jenkins, and that was a good sign, but that he was very dissatisfied with it himself when he got it back, but that there were good parts in it, and rewriting might make it worth while. His verse was also greatly improved lately and all he wanted now was just time to settle down to writing, tooth and nail, and that in a year he would have ‘got started’ he was sure.
Then came what I am writing all this for primarily. A perfect little speech from Dad, the second of that pure gold variety which makes your heart sing to know the author of it. The first was a long time ago, and was aimed at Alan, and I have written it down in my old diary I think. Daddy said quite simply that the money he and Mums had was not for themselves, that they would ‘pop off’ and it would all go to their children, and that that was what it was for. He said that he would be delighted to give Jim the £2 a week for a year – which was all he really wanted to be blissfully happy – and that (in reply to his murmuring that it was to be a loan, and that he would guarantee to repay it) he must not regard it as a loan or feel duty bound in gratitude to himself and Mums at all, as the money was of no importance to them except as could be used for the children. It’s no use – I can’t write it as he said it, it gets too drawn out and loses the simple straightforward beauty that it had.
But if Daddy’s part of the proceedings was a pure glimpse of a fine soul, I think Jim’s was hardly less. He thanked Daddy earnestly, and said he saw it from his point of view. But when Dads said ‘that was all fixed then, we’ll start on Monday, tomorrow’ he couldn’t speak, and had to raise the luckily voluminous Telegraph to cover his confusion. When it dawned upon us what his continued silence meant Daddy and I suddenly remembered our wallpapering task and departed to it at the double. When outside Daddy said smiling ‘He does feel it strongly, doesn’t he?’ and as I was almost dissolving myself by then I just mumbled that it was jolly nice that he did.
Mums asked me at tea time whether it was true that Dad had persuaded Jim to give up the R.A.F. project, and I replied that it probably was, though it wasn’t definitely fixed. She was overjoyed. I longed then, and several other times during the day to tell her about how Jim had taken it, but that joy I left resolutely to Daddy, as I knew he would tell her everything when they were alone together, and that a quiet chat and happiness shared alone would be the least reward they could have for their great goodness.
I’ve left a line because what is coming next seems so far removed both in importance and mood from what has just been written. But still it is part of my life, and so it is going down with the rest. – thank goodness for the variety of even an uneventful life!
I have been trying cold baths in the morning for the last fortnight or so, and for the last three days, encouraged by the book ‘The Cauldron of Disease’ I am reading, in the evenings too. To these I have added five or ten minutes doing exercises after the bath, and have managed to make myself more stiff in two or three days than in weeks of hard tennis. The combination certainly sends me glowing with health down to breakfast or to bed. The success of these schemes encouraged me to try an experiment I have been turning over in my mind for a long time. I decided to go for a whole day without eating anything, just to see what it was like, and whether I should get awfully hungry by the evening. I was afraid the others, especially Mums, would make a fuss and not let me, but when I announced my intention yesterday morning there was only a little nagging, and not a determined effort to dissuade me. I had two cups of tea for breakfast, no lunch, Three cups of tea for supper, and a cigarette at each mealtime. I never felt hungry at all, which was rather disappointing. At lunchtime my tummy started rumbling vigorously, but gave up protesting in a little while. In the evening I had a dull sort of tummy ache, and my supper cups of tea did not taste a bit right, and also I was very surprised to find that I could not taste my cigarette at all unless I took enormous puffs.
Also about supper time, after walking home from church, my legs felt rather wobbly and weak at the knees, and my head liable to get slightly dizzy. But perhaps these were feelings I brought on myself, or imagined, as I had a vigorous cold bath and did strenuous exercises before going to bed, quite normally, and felt perfectly fit then. This morning I had my usual small breakfast of one piece of toast and two cups of tea, so my fast has really been quite long, and if this breakfast is not counted has gone from supper on Saturday to lunch on Monday. I’m not sure whether the rest it gives the tummy is counterbalanced by lowered vitality or not. I mean to repeat the performance quite soon, perhaps – not so drastically – every Sunday.
Monday October 26th 1936
Somehow now I have got a diary I don’t seem to use it very much. This evening though, after a very strenuous day, my head is splitting with a beastly headache and instead of working I am going to play here.
A lot has happened in the last week. Last Monday I bid a sad goodbye to the family and returned here to the scene of my labours. But coming back was exciting as it meant starting at hospital, which I have been longing for for ages. The pre-clinical course takes a fortnight, and so is already half finished. After that Bulkeley, Westerman, jones, Whatley, Mrs Yates, Westmorland-White and I go onto Dr. Hare’s medicine post. Pre-clinical has been very interesting so far. Danny Davis who gives the medicine lectures is a very nice man, although very full of mannerisms which give the impression of unbounded conceit. But really he is very kind and quick to see things sympathetically. He is a budding physician, so I am told. Miss Barry supervises bandaging parties which are the only representatives of surgery we have had officially as yet. After much inquiring and wavering of minds we have all acquired stethoscopes and are busy learning to hear through them. We have already ‘listened in’ to one normal and two abnormal heart cases, and tomorrow are to hear more abnormal ones. The pharmacy lectures with Mr Macready started by making us all giggle hard, as he treats us as if we had just learnt to talk. But now we laugh with instead of at him, as he shows a good sense of humour and makes his otherwise dull lessons quite enjoyable.
This afternoon we went to watch Mr Joll’s ops. and saw several thyroids, and a stomach feeding tube put in. I have been leaving off my glasses as much as possible, and apparently watching intently for so long was too much, for the headache I had started by lunchtime was almost maddening when we came away. But it is a bit better now, and will probably be quite vanquished by the aspirins I mean to swallow at bedtime.
This morning I overslept, waking up at 8:30, and having a 9:00 lecture! I scrambled desperately, arriving just after 9:00 and Danny Davis didn’t appear till nearly 20 past.
Jones, Bulkely and I are all thinking of taking Primary next April but can’t decide definitely until we have seen Prof. Lucas Keene, and he has given the Staff’s official permission. I am dreading that the Phys. staff will say I don’t stand an earthly chance, I don’t tghink the anatomy staff will be so discouraging, but it will be enough to kill the chance of being allowed to try if the phys. people set their faces against it. Bulkeley may have to give up the idea for health reasons. She is not a bit strong, and hospital work may be more than enough for her without having to work like a nigger every evening. We had arranged to see Prof. today, but that was put off. But I expect we shall be summoned to hear the verdict quite soon; I hops so, for if all is well I want to get on with the good work right away.
Whatley and Mrs Yates are sharing a flat in John Street and so are jolly near hospital. Whether they get on well together or not I don’t know for certain. I notice they quite often sit separated from each other which seems odd, but they may have made a compact not to get too exclusively friendly – a wise move. Somehow I’m not sure they would suit each other perfectly, but then hardly any two people would, and they have obviously much in common anyway.
Seeing those ops. this afternoon completely exhausted me, though I didn’t realise it ’till afterwards. There is a sense of melodrama in an operating theatre, and the strict discipline and silent co-operation of everyone present is impressive and rather awe-inspiring. Everything is in deadly earnest and of great importance – I am rather dreading my first appearance there in an official capacity.
Enough for now, I must do some gentle reading.
Thursday December 3rd 1936
More than a month since I last wrote – I can hardly believe it. Hospital is still as enthralling and exhausting as ever, and the joy of it is rather increasing than diminishing. One month of the three under Dr. Hare has flown by, and although we seem at present very lost amongst the masses of new knowledge revealed to us daily, still a good deal sinks in I think, and we are progressingm though slowly.
Up to date my cases have been – 1) Mrs Askew – little grey-haired lady with pernicious anaemia 2) Harold Church 29 a very groggy heart from rheumatic fever 3) Dorothy Byworth 15 1/2 a tremendous girl with a pituitary dysfunction 4) Mrs Eason a dark young wife with thyroid and very nervy 5) David Richards, a Welshman, with ? colitis and pancreatitis.
We have rounds with Dr. Hare twice a week, and although they are rather prolonged they certainly teach us a lot, and one of the very first things I learnt was to like Dr. Hare extremely. Her kindliness to patients is an example to everybody – and I wish Dr. Davies and others would try to copy her a little more.
Miss Scott, the house physician, is also extremely nice, not condescending, or unwilling to be bothered with our little worries. Mrs. Stuart who gives us a round and a tutorial once a week is a very attractive person, and also teaches very well indeed, so altogether we are blessed in our superiors. The seniors on the post – O. Jones, Collins, Blatchford, Milne, Spencer – are very decent and not lordly at all thank goodness.
Outpatients with Dr. Davies is rather a waste of time – not that our time is very precious at present – as he does not teach much, and races through about ten to fifteen people in an hour and a half or so. Dr. Hobhouse’s outpatients is really well worth going to, perhaps because there are fewer patients. His teaching is excellent, and we learn a great deal from him, as his mind is a very clear one, and he presents facts very clearly. I skipped his outpatients this afternoon at 3:00pm to go and meet Auntie Isa at Paddington, returning from Paignton. Somehow I missed her, but found her later at Barbara B-B’s flat where I stayed about 3/4 hr as she, Ruth and B. were going to a Medical Dinner and had to begin dressing. What attracts me in Auntie as in Jean Butt too I think, is her transparent honesty and frankness – though Auntie is quite liable to cheat openly and frankly, and Jean never would. I wish I could be better friends with Barbara, but we just can’t manage it though we both try.
When I am with her in company we get along quite well, but when together, or if she is with her own friends there is an air of disquiet all the time that we cannot overcome. I am afraid the difficulty is insurmountable; her upbringing and mine have been very different, she belongs to quite a different ‘set’ and our outlook and manners are widely separated, so I think we must just go our different ways, although it seems silly when her mother and Auntie are such great friends, and we are working together at the same hospital.
I am being rather worried at present by my inconvenient habit, noticed especially recently, of nearly fainting at even slightly ‘gruesome’ sights or deeds. My first two W.R.s made me feel very odd, and I am not quite safe about them yet, though much better I think. Last week when Scott did a venesection on a man with brimless-pneumonia and intense congestion, removing about 1/2 pint of blood, I was very near to fainting and had to get near the door for emergencies. When we had the Schick test too I was very frightened in case I should really faint then, and it would have been a dreadful disgrace to faint for such a trivial thing. I don’t mind the pain at all it is just the thought of a needle going into the arm which upsets me – but everyone would of course think it was sheer funk – perhaps it is all funk, but it is certainly not put on, and I can’t control it. The only way it gets better is by doing things repeatedly until I am so used to them they don’t bother me. But the repeat process is rather painful for the nerves. What worries me at the moment is how I shall react to all the horrid things in surgery and casualty. Johnston has been telling me of all kinds of beastly things she has done on casualty – stitching up great gaping scalp wounds, removing ingrowing toenails, and giving gas and O2 every day. At the moment I just can’t picture myself standing up to those things, but by the time I reach them it may be all right.
The days are so exhausting and my bad habit of going to bed late so ingrown, that I am too tired in the evenings to settle down to work, and I read instead or listen to the wireless. This can’t go on long as I must settle down to work. I have sent Jim two poems so far – the first mush, the second as he said ‘on the target but an outer’ so that is not exactly sparkling. I mean to try again soon, perhaps this weekend, as it promises to be a dull one.
This term I have been to see Pride and Prejudice, and Die Fledermaus, and tomorrow I am going to try to get in for Madame Butterfly . Good-night!
Sunday December 6th 1936
What a momentous day for the nation! The King’s decision will be out tomorrow, and whatever it is, it is bound to have pretty serious consequences. If only he would give up the wretched Mrs. Simpson, but there seems little chance of that.
Yesterday Mr. Payne in Calthorpe Ward died of mediastinal new growth. This is my first death at close quarters though I didn’t see his body thank goodness. He was in only a few days, and the suddenness of it makes it hard to believe. That he should really have died, be beyond anything we can do and think of, when only the day before he was sitting up and really quite cheerful; it’s unreal almost. I never thought death would upset me as I have a comfortable belief about it, but the reality needs some adjustment to the belief, and I find it difficult and upsetting. The thought of him is continually cropping up in my mind, and I cried this afternoon when I wrote to Jim and mentioned it. I mean to go through it thoroughly in bed tonight and get it settled in my mind so it won’t worry me all the time. A doctor without an opinion on death is not complete, although my opinion will probably grow more true as I grow older. Good-night!