Miss Riggs

My Gran, Rosalie Riggs (later Rosalie Wither) worked as a nurse on hospital train from 1940 – 1942. The hospital trains transported injured soldiers who had come home from the front to hospitals all over rural Britain. The carriages were converted to hold two layers of beds on each side, with the nurses working in between. Journeys were often long with track bombings, diversions and long waits in sidings to allow armaments trains through.

In 1942, Gran was discharged from the Red Cross on health grounds. In photos from that time, we can see she had lost a considerable amount of weight. Three weeks later she signed up for the Women’s Royal Air Force. She served at a base in North Wales for most of the rest of the war.

She married in 1943. My Grandad’s father had connections with the mill trade and worked for the Ministry of Supply, and managed to source some velvet fabric for her dress. – a real rarity in wartime.

Gran on the train in 1940

Miss Riggs

She was a white-toothed woman
bound to the run of the rails and the times
yet sharp as her hospital corners.

She was a force of defiance
with a cross to smite the viscous dark
that skirted the oily sidings.

Was starch fit for resisting
the muddied blood of khaki men
made shocking pink by shrapnel?

And did her apron’s brightness
bleach darkness from their hungry cheeks
and tiredness from her sockets?

She was a white-toothed woman.
In April, nineteen forty three,
she married in snowy velvet.

 

By the way, I couldn’t tell you how white my Gran’s teeth actually were. “White-toothed” is not a direct reference to the state of her dentistry. I can tell you however that she was formidable.

A hilariously staged photo of the nurses jollying through an air raid. Gran is on the left. I rather think I can see her contempt for this whole photographic shenanigans in her eyes!

The interior of a typical hospital train

 

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The Lockdown Lament

This one needs no introduction…

The Lockdown Lament

“Oh to spend time with the family!
Freed from our offices! Freed from our schools!
Imagine the hours of harmony!”
That’s what we said, we ignorant fools.

Have you ever tried video-calling New York
to talk about trends in a businessy way
while your kids disembowel the cat with a fork
and your husband walks by with his goods on display?

Have you ever tried tempting the kids from their screens
to do papier-mâché or make lemonade
or have ‘fun with a workout’ (whatever THAT means)
while they pelt you with attitude, grunts or grenades?

Have you ever tried teaching a nine-year-old maths
and a five-year-old spelling whilst muffling a scream
as you realise you’re living with sociopaths?
‘Is this it?’ you enquire. ‘Am I living the dream?’

“Oh to spend time with the family!
Freed from our offices! Freed from our schools!
Imagine the hours of harmony!”
That’s what we said, we ignorant fools.

 

 

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Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash

Gotta Get Out The House

Ah… quality time at home with the children.

I’m sorry, what?! There is quality time with the children. And there is time at home with the children. And, for our family, the two are pretty much mutually exclusive. Home is about mess, fights, funny smells, nagging, exasperation, and a lot of arguments involving the word “screen”. The good stuff happens outside the house. IF ONLY WE CAN GET THEM OUT….

Gotta Get Out The House

Gotta get out the house, gotta leave,
My sanity needs some reprieve,
That two little boys,
Could make so much noise –
You’d have to be here to believe!

Before, I’d no concept at all,
Of the phrase “We are climbing the walls” ,
But now it appears,
We are wall mountaineers,
Trying to flee from the mess and the brawls.

We’ve tried castles, museums, a wood,
Hit the park way more times than we should,
Our purses are thickets,
Of passes and tickets,
Cos not being home is soooo good.

Our bank account’s screams are dramatic:
“No more lunch! No more fuel! I can’t hack it!”
“No more bribes!” (Yes – they’re wrong –
But they move things along –
And we call it “being pragmatic”!)

So into the car and away!
The safari park’s waiting today!
To the monkey house! Yes,
It might look quite a mess –
But OUR house will look worse if we stay!

 

©️Nina Parmenter 2018

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Nothing makes me mutter more than clutter

I hate clutter. That may surprise anyone who has ever visited my house. But what’s important to realise is that there is a difference between wanting a tidy house and being able to achieve it.

I have friends with grown up, tidy houses. Friends with grown up, tidy houses AND KIDS. I’m at a loss as to how this is achieved. I’m guessing the crucial ingredients are a domestic goddess mother, and a well-trained, or at least trainable family. Here, we have neither.

So it seems that I am doomed to wake up each day, vow to have A BIG TIDY UP, sometimes even achieve a middle-sized tidy up, and then go to bed wondering which house it was that I tidied earlier.

This poem,  if you’d be so kind, is to be read with a hint of insanity in the voice. Thank you so much.

Nothing makes me mutter more than clutter

Nothing makes me mutter more than clutter,
It’s the very ruination of my day,
My family, no doubt, really LOVE to get stuff out,

But I think they think it puts itself away.

I tell you, I’m not blessed with being domestic –
For tidiness, I’d give myself a six,
But my precious family would each earn themselves a three,

Which all adds up to a house which makes me twitch.

There are ninety-seven items in the kitchen,
Which are not where I intended them to be,
In the lounge there’s fifty-four, in the dining room there’s more,

In the playroom, there’s two hundred, maybe three.

There are pens and bills and helmets on the table,
There are bricks and cups and spanners on the drawers,
And upon the window sill, there’s a pile of stuff that will

Have to stay there til I work out what it’s for.

In the bedroom, there is very little legroom,
In the hallway there is very little hope,
In the bathroom, so much stuff, there is barely room to guff,

And I don’t know how much longer I can cope.

So I’ve tidied and I’ve picked up and I’ve kicked up,
I’ve ranted til I’m purple in the face,
But as soon as somewhere’s clear, there’s just one sound I will hear…

The clatter as more clutter takes its place.

 

By the way – if you were thrown by the word “guff”, do let me know – I’m not sure if this delightful term for a fart is only understood by those who were around seven years old in 1984. Could even be a Somerset thing, I’m not sure!

I do have in my pocket the alternative line “There is barely any fart-room in the bathroom – which I quite like – but I was swayed by the opportunity to say “guff” for the first time in around twenty years!

 

©️ Nina Parmenter 2018

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The National Trust

I have a deep affection for the National Trust. With two energetic young boys, the weekend rule in our house is generally “anywhere but at home!” Our National Trust membership allows us to unleash them in some beautiful places, leaving our own house mostly unwrecked (although slightly more full of sticks) for one more precious day.

I think of the National Trust as a slightly eccentric great aunt, prone to lectures on the correct placement of cutlery, but also quite likely to slip me a boiled sweet or a couple of quid. So I hope this particular aunt doesn’t mind a bit of gentle ribbing.

 

The National Trust

The National Trust, The National Trust,
A mightier thing than all of us,
A fine institution, a positive force,
For a tenner a month, it can all be yours!
So we get in the car and head off for the day,
The brown signs of worthiness show us the way,
We head for the house – but I’ve got quite a thirst –

“Can we not go to the tearoom first?”

No – onwards! Past tapestries, teasets, a Titian,
A slightly tedious exhibition,
Cabinets, carpets and candelabras,
And a lovely lady, name of Barbara,
(A volunteer, reduced to tears,
By standing in one room for years)
She points at a pot! We all say “wow!

But can we go to the tearoom now?”

There are grounds all around, where there’s joy to be found,
In glorious nature, its sights and its sounds,
There are log piles to climb, and rope swings to hold on,
(It’s just like the park, only ten times more wholesome),
Rose gardens, rockeries, rippling rivers,
A small hairy man with his arrows and quiver,
Who gives us a go on his medieval bow –

But NOW is it time for the tearoom though?

Wait! Listen! YES! the clock strikes three,
The footsteps thunder – time for tea!
And mums, kids and grannies, all manners at bay,
Stampede for a spot in the Courtyard Café,
To toss back some tea, and scoff down some scones,
And snap up the shortbread before its all gone –
But where do we go once we’ve stuffed it all in?

LOOK! A shop full of chutney and artisan gin.

The National Trust, The National Trust,
A mightier thing than all of us,
A fine institution, a positive force,

For a tenner a month, this can all be yours.

 

©️ Nina Parmenter 2017

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