The N.H.S. Early Years To Retirement

A Memory of Bristol.

The Transport Department at Southmead Hospital when I joined them consisted of an officer, foreman, and four porter drivers, with two buses, three vans, and two cars. We were responsible for supplying the group hospitals with staff, goods, and laundry. The group was comprised of nine hospitals, Southmead itself, Almondsbury, Thornbury, Berkeley, Ham Green, Clevedon, and the Clifton nursing homes, St Brenda’s, Walker Dunbar, and Mortimer House. Mother and I had moved to a basement flat at No 8 Royal York Crescent, so that mother could be near David and Heather (his wife) that had the top flat in the same house. Dennis and Eunice (his wife) lived across the road. I think brother John and his wife Dorothy were living in Clifton at the time as well. After a few weeks of travelling to and from the hospital from Clifton by Bus, I decided to get a car and bought a second hand Humber. This lasted until one day I saw a three and a half Litre, Jaguar, XK120, two seater, on the forecourt of a local garage, so I parted with the Humber and £350 (that I did not have), for a dream that I could not afford to run - this caused quite a stir at the hospital. Mother and I were now living in the basement of number 25 Victoria Square, Clifton, as David and Heather had moved away to Redland, their daughter Jenny was born at Mortimer House. Dennis was now running a Photographic shop in the city. It was as I was wandering around Clifton one day that I found a small art shop, and as I had always wanted to try my hand at painting, I went in and bought an easel, canvas, and some paint and brushes, and set to work to paint some pictures. After ruining several canvases I started to get the hang of it. We, the porter drivers at the hospital worked long hours, because the major part of the work consisted of transporting staff to and from the group hospitals. We would take the car or bus to various places in the city to pick up points, then take them to their place of work - this was a 365 day a year job and could be very tiring, as most of it was in traffic. One job that we had was taking the medical photographer to the group hospitals and bringing him back when he had finished. Mr Sweet was head of the department of photography and E.C.G., and one day in the car mentioned that he had heard that I did some painting, and asked if I could do some medical drawing for one of the consultants. So I promised to see what I could do. The first drawing was of an operation to insert a Teflon peg into the inner ear of a patient, for Mr Ken Roddy, an ENT surgeon. This entailed looking down the operation microscope at various times to get some idea of what I had to do. Although the drawings were pretty rough, Mr Roddy was happy with it, and it was published in the ENT journal. Mr Sweet had a trainee photographer with him at this time, who wanted to leave to take up another position, so I asked if I could take his place. This meant less money, but I would be off the road and nine till five which suited me fine. So after six years of driving busses and vans, I became a trainee medical photographer and part time medical artist. The photography and ECG department when I joined, was very small consisting of two rooms and one dark room, for a staff of five people. Mr Sweet then started me on my new job. This consisted of going around the wards, the operating theatres, premature baby unit, and mortuary, with the camera and taking any pictures that the consultants wanted for their notes. The new 102 bed block and new theatres had just been built, and as Southmead was shortly to become a teaching hospital, so a new building was started that was to become the lecture theatre, experimental laboratories, and new department of medical illustration. We then moved into our new department sometime in the late nineteen sixty's. This consisted of two large studio rooms, two dark rooms, wash room, and Mr Sweet’s office. I then took over one of the large rooms as medical artist, (as we had taken on a new trainee medical photographer) with new drafting machine, air brush, and other drawing equipment. It was in the late sixties, early seventies, that I became interested in boats again, and built a Fibreglass canoe, with a hired mould, in the hallway of the flat. As this was a first with fibreglass it was far too heavy, but I had a lot of fun with it. Next came a 12 foot marine ply wood dingy, and as I was more familiar with wood it was more of a success. By this time, I had been sailing quite a bit on a friend’s boat, I had been introduced to Ron Stride by his daughter Linda that worked in the ECG department at the hospital. He was the owner of a twenty two foot Bobcat, and we sailed to various places in the channel; and also with a friend of his out of Barry in South Wales, Harold Davis, on a trip to southern Ireland in Harold’s new Macwester 28. Then Ron found a mooring in Southampton and we sailed his boat around the coast from Bristol to Southampton and I was bitten by the cruising bug.
I had saved up some money by this time, (second week in January 1976), so started to look through the boating magazines for something bigger. Eventually I found a boat about the right size and price for sale in Harrow, London. It was a 20 foot Hurley Felicity, sloop, with outboard engine and trailer for £1200. I drove up to Harrow, and had a look at her, liked what I saw, and gave the owner a cheque on the spot. My car being too small for this load, I asked my brother Dennis if he would come to London with me and tow the boat back, and put it in his yard, until I could find a mooring for her. This done, I spent some time fitting the boat out in Dennis’s back yard, and found a mooring in Sea Mills creek. Then came launching day, we drove down to the docks at Hotwells, backed the trailer onto the slipway, and pushed the boat into the water. Then with Steven, and Andrew, Dennis’s two boys, and myself on board, we locked out of Cumberland Basin and set off down the river to the small creek at Sea Mills, and moored the boat up safely. Then on the weekend I bought petrol for the outboard, a new gas bottle for the stove, and some food, then left the moorings for my first trip out down river. As I was leaving I noticed another boat casting off to go down river with a young lad on board. I knew that he was the nephew of one of the other boat owners that I had already met. Anyway, I set off and helped by a strong ebb tide, soon passed Avonmouth, and pulled in to Portishead dock entrance. I went down below and put the kettle on to make the tea, then looking out the hatch way, I noticed the young lad was there also, I shouted across and asked him if he would like to come over for a yarn, so we pulled the two boats together, and he came across. We introduced ourselves and I found out his name was Robert Joce, and his uncle Robert Hodges, who owned the boat called the Pelican, had taught him how to sail. He told me that he did not usually go much further than where we were, so I suggested that as I was new to the game also we go in my boat and learn together. Thus we dropped down on the last of ebb tide, to Lady Bay, and waited for the flood to bring us back up to Portishead. Robert and I have now been firm friends for nearly forty years.
After the first few trials down river I bought some charts of the Bristol Channel and decided to go on a voyage to Bideford in Devon. So I put some stores on board and the folding bicycle in the quarter berth, and set off on a week’s holiday. The first port of call was Barry, to wait out the flood, and then set off through the night to Bideford bay, and waited again for the flood tide to take me in over the bar, and drop the anchor opposite Appledore. I had my fold up bicycle with me in the boat so took the opportunity to visit Putford again to see my old friend Fred Lane and family, then cycled back to Instow. After a couple of days, I thought I would like to visit Lundy Island again. So I set off over the bar and headed for the island, it took me four hours to get there and drop anchor in the roads. I stayed at Lundy for four days, snorkelling, swimming with the seals, and climbing around the rocks. I left on Friday at about 7 o’clock in the evening. It was the last of the ebb or so I thought, but I must have miscalculated the tide and ran into a tide rip off the southern tip of the island. The waves were smooth but about three or four metres high, and in a small boat that looked a bit scary. I arrived at Ilfracombe about three in the morning, a bit the worst for wear, having taken eight hours for the twenty mile trip. After a couple of hours sleep I then set off for Barry, and up to Sea Mills, so ended my first single handed voyage. I kept this boat until 1978, and had many good times sailing and cruising with Robert, (and some hairy moments), but then thought I should like something a bit bigger, as Robert had bought an Achilles twenty four. We had gone up to Sharpness where it was due to be craned into the dock, then took it into the Berkley canal for trials, and when the tide was right, locked out of the basin and sailed her to Sea Mills. I sold the Felicity to my brother Dennis, and started looking for another boat. I had in mind something like Harold Davis’s Macwester 28 that we had sailed to Ireland. This boat was more than I could afford at this time, so to compromise I thought I would buy a Fibreglass hull and deck bonded together and fit it out myself. The boat that I settled for was an Atlanta 28, a modified Macwester, bought from hull moulders in Gosport and delivered to the Wapping railway wharf in Bristol. After antifouling the hull and putting in the cockpit drains, and an outboard bracket, to enable me to take it down the river, I paid a local chap to crane it into the harbour. Next day I locked out into the river and took it to my moorings at Sea Mills. It was to be another five years before it would be finished. I was still living in Victoria Square, Clifton, and had quite a big hallway that enabled me to cut out the large sheets of marine plywood that I had delivered to the flat. I then carried the shaped bulkheads down to the creek at Sea Mills on my push bike. As the fitting out went on apace it was now time to look for an engine. At the 1979, Southampton Boat show, I visited a couple of Marine Diesel stands, and finally settled on and ordered, a Yanmar 12 hp, single cylinder, for just over £1000, from a Mr Nurse. I then took a day off, in the following October, and as I did not have a car at the time, asked Nic Bowyer, the photographer that I worked with at the hospital, to come to Cowley on the Grand Union canal London, with me to collect it in his car, and take it to my flat. Then on the April of following spring 1980, I took the engine down to the creek and waited for the high tide to slide it down a plank, into the cockpit, then into the cabin and land it on the bearers ready for installation. A few days later, I put the boat up on the bank, so that I could work under the hull when the tide went out. Then installed the toilet drains, stern tube, and propeller shaft, fitted the propeller, and screwed up the retaining nut. On the next tide I floated off and put the boat back on the moorings. Then bolted down the engine, and connected up the control’s, started the engine, cast off and took the boat for a trial run out in the river. A couple of days later, on Tuesday 6th May 1980, I heard a shout from the bank, looked up and saw a police inspector, he asked me if I would take two of his constables up the river to recover the body of a person that had jumped off the Clifton Suspension Bridge. To this I agreed, they then boarded the boat and we set off up river on a falling tide. We soon located the body, by the Police cars and people who were following it, on the bank. I headed the boat in towards the muddy bank where the dead person was drifting down with the tide, and told one of the lads to take my boathook, and see if he could hold on to the body while I backed out into the stream. Then slowly puledl it back towards the stern, where we could lift it on board. With one man standing on the outboard bracket, the three of us managed to lift an elderly man into the cockpit and cover him with a blanket. Then quickly back down the river, and just managed to get back in and tie up, as the moorings were drying out. The Fire Brigade were there, and strapped the old chap in a cradle, and pulled him up over the bank, and into an Ambulance. It looked as if he had dressed in his best suit, for the occasion, and I did wonder what had brought him to this sad end. It must have taken a lot of courage, or desperation, to jump off such a high place. Later I had a very nice letter from the Inspector thanking me for my assistance. On Sunday 25th May 1980, I took off in company with Robert in his boat for a trip to Woodspring in on the coast of Somerset. I had not fitted any mast or sails, at the time, so it was a sort of motoring holiday. In the August of 1980, I went as crew for Robert, to take part in the three island race, from Portishead down to Flatholm, then over to Steepholm, then back to the finish line at Portishead, I think we came in second. In October of that year I again took the train to Proctor Masts in Gosport I think, to order the mast and rigging, this was a nervous time then, as boat firms were going out of business, all over the place. I waited anxiously, until the December when the lorry from Proctors turned up at Keith Horleys house, and unloaded the mast and rigging in the garden. The following February I sent the cheque to Arun Sails Ltd, for the Main, Jib, and Storm Jib, the Cruising Shute I ordered later. The sails were delivered in March 1981. The mast was up and rigged by this time, and I had nearly finished fitting out my new boat. There followed one or two trial trips down channel in company with Robert in his twenty four, and a voyage to Instow. In August '82, I was now spending most weekends on the boat finishing off the electrics, and the inside of the cabin. On the February of 1983 my landlady informed me that, I was now liable for the rates, that had previously been included in the rent, but there would be no reduction in rent. I thought this a bit unfair at such short notice, and decided to leave the flat and move onto the boat. So having paid up to March, I packed up my bits and pieces and started life afloat. Robert and I had planned a bigger voyage for our holiday in that July/ August of '83. The plan was to go down channel to Padstow, then across to Milford Haven, and back home, but we stayed too long in Padstow, and Rob had to be back at work. So we sailed back up channel, Robert to Bristol, and me to Bideford for another week, where I went to the North Devon Show, and visited my friends at East Putford. Back at work at the end of August I started to think about saving some money, I had paid off the loans obtained from the bank for boat engine and mast, and having cut my expenses to the bone living on the boat, funds began to accumulate and I started to think about early retirement. I was now fifty four, and getting bored with my job at the hospital, and after twenty five years in the NHS, could not imagine, that without any qualifications, I could get a better job, so it would have to be self-employment. Having made out a sort of calendar, plotting income against expenditure taking into account my pension and lump sum at sixty, I realized I could leave on my next birthday. In June of 1984, my brother Dennis invited me for a weekend on his boat at Plymouth, where we sailed up the Tamar as far as Calstock and visited the National Trust Estate of Cotele. After giving in my notice at the hospital just after my birthday in July, I said goodbye to my friends in the medical photography and ECG departments, and left the NHS, on the last day of July 1984. I had the princely sum of sixteen pounds, a week to live on, but for the first time since the age of fourteen, I had no employer, and was free at last.

Added 16 September 2012


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