The Christmas Eve of 1972 was a very cold and frosty night in London. For a young lady just off the Lufthansa from the tropical heat of Africa it would be extra cold but I didn’t feel a thing. It must be from the excitement of arriving in England. Due to a delay on the stop over in Germany, the arrival to Heathrow was late so my cousin had left to go back to North London. In those days The British Council was involved in the oversea students’ admission to nursing school.. Gosh, I don’t know why I am surprised I remember so much but then I remember stuff from when I was two or three years old. Now back to today’s post.
It’s now after 10 pm. and I went to the Enquiries to find the Official who was meeting me. “Oh! you have arrived but Mr Jones waited but had to leave.” said the lady receptionist. “Your cousin was here too but left to go to work. We can show you where to get the train to London and also the connections to Bishop’s Stortford and you can make the last train,” she added. She was shocked when she heard me say, “He will have to come back because I’m not going by myself this time of the night especially if I only have the last train to get to my destination. ”
Mr Jones came back and apologised, he had communicated with the office and they all decided the best and safe thing was to come back for me. I was very grateful. It was dark as he drove to London and I looked at the lights of houses and shops and I saw folks dressed up for their Christmas celebrations. While chatting I found out he had booked the last train to Scotland, where he would be spending the festivities with his family. We got into London and oooh, I thought it was magical with all the twinkling Christmas lights of many colours.
Before getting out of the car, I said I didn’t mind going on the train, by myself, to the town where the hospital was. I really wanted him to get that train to Scotland. There was no point in the two of us spending Christmas without our families. He didn’t want to hear of it but I reckoned there were lots of people around and on the train for me to be comfortable travelling there. He spoke to the train conductor and asked him to make sure to help me off the train at my stop and also to speak to the Station Master who would kindly get me a taxi because they were usually parked nearby. The train journey went well and was quick.
The conductor did as he had promised but there were no taxis, they had all gone because they thought there was no more passengers. By the time I pulled my heavy suitcase to the side gate, the Station Master and I were the only people left. He was waiting there to shut that gate. Now how was I going to get to the hospital? This being the era before mobile phones, minicabs and Ubers I accepted his offer. He offered to help me by carrying my heavy suitcase on his bicycle and we would walk to the hospital. There was no other way to deal with the situation when the time was now minutes past midnight on Christmas Eve. I couldn’t see how he was going to balance the suitcase but I was prepared to make it work. Walking on one side, he manoeuvred the bike by both pushing and pulling it, while I supported the suitcase from the other side. He chose the route of the side streets because they had less cars passing by and would it make the journey easier. By going on that route, it gave me the knowledge of how Christmas was spent indoors in England as opposed to outdoors where I had just travelled from. One lasting sensation that it left with me, was the heady scent of fresh frost, fir trees and holly hedgerows.
I was not prepared for the pandemonium that would ensue when we got to the hospital starting from the Porter’s Lodge. The Head Porter was soon on the phone to the Night Matron that I had arrived with the Station Master pushing my suitcase on his bike. I had been expected during the day and this was a total surprise. The news spread like wildfire, while we waited, the Station Master got a well deserved Hot Toddy. I was assured some refreshments and my room was being made ready for me. I thanked the wonderful man who helped me, he had been unbelievably kind, so much so that I knew I could never forget him.
I was in for a real surprise as I was shown to the Matron’s Office, right there was my old school mate, Gabriella. She knew I was coming because the preparations for each student’s arrival included someone who they had something in common with, to help them to settle in. After the Matron made sure I was alright, I got a warm meal and drink and was taken to my room. Everyone wondered how come I wasn’t feeling cold with my long cotton attire. I told them my cardigan and warm coat kept me warm. They must have thought that if I was alright and warm too then this was no time for going to bed. After all it was Christmas Day, it’s PARTY TIME!!!
So in one of the sitting rooms set aside and filled with decorations, food, snacks and drinks the music was blaring. Everyone offered food and drinks hoping that would help me forget the toils of the journey and make me feel at home in my new home. It was after a couple of brandy and coke that I felt I needed to get some sleep. With that came the cold I began to feel, I was indoors yet i couldn’t get warm. This was so strange as I had been outside and never felt the cold. Soon I had one pair of pyjamas, a nightdress, a cardigan, my coat, socks and layers and layers of blankets that was in the laundry cupboard and what ever the girls could spare. Yes not forgetting a couple of hot water bottles. Finally I got to have a lovely comfortable sleep.
Was the Station Master real or an angel because I could never find anyone who knew him. I remember my late grandmother always saying, she would always be kind to and pray for the stranger because one never knows, her children or grandchildren might just one day be somewhere needing help and she wants them to get it. Her prayers were answered.
NB: Fictitious name have been used.