When writing my memoir, I was going mainly on memory. But yesterday I found my story written in 1968, the year we met! So, starting again, from that Sunday morning coming out of church, waiting to have a chat with my best friend Yvonne. A friend of hers arrived simultaneously to ask her to a party the following Friday, and as I was there, he had to ask me too! Little did I know what a big difference that chance invitation would make to my whole life.
The party was, I may say, pretty poor. It was suggested we should dress as hippies, and Yvonne, Marion and I really went to town, painting flowers on our faces with lipstick, and putting flowers in our hair. We were the first to arrive, but we were in the party mood. Others drifted in, and we noticed that we were the only ‘off-beat’ girls present. “We’ll show them”, we thought, “how to enjoy ourselves”. Funny enough, though, the boys picked partners from the more conventional types, and I made a mental note that it didn’t pay to be way-out!
So much for the party. Marion had arranged for us to get a lift home with some girls, and I thought, ‘Crummy end to a crummy party!’ The party was in a barn in the country, and we walked down the lane to the road, where Marion informed us there was only room for herself in the girls’ car, and could we get lifts ourselves. There was only one boy there, Yvonne’s friend John Yates, whom we knew well enough to ask. “Sure”, said John, “only my car is parked down at Shaw’s Bridge with a flat battery, and you could help me give it a push!!”
So the two of us tumbled into John’s friend Ricky’s car at approximately 1am, and set off for the short distance to the bridge. A car followed us, Ricky making rude comments about the driving ability of its owner. John’s car was an old Austin 7, and it took some pushing to even move it. I was doing the steering, though the owner of the car behind, who turned out to be a friend, helped push too. After half an hour’s sweat and toil, we decided it was no good, and abandoned the car. We were about to go, when the driver of the car behind discovered he had locked his keys in his car. It was now nearing 2am. After some discussion, the only solution seemed to be to drive us all in Ricky’s car to Chris’s house (for that was his friend’s name), collect the spare key and go back and collect his car.
On the way back, we called in at John’s girlfriend Gladys’s flat for a cup of coffee – actually it was handed out to us in the car, so we wouldn’t stay too long! So time wore on. By the time we got back to Shaw’s Bridge, we were ready for some more coffee, and were now completely past our sleep! It soon appeared that John had invited everybody to my flat for coffee before going home. Now it had been a long journey to the other side of Belfast and back, and on the way I happened to be talking to the bespectacled stranger in the back seat, who had locked himself out of his car! During the conversation, it appeared he was in fact working in the same hospital where I was a nurse (where, I suddenly thought, I had to go on duty that very morning at 7.45am!!). Furthermore, he was hoping to get a flat in the block of flats where I lived, as he was studying hospital administration, and was required to be resident! He was therefore fairly interested in seeing the inside of one of these flats. I was fairly interested in him!
We were an odd looking set as we entered the tower of flats. I hoped none of the other residents would see us, but it wasn’t very likely at 3am. We were still wearing our hippy gear, and Ricky had a guitar. Over our mugs of coffee, Chris and I got to know a bit more about each other. Ricky was also very friendly. But at 4am when the boys left, I said to Yvonne, ” Do you think this might be it?” She was staying the night with me, but we didn’t have much sleep!
Next day on the ward I was a bit dreamy, due to lack of sleep and thoughts of Chris. I hoped against hope he would ask me out sometime. Two hours sleep is not enough to do a days work on! The following day was Sunday, and during our conversation on Friday night, Chris had promised to come to the hospital hymn singing that night. I was very proud to have him sitting beside me, and hoped he would give me a lift home, as I was living out that night. Unfortunately, he was living in – he had a room in the Musgrave and Clark Clinic, doctors’ quarters.
During that week I had my State Final exam, and had to put romantic thoughts out of my mind and do some studying. The following Sunday, I hoped to see him at the hymn singing, but he didn’t come. On Monday, however, I was having tea in Bostock House, when I spied him sitting with a medical student friend. Egged on by my companions, and plucking up a lot of courage, I went to his table and asked him to come to a party in my flat, supposedly to celebrate Finals being over, but really in aid of him! I don’t think I ate much at that meal!
Occasionally, I went to see Yvonne, and we discussed my chances in great detail. Preparations commenced for the party. On Saturday night I went to the Help Heavenward at Vic on my own. Henry Hutchinson, an old heartthrob, whom I had just about given up on asking me out, was also there on his own. I took the opportunity of asking him to the party – after all, don’t put all your eggs in one basket! To my surprise, he asked me out for coffee. On Wednesday I did my oral exam and that was the end of all studying for a good while. Friday night was the party, and it was great. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, and I certainly did. At one stage, I went and sat between Chris and the record player to talk to him, and Ricky squeezed in between me and the record player. I didn’t mind, it put me even closer to Chris. I was also fairly impressed with Ricky, and put him in second place, with Henry a close third. Chris and Ricky promised to come round the next morning and help clear up the mess. Only my brother Arthur arrived, however.
The next afternoon, after we had cleaned the place up, I met Yvonne in town. Chris had been telling us about his old Standard car, which was broken down outside Matchett’s Music shop in Wellington Place. We just had to go and see it, and there it was, parking ticket stuck behind the right windscreen wiper. A mischievous idea entered our heads, and we went to a nearby coffee bar to write an anonymous note to put in with the parking ticket, to the effect that we would help to pull it away, and illustrated profusely with drawings of us in match stick form, pulling and tugging at the old Standard.
I wasn’t speaking to Chris for about another 10 days, though I saw him a few times in the hospital. On 31st October, the Hymn-singing crowd were arranging a party, which, in its usual disorganisation, was called off, and at the last minute was called on again! This necessitated getting some men invited, and quick. I thought of Chris, but didn’t want to appear to be ‘running after him’, so I went to see June Bennett in Casualty, and she rang him up in Xray where he was working, and asked him if he and some of his friends would like to come to a party. He said yes, and that was that!
The party was both a success and a failure – for me at least. I don’t know what other people thought of it. Chris arrived on his own – his friends, i.e. Ricky etc, couldn’t come. He came in, said hello to everyone around except me. This was disastrous. Nothing I did seemed to attract his attention toward me -that is, until supper time. Supper took place in the next room, and people sat around in groups. I poured tea and handed round biscuits. Eventually, I got round to Chris with the biscuits, and sat down beside him. ‘This is it, girl -you’re on!’ Then followed half an hour of silly bantering and sarcasm, such as I had never enjoyed with any man before. To an outsider, it may have sounded ridiculous and childish, but to us, our wit was superbe.
My joy was short-lived, however. Returning to the other room, we were to play the ‘honeymoon train game’. This entailed all the men sitting on one each of a pair of chairs arranged in the form of a train, and a girl had to sit beside each man. Before I had plucked up courage to sit beside Chris, alas, another girl had done so. Well, its only a game, I thought, but no, the next game Chris asked the same girl for his partner, and sat and talked to her for ages afterwards. Things were getting out of hand, and I didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t late, though, and I thought that before the party was over I could get the chance to talk to him again. Next thing, Chris and the girl got up and walked out of the room! I was completely deflated. Then I thought, he’s only leaving her home. He’ll be back. But no sign of him. June said she hadn’t thought he was ‘that type’, and this only introduced worse thoughts into my mind. I went back to the flat miserable that night, and cried my heart out.
The next day, I could think of nothing else, but during the evening something happened to cheer me up a bit. I went to Yvonne’s flat to discuss the travel arrangements for getting to Benburb, for the 21st birthday party of Gladys, John’s girlfriend. She said she had to ring John, as he was arranging the transport, so out we went to the phone box. During the conversation, Yvonne was trying to find out from John if Roger was going to the party. Then she said I was also interested in who might be going too. “Ah”, said John, “a nice-looking fellow with glasses?” This sounded a very good description of Chris, and I immediately thought – goodness, there must be some attraction on his side, after all, if he has been talking to John about me! I was once again in the heights of elation. Final arrangements were not made about travelling, and I was to contact Yvonne later…
The next day I went into town to get something to wear at the party It was to be an Irish ceili, and I had nothing green. Aftter some search, I found a very short green mini-skirt and top, and green hoopy earrings to match. I rang Yvonne that night to find out about the transport , and was told that I had misconstrued what John meant the night before. He had meant Ricky, who also wore glasses, not Chris; which was all very nice, but I preferred Chris. Anyway, John had arranged that I should go with Chris, as we would both be leaving from the same place , i.e. the Royal. Iris Mulligan would also be going with us, and John himself. I had told Yvonne I wouldn’t be off till 5.15 , but somehow the arrangement was made that Iris and I should meet Chris at the Musgrave and Clark clinic. I met Iris there at 5. 15, but of course, I was still in uniform. So I told her to get Chris to come over and collect me at the flat. Some time later, he and Iris arrived and I went out to get in the car. I wanted very much to sit in the front with Chris, but as Iris was already there, I had to take the back. We picked up John on the Lisburn Road.
The journey was amusing, as the car was a rather old and eccentric M.G. The traffigators went out all right mechanically, but needed some manual help to go in again! Also the oil pressure seemed to have a habit of gradually dropping to zero, which could only be remedied by either switching off the engine or freewheeling or stopping, dependent on the gradient! However, we got there eventually, and here began possibly the greatest evening of my life.
We arrived just in time for tea with the Mulligans. After this we started to get ready for the party. I was helping Gladys’ sister Frances with her hair, when she said, “If you want to go dowwnstairs and be with Chris, it’s OK.” I said, ” Oh, he’s not my boyfriend”, adding under my breath, “Wish he was!” I had arrived with him, and sat beside him at tea, so Frances naturally assumed that we were going together. People started arriving, and then we left the house to go by tractor and trailer to the cottage where the party was being held.
There was a log fire and candles. Soon we were dancing to Irish folk songs. Chris partnered me most of the time, and we really enjoyed ourselves and let ourselves go. Halfway through the evening, we had Irish Stew and other patriotic foods. The evening continued with dancing in one room, and someone playing a guitar in another. I was so energetic in my dancing, I sprained my ankle slightly and we had to sit down and join the folk singing. Just sitting together, we discovered how much we enjoyed each other’s company. Gradually we became more oblivious of the others in the room, and the next thing we knew we were the only two in the room, and someone was standing in the doorway, asking were we not coming out to see the fireworks display! We went out, and suddenly everyone seemed to be talking about us! Well, at least I knew I was now sure of a lift home!