Sunshine memories

This weekend was my first weekend working as a District Nurse on my own. This means it was just me covering our area, but I could also have been called on to work anywhere around the region to support the other District Nursing Teams. I was pretty nervous but it went okay. It was a glorious weekend here and I was glad that I was out and about in my car, and not on a stuffy ward in the hospital. I don’t know if I can put it down to the sunshine but it seemed to be a weekend of sharing memories with my patients. Perhaps it was hearing the sounds of children playing in the street or neighbours in their gardens that triggered it. I don’t know.

There were stories of previous homes, loved and left, often reluctantly. There were stories of parenting capers in the days when children were piled up high on top of the picnic basket in the back of the car, not a seatbelt in sight! But it was gardens that seemed to come to the fore this weekend. In one house I caught the end of the Archers Omnibus and afterwards it was a repeat of Desert Island Discs featuring the Head of the RHS, Sue Biggs. She talked about how research has shown that just two hours in a garden or green space has a positive effect on our health and wellbeing. Her words fell like dumbbells in the silent room where my patient lay bedbound, looking out of his cottage window at his overgrown garden, which had once been his pride and joy. And of course, I could be talking about any number of bed bound patients across our patch.

If housebound patients have thoughtful families then gardens are grassed over and mowed regularly by a gardener, or are covered in gravel. Many families live far away from their elderly or sick relatives, or they have busy lives with children and work, and it is all they can do to keep on top of the inside of their relative’s house, never mind the garden. Half the time I have to stop myself from volunteering to do every garden on the caseload! Some local League of Friends charities do provide gardening volunteers but mostly it is to cut the lawn and trim the hedges. No one has time to restore an old-fashioned cottage garden. But for other patients a kind neighbour might tend pots on their windowsill or bring them bunches of sweetpeas from their own garden. In those homes there is always conversation about how the flowers are doing, and the wonderful colours, and memories of former days of gardening glory.

On Sunday, after work, I went and sat in a chair in my own garden. It has always taken me time to process a day of nursing. I’m not somebody who can walk out of the door and forget about it. In the past, I’ve been unable to get any separation at all, and have worried and dreamt of my patients, especially if I were returning early the next morning. But I have learnt to slowly put my patients away in a box in my mind (a lovely comfortable one with sheepskin lining), until I get back to work again, but it still takes me time. I can’t help but wince at comments I have made with all best intentions, but when I reflect, I realise they may have sounded patronising or naive to a ninety-six year old whose life experience I can barely begin to grasp. But still, I put these things away, and promise each patient I will do better next time. 

Yesterday evening, I put my head back and watched the swifts joy-riding the sky. I breathed in the scents of my own garden, letting it restore me just as Sue Biggs had described. And then, with wild shouts, three sun-kissed, curly-haired children came tumbling out of the house to greet me. I tucked my last patient, the gentleman with the overgrown garden, into my box, wishing with all my heart that I could restore his garden and by proxy, him too, but knowing that my life is full and I can do no more than I already do. So I sent up a small prayer for a miracle for him and then hugged my children very hard, remembering how another elderly gentleman had taken my hand very gently in his own this weekend, and said, “Treasure every minute because you just don’t know what is around the corner.” 

*Please note, I have changed details about my patients in order to protect their confidentiality.

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West Dart

Down in this valley, amongst the trees, is the West Dart. Not long after this point the West Dart joins with the East Dart to form the River Dart, from which Dartmoor gets its name. This weekend we camped on a green field down amongst those trees. It was a glorious weekend and we spent hours swimming, catching fish and tadpoles, swinging on the rope swing and bouncing down the rapids. In the evenings we wrapped ourselves up in big jumpers and supped from mugs of hot chocolate topped with marshmallows. It was the sort of weekend children’s adventure stories are made from; full of freedom, fresh air, and laughter. The thing they never mention in the adventure stories is the plethora of camping equipment we now have to work out how to tessellate back into the loft!

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Mixed bag

June has been a mixed bag for me on the allotment. Crown rot spread through the plots at our site like wild fire. I thought I had hit a new low of gardening ineptitude by managing to kill rhubarb. I didn’t think such a thing were actually possible. But it wasn’t just me. Apparently crown rot is an airborne fungus and there’s not a lot you can do to stop it. Some of the old gents on our site lost crowns that had been going for forty-odd years so there was some deep grieving going on over it. In case you’re wondering, crown rot looks like the picture above.

My potato patch looks like this. Yes, I know, lots of weeds. Ahem. The point is, where are the potatoes? They are there. Just. But they’re all yellow and covered in funny black blotches. I’m going to dig it over this week and dread to think what I will find. And of course, packets and packets of things that never came up. Or if they did, they were eaten within seconds. Only one of my kale plants germinated and was, almost instantly, eaten by the rabbit.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. There have been some lovely surprises. The chamomile that I slaved over last year with little to show for it, has self-seeded all over the place. Butternut squash plants have sprung up from our homemade compost, so I have scooped them up and stuck them in all the gaps left by the unproductive seeds. Beetroot, broad beans, peas, chard, pumpkins and strawberries are all doing well. Who knew the buckwheat I planted as a green manure would be so pretty? (See above). I cut it down with Finch last week and mulched it in with a layer of cardboard and a snug blanket of manure. And I grew four whole dahlia flowers! I know! Dhalias?! That’s serious allotmenting! Little Owl and I made a pretty posey for the kitchen table with some of the rambling roses from the garden. Not all bad then.

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Golden mornings by the river by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (

What a June it is turning out to be! We went to a local pub for lunch with some friends for Father’s Day. Inevitably the children could only sit at the table for limited length of time so we headed outside to the pub garden and play area. There we huddled under a sun shade as rain showers swept across the garden in sporadic outbursts! Despite the wetness, or maybe because of it, the world seems to be teeming with life everywhere we look. The water meadows by the river are full of birds and wild flowers. Finch and I found a golden frog sat in the middle of the manure heap at the allotment.

I also met a slow worm today. One of my patients lives at the end of a narrow tarmac path bordered by tall waving grasses. In a brief patch of sunlight this afternoon, I had to do a quick hop and jump to miss standing on the slow worm as he sunbathed on the warm tarmac. It took me more than a moment to register that this bronze squiggle was a real-live creature. I bent low in wonder. He calmly appraised me in return. I’m sure he was thinking, “Alright then, move along. Can’t a chap catch a little sun without being gawped at?” He wasn’t there on my return leg. Much to my disappointment.

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Hedgehog news!

Hedgehog Sleeping in our Garden. All rights reserved (

This evening thunder rumbles so close overhead that we can feel the vibrations through the floor, and lightening illuminates the inside of our house like someone taking a photograph. Thick clouds cover the sky and rain pours down. Our garden bench, where we sat in the sunshine last week to do Finch’s reading, is dark with wet. 

I can’t think how old the Biff, Chip and Kipper Oxford Reading Tree books must be. I learnt to read with Peter, Jane, and Pat the Dog but I think my sister may have had the newer books. So that would be early eighties then…and still going strong! As we sat there last week, sounding out the story of Biff, Chip and Kipper’s move to a new house, we heard a funny snoring sound coming from the flower bed where we put the pond. What on earth could it be? 

At first we ignored it but the noise carried on, so we peered carefully through the flowers to find this little chap having a snooze. You can imagine the kids’ delight at a real live hedgehog catching forty winks in the sunshine, right there in front of us! We were spell bound. Maybe he liked the story or maybe he had come for our new pond. Who knows, but we were very happy to see him. He stayed for quite a while, turning over now and again or moving into the shade when he got too hot. We all hope he comes back soon. 

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Early days

carpet moth, UK, Epirrhoe alternata, day-flying moth

Here is a carpet moth I found cleverly camouflaged in the alley beside our house. Not to be confused with Tineola moths, whose larvae eat clothes and carpets. Epirrhoe alternata is called the Common Carpet moth because it looks like a patterned carpet, rather than because it eats them. I suppose they are real flying carpets! I have no idea if this is a common carpet or one of the other many carpets. Their patterns are quite variable. They are day-flying moths but you are most likely to see them flying around dusk. 

We have had golden mornings here. I am glad of the soft and mellow feeling to the days as I travel to work and get to grips with e-rosters, door codes, smart cards and a list of e-learnings the length of my arm. Everyone is kind and helpful, and aware of how overwhelming these first days of a new job are. 

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Half term

Starting a new job during half term was possibly not the best idea I have ever had. I shall return with news but for now, I’m off to bed…Zzzzzzz

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It’s official. I have passed! Now it’s over to the NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council) to issue me with my PIN and I will be back on the register. I start my job as a District Nurse next Tuesday, working initially as an unregistered member of staff until I get the okay from the NMC.

In other news, Wren and I put together our pond last week. We went off to the garden centre to buy our supplies. After a very necessary detour to the café for a cup of milk and a scone to share, we made off with our purchases. There’s loads of things to think about with even a little pond. It’s great if you can site it where there’s a bit of shade but not too much. The odd over-hanging branch, dipping into the water, is helpful for insects to get in and out, but there shouldn’t be too much overhanging vegetation. It’s also great to have stones leading up to the pond, and some submerged under the water, to help wildlife access the pond. We bought a couple of ornamental plants and some elodea pond weed to help oxygenate the water too. Wren is keeping all her fingers and toes crossed for a frog to take up residence.

And lastly, look at this…blankets of bluebells! This is a place called Emsworthy Mire on Dartmoor. We went this weekend and it was just glorious. I consider those to be public service bluebells, getting you off to a good start on your Monday morning.

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Blue tits

The most exciting thing has happened. There are blue tits nesting in the bird box we put up on our gable end! We have seen the parents flying in and out, and when our bedroom window is open there is a constant chirping sound to be heard.

Blue tits. Common as mud you might say. Sadly, not for us. Some of you may remember the disastrous RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch we did when we first moved to this house. The odd seagull flew high above but other than that, all we saw was cat after cat after cat. We haven’t done one since.

Since then we have planted trees and shrubs and climbers. We put up the bird box and we have a feeder, always kept well stocked with seeds.  We now have goldfinches, sparrows and wood pigeons visiting our garden. The occasional blackbird pops in, and now the blue tits. We are thrilled to bits. We still long for a robin but we’re well on the way!

In other wildlife news there has been pooey evidence of a hedgehog visiting our garden again, and the swifts have returned. They screeched over my head between the rooftops as I walked to pick up Little Owl from Brownies yesterday evening. Summer is here folks!

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Nursing bits and bobs by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (’m in a funny period of waiting. I have a provisional start date for my job but nothing can move forward until the wheels of officialdom at the university have cranked out a proclamation of fitness to practice. In the meantime I continue to work away on various writing and illustration projects, and have been looking through my old nursing bits and pieces. Is there a word for these symbolic things that go with particular professions? Items that act as signifiers as well as having some sort of function.

In the picture above you can see my pin badges from when I first qualified and an old name badge. There’s my notebook of ‘Vital Information’ for quick reference when I couldn’t remember the difference between Prothrombin Time, Partial Prothrombin Time, and Activated Partial Prothrombin Time at 2 o’clock in the morning. It also contained all those random but essential bits of institutional information which no one ever taught you but you were some how supposed ‘know’, perhaps by osmosis, such as the times of the pharmacy delivery rounds. You can see my precious artery forceps there too. They look innocuous, but got me out of some real scrapes.

In amongst my own, I have some of my Nan’s things. She qualified from Barts in the 30s, later working at the prestigious Moorfields Eye Hospital. I can’t imagine what it must have been like working as a nurse pre-NHS. You can see her nursing dictionary, held together with bandage tape, and her belt buckle. It’s funny to think how many times in one shift I must have repeated the same tasks as she had, separated by decades.

And so I continue to wait, glad of precious time to get ahead on edits or even start a first draft of a new book (!), all the while eyeing my provisional start date with an uneasy mixture of excitement and trepidation.

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