One Pair of Feet – Monica Dickens

Have you met Monica before? If you have then you will know she is rather flighty and not inclined to stick to anything in particular for very long as her tales of life in service are recounted in One Pair of Hands.

In this volume of memoirs, Monica decides that she must do something to contribute to the war effort. Trouble is there is a fair amount she could do, but is there anything she could actually stick at. So after crossing the Services, WRVS, AFS, Land Army and bus conductress, it seems that nursing might be a preferred and considered option.

But what about the poor patients who were going to encounter Monica, never mind Monica herself.

Taken out of the comfort of London and place in the countryside at a hospital, Monica goes from each ward and department, dealing with the wrath that the Matron and the Sisters seem to dispense at every turn to the young nurses as well as the patients. It feels like Monica Dickens is sitting down with us over a cup of tea and telling us all the gossip that is going on within the hospital walls. World War Two is very much in the background of this book, and you are only aware of it from the surplus of servicemen wanting to take the nurses out and the occasional patients.

We get to hear about the rather dire food, the constant cleaning, the patients who are characters that make the time pass quickly, what happens when your life is turned upside down and you start working nights and all the hospital rules which seem to archaic compared to todays NHS. (The NHS had yet to exist until 1948) However the basic element of nursing is here in this book and is certainly a great reflection on how much has changed as well as how little has changed. I do wonder if we went back to these days, whether hospitals would be better than they are currently portrayed.

This Virago Modern Classic reissue of this book, is lovely and a great companion to One Pair of Hands. I much enjoyed the introduction which gives you more of an insight into the social structure of the book, though read it afterwards as it may spoil your enjoyment of the book.

I do hope that Virago perhaps look at republishing some of her other semi-autobiographical novels in the future. I understand My Turn to Make the Tea is about her life as a journalist. 

If there are any other Monica Dickens novels you think I should look at reading please let me know. 

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