Friday, 16 October 2020

Read in 2020 - 22: At the Coalface

At the Coalface: The Memoir of a Pit Nurse

by Joan Hart with Veronica Clark

This was another free download from the kindle shop, part I of III. So far, I have not yet decided whether or not to buy the other two parts.

Joan Hart (the photo on the cover is really her as a young nurse) tells the reader about her life, very much in her own words - it is obvious she is not a writer by profession, and it feels more like listening to the reminiscing of an elderly aunt or good neighbour. The writing is unpretentious and genuine, with some down-to-earth humour thrown in.

She was born in South Yorkshire in 1932, and entered nursing training as soon as was legally possible, at the age of 16. Her work made her move to London, before she returned to her home county and became pit nurse at Brodsworth Colliery near Doncaster in the early 1970s. There, it took a while before the miners accepted her - a woman! -, but she persisted in her efforts just like she had always done more than what was expected, nursing being her true passion.

Having no children of her own, she kept working throughout her marriage, and maintaining a good, loving relationship with her husband was not always easy. After a period of separation, the two of them were closer than ever, and gave each other full backing and support in everything they did.

Reading about how the concept of what is good and necessary for patients - especially when they are children - has changed over the decades, and at the same time learning of the life and work circumstances and conditions of an average working class woman who made her dream come true against the odds, was really interesting. 

It is the real story of a real person, not a novel where you expect the heroine to encounter all sorts of obstacles, only to fall into her hero's arms at the end of the book. I might go and download the following two parts, after all.


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  2. That sounds a good book. I will look for it as my dad was a coal miner but further north in Northumberland as it was called then.

    1. Jean, I am sure conditions were very much alike for miners and their families, whether they were in Yorkshire, Northumberland or elsewhere.

  3. You know this is the kind of book that I would enjoy!

    1. Yes, Kay, I am sure you would! Also, there is not too much dialogue written in South Yorkshire dialect to make it hard to read for others.

  4. I think I might look for this for my kindle. Your holiday sounded lovely, so glad it was.

    1. Would like to know your opinion when you get round to reading it, Pat.
      I have just remembered that I still have an unused voucher, a birthday gift, for Amazon that I could spend at the kindle shop...

  5. That sounds like a good book. I know that was a time when it was difficult for a woman to break into almost any career and I have much respect for the women that did have careers at that time.

    1. Yes, Bonnie, that was what I admired about Joan Hart, her determination to make it no matter the obstacles. She really didn't have an easy life, but she made it!

  6. I think Shirley would like that one. I wonder if you can buy it as a hard copy.

    1. As far as I know, it is available as a hard copy. And I can imagine Shirley, being a nurse herself, would find it particularly interesting.

  7. Nurses see, and understand, a great deal. Coal was at the heart of the British economy. So a pit nurse was in a unique position. I shall order a copy of this book, having a strong interest in postwar England. The other night I watched a YouTube video: Exploring Doncaster, South Yorkshire (February 2020). Doncaster's older buildings offer glimpses into Joan Hart's vanished world. Thanks for the review. Keep up your blog!

    1. With just doctors alone, no health system would ever work - nurses are the backbone, the essence; the people closest to the patients and those who, as you say, see and understand a great deal. They deserve our utmost respect.
      Originally, I was interested in the book because my late husband and my mother-in-law have told me quite a few stories about what life was like for the miners back then. My mother-in-law grew up in Thurnscoe and moved to Wath-upon-Dearne when she married; Steve was born there. If I look at Doncaster (or Donnie, as Steve used to call it) on the map, all those place names west to it up to Barnsley are familiar to me, some because I have actually been there, others more from being told about them.
      Thank you for commenting - you were gone (or at least invisible) for a while, and I missed you.

    2. I knew that your dear husband Steve was a Northener, but I had never heard of Thurnscoe and Wath-upon-Dearne: the names alone make me want to go there. As well as having a bi-lingual brain, you have had a bi-locational life, your time in England. There is something haunting and poignant about post-industrial towns like Doncaster and Barnsley: during lockdown I have been visiting them thanks to YouTube: I particularly like the one about Halifax. The sculptor Barbara Hepworth came from Wakefield, and I wonder if her home is still there. I went down a Scottish mine in the 1980s, a strange experience for a mild claustrophobic.

    3. Actually, I am leading a tri-locational life; my first home is Ludwigsburg, where I was born and raised and have my parents and sister close by. Second home is Yorkshire, although I have never lived there; the family I acquired by marriage has remained very much my family throughout the years. Third is O.K.'s village, although I spend a lot more time there than in Yorkshire, but it came last in chronological terms. Last but not least, and O.K.'s folks have made me feel part of their family from the start.

      Thurnscoe's former slack heaps have been grown over with grass and turned into a leisure park. Only residents from a certain age updwards remember what it was like before, such as my auntie Ann and cousin Rob.
      I have never been down a mine myself, but visited a few caves many years ago, one in France while on holiday with my parents; I never forgot the almost surreal beauty of it.

    4. Ludwigsburg life sounds like a wonderful memory. Germany is vast: the French historian Michelet called it the India of Europe; an odd, arresting idea.

      I think South Yorkshire was where the novelist David Storey hailed from, his long novel *Saville* is packed with slag heaps not yet grassed over (a lovely pastoral image). His daughter Helena Storey the fashion designer is on YouTube.

      I never did visit the Lascaux Caves in France. Someone musicologist noticed that the drawings are in those caves with the best acoustics, so maybe our ancestors sang songs in those caves in ritual ceremonies.
      William Golding wrote an incredible novel about early Homo Sapiens, *The Inheritors* which is unlike any other English novel. Caves a-plenty in that story!

    5. *The Inheritors: the intimate secrets in William Golding's Neanderthal Tale.*
      The Guardian online, 16 September 2015.
      The essay is written by Judy Golding, daughter of the Nobel laureate.

    6. It wasn't Lascaux I visited as a child, but much closer to home, Grotte d'Osselle. No paintings there, but plenty of otherworldly (or should I say underworldly) beauty.
      I must admit I have never heard of David Storey or his daughter.

  8. Grotte d'Osselle: The name enchants!
    Children (maybe) come to words through things; someone said James Joyce came to things through words. Grotto in my childhood meant caves and waterfalls, but also the grotto of Father Christmas in a big department store.

    I have a Penguin biography of Bernadette of Lourdes, written by an Oxford University historian, who described herself as a Jewish agnostic. Bernadette saw the apparition in a grotto inside a woodland, a place children in the village associated with fairies. This reminds me of Michelle Paver's novel *Wakenhyrst*: not my usual reading but good fun.

    Helena Storey is an ethical designer and teaches at the London College of Fashion. The man she was in love with died. She does voluntary work in refugee camps.
    See *Derailed - interview with Helen Storey* (2018) and *Dress Four Time: In Conversation with Professor Helen Storey* (2015) both YouTube.

    Her father's novel *This Sporting Life* was filmed by Lindsay Anderson (1963) for which David Storey wrote the screenplay. It is a bleak black and white film, with stellar performances by Rachel Roberts and Richard Harris. It's great bleak.