When I first met Hayley she was a Student Nurse. She was assigned to me for the week. I was an Operating Department Practitioner of five NHS summers. Drenched in the roly poly of Operating Theatres. Skilled, worldly wise, and miserably getting divorced. She was from the middle of the Yorkshire Dales, as unworldly wise as you could possibly imagine, silly, ridiculous, and fabulous in equally enthusiastic doses.
We stretched the trust our line managers, my professional body, and her university put in us and we fell in love. The summer of 2008 was a gas. Our contrasting times of life made for so many shared learning experiences. Whilst she studied for her Nursing degree, I soothed her tough days, and explained the more pragmatic elements of the NHS worker (on no account eat the bacon from the canteen with a hangover, the bottom store room is excellent for a twenty minute kip when you’re on-call, smile sweetly at grumpy Docs as nothing annoys them more). In turn she encouraged me like I had never been encouraged before. My life was as stale as forgotten Warburton’s in a summer student bedsit. Her whirlwind of natural life lust catapulted me back to college myself. As she finished her degree, I completed my Reps Stage 1 TUC course. Suddenly my bellyaching in tea rooms was swapped for debating with managers and fighting for members’ rights. Although she taught me nothing of fact or figure, the confidence she instilled in me (she believed in me), meant I felt confident in talking nonsense with the great suits in the hospital. They may have more experience, but I had Labour Research’s latest publication and a new personal belief. I was bursting with joy, self-assurance, nerve, poise, and fortitude. My first victory? The campaign that lead me to be immortalised in bronze? …. an extra bog in the male changing room (thank-you Health, Safety, and Welfare Regulations 1992 reg 20).
Fast forward ten years, two wonderfully chaotic kids, and an increasing beer belly (mine, that is) and she was at it again. Inspiring me through her learning. Do you know that time in life when you have a four year old just starting school, and a whirlwind of an 18 month old bouncing off the walls at three a.m.? Most people grab a pillow to sleep on, or a bottle of something continental to ease them through the bankrupt sleepy horrors. Not Hayley. She reached back for the text book and the pen (well a cheap secondhand lap top, but you get the gist). A decade of short staffing, and un-family friendly hours nearly drove the once enthusiastic pup from nursing all together (I remember one night she swore she was going to retrain to be a plumber). However lagging’s loss was to be Health Visiting’s gain. She applied for, and was accepted on the year long conversion course and stared down the barrel of essays by candlelight.
This won’t affect me, I naively thought. If she’s studiously researching child development milestones whilst the kids are in bed, then more opportunities for me to watch sport on the telly, and have a couple of extra beers away from the all seeing eye of the healthy wife.
However in reality Hayley’s flirtation with academia domino’d into my life. Her conversion from Paediatric Nurse to Health Visitor meant a revolutionary change for me. Previously I was the Dad who worked all hours. Head down with the plentiful overtime, take the kids to the park and swimming on the weekends. Like my Dad before me my interventions into their life was a bonus, non-arduous, and solely for the fun stuff.
However now it was time for me to do the mundane “mum” stuff (what is the difference between tights and leggings?) Whilst Hayley studied (the library became her playground). Our nineteen fifties social dynamic was about to get a rocket ship to proper twenty first century equal diversion of household labour. I‘m a socialist, I‘m a progressive, I‘m good with this…. I thought.
How did I know getting a toddler dressed in a timely manner takes the strength of Hulk Hogan, the diplomacy skills of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and the patience of Gandhi? Luckily the kids met me half way. In terms of cuisine “somat on toast” with a smoothie for their vitamins was win, win for us all. Toilet training Freddie in a soft play centre was also a world of fun. A plastic slide taking on the appearance of a rainbow Niagara Falls as my lad piddled down the colourful humps was a memorable high point. Or the day he picked up a stick and tossed it around with ecstatic joie de vivre until I realised it wasn‘t an innocent twig, but dried dog excrement….. but we survived. In fact we did more than that. The bond became real. Responsibility brought real pride, empathy for mothers everywhere, and the satisfaction that my beans on toast could rival Delia Smith’s any day. I can do it all now. Domestic goddess may not be the term, but domestic coping may well be. Another added bonus reader was our sex life (that made you sit up from your recumbent slumber didn’t it?): apparently all it takes to make a thirty year old woman aroused is the sight of her hairy, and out of shape husband scrubbing the kitchen floor in nothing but a pinny and marigolds. For Christmas I’m going to add a hair net for maximum erotic impact.
At the end of the Health Visiting Course there were initially no jobs. Tories with their murderous austerity are bastards. After nearly going loopy with academic stress during the course Hayley got her results and said – “I’ll do my PHD next year” !!! …. I nearly fell on the floor. Will that laptop ever stop tapping away? Me thinks she has an acute case of education addiction.
I could now go back to working five days a week, but I won’t. Freddie / Daddy days are here to stay. I‘m also working on a new recipe “sausage rolls on toast with a side of tinned peas”.
Has education been as important to our relationship as romance, holidays, marigolds, friendship, and humour? Of course it hasn’t. This silly story is just a snapshot of one strand of our lives together. Education does however take you on journeys, and introduces new people and challenges. It makes you discover, uncover, and take risks. Without it I wouldn’t be me, and Hayley wouldn’t be she. We would all be poorer without it.
© John Ingleson 2018
This was one of six pieces of creative writing shortlisted for UNISON’s 2018 writing competition.