Sunday 9 February 2014

Chronicle of a Working Life

Finished February 9
Chronicle of a Working Life by Monica Dickens

This is actually three books in one, all memoirs of Dickens early working experiences. This volume contains One Pair of Hands, originally published in 1939; One Pair of Feet, originally published in 1942; and My Turn to Make the Tea, originally published in 1951. Monica Dickens is the great granddaughter of Charles Dickens, the famous novelist, and she became a successful writer in her own right.
One Pair of Hands tells of her experiences working as what was known as a cook general, essentially a cook cum housekeeper. She worked for a variety of employers in this role, hiding her own upper middle class background as she did so. A couple of her jobs were out of town, and thus included her living in. Some of her employers were kind, some were overly demanding. She makes no secret of her own shortfallings, and it was interesting to see the activity between tradesmen and staff like her, as well between staff in larger households.
One Pair of Feet takes place during the early part of World War II, when she is looking for some work that is also meaningful to the war effort. She determines to try as a nurse, and finds a hospital that is willing to accept her for training quite quickly. It is located near London, in a small town. She lasts for more than a year in the training program working in a variety of wards. Her description of her training, her relationship with her peers, with nurses further ahead of her and with other hospital staff is interesting. It was also interesting to see the interaction between hospital staff and patients. Many of the patients were ambulatory and helped out with some of the work required. Of course she lived in the nurses residence during her time at the hospital and that was interesting as well.
The last book, My Turn to Make the Tea is her experiences learning the ropes as a junior reporter at a small town weekly newspaper. She describes the weekly cycle of the paper, the types of work involved, which varied widely, and her relationship with the other people that worked there. She also talks about her lodging experience. It was hard for her to find a place that she could afford on a reporter's salary and then she had some issues with her landlady. Her relationships with the other lodgers was one of camaraderie, and the different personalities were fun. From an avid Young Conservative to a lady juggler, they brought life to her story.
Despite their happening some time ago, the focus on the people she encounters in all these situations makes the books something you can relate to easily. A very enjoyable read at 658 pages, it fulfills one of my Chunkster Challenge requirements.