The Ladies Step Up

I live in a tiny hamlet of about 21 houses. Many of the photos I have shared here were taken as I walk through it with our girl; however, I have never talked about my neighbours. Today, I’m making an exception.

When we first moved here, newly emigrated from Canada, the people of our new home embraced us warmly. As the years went on, I learned more about each of them and was surprised to realise that I was living in a hamlet full of healthcare workers. Ellie was a nurse and her husband is a GP. Mazie was a nurse and was still working with disadvantaged kids on a parttime basis. And at the far end of our hamlet were were Fanny and Terry, a pair of A&E specialists/consultants. When a programme was announced to bring defibrilators into small villages around the country, they applied for us to get one, and then trained us all in CPR and the use of the defibrilator, which has been inset into the wall of a building owned by another neighbour at a central point we can all easily get to. We made sure everyone shared phone numbers and the ladies began a WhatsApp group to enable ease of communication … both for emergencies and to share news.

And this is where this week’s story begins.

The news is full of Covid-19, locally, nationally, internationally … it is an unceasing litany of statistics, information that changes as more about the disease is learned (sometimes on a daily basis), the struggle in every country for protective wear for frontline healthcare workers, the need for PPE (personal protection equipment) in Care Homes and Seniors Facilities. Every Thursday at 8:00, the nation applauds and cheers the NHS from their doorways and windows; a practice I hear is being echoed in other countries. But this past few weeks, the ladies of my hamlet have pulled out all the stops.

Since lockdown began, the Ladies WhatsApp group has had messages from one end of the hamlet to the other. Offers to pick up food because someone’s going into town. During the toilet paper shortage, news of which store had some. Funny videos and cartoons, all based in Covid-19 and all hilarious. Then, one day, the following message from Fanny.

“If anyone sews and has cotton material or knows anyone who could help, we at the hospital are anxious bringing our dirty scrubs home to wash (60C). We always wash our own but at these times it’s more of a worry and some small businesses have apparently started making bags so you strip, put them inside, wash your hands, then the whole lot goes in the washing machine. Genius! Please spread the word. We’d love some bags. xx”

The messages began to fly: how large did they need to be — perhaps an old school shoe bag would work. Nope, needs to be at least 50″x50″ as scrubs are pretty bulky and maybe something with a loop handle to string it over your shoulder as you leave. How would an old pillowcase work?

Fanny checked it out and it seemed a pillowcase with a drawstring through the open end was perfect.

“Yay! The pillow case works! In fact the top couple of inches can be cut to make a handle. I have plenty spare ones if anyone fancies giving it a go over the weekend to see if it works. PS it doesn’t matter if they’re not finished perfectly – your seamstress skills are not being examined!!” Fanny let us all know.

Within a couple of days, the hamlet pillowcase-bag industry had begun. The Ladies who didn’t sew but had extra fabric or old pillowcases donated them to the Ladies who sewed.

“I don’t sew, but have pillowcases,” reported Kelly.

“Just throw them over the wall into my yard and I’ll sew them!” her neighbour Wanda responded.

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Then the product deliveries began and Fanny began to find packages on her patio table; others were thrown over her gate and it all took on a bit of a clandestine feel as the Ladies found ways to get pillowcase bags to Fanny’s co-workers. In fact, it all began to feel rather like covert operations as they hurried through the hamlet and home, bags tucked under their arms, fertively peering around to make sure nobody thought they were going to a gathering. I met Janet in the lane outside Fanny’s gate one day as I drove home from the chemist. She almost hid until she realised it was only me!

And the messages became quite wonderfully silly.

“Fanny, I have hurled 4 more over your back gate!”

“Fanny, I have lobbed my little pony over your gate!!” Wanda messaged on another day.

“Sounds painful!” Denise replied.

“Ouch!” added Ellie.

“….. no animals were harmed in the making of these pillowcase-bags!” laughed Fanny.

Lila was particularly industrious, producing 17 of them in one day! Images of Lila’s sewing machine on fire began to roam through Wanda’s head.

“Hi,” Lila messaged. “Were the bags of any use ? If so, are any more required as have acquired more fabric and ribbon.”

“Lila, I used up all your bags today and Janet, I think the ones over the gate just now were from you?? Now seriously ladies, demand for bags is high and I now have donated material but I don’t want to exhaust good will or create a runaway train! Please keep dropping them over the gate if you’re happy to, but please don’t feel you have to,” was Fanny’s gracious response.

Every day, we heard about how thrilled the doctors and nurses were with their bags and Fanny began to share photos, which she graciously allowed me to use in this post. I’ve obscured faces and identification as best I could, but their delight is still evident.

“Thank you all for today’s donations to the cause – gratefully received, as you can see! Kelly’s special bags went to our nurse lead.”

“Today’s pillow bags were again “sold out”. Wanda’s Superman bag went to a doctor who thanks you very much and had a good laugh!”

“The village is getting huge admiration for your talents, peeps!!!”

Fanny tells me that all told, the Ladies produced some 50 pillowcase bags for the staff at the Royal.

“I don’t sew at all, but am happy to bake for the troops,” Ellie offered.

“I don’t sew, either,” said Sally. “Would you like some brownies to take in?”

At which point a second hamlet industry was born … supplying the local hospital’s staff with sweets and baked goods. In fact, that turned into a bit of a baking class for a couple of the teenagers in the village, who decided they wanted to take part. The two girls produced cookies, cupcakes and young Adele offered to learn scones!

There were offers of eggs and baking powder, if anyone had run out. Icing sugar was in short supply in one cottage. Cakes and brownies were on offer in copious amounts. I almost gained weight looking at the pictures of the results.

At one point, Ellie let us know she’d made Chocolat Tiffin for her husband’s GP surgery and did Fanny want some for the hospital staff.

“Chocolate Tiffin booked for Monday, if you’re up for it!” Fanny replied gratefully. “Thanks, Ellie. Terry has bagged it for tomorrow’s full all night shift – his first [all night shift] in 17 years!!”

A few days later came this report. “Terry was unable to get a picture of Ellie’s Chocolate Tiffin bites for the night staff as it was gone in seconds; so, he photo’d the empty plate!”

At that point, I had to look it up. Seems they are bars made of both milk and dark chocolate, cocoa, raisins, golden syrup (corn syrup in North America) and biscuits. My teeth ached just looking at it.

I don’t know when this is going to end, my friends, nobody does, really. But I can tell you one thing. The Ladies of my hamlet are amazing women. They have stepped up, shopped for one another, baked and sewed, kept everyone cheerful with their messages. As I walk past their gates with the pup, there are waves, smiles and quick catch-ups over fences. The sun is shining outside, while healthcare staff struggle to keep up, stay awake, keep their own spirits up. With the help of this awesome group in my tiny hamlet, they are smiling a little more.

That counts for an awful lot, I reckon. And so from me, to all of them, and the good people working long hours to make sure we are safe:

 

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