I have just given blood, as I have done regularly ever since I reached the minimum age of 18 in 1979. This may be my last donation for a while, as I will soon be travelling to malarial Africa with my work, and (although I am very excited about the prospect of travel!) this saddens me a little.
I have a very vivid memory of the first time I gave blood. Dad, who had retired by then, took me along to the hall of Putney Leisure Centre, where nurses bustled around temporary folding beds. In my previous post I wrote about Dad’s retirement, but what I didn’t mention was how reluctant he was to retire. He resented being forced to stop work at 65, as he was still active and healthy and felt that he had many years’ useful service left in him. He duly threw himself into numerous other projects, constantly working on improving not only our house but those of friends and neighbours, rapidly becoming the neighbourhood’s go-to DIY expert and watch and clock repairer. As Mum was still working, he also took on more household duties, cooking one family meal a week (always the same: spaghetti, his only recipe). So, although he never had an idle moment, he really didn’t want to retire, and in some ways he felt rejected by society.
This feeling was clearly in evidence that day of my first blood donation. Dad had given blood for as long as there had been a British blood transfusion service, having signed up when it first started during the war. But when he turned 65 in 1978, this public duty, along with gainful employment, was denied him. As he waited with me for my first donation, he shook his head sadly and said, with surprising bitterness for someone so gentle: “They don’t even want my blood any more.”
This memory came back to me vividly when I found Dad’s old blood donation cards in the archive. The red one is his original registration card with the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Association in Glasgow in 1944:
I took this along to show the nurses at my local Town Hall today and they loved it, especially the instructions about not having a heavy meal after giving blood, as they now recommend one!
There is also a 1969 card from the Medical Aid Committee for Vietnam, and a more modern blue card with records of his 1960s donations. The bronze and silver badges are mine, however: they didn’t start awarding these (for 10 and 25 donations) until too late for Dad’s many “armfuls” to be recognised in this way.
The cards themselves are interesting enough, but even more intriguing for me is what I found wrapped inside the oldest one: a lock of golden hair.
The last donation stamped in this card is dated 1947, so if the hair was placed there at the time, it pre-dates him meeting my Mum in 1951. So I wonder if this is a lock of his first fiance’s hair, the woman whom he followed from Glasgow to London but later decided not to marry after all. I know almost nothing about this woman – not even her name – but it’s nice to think that this golden curl has survived, by accident or design, as a final memento of his first love. I suppose I’ll never know the real story.
I have, however, had some interesting experiences of giving blood. I have the same blood group as my dad (A+), and after a few years of donating in London I was asked if I would like to contribute to the plasma donation programme at the blood transfusion centre in Tooting, south London. This involved a process called plasmapheresis: my arm would be attached to a machine which took 2 pints of my blood, separated the red and white cells by centrifugal force, and returned my red blood cells to me. I did this every month for a couple of years until I left London for university. On one occasion I noticed, as I sipped my cup of squash afterwards, that the male donors were being offered cans of beer. So I requested one too, and every month after that I would look forward to my free can of beer and packet of crisps in return for my pint of plasma. It seemed like a good deal to me at the time. My Dad, I am sure, would have been appalled!