What was the building called when you were there?
Beech House, and we called it the nickname “Spike”. I think everybody in the village called it The Spike.
Was there any reason?
I don’t know. I was brought up with it, with my parents. That’s all I know.
Good gracious! And where did you live when you were working there?
And how old were you when you started there?
I was 21.
Can you remember anything about the interview when you started?
They were fairly desperate for any carers or domestic people. I was interviewed by a . .. . oh, name! …Mr & Mrs C. My mother worked there at the time, so that helped. I can’t really remember anything about the interview, only that we went to the Matron’s quarters. That’s all I can remember really.
And were you actually applying for a job as a carer?
As a domestic.
So what was your actual job title?
A cleaner they called it at the time. I don’t know what was on the contract. And then 6 months after I’d been there they were asking for carers. My mum said I wouldn’t stick it (laughs) but I applied for the job. Obviously they knew my work what I was like as a domestic, so they took me on as a carer.
OK. So can we talk a little bit about the domestic thing first? Where exactly were you working in the . . . .
The part that is now the museum, the research end. That was the Ladies’ end, because they kept the men and the women separate. We had an average of about 70 women and 60 men I should think, so they ate and slept either end of the building. I was responsible for the male sick ward, which we had 8 beds in, as a care assistant. Domestic work: We worked where we were needed in the female quarters where the research end is now.
And when you were working as a cleaner can you remember what sort of days and hours you worked, and how much you were paid?
I can’t remember how much I was paid, but it was round about £8 ‘cos I worked at the factory and it was £8 before I got there.
For a week?
For a week. So I didn’t drop my wages. You try to stay the same or get a bit better, so it was round about £8. The hours were 42 hours a week, shift work. Domestic was mainly 8 till 5, an hour for lunch. And then, go on to being a carer, I worked shifts again, still 42 hours, but we could work from 8 in the morning till 8 at night, or from 8 till 2, or 2 till 8, obviously with dinner breaks and tea breaks in. It was 5 days a week, which included Saturdays and Sundays.
And did the salary improve when you became a carer?
Yes, but I can’t remember by how much, no.
And were you still in the male ward when you became a carer?
Yes. Domestic, some of it was . . I did the Assistant Matron’s quarters. I used to go on a Sunday morning and do their quarters, which is now the Old Cottage. And that’s where the Deputy used to live. So I used to do that as well.
Who was the Deputy then? Can you remember?
I think her name was C. She was a retired nurse. She had a son. No, I’m not sure. I’m not sure about that. And then mainly in the building if somebody had a holiday or was sick and they needed a fire lit or anything like that, then you would generally go out and do whatever was asked of you really. I’m afraid that’s what a carer’s job was. You just did anything that you were asked of by your superiors, by the Matron or as they called them then.
And it was the Matron who was directly in charge of you?
Matron, or we had two other ladies. I’m not sure of their titles but one we knew as a Sister, so we called her Sister R, and the other was a Nurse T, but what actual . .. whether they were actually proper nurses . . .well, I know the Sister was. She was very strict but very lovely. She really was! It was very good training actually. It’s made me a better person, I know it have. She used to come round and kick the legs straight on the beds . .. or the wheels (laughs). Yes, she kept an eye on you, and kept you on your toes.
So when you became a carer could you remember to go through a day? What you did during a day when you started?
It all depends who was on duty as carers, because we had male staff as well. Male generally only looked after the male, but occasionally the women would go across and help out. So we’d have to sign in at which is now . . . . . it’s just inside the gate on the right. Is that a General Office? That’s the bits I can’t remember. Just inside the main gates there was a room where we had to go in and sign in to say that we were on the property and more or less to make sure you were on time. And then we’d go into the main building, up to the staff room, leave our coats, and any bags that we had. We didn’t have lockers in those days. And then we’d go down to the Office where the ladies were being looked after to be handed over to by the night staff, because we used to start at half past seven in the morning and the night staff would finish at 8 o’clock in the morning. So we would have a half hour handover with the two night staff, which I believe there was only one in the beginning, but there came a law out that they had to have two. And one did the whole building, a hundred and ten residents! Which was all over Beech House as it was called then.
We would have a handover and then probably the first thing would be have to get some of the people up if the night staff hadn’t got them up. Because the elderly then we used to get them up at 6 o’clock in the morning, so there could have been three quarters of them up by 8 o’clock which they did their various little chores or whatever they wanted to do. Then we’d dress them, those that were not dressed, wash obviously. 8 to 10 sharing rooms. I think we had two small rooms that had two people in, no screens, one washbasin. No screens, as I say, to individually dress people. You could have two or three carers on in the same room dressing individual people. We would try and make beds, some of them before breakfast. I can’t remember times of breakfast, but approximately half past eight we would feed them. We had to go down to the main kitchen, which is now a machine room, I believe, and get the porridge, which one of the residents used to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and make. And she absolutely loved doing it!
Breakfast, as I say, at nine and then we’d probably go back to bed-making, or if there was any laundry to collect . . because the majority of the laundry, like the big stuff, like the sheets and all that sort of stuff used to go down to the laundry which is now there. Some of the residents used to go off to work down there. Some would do ironing. Some used to work the big machines. They did have actually automatic washers, which that don’t look as though that’s what they are now (laughs) but that was an automatic washing machine. They used to do ironing and some of them used to do a little bit of general mending. We did have a sewing room with two ladies who worked in it, which you probably will hear from. Then it would be probably some bath time. We used to have the odd day care come in. The bathing, as you can imagine we had 70 women to get in a week. Some had to have a bath every day because of incontinence problems. The bathroom was two baths in a room with a partition down the middle, and we’d have – because we had so many people to bath – we used to have one getting undressed, one in the bath and one getting dressed in one cubicle one side, and three ladies the other. We didn’t have any hoists. We used to manually have wheel chairs at the end of the bath and slide them down into the bath and then manually haul them out, lift them out. I don’t remember having any lifting aids at Beech House at all. We didn’t get them until we moved to Costessey in ’76, so it was all done with muscle. So there could have been baths in the morning, as I say, as the ladies would go off to work. The usual staff tea break. You had ten minutes, and if you were more than ten minutes you’d have somebody knocking on the door (laughs) wanting to know where you were. And I mean, the Matron or the Deputy, whatever they were called, they had to segregate the male staff from the female staff at one time, for obvious reasons, ‘cos wherever you go there’s relationships build up, and that obviously had to be stopped!
Lunchtime, the dinner would come down from the main kitchen again in a trolley, which we would issue out, and we’d have a main course and a sweet, and then they’d have cups of tea, which all the tea and the sugar was weighed out in tins to prevent anybody stealing! How you measure out tea for 70 people I don’t know! But that used to be done. That was done in the main kitchen and sent down. And then it’s toilets after each meal. It was just a normal thing to do, because you had other things to do during the day, and then you weren’t disturbed hopefully for somebody wanting to go to the toilet. They did have bells they could ring, but in those days they rang them, it rang and then it could be ignored. They had a bell system, which upstairs near what we call the Duty room, it was a bell board and they used to have a red disc go over the room number it was on, and if a care assistant didn’t hear it and didn’t look up at the board, or didn’t happen to go past it, that person could sit there for an hour or whatever. Nowadays the bells continue ringing until you go to the point and switch it off.
Where did they actually eat?
The ladies ate in the main dining room – what we classed as the main dining room. It was a big dining room and there’d be about 8 or 10 tables in it, and they would sit at a table. I should think there was about 60 women at one end and then 10 of the women used to go over the men’s dining room, ‘cos we obviously hadn’t got enough. I mean, the ratio of the men and women could go up and down. I mean, they say women live longer than men and we always did have more women than men, but sometimes it would come down, so they would have to. But that was mainly the men, and the big dining room was across where the entrance to the actual museum is now. That was a massive big dining room, with a hard wooden floor that my mother used to scrub regularly (laughs). We did have big buffers. But as carers we had to do a certain amount of domestic work. As I said, my main room was the male sick ward, which we had about 8 or 10 beds in. I can’t remember exactly now. In the winter time it was my job to light the fire and keep the fire going, with actual coal. I used to have to go down and get buckets of coal. On the odd occasions we had younger residents, stronger men. They would come in for whatever reason, and they were given little chores like that to do. And in those days they got a little bit of pocket money for it. Some of the ladies went down the laundry and they also got pocket money for it, but they stopped that. All to do with . .. well you know the laws of the land!
After lunch we would normally finish a shift at 2 o’clock, but the toilet system, taking the ladies to the toilets, it did get to the stage once where we had three door toilets in one room, which is now a public toilet, there’d be one urinal up the corner that the men could use during the day, but when it was meal times they were stopped from doing that and us ladies used to use it. And we used to have ladies going in and out of the toilet, and we used to have commodes in the actual room near where the washbasins were, so we’d go in one door, put somebody on the toilet, take somebody off the toilet and go out the other door, so it was a bit repetitive, you know, all the time, which wasn’t very private, but that was the thing in those days.
And we probably finished shift at 2 o’clock, but before 2 o’clock somebody would come on at 1 or 12 whatever the shift needed to be covered. We would then hand over to them if there were any problems during the day that they had to deal with, whether somebody was not well or on their last legs or whatever, or whether they’d been moved into …. we had a single sick ward, because if we thought that the person was passing on, as most people know, it could be tomorrow or it could be in a month, where we would sometimes move . .. it all depends how disruptive they were to the other people in the rooms, because some people can be quite noisy, with dementia, as well as before you pass on. They would put them in that room, that was what we called the Doctor’s Ward, that’s what we called it years ago. We had a name board and all the wards had different names on them. I think that comes from when it was a Workhouse, the Doctor’s Room. But we did have things in there that we could test urines with, because years ago personally we were allowed to give insulin, and we had one lady where we had to put a lead-weighted tube down her throat to open her passageway. She used to try and feed it in and then we had to supervise her so she didn’t choke herself and then she’d obviously pull it all out quickly. That was to keep her airways. None of us were trained. Well, we had one trained Sister, but obviously she weren’t on duty 24 hours a day, but the only training we had we did it as we went along of the job.
So we handed over to the next staff, the afternoon staff, if you went on in the afternoons. Sometimes you did a 9 till 5, but very rarely. It’s usually shift work, and the shift you’d start at 2 and finish at 8 o’clock. It was mainly bathing again, or you’d go round and you’d have mugs to clean out teeth . . . I can’t think of the word . . . what you put false teeth in overnight. We’d have to clean those out, and we’d have to clean the lockers out ‘cos some of the patients used to take food, and you could find a bit of a hoard. It’s as if they’re not going to get a next meal. They used to take it and put it in the bedroom, and some of those that were incontinent used to try and hide their incontinence. I mean, you only have to have a nose to pick that up. You don’t have to see it. So we used to go round and clean out lockers, clean out the urinals, which were commodes. The men had bottles. We used to have to clean those out.
Tea time, the same meal routine, more or less, and then basically the same in the evening until 8 o’clock, and then the night staff used to come on at half past seven and we used to hand over to them, and that would be the night staff’s responsibility. Occasionally if we had problems we had to go to see the Matron just to discuss it with them privately, whether it be between staff or between residents. Obviously you don’t always have the same rapport with everybody, so it had to be discussed and then they would decide not necessarily who’s at fault, but try and sort out whatever the problem was, which we had several.
And who actually supervised you when you were working as a carer? Was it the Sister or. . .?
We called her Sister R, but whether she was actually employed as a Sister or just a senior carer . . . and, as I say, Nurse T used to supervise as well. If we had any problems you went to her, and then, of course, if somebody passed away . . . if you found somebody you thought had passed away, you were never allowed to say that they had passed away. The doctor had to say that, so we used to go to whoever was senior at the time and say that we thought this person had passed away. They would then inform the GP, and the GP would have to come and pronounce that person dead. The families were informed, and I don’t know what was discussed with them . . whether it was just an automatic thing that we laid that person out or whether it was discussed with the family. I don’t think it’s discussed with the family what they have to do with the body before it goes to the Undertaker’s. I think the Undertaker do a lot of these sort of things now, but we had to actually wash the patient, which were called residents, I think, then, put them in their pyjamas, but we also had to cut toenails, fingernails, tie the toes together, and we had to pack certain parts of the body, so there weren’t any leakage. Some of them were put in shrouds. They had white plastic, not very pleasant smelling white shrouds, and then we had to put a label on their chest to say who they were. The male porters – I don’t know whether the Matron or anybody did this – but the male porters had to actually measure the body. They used to have a ruler, a long ruler specially for it, and they used to measure the length, and they used to have to cross their arms across the patient’s body and measure from side to side. That’d be the measurements that the coffin, that they would have. They were then, when nobody was about – because unfortunately, as I said there was 8 or 10 people in a room, if somebody died during the night they had to stay in the bed, but there would be screens, portable screens put round them then. If it was at all possible, as I said before, if we thought that the time was near, the patient would be moved into the Doctor’s Room, so as not to upset the old people. And then it would be a chosen a time, like if they were all at breakfast or all in the sitting room in the afternoon, for the body to be taken down to the mortuary, which was out in a building which is now all covered up with ivy etc where the children’s play area is. And it was taken down there on a trolley with a black cover over it and with a purple cross on, which now makes me hate purple. Sometimes they were removed during the night if somebody died at, say, midnight, they would be taken out . . . this was at a later time, because, as I say, when I first went up to Beech House there was only one night nurse on duty … when there was two they had to call obviously the Matron or Master or whatever he was called then and take the body down to the mortuary then, which wasn’t always very pleasant because the roadway was all very bumpy. It wasn’t very level, and sometimes they would slip off. Not completely, thank goodness, I never had one there’s happened that to. And then they would be left there until the Undertaker came.
Can you remember the name of anybody who used to go and work in the laundry and can you remember anything at all about the laundry? Obviously you didn’t have much contact with it, but you said it had got automatic washing machines by then.
Do you mean members of staff or residents who used to work in there?
Residents, or member of staff if you can remember any names.
I can remember J R. If I had time enough to sit I could probably remember more. Even the residents . .. . .. names have all gone. But they used to go down there after breakfast maybe for a couple of hours, and then they’d come back for lunch and they wouldn’t go down in the afternoon. Can’t really remember much. As I say, we used to strip the beds off, tie them all up in a sheet, put them into what we called the boiler house, and then they had a gentleman – I don’t know what his position was – like a groundsman – he used to come and pick the sheets of tied up laundry and take them down to the laundry. Then if there were any to be delivered back he’d deliver them back, and then the care staff would put them away in different areas that we had. Obviously, because there was 110 beds strewn all over the building, we had different laundry cupboards and they would be put in, so that, if anybody during the night especially wanted draw sheets because somebody was incontinent, they didn’t have to run the whole length of the building to get them. And a lot of it was communal clothing. In the afternoons sometimes we would go to a cupboard, if we had a ward that had several incontinent people in, which they tried to kept the worst case of the incontinent people into the same room so it didn’t upset those. .. obviously it’s not very nice being woken up in the morning with somebody’s backside with faeces everywhere, so they were tried to kept to one room, so we used to have … one was called Kerry’s Ward, one was called Yard Ward. Yard Ward was where the men were and so was Kerry’s Ward. I can’t think what the ladies’ was called at this minute.
But we used to have communal clothing. You could open up the wardrobe and you’d have dresses, vests, knickers, pants, stockings. The majority of them, as they came in, didn’t wear corsets because it was difficult for the staff to put on if a resident couldn’t do it, and for wash-wise as well, because you couldn’t get them dry. And corsets were quite unpleasant to wear then because they’d got steel whatevers in. And we used to go in, and, say for
Mrs ?, we’d pick up a dress that if she was slim and a petticoat that was slim and a pair of pants that were slim. Some ladies insisted on wearing certain underwear. If they were incontinent of faeces they would want knickers with elastic in the legs, so it didn’t drop out walking down the corridors. So you tried to accommodate those sort of things. The stockings were those big, old, thick. . . I don’t know what they were made of years ago, they’re not the nice nylon stuff that you have nowadays.
So we used to go along to help whoever was putting them to bed. We used to roll up in a dress and pop it on the bottom of the bed and a clean nightie, so it was all ready for the carer who came in, because we used to have to start putting some of them in bed at 5 o’clock. If you had 70 ladies and there’s only two of you to put them to bed you had to start some time, and those who could help theirselves would probably be up till 12 o’clock at night watching telly in the big sitting areas, but the majority of them, if they’d been up at 6 in the morning, which some of them had, they were glad to go to bed at 5 o’clock at night. They didn’t sometimes have too much of a choice. If you had too many that chose not to go to bed till, say 10 o’clock, well, the night staff wouldn’t be able to look after 110 residents, which included men, if they were trying to put 10 or 15 people to bed. So unfortunately some of them had to go to bed at half past five, so that was more or less straight after tea. Some of them had to be bathed before they went to bed, and, as I say, we could have six in one room; there’d be a partition down the middle, but three each side.
You said when you went in you went and put your coats and handbags in a room upstairs. Were you given uniforms to change into?
No. We had overalls which we brought home with us. We wore them to go to work and we had to wash them. I think at the latter part of the time they did wash some of the overalls, but that was the staff’s choice, especially the men, because they had white nylon, and the laundry used to .. . . because us women didn’t want our overalls going into the same washing machine that had perhaps had 30 incontinent patients’ washing in. Because there was no actual sluice room. There was facilities to take the main faeces off, or urine. You could rinse them before you sent them down to the laundry. We did have one room where we used to keep the spare urinals in, and pots. You could go in and take most of it off, but obviously it didn’t . . . . The care staff mainly didn’t want their washing to go down, so we used to come home and go to work in our overalls.
And did you have a specific colour as a carer?
It was different to the domestic, but it changed as the people who produced the overalls changed. The style was changed, whether it be nipped in at the waist or whether it was straight down. At one time we were allowed to wear belts, similar to a nurse’s belt and we were allowed to wear fob watches which were worn on our overalls and not on our wrists, obviously for catching the residents when you were lifting them. And we did wear white arm bands, but they stopped that because they said we weren’t nurses. We weren’t then allowed to wear fob watches, so if you had a wrist watch you just took it off and put it in your pocket and hoped that when you were leaning over the bath you didn’t drop it in the bath. And then of course they changed the way of lifting. You used to have people come in and say “You’ve got to lift like this” and “You must lift like that”, and they gave them different names, but fortunately now they all have hoists. It’s all changed. I went to Huntingfield and worked there approximately 2004, so you can imagine things have changed. 1974 Beech House closed and we went to Costessey so of course all the rules; you go on lifting courses and computer courses! (laughs)
And you mentioned earlier on about your tea break. Did they provide you with food while you were on duty?
No, no food. We weren’t provided with any food, but we had milk. All we were allowed was milk. We used to take our own tea and coffee, which we did have a cupboard to store in, but we did have one member of staff who was a bit . .. . . what shall I say? .. . she used to borrow! (laughs) So you used to carry it in your bag in the end, because if you went one day and you hadn’t got any tea or coffee, whichever you were using, obviously that weren’t very nice. To be on an 8 till 8 shift with no . . . You couldn’t go down the kitchen and say “My teabags have gone. Can I borrow a teabag?” And if you took it out of the residents’, which was loose tea then, you were then short when it was their meal time, so you either borrowed off a mate, if your mate had got what you drunk. If she drunk coffee and you drunk tea well, that was just tough. But yes, we were allowed a certain amount of milk a day.
But you took your own sandwiches?
We took our own sandwiches, yeah. We never had food there at all.
And did they give you anything like a Christmas party or an outing or anything?
We used to have a Christmas party. I can’t remember who supplied . . . . we never had obviously alcohol. We did have alcohol in the staffroom ‘cos we were allowed at one time to accept gifts from relatives, so if we had a bottle of drink, or a tin of sweets or whatever, it was taken to the staffroom and then you could have it there, but obviously occasionally people coming on duty at half past seven in the morning might have a couple of glasses of sherry, and then of course weren’t then fit for work. So that became a problem so they stopped that. So then they kept them for a while and then we used to like draw a number out and if that number was on the bottle or tin of sweets or whatever, you could have it. But then, of course, they brought in the rule that you weren’t allowed to accept gifts from relatives or the clients, the patients, because it encouraged people, if they’d got somebody with dementia, you could take somebody’s box of sweets and they wouldn’t know any different. You could say that they’d given it to you, so it had to be stopped, and you’re all treated the same, because obviously they have to approve all these things that .. . I mean, just because one member of staff said something it didn’t mean to say that that was the truth. So they had to approve all that. So they stopped it.
We had a party once a year which was in the main dining hall. We used to have a lady, Joan her name was – or is, she’s still alive – her son used to do the disco. I can’t remember who provided food, if we had anything. … I wouldn’t have thought. . . . I can remember once a packet of cigarettes, so that could have been a Christmas gift. We didn’t have Christmas bonuses or anything like that. The Council never gave us anything (laughs).
You’ve already mentioned already the smell connected with the people who were incontinent, but do you remember any other smells or noises?
The smells in the morning when you used to go into the staffroom. The stairs have actually been removed now from the building, but you used to go up the stairs, and when you used to come down the stairs in the morning the Yard Ward, which was a gentleman’s ward, used to be absolutely horrendous! They had very incontinent people with faeces, who used to plaster it all over the walls. You could generally go in and find handprints of it on the wall. That was horrendous. That opened up onto what is actually called, I think, the Exercise Yard, but whether that was why it was called Yard Ward I don’t know.
The noises are mainly, as I say, dementia patients. They’re not actually a danger to anybody else, but they just seemed to develop a habit of screeching at the top of their voices, which could be very frightening. We did have one lady who used to have . . . I wish I could remember the way she used to put it ….. it was her time for “having things that you shouldn’t talk about”, meaning her periods, and she used to literally sit on the floor and scream. I don’t think she was very old. I think she was probably in her 40s. She used to literally sit on the floor, curl herself up more or less in a ball and scream that “I’ve got what you shouldn’t talk about”. She never used to mention the word “period” but that’s what she’d say all the time. She used to share a room with another lady, and we used to have to physically lift her up and carry her to her room, and then she’d calm down. She’d got the attention, I think that’s what it was, she was attention seeking. She was a pleasant person. She used to go round cleaning the brass door knobs and polishing generally like that. I don’t think she was made to do it. I think that was her bit she wanted to do, and she used to do it. She’s the first one I remember of actually going up to Beech House. She used to stand at the window and go “Psss, psss, psss” all the time. She’d be looking at her polished fork or her polished bit of brass, you know. She’d be round the door knobs.
We used to . . . I don’t know if I should say these things . .. we used to have a Matron up there who had a little boy. He used to go up and down on the corridor on his bicycle. He was about three years old and he used to smack her on the backside as he went past and make her scream all the more. (laughs) I won’t say his name, but he used to look out the door and put his head round the corner and shout his name and sort of laugh at you as much as to say “I’ve done it again”.
That leads me on to something I was going to say. Can you remember any instance, either funny, sad or frightening? Any particular instance you can call to mind?
Frightening, which is stuck in my mind. We had a lady smack me across the face one day. She’d actually gone into the dining room, the ladies’ dining room and we used to sit and do the bread and butter. We used to be allowed so much bread and so much butter, so we’d put on average say three half slices for each person on a mixture of brown and white on a plate, and we would .. . . the care staff would prepare it and we would stand it on the table ready for the residents . .. they would know half past four was teatime, so quarter past four, twenty past four, they’d start coming in. And we had one lady come in, a biggish lady, and she went and stole some of the bread and butter. She just come in the door and grabbed a handful and off she went. I suppose she thought that was her share so she just . . . So I just called her name and she turned round and whacked me across the face. That hit me that hard! If you can ever imagine being hit that hard you don’t feel it (laughs). But that really frightened me because she said she was going to get me, and for weeks afterwards I used to imagine her standing round the corner either with a knife or something hard in her .. . but fortunately that never did happen.
I did have a man dive at my throat once. I’m not sure what was wrong with him, but he used to walk on his toes, and we were encouraged to try and get him to walk down on his heels, and I asked him to do it once and he grabbed me by the . .. put his hand round my throat, and fortunately for me he fell to his knees, because, as I say, he walked on his toes, and that caused him to release it. So that did frighten me. But I went away and had a good howl and I was all right then.
What else did you ask . .. frightening . .. ?
Funny? Or sad?
Sad? I don’t know if sad . . . because, as I said, we had young people come in, and because they were very abusive we didn’t see that as sad. I can’t remember any what I classed as sad. I’ve always said that you have to be . .. a special person – I don’t mean I’m special . . . I don’t know if it’s brain dead in certain areas. Death never bothered me. It does now. It never bothered me then. You could have three, four people die in a day. I think I cried once: There was a gentleman came in, a youngish man, 45. His name was V. I’m not sure what was wrong with him, as we weren’t told the medical side of the clients – it was not our side of it. He couldn’t speak very well. He wasn’t in bed very long, and he used to get bed sores, which were horrendous, but he could say things like “That’s better”. Not in that sense – you could understand that’s what he was saying. I suppose that made me sad, but otherwise, as I say, you just seemed to get immune to all that sort of thing.
Funny things. We had a little miniature man as I call him. His name was F. He used to go up to the local pub, Beetley New Inn, and get drunk, and because you had to leave a carer in the Home, and I’m not sure how the Managers or the Matrons…. how their duties used to go, whether they’d go off duty and then they used to go and pick him up in a wheelbarrow (laughs) which, you wouldn’t believe, he absolutely loved!
I’ve got to say every client that I’ve looked after in the 8 years that I was there appreciated everything that you did for ‘em, because they came in from outside world in worse conditions into what they called as better conditions. They had company, which was the biggest thing that they wanted, they had company at night because they shared a bedroom with as low as 2, but up to 10 beds, or during the day there could be up to 20 people sitting in one room, which they could obviously communicate to each other or swear at each other! Share family. Some of ‘em . .. the majority of them hadn’t got family, so they would share people’s visitors, and they honestly appreciated everything you did. In fact, my nan went there for a week’s respite care while my aunt had a holiday, and she wouldn’t come out! She enjoyed it that much, because she was living with my aunt and, no disrespects to my aunt, obviously would pop out to the shops or whatever, and she felt she was on her own for hours, but it probably only could be an hour, or maybe sometimes two hours. But she had company all the time she was there, whether it was getting out of bed at night onto the toilet, there was always somebody about. So if she didn’t feel well she could just shout to Mrs J across there or ring for the nurse or whatever.
The bells were situated over the top of the beds. They had cords that they had laying in front. So if they were able to use their limbs they could ring the bells, but if not they would shout to somebody else to ring the bell for a nurse either for the toilet or for whatever.
You obviously enjoyed the appreciation. But what did you enjoy most and what did you dislike most?
I disliked getting up at 7 o’clock for work in the morning! (laughs) But I never used to get out of bed till 7 o’clock and I was at work at half past seven, so I didn’t have a lot of time for a wash and breakfast etc.
But I don’t think I’ve ever got a bad .. . oh, I was once accused of scalding a lady. We had a lady, a Miss B, her family complained that we had scalded her. The lady didn’t speak very well, but in her way she communicated to her relatives that we had scalded her, so I once got into trouble and, like in a shop, they were right and we were wrong. But it was proven that we didn’t scalded her. It wasn’t just me, it was me and another girl, well all the staff really, because she would have different people to bath her. But she’d got psoriasis badly on her legs and the water, we couldn’t always tell what temperature was right for her. She couldn’t get in the bath herself, so we were physically lifting her in and out of the bath, and if the water was a bit warmer than what it should have been. . . . I mean, we didn’t have thermometers to test the water, it was just a case of sticking your elbow in, and if your elbow it fitted all right, it fitted your client all right. I mean, those who stepped in themselves could day “Oh, that’s too hot, nurse”, or “That’s too cold” – which they called us nurses, but the later part of the time they were not allowed to, because obviously we weren’t nurses, but they couldn’t remember everybody’s name.
We weren’t allowed to call them . .. . . we used to call them “Darling”, like you do in any conversation. You could be talking to, oh I don’t know, 20 elderly people or even a child, you’d say “All right, my darling”, but you’re not allowed to say that now, but you were then. And that’s the only worse thing, I think.
I can honestly say every minute of every day that I worked up there I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was absolutely hard work! I was a lot younger and a lot stronger (laughs). I mean, I could physically lift an 8 stone person. The beds were that close together. There’d be two carers, but there wouldn’t be a lot of room, maybe a foot in between the beds in some rooms, and I could actually lift a smaller person up in my two arms and sit on the bed behind me, like a baby, while the carer stripped the bed off. I could physically do that. I mean, I can’t lift a loaf of bread sometimes now! (laughs) But I honestly enjoyed every minute, even down to the incontinence. I’ve never had a problem cleaning it up. I would much rather have a bucket full of human faeces than go into a butcher’s shop and pick up a pound of liver (laughs). I only had one time that I did feel sick and it was somebody had a big . . I don’t know . ..we called ‘em “pushers” – boils on somebody’s back. But there’d be sputum and all sorts. But none of it never, ever, thankfully, bothered me. As I say, when I first started my mother said I would never stick being a care assistant.
I shouldn’t say this is funny, but the first morning I went in as a domestic, being 21 and stupid, a gentleman was brought down from an upstairs ward down to the bathroom in a blanket. He’d actually got faeces squeezing out of his toes and in his hair, and I didn’t laugh at his face, but that made me smile for about six months afterwards, I think (laughs).
I mean when we first went to Huntingfield they all said “Oh, all those people come from Beech House”. But they don’t. They’re still about. Not the ones I looked after obviously, but there’s people out there in the community who are like that. No fault of their own, no fault of their own at all. I mean, I don’t know what it was called then; I call it dementia, old age – and you’re very, very fortunate if you go through old age and you don’t have any of those problems. Very, very fortunate.
You said earlier on that you were actually quite grateful that the Sister was quite strict with you. Have you got any messages, based on your experiences at Beech House, that you’d pass on to young people today?
She was a very experienced nurse, as I say. She was a Sister in Aden, actually. She was an English lady, well, a Gressenhall lady, but her husband went out to Aden and she went with him. And she was a nurse. Now whether she was actually a nurse in this country I don’t know.
To listen to the older folk. With the experience of the younger ones in my family at the moment, they think we run on. Believe 75% of what people say, and just sit and listen, and sort it out in your own head. Think “Well, yeah, maybe they could be right”.
Respect the older folk. That’s what she taught me. I mean, I used to answer my mum back as a child. Not as they do now! But she made me a better person. She made me a better person in that I was tidy, even if it was just . . . she would come past . .. we had iron bedsteads then, and she would kick the wheels straight. Folding up, maybe, a neat blanket on the bottom of a bed. And when you’d done your ward, I had to wash the floors with mops. We used to have big electric polishers we just used to have to go over the floor with, clean the basins out. And when you’d done your room you could look back and think “That looks better”. And it’s made me respect the elderly. I still get annoyed with them, as I’m sure I get annoyed with young people! (laughs) Over silly things probably. But it definitely has made me a better person.
Yeah, mainly to listen to the elderly and think “Well some of it could be right”, and a lot of it is right.
Is there anything else at all you’d like to say?
No, I can’t think of anything. As I say, I thoroughly enjoyed all my time at Beech House. I was very upset when it closed. We didn’t understand why. Can now. But all the old people that were up there appreciated everything that we did. The only time I didn’t like it, I suppose. We used to have . . . we had a young woman come in . . . she was picked up by the police off the streets. Not a tramp exactly, but she came in and she was given a bed in a single room, which as I said was a Doctor’s Room at the time. She wasn’t very pleasant, wasn’t very clean in her personal things. She used to be very abusive, didn’t appreciate what we were doing for her, so I didn’t like that very much, ‘cos we were not allowed to say anything to her at all. And we used to have . .. which I didn’t have too much to do with . .. but we used to have families come in, and they slept in the rooms where the blacksmith is now. That used to be one long building. They used to have a washbasin at one corner, they were issued with beds, bed linen, some of them with clothes, pots and pans. Oh a certain amount of pots and pans so they could make a kettle. I don’t know if there was any electricity in there. I can’t remember.
Were they homeless people?
They were turned out of either not paying the rent or whatever. And they were put in there and they given the basic things, and, of course, if they just came out with the clothes they came with they were given what we called “dead stock”. It was clothes that were given to us and were taken up to the laundry room, and like if we had a resident come in who was in terrible condition out in the community they were issued with boots, shoes, gloves, hats, whatever, what we’d got in what we called “dead stock”. And it was clothes what were given to us, like if a relative had a mum or dad die or something and they’d got any decent clothes, shoes whatever, pipes, anything we could make use of, that used to come up to Beech House. Which I believe they’re not allowed to do now. But they used to go in there and some of them used to get up, they’d perhaps stay there for a week, and they’d get up and do a midnight flit and take the lot. I mean, ‘cos when they move on you don’t know where they are till they settle down. I mean, I don’t know all the ins and outs of how they get on with giving false names or what they do. I don’t know how that was all situated ‘cos we never had anything to do with that.
And we’ve had a lady that was pregnant. I believe her husband was in the Navy, but he came home, and I don’t know whether he didn’t know she was pregnant or what it was, but she got kicked out. We had her in.
We did have one family in . . . I don’t know what that’s used for now. It’s just inside the gate. We used to call it the Lodge, on the left hand side. We had a lady and three children come in there and we used to have to go down the kitchen and pick up a tray of food, take it down to what we called the Lodge, knock on the door, go away, go back two hours later, pick up the washing up, take it back down to the kitchen. And then, of course, we had the odd tramp that used to come in, and used to be flea-ridden or filthy dirty or whatever. His clothes would be in a state, and, as I say, they used to issue him with clothes and then he’d go off the next day, go off to wherever he wanted to, because there used to be one or two places that were open then. They’re all shut now, I think.
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