Working Lives

A Caring Life (1950s-2000)

Location: Norfolk

Rosemary worked as a children’s nanny in Norwich and then at the Jenny Lind Hospital, and in the care sector – from home help to care worker. She tells of the bonds she developed with those she cared for and the way things changed.

I was born in Gresham. My father died when I was quite young and my mother remarried. I went to Fakenham School and then I came to Norwich and worked as a children’s nanny. I was there for about 10 to 15 years. I lived in, and that was actually in Norwich.

I worked there for 15 years and then I thought I would have a change and I worked at the old Jenny Lind Hospital. I worked with children like a ward orderly, only with the children. I used to feed the sick children and look after them. The hospital was only for children. After a while, I met my husband. We got married in 1956 so we have been married over 50 years. At that time they were crying out for home carers so I started working in the Heartsease area first.

I had a phone call one day and was asked if I would consider working in Thorpe. Had I got a cycle, which I had, as they were in desperate need in Thorpe. This was home caring for all ages, children as well. If mums had a new baby you used to have to work there. You had three jobs in a week and you had to do 20 hours. I used to have to take the children to school then do the washing and ironing and generally get the meals prepared for the mums with the children. This was for mums who had just had a baby, and they used to want some help and that is what I did.

Then the mothers with young children wanted some extra help and I did the necessary. Not every day; I think it was three days a week and then you went onto another family. Then I cared for people with all different kinds of illnesses like multiple sclerosis, I have done that. I was with two people who had that. It was more like caring; there was more to do in the way of actually looking after them and preparing them a meal or preparing them something for tea as well. I also did their shopping for them and it was much harder.

Mostly the people were in wheelchairs. They could get up but they were confined to the wheelchair for the day. I used to have to get them ready to go to the hospital for some treatment in the swimming pools. I did that and then I looked after elderly gentlemen. I used to have to light the fires and do everything in general there. They were very hard; this would be in the early 70s. They had no washing machines.

Some of them would have a condition like the wetting condition and you would have to go in and wash the sheets in the sink. You could put them in the copper and some of them had an old fashioned mangle. I can remember going down the garden for the coal at one old lady I went to and hers was right down the garden. I used to go to hers on a Monday and you used to have to take all the washing and wring it through this mangle. If it was fine you would put it outside. It was very physical work. Compared to today theirs is easy, compared to what we had to do.

We had to clean everything and we had two and a half hours to do it in. It wasn’t like today. I have looked after this old lady for 16 years. When I first went, I used to do everything for her like hoovering. They are not allowed to do that now. It is just caring like doing the shopping, getting them washed or dressed and bathed or showered. Things were so much harder. There wasn’t the equipment they have got now. It was a much more physical job, like going to get the coals from right down the bottom of the garden. Compared with today that really was hard.

The money wasn’t much. I used to get ₤5 a week when I first started. That was for 20 hours work. However, like everything else it improved. When I left, it was about ₤4.50 an hour and I left at 65 and I am nearly 75 now. So, you can tell how things have changed.

Almost everyone cycled then. People had cars but they didn’t go to work in them. I still do cycle, actually. You wouldn’t get the allowances they get now for petrol etc. It was a different life altogether. In some ways it taught you things. You went somewhere and the atmosphere would be lovely. They were right pleased to see you and of course you were with them longer for a start. Today they are in and out. They have half an hour here and half an hour there. They were very grateful. Sometimes I would be asked to water someone’s plants or something like that, but they wouldn’t ask that today. They would be told there isn’t time.

It was a very rewarding job and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The daughter of the lady I look after now rang me from London and told me her mum would like me to go a couple of mornings a week and look after her. I said I would think it over and she said she would ring me the next week. This was on the Saturday and on the Tuesday she rang me again and asked if I had thought it over. She said if I couldn’t come one day not to worry because her mum doesn’t go out. So I said OK and she really is lovely. I go once a week; she has got a very good son and daughter and they do help a lot. The daughter comes down from London most weekends.

It is quite a social job and they are very appreciative of you. Today they are only in for such a short time, they haven’t got time to stop and chat. Whereas I will be ironing and she will be sitting there and talking to me, which I think is what they like. They don’t see many people so they are glad of somebody to come in.

You have to be quite emotionally strong. When I worked at the Jenny Lind, one of the reasons I left there was because when the children were really, really ill and you saw the screens go round, that used to upset me terribly. I mean, anybody dying is terrible but if you saw a child and you knew they were going to die, that used to upset me. I was there a few years but that really did upset me, so I thought, it’s no use staying here. You do get used to it but it wasn’t me.

You have to have quite a thick skin to do care work with people who are ill. However, you become a friend really. This lady said I am like her best friend. In fact, she said she could treat me as a daughter. You are with them so long and you know them. The main thing is trustworthiness. If she has been ill or anything, I have done her shopping and her little bits in the city, like personal things and she knows that she can trust me. That is the thing. I have always told her that if she wants anything, as her daughter is in London, she is to ring me and I will come round. That is a nice thing to have, to know that somebody is on the end of the line if you want them.

This is ten years after I retired. I did look after two but unfortunately, one passed away. I was there for several years. She also lived in Thorpe but she wasn’t far from the other one so I did the two. However, she died last year. It does take you a long while to get over. I went to the funeral and she was lovely. You just have to try and be a bit strong.

I have never heard this lady say a cross word or shout in all the years I have been there. She is so calm. She was a buyer in her young days and she was a hard worker. She is so methodical. She does odd jobs for herself. She is nearly 99. Her memory is absolutely marvellous. She can tell you everything, like where she lived. She often tells me different things about her life and that sort of thing. It’s very, very interesting but they were workers, you see. They were dedicated. She was certainly brought up well. She is more like a friend really. She will ask me how I am and I ask her but on the whole, she is pretty well.

How things changed in the care world

People who need a carer get used to it but apparently there is going to be a new thing, they are going to have agencies. She is not looking forward to that because you never know who you are going to have come in. It might be a different person each week. That’s the new thing coming out; she told me so herself the other week. That is a big change for an elderly person. Now, she has a girl who goes and gets her up and she has one in the evening who gets her ready for bed about 7.00 pm. She knows those two but shortly they are going to change. I don’t know why, whether it’s money or what. She said it will be agency workers and you won’t know who you are having in, which is a bit confusing for an elderly person.

That is how things have changed. I can remember getting my old lady (not this one, the other one I used to help) these saving stamps. You used to have to go to the post office. They all stopped years ago. I used to have to get her a 2/6d savings stamp every week and she used to save for all her bills. That’s how hard things were. Sometimes if she was a little bit better off she would get two. They would pay for all her bills like her electric and gas and things like that. That is how they used to have to save up. It was difficult compared to today.

Care work used to be called home help but then they changed it to care worker, I don’t know why. It has been going for years as home help and then they changed it to carer. For one thing, that was just to care for the person. Not like home help that did everything. Some of the older people are more worried about if the floor is clean and things like that. I used to look after an old gentleman and he was a messy old dear. He would have biscuits and cream crackers and you would go there and that would be everywhere. They are not allowed to do that now. They are not allowed to clear up and those are the sort of things that worry older people. I used to clear up.

This particular gentleman was an old devil. You would get his coal and he would say don’t put any more coal on the fire. I have known icicles on his windows. When he died he left no end of money. He had it but he wouldn’t spend it. He wouldn’t have it unless he had to have it.

The GP and social workers could decide if someone needed a care worker. The person or one of their family would get in touch with the doctor. That is how they used to do it. Somebody would come round. I can remember looking after one old lady and she had dementia. She always used to say to me, “My daughter never comes round”. I said, “Oh yes she does; she was here yesterday” and things like that but she would run her down. The daughter would take her jumpers or something home to wash but she couldn’t remember it. She would say, “Oh no she doesn’t; she never does anything for me”. I knew very well she did. She would ring me up and tell me things.

We used to have to go for training once a month. We used to have to go on courses. They still do, I think. Somebody would come and speak to you and you did courses on first aid and to show you how to lift properly and that sort of thing. It is completely different today to what I was used to. You were not trained in how to placate people if they were getting unhappy or frustrated. You were trained mainly for how to treat them like if they had a fall or things like that. You were also trained in putting up hoists and how to lift them and what you shouldn’t do because you can get bad back aches if you do not know how to do it properly. I’m afraid I don’t think I could do the lifting now.

Until anything happens to this lady, providing I am alright, I will keep with her. Mainly because that pleases her and she knows me and I know her. There’s no set time; I don’t go there and say I am only here for an hour. I might be there two hours. That isn’t the money I get, to be honest. I don’t really do it for the money. I just did it to help her. She occasionally gives me a ₤5 or something like that but I don’t really do it for the money. I really do it because I like her and she is such a nice person. Also, her daughter is really good to me. For my birthday she buys me a bouquet, things like that.

I have built up good relationships with people. However, today they don’t like you to get too much involved or they will move you on to someone else. They couldn’t stop me doing it today because I do it voluntarily. To be honest, I don’t think people like changes. They would rather have someone they know they can trust and just be there when you are needed.

This old lady doesn’t try to take advantage of me and my other one didn’t but I have been taken advantage of. Say you are restricted to an hour and a half, they will say well could you just do this little bit of ironing. Then your hour and a half is up but they take advantage of you and you don’t like to leave them like that. But this old lady wouldn’t; she is not that type of person. You never hear her say anything bad about anybody, ever and I have been there all that time. You get the odd ones and they are always moaning – you haven’t done this and you haven’t done that. But you are not really supposed to do all that. During the latter part of my time they would ask me to just do this or that but you have to be quite strict. That used to hurt me more and I used to wonder what they think.

I used to prepare their breakfast and get their cup of tea, prepare the porridge or whatever they had. These days the carers don’t do the cleaning now. They do that privately. For my current lady, the son is good. He does it mostly at the weekend.

I think care workers do have respect from the public’s point of view. Most people you see appreciate what is done for them. You get the odd one or two but on the whole I think they are pretty good, really.

Years ago the women stayed at home more or just did a little job like I did, part time. But I never, ever left my children on their own. My husband used to do shifts and it was mainly afternoon shifts. I used to go out in the morning and he used to be here. They were never ever left. I always used to make a batch of short cakes and if I went up the shop or anything and they were out of school, I put that on the table and they always had something to eat as soon as they came home. I think that is a lot of the trouble today. Parents aren’t there for them.

There is more demand for carers as people are working more. I have my little granddaughter; she is the youngest now. She was nine the other day. I looked after her before she went to school. I had her a couple of days a week for her mum and I looked after all my younger grandchildren. These child minders are expensive. That is a good job – looking after children. I think it is about ₤5.60 an hour, something like that, which is a lot of money. I have saved my daughter pounds by looking after her little girl. I pick her up from school. Even from 3.30 pm until she gets home about 6.00 pm, that is then over ₤15.00 just for that. By the time she has paid the bus fare, that is ₤20.00.

This old lady I look after, she has got a lovely home and she has it decorated regularly. It is old but it is beautifully clean. She has had a downstairs toilet put in underneath the stairs so she doesn’t have to keep going up the stairs. She had a coal shed and she has had units put in, like a washing machine. She does all her own washing and it is as white as white. She often says to me, “A house is to live in”. I always take my slippers but I suppose that is force of habit but a lot of them don’t. Providing it is not wet, she doesn’t mind.

There is more need now for home carers than there ever was, especially with all these different homes closing down. This old lady always tells me, “You will never make me go in a home”. She has got that attitude to life. She says she wouldn’t be a trouble to either of her children. She would try and get somebody in to look after her.

Caring for those with no family

It’s unfortunately if you have got no family and you are on your own. That must be dreadful. What do you do? You read things in the paper where people have been left on their own and haven’t seen anybody for days like at Christmas. I used to have old people round here for Christmas who have got nobody. When they come here they don’t want to go home!

One old boy I used to look after, he was in Thorpe. He had got no family; he lost his wife years ago. He said he was going to be all on his own for Christmas so I asked my husband if we could have Fred for Christmas. My son-in-law picked him up and when he got out of the car he told my husband he had brought him half a bottle of whisky. So my husband said, well we’ll have a drink together.

He had this drink, then he had his dinner. Then he kept saying he had pains in his stomach and he wouldn’t be able to go home that night. I said, “Oh yes you are. I can’t have you here for the night”. He had a niece who used to go round his and I had her phone number. I phoned her and she asked to speak to him. She said, “That woman has been good enough to have you all day. You play her up and that’s the last time you’ll go out”. Anyway, that was ever so funny because before he went home, he asked my husband, “What about the whisky? I had better take that home now.”

I had another one who lived on St William’s Way. He came round. It was mostly the men I would have because mostly the women would go to aunts or sisters or something like that. A lot of the men were on their own. I had this particular one and I said I would have him round on one condition – that he would have a wash, shave and put something clean on! I said I wasn’t having him round my house looking like a tramp.

He made himself look right smart and he had his dinner and his tea, I gave him a drink and the family came round and met him. He said, “I don’t have to go home at nine do I?” My daughter said, “I am going to have to take you home no later than half past nine because by the time I get home and sort myself out, that will be time for me to go to bed”. The trouble was, he didn’t want to go home. That is awful to have to go to a place all on your own again, isn’t it? You do get attached to them but I used to tell them off. I used to say to them, “You better behave yourself or I won’t do that any more for you.”

The Jenny Lind Hospital that I used to work at has now closed down. I used to love working there but it upset me so much. I was a children’s nanny when I was 16 for a lovely family. I was there for several years. They used to treat me like one of their own. That wasn’t easy work. You had to keep the nursery clean. You had to keep the children tidy and put them to bed and all that. They don’t seem to have nannies now, only the very rich. The people I worked for had a business in the city. They were both at work and they had four children. They went to Town Close School and the girls went to the High School. I used to have to go and meet them.

I met my husband then and got engaged and then married in 1955 in Eaton. I did still work at the Jenny Lind for a time. Then they were crying out at that particular time for home carers and I thought I would love to do that – look after people in their own homes. I was on this side of the estate but they had a shortage in Thorpe so I was asked if I would change. They sent me a letter and said would I consider going to Thorpe as they could manage this way but Thorpe couldn’t, so I went there and I was there until I retired.

I could write a book about it!

I have happy memories of my career. I used to tell those old dears, “I could write a book about you lot, how you play me up”. But when you look after those people with multiple sclerosis, you have to change them and change their bags so they weren’t easy jobs. But that was part of your job and you did it. They were quite appreciative. Some were happy but there was one lady who was only 42. She used to get a bit anxious and wish she could do more. She hadn’t had it all her life; she got it when she was 30. I asked her how it started and she said she started having these headaches and dizzy spells. They did various tests and they found that was what she had got.

I used to have to write letters for some of them, if they wanted anything done and they couldn’t write or see to write. I never used to wear spectacles when I first started but one day I was looking for a telephone number for one of them and I found I couldn’t see and my old lady suggested I had my eyes tested. Once you start wearing them, that messes you up. They said at first to wear them just for reading then a year or two later they said I needed bifocals and to wear them all the time. The young ones now they wear these lenses. My daughter does because she works on a computer all day and that affects your eyes. So different life is now, isn’t it?

It was a very physical job. You don’t see them washing the floors today like we used to. In fact, up until about a month ago, I used to do the old lady’s floor. Her son is a lecturer and lives in Norwich. He is a bachelor with his own flat. He says at the weekends he will come to do his mother’s cleaning. Her house is spotless. It’s not modern but it’s lovely and clean.

Rosemary talking to WISEArchive in 2009 in Norwich.

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