Caring for People. The Auxiliary Nurse. (2012)

Location : Norfolk

I must admit, I didn’t really enjoy going out to work – it was a means
of earning money but I couldn’t wait to get out of the door. That was really a drudge, in other words, and
tantamount to slave labour because it was what they called ‘piece-work’. At that particular time that was virtually
slave labour. There was no sickness pay,
there was nothing like that – and when you retired there was no pension, or

That was the shoe trade?

That was the shoe trade. Well,
I’m not a political animal, you know, but then Mrs ‘T’ took over and
twenty-eight shoe factories suddenly disappeared plus all the industry left in
Norwich, because we’ve got nothing now.
So it was a good job that I did get out when I did – ‘cos I don’t know
what I would have done!

The ‘young,
chronic sick’ unit

You got out at the right time.

Yes – it’s all Service Industries now, you see.

That’s right. So you started off
– did you start off at Caroline House when it was newly-built, did you say?

I think I was forty-five. That would have been 1978 – so that would make
me forty-six, wouldn’t it.

Yes, if you were born in 1932.
And Caroline House was for young people with disabilities, wasn’t it – I
used to visit there.

The ‘young, chronic sick’ that was called. They were mostly people with terrible
things like Multiple Sclerosis and MS, or some were born with these different
handicaps – and some, unfortunately, were paralysed from the neck downwards as
a result of traffic accidents, you see.
What I liked about it – if you were looking after people who are
completely paralysed and Sister had this rule that we wouldn’t have no sex
discrimination – unless the women objected to you – putting the women in the
bath and this sort of thing – and to get to the point … when you have to
virtually do everything for them … not going into all the gory details … so
that’s the sad part about it. By doing
that you built up a bond between one another and when unfortunately they passed
away that was quite upsetting, really. I
weren’t the only one – we used to get really upset when our people died because
we got so used to looking after them.

I imagine, when Caroline House started, it was quite a unique place?

Well, it was. The reason that was
quite unique was that was called a ‘Younger Chronic Sick Unit’ in that they
wouldn’t have anyone over the age of sixty.
Up until then, some of them poor souls had been bunged into old peoples’
homes, you see – and they withdrew ‘em from different places like that and put
them together so they were all younger people … well, they are – even sixty is
comparatively young, isn’t it? What we
done, was, when we first went there they asked if we would be prepared to
become not only nurses, but friends – and join in the social life. Well, I did – and I driv’ the ambulance –
took men to the races … we had a little card school – we used to go and play crib
in pubs. We also used to take them to
shows, and all that sort of thing. This
ambulance, which I was driving was equipped with stretchers and wheelchairs –
quite a challenge, really.

But very rewarding?

Oh yes – I learnt more about life there than I’ve learned about life since. Some of them, they didn’t have nothing
whatsoever, going for ‘em but they had a wonderful time – they got more out of
life than some able-bodied people.

Really! And I suppose if they had
been in institutions for older people they really kind of went for it and
absolutely loved this kind of opportunity.

A good example of what I mean was … it wasn’t a young chronic sick … but
when I went on the District with the BNA I was working at Aylsham Hospital,
once, and they put this man in – he was about fifty-five or sixty (he’d had a
stroke) in a ward with four men who’d got Alzheimer’s. In the end he discharged
himself, this man. He said, “If I don’t
get out of here I shall go stark raving bonkers, because there’ no-one for me
to talk to.”

So I imagine that some of these people who we looked after were in
similar situations, although they were young.
The youngest one we had was “Lynda”, who was about eleven years old when
she first came to us. She was born with
endless disabilities – but she ended up, more or less, as my surrogate
daughter. That broke my heart when she
died – she died when she was 15 – but she was a lovely little girl, she was … .

Inspirational residents

How did they come to be in chronic care?
Was it because of their illnesses or the level of their disabilities such
that their parents couldn’t manage – or they just needed special care?

Basically that was because … some of them didn’t stay there permanently
– some came for various periods to give their carers, i.e. their husbands or
wives (if they were older) or mothers and fathers, a chance to go on a holiday
and have a break. Now, typical … she’s
the one I shall remember all my life and I’m hoping there is a Great Hereafter and
I will meet her again … Lynda, was a good example. She had to have constant care so, every so
often … (her mother and father both died and all – on top of all these
disabilities!) … her foster parents who were really nice people – used to go
away every so often. So Lynda used to
come to us – and that was what that was really for – to give their long-term
carers (in the case of some, not as husbands or wives or mothers and fathers) a
little break from them. One thing I
learned was that I was there eight or nine hours or whatever – I can come home;
but if you’ve got somebody severely disabled in your house, you can’t just suddenly
switch off and say ‘I’ve done my eight hours, good-bye I’m going out’. So the sole purpose of that place was to give
these people a break. Some had to live
with us permanently because they couldn’t be looked after at home or – well I
didn’t know all the stories – but some people did live here, but they had quite
a lot who were coming and going.

It was a twenty-five bed unit – seventeen permanent and eight coming and
going – four men and four women. That used to change, you see. Although
basically they were the same people, they’d change, to give their relatives a

It sounds fantastic.

Well, it was the biggest thing in my life.

So when you met, for instance, Lynda – and you say she had a big effect
on you – in what way?

Well, the reason that she had an effect on me was that she had a useless
body. All she could do was move her head
and nod it up and down. She couldn’t do
anything else at all! But – she had a brilliant brain; she done sponsored type-in
using a knitting needle in her mouth with a thimble on it. I think she sponsored about two thousand
words – not letters – two thousand words.
She even appeared on television with Esther Rantzen as Disabled Child of
the Year and, as a result of that, she had a chance to go to America – to
Disneyland. Unfortunately she came home
on the Monday and I went in on the Friday morning, I think – and they said
Sister wanted to see me in the office.
She said, “You’d better sit down.
They went to get Lynda up this morning and she’d died in her sleep.” She was coming up to fifteen – but she’d
packed more into her life than some people who live to be eighty and
ninety! She just had that spirit. Heaven only knows what she would have
achieved if she’d been able to walk and to do things like that! Undoubtedly she would have been to University
because she had a brilliant little brain.

Quite an inspiring person!

She was – she is my role model inasmuch as when people, including
myself, start moaning and groaning you just think of little ol’ Lynda. On top of all her disabilities she lost both
her Mum and Dad, they died from cancer, so she was brought up by foster
parents. Mind you, I met them, they were
nice people. When you say foster parents
that’s not a derogatory term – they were very, very nice people; but that isn’t
the point, is it? The point is that she lost both her mother and father, which
is a great tragedy at any time – but for somebody like her … but she rose above
it all.

She sounds amazing.

She was an amazing character, I’ll always remember her – and there isn’t
a day go by what I often think about her.
There were other ones as well, but she was the one – because I never
ever heard her complain. The women didn’t
like her. The reason women didn’t like her was she was very loath to say please
or thank you – she was a bit abrupt when she spoke to you – but I’d already
worked it out in my mind. If you were
paralysed from the neck downwards and you’d lost your Mum and Dad – what had
she got to say please and thank you for?
Not a lot! So that never bothered me. She was a bit gruff, you know.

There were ones and all. But she’s the one I remember above everyone
else. There was other stories as well.
There was young “Peter” – with spina bifida – he learned to drive a car; he learned to
drive a speedboat on the broad, or a yacht … some form of transport on the
broad … and he had a fairly lively mind.
He used liked to have a bet on the horses!

The secret of the success … the
Sister, she told me something I never ever forgot when we first talked: ‘You
just remember – them people have got useless bodies but they are human beings
first. They’ve got all the same things
that you’ve got – but they can’t unfortunately do it. I aren’t supposed to tell you this but’, she
said, ‘ if they swear at you, swear back at ‘em!’ So that’s what I used to do – and there was a
lady called “Jennie” – she died just after I’d left you see, but I went to the
funeral. The mother come to me and she say, ‘”Jennie” absolutely loved you.
When she used to come, she say, “‘It’s R. today. I swore at him and he soon
swore back at me. He weren’t having any of my old squit!” That was what we was
taught to do – treat them as an equal … not just pat them on their head. Some of them auxiliaries on the ward, they
used to make my stomach heave – they’d say of some old man who was in there …
he’d perhaps got family and grand-children … ‘Hello my sweetheart; hello my
darling’. I thought oh, come on! You’d never hear me say that.

Yes – it’s an attitude, isn’t it?

Yes – I mean heaven forbid if I had to go in. I don’t want some silly young girl who could
be my grand-daughter calling me her sweetheart – ‘cos that’s patronising, you

It is – very!

The most valuable thing that the Sisters learnt me was that inside them
useless bodies there are human beings trying to get out. They are the same as everybody else. Mind you, she did have to sort of brief me,
that if they swore at you, you give as good as you get – that there is a way of
doing it. That wa’nt done in a nasty sort of way – and it usually ended up
where we was laughing.

I do know what you mean – you don’t want to get into a sort of
aggressive way, or dominating.

You obviously can’t do that until you know the person concerned – but
having said that, when I was on the District, I worked on a ward (that was at
the old Norfolk and Norwich) there was a young girl about twenty – I thought,
you’ve got Multiple Sclerosis, I bet you have – and every time I went past she
had a cup. So I went over and said, ‘Do
you want a hand with a drink?’ So I held
the cup while she drink – and I said to her.
‘Excuse me, can I ask you … you’ve got Multiple Sclerosis, haven’t
you?’ So she said ‘Yes’. So I said ‘I bet you’re a pain in the
backside … they all are!’ She laughed –
and when dinner time came … it’s a wonderful memory … I said to Sister – ‘I
h’ent got nothing to do, can I go and look after that young lady – she’s got
Multiple Sclerosis. She obviously wants somebody to feed her and I’ve done
twenty years looking after people.
‘Yes.’ She say So I got over, and
pulled a chair up and took her plate for her and asked, ‘Do you want me to gi’
you your dinner?’. She gradually moved
her hand and she managed to get it on top of mine (I’ll never forget what she
said) and she said ‘I love you.’ ‘What
do you mean?’ I said. ‘You’re the first
person since I’ve been here who treat me like a human being,’, she said. I thought it was a really good compliment
really – that was only because said to her, ‘I bet you’re a pain in the
backside like they all are!

Yes – that is quite a compliment – and it’s a shame that they don’t
always have the time to do more in hospital.

But I don’t want you to get the impression that I’m a right bighead –
because there was other people like me.
My friend E. – they thought the world of E., cos he was a bit like
me. Some of the women as well. They weren’t all … but there were some who
should never have been in the job. I can think of about three what worked here what
never should have been in it. Absolutely useless they were.

the job training!

So, when you started there, did you get a lot of training, or did you
learn it all as you went … learnt it by doing it?

That’s right – now they’ve got all this wretched paperwork. At the time, all I had was a week at the
Norfolk and Norwich and then chucked in at the deep end. But knowing the National Health Service …Caroline
House was supposed to be opened in, well I can’t remember exactly, but they
postponed it for three months. So there was all us people brought together who
had been trained to look after elderly people – and we all suddenly got posted
to different places. This was after a
week. The old West Norwich, which used
to be the old isolation hospital and I got put on an old people’s ward
there. That was run on strict terms –
the old-fashioned way. The Sister never
left her office; everybody used to be called Mr and Mrs, including the
patients. Although the patients would
often say my name is Billy, and call me Billy … when she weren’t there we would
call him Billy – but when she was there it had to be Mr and Mrs, you see. Well, I’d only been there two days … and you
talk about training … and this bloke’s wife was there and if someone had had an
accident in bed he’d call me over and I’d just say ‘excuse me … would you mind
if I just made your husband comfortable?’
That’s what we used to say. So I put my arm round his shoulders to lift
his head off the pillow … and he collapsed and died there and then! I’ll never forget that as long as I
live! I laid him down. His missus still sat there. I said, ‘I shan’t be long – I’ll just go and get
someone’. So I went to Sister and she
said, ‘Yes, Mr W?’ I said ‘Can you come and see Mr So-and so … he’s died.’ ‘Died?’ she said. ‘He didn’t come here to die!’ I said ‘I don’t care what he’s come here for
– he’s dead!’

She didn’t believe me! So she come storming back with me. We went behind the curtains and she said,
‘You’re right, Mr W. Carry on with your
work and I’ll sort it out from there’.
With that I went. Well, after
about ten minutes to quarter of an hour, I heard this woman scream, and I
thought I bet that Sister’s now told this woman that her husband’s dead. That was the old mentality, you see.

When we went to Caroline House it was more informal. You obviously didn’t call Sister by her
Christian name, although some of them did.
Her name was P. – but I always called her Sister – but this other old
lady was a cross between Genghis Khan, Florence Nightingale and Edith Cavell…
The ‘old school’.

Yes – the ‘old school’!

What I could never understand about her was (I dare say she was one of a
thousand) – she knew everything what was going on in that ward – and yet she
hardly left that office all day long!

Had her own CCTV in her brain! So really, Caroline House was breaking
new ground – doing things in a different way.

There was a big feature in the Evening News which I cut out and kept. Me
and E., the other male nurse – there was only us two. He went in the mornings – so he had all the
glory and his photo in the paper – and I done the first shift in the afternoon
– and they had a big spread about how that was unique because it was all young
people with chronic disabilities and that – and they were going to give them,
more or less, an informal life. That was
what we’d done. That was one of the
conditions of employment. When you went
for an interview they said that we want someone who would enter into the social
life and become friends, not just nursing – and that’s what we decided to do. When this opportunity came along for me to
learn to drive the ambulance I went on a course. I say course – it was a couple of days – that
was learning how to the use the hoist and everything – and then we used to go
out for social events. The highlights
used to be going to Yarmouth races; the Norfolk Show – or somewhere like
that. Perhaps the women would go out on
their own one night, and the men would go on their own.

And you enjoyed that side of it?

Yes – that was brilliant. I could
write a book on some of the stories – for instance there was one lady there …
she was a really good looking lady! She
was very prim and proper and when you used to look after her. (Her surname was
the same as mine.) Cos that was a standing joke, we could run away together and
sign in! I used to go in her room, fling
the wardrobe doors open so she could pick what she wanted to wear … that’s
another thing – you don’t just went and bung people’s clothes on – you
asked. Not so much the men, but the
women. At any rate, she was so prim and
proper – well they wanted to go and see … what was that troop of men,
striptease, they were American.

The Chippendales?

The Chippendales – they wanted to go and see the Chippendales. There was
about three of them – so I said I’d take them but I said I wasn’t going in
there. I said that I’d come up to take
them there; come back to the hospital and then I’ll go back to pick them
up. So she went. Well, there was a photo in the paper with
these Chippendales and these women and one of them came about two days
afterwards … and he had right long hair.
Now, if you can envisage someone sitting in a wheelchair … well he
went up to this young woman and he put his arms at the back and he kissed her
on the cheek. Two or three days
afterwards she complained of an itchy head – and to cut a long story short …
she’d got nits! She went absolutely
spare. She said me – ‘Never am I going
to see them blasted Chippendales again!’ Mind you – fair dos to them blokes – it wasn’t
like she got leprosy or the plague!
That was so funny. We know that
was them – he was the only one what come – and he went to speak to three of ‘em
but unfortunately (or fortunately) … they had their hair inspected as well …
but they were alright. It must have
jumped from his to hers! It couldn’t
have happened to someone more proper, she was like that. I’ve got a photo
somewhere that they gave me when she died. When she was up and about she really
was a lovely lady there’s no doubt about it … but she had to have everything
so-so … prim and proper.

Just so – which is fair enough.
Did some of the people there gradually improve, or were they all
more-or-less on a level, or deteriorate?

They all deteriorated – they all died.


They were all gradually going downhill.
The worst crippling thing is Multiple Sclerosis. The worst one was a young lady – there again
she was a young lady – “Annie” her name was.
She came to us when she was twenty-three. She’d been trained as a
chemist … she’d got a job at the Norfolk and Norwich in the Chemistry
Department … and for some unknown reason she gradually slowed down. They discovered that she’d got Multiple
Sclerosis. Now, when she got to us she
was then paralysed from the neck downwards and she was an epileptic as
well. Gradually she lost the power of
speech and her eyesight as well. The
only thing she could do was hear. And her Mum and Dad went on holiday. They left strict instructions that if she had
a fit that they weren’t to resuscitate her – but that’s what happened … someone
resuscitated her – and for the last eight years of her life (she was about
thirty-two when she died) she was blind, paralysed and dumb. All she had was her hearing – but I could
make her laugh! I used to call myself
the ‘old man’. I would say ‘In that
scrub tub you’re going …’ – and she would laugh. I was quite proud when her Mum and Dad used to
say they always knew when I’d looked after her because I used to make sure she
had her hair combed and everything – but she was a really nice person. Unfortunately she couldn’t communicate with
you, you see – she couldn’t even stretch forward and hold your hand … or
anything … and one of the saddest things (getting back to what I was saying)
was that they had a couple of visiting auxiliaries from another hospital … and
they came out of her room one day and they said ‘Someone says you know “Annie” – we don’t know
what’s wrong with her … she’s crying.’ I
said ‘I know what’s wrong – I bet you was talking over her head about what you
done last night. You went out.’ They said, ‘Yeah’. I said, ‘You shouldn’t do
that because she can hear you, she can’t tell you.’ A young girl her age (she was about thirty) –
she would have been out night-clubbing so a strict rule was you do not talk
over people’s heads!

That’s a good point. Common sense
really. They didn’t think!

Of course they didn’t do it to be vicious – they just done it … they
were cocky young girls, and they were saying ‘We done this and the other’, and
she started crying. I happened to come
past and they said, ‘Will come and find out what’s wrong with Annie?’ I said,
‘Before I go in, can I say something?’ I said, ‘You were talking about what you
done last night. You mustn’t do that when you’re with Annie. ‘Cos she can’t
speak to you, but she can hear you, and she can’t even see you. And not only
that we assume that she wasn’t exactly stupid even though she couldn’t
communicate with you.’ So that’s another lesson you have to learn, you mustn’t
talk over anybody.

Did you find that working in that sort of place affected you? After a while, with people deteriorating and
some … well all of them gradually died … did you find that it had an effect on

Well, in one respect. I go to
Church, and I believe what I believe … whether that’s conventional or not. I would have thought, seeing what I see, that
I might think that nobody looks after you – but that didn’t have that effect on
me. It reinforced my beliefs more than
ever – especially when Lynda died. The
first thing that came in my mind when Sister told me was ‘Lynda … I don’t know
where you are but it’s got to be better than what you had down here!’ That was my philosophy. I could never feel …. I felt sorry … but
somehow or other that they’d done all that in vain. That’s my philosophy.
Whether I’m right or wrong. Some people might think I’m a bit of a nutter, but
I like to think that one day, in the great hereafter, that I’ll meet all them
again. Having said that, there are one or two I don’t particularly want to meet
again – because they weren’t all nice, you know.

… and some less inspirational!

Well, exactly! They are a cross-section of society, really, aren’t they?

The ones I have spoken about were really nice people, but there were one
or two … no thank you. In fact there was
two of them that if there is justice, maybe they got their just rewards.

Did any of them have problems with behaviour because of their illnesses
– that meant they might lash out or be a bit violent?

I’m not saying they didn’t – but I never came across it. I’ve had ’em swear at me, but because of my
philosophy I’d swear back at them – but I never had anyone be really nasty or
vicious, you know. For example, they
used to bring the teas around and then we had to give them the tea. One bloke complained ‘My tea is cold’. I told him that as a matter of fact that
i’nt. I said, ‘That had been outside your door and when I go to bring it in
that was stone cold so I got a fresh one. I said, ‘You can do one of two things
– you can either chuck it over me or drink it, but I’m not prepared to be spoke
to like that – and walked out and left
him. At any rate he rang his bell and I
went back and he apologised.

Good – so it sounds like it was a job you really took to.

I didn’t really want to leave at sixty-five.

So if you stayed until you were sixty-five you were there a long time!

At that time you had to go. I did
ask to stay on but they wouldn’t let me. If I’d been sixty-five now – with that
record of not being sick and all that sort of thing … chances are that I could
have stayed on – but at that time there was a cut-off point and that was
it. In fact that worked both ways – they
got rid of people they didn’t really want to lose and they got lumbered with people
they really wanted to get rid of! They
weren’t all angels – and I must admit (as I said before) I met one or two – how
they ever got the job I don’t know!

Hmm – not quite so suited to it, but they were there.

But, you see, if you go into … perhaps it was a good job I did come into
it later in life because I’d brought a family up and I know what it was
like. I’d seen sickness in my own family
and things like that – so it wasn’t completely new to me. For someone coming of the street at the age of
19, having had a comparatively sheltered life though, it must have been a big
shock. It was a shock to me to see them
together en masse – because you wouldn’t ordinarily see twenty people together. We used to go down to the dining room, we
used to have this community thing where they all met up and that – but as I say, although I never had no
problems, it is quite a shock.

As you say, having brought up a family and known about illness and life
… I think that’s a big thing.

You had all the ups and downs when your children are ill … I’ve had
people die in the family and things like that

So you’ve got a certain kind of outlook and certain experience, which
means you know what’s what and have a perspective on life and death.

I think, from what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen … there’s too much
emphasis on bits of stupid paper. You
have to do this, that and the other …

Did you have a lot of paperwork?

No. Because you were what they
called auxiliaries, you virtually just did your job. Alright … towards the end that started to
creep in … they wanted me to upgrade, but I turned it down. I wasn’t going to get any extra pay and I was
quite frank with Sister. I said, ‘No,
I’m not going to do it. I’ll be doing jobs that they were getting well paid for
and they’d foist em on me. Unless I get extra money I’m not going to do it.’
‘Cos there weren’t no extra money involved. I refused to do it. I think there
is [extra money] now, but at that time there wasn’t. One of the basic examples, I could have gone
and done the medicines, you see. I didn’t want that. Another good example,
these people were paralysed and they brought the stupid rule in that these
people were what they called self-medicating – in other words they could take
their own medicine … but if they were
paralysed, they couldn’t. I fought that to the bitter end – I was the last one
to give in. I refused to do it. I said no.
I said that if someone was paralysed from the neck downwards … I don’t
know what’s in them bottles. Someone
make a mistake with a bottle and put the wrong stuff in … I’m going to carry
the can, not them – so until I get some sort of written proof that I’m not
going to be held responsible for anything … well, to cut a long story short –
after fighting them for six or seven weeks, I had that written in my terms of
reference that I was not responsible for the contents of the bottle. All I was responsible for was to see what the
label said – but it has been known for the wrong thing to be in the bottle and
if you are a trained nurse you most probably would know – so that was then
creeping in. But I think now that’s a minefield, the paperwork, but we didn’t
have that.

You just did your job, didn’t you.

Well, we basically were auxiliary nurses. In fact, what we done was all the basic stuff
– i.e. keeping them clean, feeding them and also doing the last rites – in
other words laying them out when they were dead. We was lesser mortals than our trained

Do you think that if you’d started in that line earlier you would have
liked to have trained as a nurse?

Yes, I think I would have done.

Do you think you would have been good at it?

I think I would. Without blowing
me own trumpet … the reason I think I would be good at it was because I had the
right attitude to it and I loved all my people –even the ones I didn’t
like! It’s difficult to understand but
you can love somebody without liking them.
My oldest boy – you see, I’m quite proud of him. He went … he’s now a lecturer on Nursing at
University. He went in the mental
section – but he didn’t have any qualifications … no ‘A’ levels or anything …
he learned on the job… I suppose I
could have done, but I turned it down because of the simple reason that I had a
family and I said if I was going to take extra responsibilities, I want extra
money, but at that particular time they wouldn’t pay it. I think that has changed now, but at that
particular time, no. If you became what
they called ‘B’, you had added responsibility but you didn’t get any extra
money for it. It wasn’t the fact of being mercenary, but I thought that was
right, you see.

So, just to round things off … do you take a lot of mixed memories of
that time? You must have met so many
people – and different types of people!

Oh yes – I often lay in bed sometimes and think of the people. If I told some of the things you would never
believe it, but it is true! That was a really
eye-opening experience.

I bet – it was a side of life that most of us know nothing about … and
don’t want to know anything about, really.

I think one of the most depressing things was after I retired, I went to
a place just outside Attleborough. I
can’t remember what it is called. There were sixteen people there. It was
called Osborne House and I went once. I
refused to go again – not because of anything that particularly happened, or
people being nasty, but they had sixteen old people there, they’d all got
Alzheimer’s. You couldn’t believe, that
was just like Bedlam that was – and towards the end of the day you’d think you
was going crazy. One of the things that
really upset me … why I didn’t want to go back again … was that they used to
have a communal meal, you see, (well, I only worked there one day) and we took
them down for morning coffee and they came back again about one o’clock. Then we took them in for tea, and then of
course we left off. When you took them
back to their rooms they had all these photos of their husbands, their wives or
children – and they hadn’t got a clue who they were. They kept repeating themselves over and over
again – the same question. That’s bad
enough when you just do one – but to get sixteen people all the same … in the
end I came home and I really was absolutely devastated. The next day I said I was never going to go
there again – and deep down inside there was one thing what bothered me, I
could end up the same way! You know the
saying … ‘there but for the grace of God’ … so I couldn’t cope with that. Now my boy worked with the mentally
handicapped and mentally disabled – but it weren’t my cup of tea.

That’s quite interesting – that one person can …

Now I don’t mean I enjoyed it, but you give me someone who’s dying and I
know what to do … but give me someone who is with Alzheimer’s and I’m
sympathetic, but I just can’t cope with it.
Just not my cup of tea…

But my boy, as I say, he’s now a qualified lecturer. He’s just come back from Malawi teaching
[members of] the native population to look after the mentally ill and I’m quite
proud of him because he did it all through in-house training. He didn’t go to University or things like
that and he’s got a damn good job! Now,
I couldn’t have done that … if they had asked me to go – that opened after we
did – you know, Priscilla Bacon? If they’d asked me to go and work there I
would have willingly gone there, because it was all full of people – well they
wouldn’t take you in unless you were dying, at that particular time.

I think they vary it a bit now. I did work over there twice and I felt
quite at home there. I just got one big
shock – there was a young girl about 17.
They were mostly older people, and she used to come across to C. because
we were all youngsters to join in with us and when I used to take them out I
used to send over and ask did she want to go.
I forget her name – she was only 17 or 18. Any rate, they asked me one
night if I would go over to do a night shift as they were short-handed. I said yes.
So I went, and this bell rang and I went in … well, I came out I cried. I didn’t know, but she didn’t have no hair at
all … ‘cos she’d got cancer and she had this wig on … she had an Afro wig so
you wouldn’t know the difference … so when I see her, my heart bled for her.
She was dead by the time she was eighteen!
Pretty young thing, she was – now I could have coped with that in as
much as if I worked there – but …

… but not mentally disabled. It
is interesting.

Yes – the sudden shock of seeing this girl of about seventeen with no
hair or make-up – that shook me rigid, that did. She was an orphan, actually – a Dr Barnardo’s
girl. Apparently, the story was that she
went out to work when she was sixteen and she wasn’t exactly very good at the
job and they thought she was ‘swinging the lead’ – but to cut a long story
short, she went to the doctor and discovered that she’d got an incurable cancer
– of the blood. She went in there and
was only seventeen/eighteen when she died – I knew her about a year.

It was nice to talk about Caroline House, because years ago I used to
work for Social Services and I used to visit there. That was in the early 80s,
and it always struck me as a lovely place with a lovely atmosphere.

That was the whole purpose of it – to try and build up what they called
a family atmosphere and make it as informal as possible, with everyone on
Christian name terms.

None of this ‘stand by your beds’ while Matron came round.

Well, this old Matron did, when the doctors were coming round for
inspection they did have to stand at the end of the beds – and one of them got
really upset. Standing there, and
starting to cry – but I think that was because he felt a bit humiliated. He was an old man there in his pyjamas and he
wasn’t too happy about it – but that was the old regimentation.

The old way, yes.

When I was in hospital myself – when I was about 19 in the RAF – only
for about a fortnight. We used to have
to do that – get out of bed if you could get out of bed and stand by the end of
your bed – but this was all informal.
The doctors used to call them by their Christian names; we used to call
the doctors by their Christian names as well!
I’ve been out for a drink with a couple of them so it generated this
family atmosphere.

Conducting the Norwich Pops

Can I just ask you, before I go, about that photograph of you

Oh yes – that was when I conducted the Norwich Pops Orchestra – a
Symphony Orchestra that played popular music.
One of my many interests is music, and some of the music I like is what
they call light music. There was an old conductor called Arthur Fiedler who
founded the Boston Pops. And this is based on an orchestra called the Norwich
Pops. They play orchestral arrangements
of popular music. […] They run a
contest for someone to conduct an orchestra, and I entered it and I won it and
I’ve got a CD with my name on it – saying guest conductor R.W!

That was taken at rehearsal. When I actually conducted I had a bow tie
on. This is what it was based on Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops who dies in
1979 he was the best part of 90. He founded this orchestra. What they done was
symphonic arrangements of pop music. … The Norwich Pops orchestra is very
very similar. They held a contest for people to conduct it. I went into it and
one it and conducted a public performance.


I’ve worked in Colmans, I’ve worked on a milk round, I’ve worked in a
shoe factory, I’ve worked in a market garden. I’ve done anything to earn a bob
or two. The most important part of my life was those 20 years I done at Caroline.
They are years I will never ever forget. That was real eye-opener for me.

The thing I liked about that was – every day was slightly
different. Not like the routine standing
at a bench all day; doing a repetitive thing day after day after day – which
you did in the shoe trade – but there was always something come up. Something different. Nowhere near stuff as dramatic as all this
rubbish on the telly – they have more dramas in one week than I had in thirty
years o’ nursing, but what I’m saying is that you met different people and that
sort of thing, and there was always something.

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