Working Lives

From domestic science to homeopathy – an alternative working life (1957-2015)

Location: Norwich

Margaret went to domestic science college after leaving school in 1957, but found her real vocation much later in life in homeopathy which she practiced until retiring in 2015. In between these points her roles have included admin, cleaning, running the pastry side of a restaurant, shop work and ten years as a dental nurse.

I grew up in London and left school in 1957 with seven O Levels. My head mistress asked me what I liked doing and when I said cooking she suggested domestic science college; you did what you were told in those days. I went to the Northern Polytechnic in Holloway Road which is now the University of North London. Over three years I did various City and Guilds training courses in cookery and demonstrating.

When I left I’d had enough of cooking so the job I got was with Hotpoint Limited, demonstrating their washing machines and refrigerators and selling them. I did a bit of cooking for the freezer because freezing was the buzzword then, but selling was the main thing. I had a very smart uniform: a blue jacket and skirt. You’d think they would give you some training in how to sell, but all I remember doing was being sent to the West Ham Co-op and various other places; the only thing they told me was ‘You don’t give people the opportunity to say no. You say “Would you like it in cream or white?”’. I very soon realised that a lot of the people in the West Ham Co-op did not have the money to buy things like that and I certainly wasn’t going to force them to do so. I really didn’t like that side of it at all. This meant my sales figures were very low, but instead of sacking me they actually moved me to their prestige showroom in Oxford Street. This was a huge showroom which had all their different washing machines, refrigerators and things, and then downstairs was a theatre where women would come in and I would demonstrate the products to them. I was very used to public speaking, and the role was showing people the products rather than selling them so I was quite happy and stayed there until about 1962 when I got married.

I’d always wanted to travel. I got the bug off my father who was a signal engineer and worked all over the world. Shortly after getting married I travelled to Pakistan overland with my husband and two friends. This was before the hippie trail and not many people had done it then. They had just graduated as architects and were surprisingly offered work designing the low-cost housing in Islamabad which meant we were out there for 18 months. During this time I had a voluntary position at a girls’ school where I reorganised their library, taught them how to play netball and ran a little café for them in their lunch break. Again this didn’t really involve any cooking as a local woman did that, but I did have to try and stop the girls putting extra chilli powder on everything because they liked to push the boundaries and wanted to have chilli powder till the tears came out of their eyes. We came back in 1964, via Berlin where the wall was still up. Later on in my career as a homeopath I used the remedy Berlin Wall for people who were being affected by oppressive situations. It was interesting that I was there and used the Wall as a remedy.

When I returned to England I had a change and started working as an administrative assistant for the Library Association which was off Tottenham Court Road. I think it’s the story of my life that I’m always doing something different. This job wouldn’t exist now because of computers. It was a library of all the things that librarians would need to set up their libraries. All the pamphlets about chairs and tables, shelving and stationary; I had to collect it, collate it, keep it and find it again when they needed it. I enjoyed the job and it was a very happy time. I left when I became a mum.

In 1971, after separating from my husband, I decided I didn’t want to bring the children up in London and found myself living in Northrepps in North Norfolk. When I came up to Norfolk I hadn’t got a clue where I would live or what I would do, but a theme through my life is that I really tend to trust my intuition and what appears. I rented a little cottage and the children attended the local school. I actually used to wash them in my Hotpoint twin tub washing machine. I’d turn off the electricity and dump them in there and that was a wonderful bath for them. It was a very happy time because what I wanted to do was to be able to let the children run wild a bit. I had a few part-time jobs which fitted in around them. I did some cleaning for the daughter of the owner of a large turkey farm in the village. My cooking experience finally came into play after a while when someone setting up a restaurant heard I used to cook. I ended up running the pastry side of the whole restaurant; doing the sweet trolley and all that sort of thing. The one thing I can’t remember in all these jobs is how much I earned as money wasn’t important to me. I always trusted that I’d have enough and I did. I did things which you think would be lovely to do in the country. I lived the life for a little while and enjoyed it, but I’m actually really a city person.

In 1977 I decided to move into Norwich. When you live in the country you’re just a taxi for your children and I wanted the kids to go to school in Norwich. With my son due to start a new school it seemed the time to make the move. After this I initially went onto benefits which I absolutely hated. I felt like I was standing in a stagnant pool and couldn’t get out. So one day I walked into Mr Wilkinson’s tea and coffee shop in Magdalen Street and said ‘Give me a job’ which was the sort of thing I tended to do. He did and I ended up working there for four years. It wasn’t a café, but a shop selling loose tea and roasted coffee beans. Mr Wilkinson had an immense knowledge of tea blending and coffee roasting and blending, he had done it all over the country. He was a very interesting man. He loved Spanish music and made guitars. He could be very volatile. I remember once my son was helping him with some roasting in the back and happened to put some green beans and roasted beans together. To Mr Wilkinson, that was absolutely the worst thing you could do. He picked up a fistful of notes from the till, opened the back window, threw all the notes into the car park and said ‘You might just as well do that, throw all my money away, when you do things like that!’ which really impressed my son. The saddest thing was that towards the end of his career he was signing over the deeds to the shop and he had a stroke and died at that moment. He must have been in such a state about doing it. I shouldn’t really say this, but I think if he’d still been alive he wouldn’t have been able to not interfere in the business so probably for the people who took it over in a way it was a bit easier. They still run it and it’s still called Wilkinson’s, but they’ve moved to new premises in Lobster Lane.

In 1980 a good friend who was a dentist, Mr David English, came to see me and said strange things like ‘Do you faint at the sight of blood?’ and ‘Are you going to live here for the next ten years?’ He was setting up a dental surgery in St Augustine’s Street and asked if I’d help him to run it. I’d been at Mr Wilkinson’s for quite a time and it obviously wasn’t going to change and develop, so I said yes. So I had another complete change. To start with there were just the two of us, Mr English and myself, running the dental practice; he did the dentistry and I did everything else. I did all the paperwork; I was the receptionist; I was the dental nurse. I did eventually train to become an official dental nurse. I enjoyed it. There was a black sense of humour between David English and myself sometimes. It wasn’t too much at the patients’ expense and I think we got people giggling while they were under anaesthetic with their mouths wide open. I’ve made a lot of friends by holding their hands during dental appointments. Eventually as the practice grew he had other dental nurses in. I was a dental nurse for ten years, from 1980-91, and things really changed in that time, especially around infection control. It was after I left that they started doing things that I never knew about like four-handed dentistry where the nurse hands the dentists all the different instruments without saying anything. Also of course when I was there it was an NHS practice and then it changed to being a private practice. A lot of dentists decided that they couldn’t give the service that they wanted to give under the NHS because they were so limited as to how much they could charge and if you were the type of dentist who wanted to use the best materials and offer the best to your clients you had to change to be private. I don’t think a lot of people realise the difference between dentists and doctors: dentists are self-employed, even the ones who are working in the NHS.

I’d always been interested in alternative medicine. I introduced a friend to homeopathy in a small way and she went on to train to become a homeopath. In 1988 she rang me up and asked me why I didn’t do the same. I said ‘How could I do that? I haven’t got any money and I know the training is expensive’. I was talking to David English about this and he was willing to pay the fees up front and then take it out of my salary over the year. I was able to do a four year part-time training in this way and graduated as a homeopath in 1991. Another friend who had done the training the year before me had a terrible accident and was virtually paralysed from the neck down and unfortunately was never able to practice again so I took on her practice and enough people wanted to see me to get me going and give me a good start. I had thought I was going to work at the dental surgery and gradually change over, but in the end I just stopped being a dental nurse and moved from one to the other and took a chance. I’m glad I did because I think if you have something else that you’re counting on you never put yourself fully into another situation. I don’t like doing two things at once.

Homeopathy was my vocation, my career; at last I got there! As much as it is alternative, it was also a profession and it was about being professional. I didn’t do it any sort of flaky way. I graduated from just being on my own as a practitioner in Norwich to working with a cranial osteopath called Yvonne Ayliffe. We had sent each other patients from time to time, but then we started working together, really together, on the same patient at the same time. Cranial osteopathy is the energy version of osteopathy and homeopathy is an energy medicine as well so the two work together very well. We had a very interesting practice for about five or six years. I was a homeopath for 24 years in total. I was practicing until August 2015. Being me, I decided when I stopped being a homeopath officially, I stopped being a homeopath. A lot of homeopaths carry on treating the odd person here and there and remain very involved in it, but I suddenly realised that I wasn’t out to change the world. As much as I loved it and as much as people told me I was good at it, it was a job and, when I wasn’t earning money at it, it finished.

So now I’m really involved in volunteering with Norwich Credit Union which is very odd because maths and money are not really my thing at all, but it’s not about that. I’m the volunteer manager and I’m about people. I love being part of a team of people, doing something useful for other people. It is my love of people which has been a constant throughout my varied working life.

Margaret Goodyear (b. 1941) was interviewed in Norwich for WISEArchive on 2nd June 2016

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