From art to occupational therapy. Part 1.

Location : Norwich; Hellesdon; London; Diss; Braintree

Can you tell me your place of birth and your date of birth?

I was born at Snaresbrook just outside London on the 21st of April 1946.

And where did you go to school?

In Woodford Green which is nearby, to the County High school for "Gals".

Did you have to get the 11+ for that?


And you did get it. So you're clever!

I was a clever girl, but it was a horrible school. Anyway, never mind.

Did you have siblings?

Yes. One brother and one sister, both younger than me.

Did they go to the Grammar School as well?

My brother went to the local … it was a Public School, which the poor boy struggled with a bit and my sister didn't pass the 11+ and she went to a local Secondary Modern.

So Public School meaning that your parents paid for that?

No, he got a scholarship to it. We didn't have to pay.

So one at Secondary Modern, one at Grammar and one at Public School. And did you come out with different academic qualifications because of that?

No I think we all came out with about the same, rather pathetic … Well, [my sister] didn't do A levels, she did her GCEs …or might have done something else. But she went on to the local Tech where she did secretarial training and ended up with a much better job than either my brother or I at that time. [My brother] got a couple of A levels, I got A level Art and A level Geography and I went to the local Technological College to do an Art Foundation Course, and my brother did exactly the same as me.

And has he followed that doing an Art type employment?

He now does landscape architecture. He had to go and do that separately after years of working for a builder and stuff.

And what about your parents? What did they do?

Dad was a bank manager and Mum worked part time in a local Estate Agent. She was a secretary.

Can you remember what your very first job was and how old you were?

My very first job was a part time job when I was 18 and I'd just finished A levels. I had a job in a local College … sorry, the Hall of Residence for one of the London University Colleges who had foreign students in the summer holidays, and my job was making scones and providing afternoon tea for the foreign students. And then, after a week of doing that quite happily the staff had a row with the housekeeper and me and a friend of mine had to help the housekeeper clean and provide three meals a day for the students. It was one of the best jobs I've ever had!

Did you get much more money for doing the extra stuff?

I can't really remember. I only earned about £10 a week. That was usually what you earnt.

Can you remember how you heard about that job in the first place?

It was an advert in the local paper.

And you were still living …?

I was living at home with my parents, yes. In Woodford Green.

And you didn't have to get any training for that? It was just a holiday job?

No, it was just a holiday … As long as you could make scones and make a cup of tea you were alright (laughs) And clean …

And she was nice to you, was she?

Yes, yes.

Art College and holiday jobs

So then what happened after that?

I went to Art College and then for the next three years I did holiday jobs like working in an Insurance Office, working in a factory … it was Ponds Cosmetics factory. One of my jobs was putting tops on Go Deodorant, another was weighing out by hand the tins for Rinstead pastilles, or laying them out on an old table, very much like this wooden table. We laid out all the tins, we had an old-fashioned pair of scales, we put greaseproof paper liners in all the tins, all by hand, and weighed out by hand however many ounces were meant to go in the tin, then with a big old scoop thing scooped it all into the tins, put the lids on and stuck them up and put them in cardboard boxes. Used to spend like a couple of days doing that and then we'd go on to … The other funny thing they made was talcum powder for Africa that was brown talcum powder. It wasn't white. The weirdest things we did in that factory.

What did you do with the brown talcum powder?

We just … I don't know what they were doing. I never worked on the brown talcum powder. Someone just said "look, this is brown talcum powder for Africa" and shook it out and it was brown. They were probably packing it, being filled and just packing it in the boxes.

And you just did that over the holidays?

That was just another holiday job. Another holiday job was Lesneys' Matchbox Toys, which I left because I'd been a bit harassed and in fact being a student it wasn't always easy in factories, they took the mickey out of you. They took the mickey out of my sandals and held their noses and said they could smell cheese. And I was put on the end of a line of … they tipped all the metal pieces of matchbox toys, like all the little doors and bonnets and bits of the cars, and they tipped them out onto this belt that was going down, and I was put at the bottom of it so the stuff all piles up on it. And you had two biscuits tins and you had to put boots in one and doors in another of this stuff that was all over … and they were obviously doing it very quickly, and I just had this mountain of stuff, and it just used to all pile up and then start going on the floor. And they'd all be shouting at me and telling me to get a move on……

So it was horrible!

And then because I was so useless at that I was put on loading a lorry with tins … these square biscuit tins full of all the parts and we had to load them onto a lorry. And I suddenly realised I was the only one doing it, everyone else was standing around, so I literally walked off and never worked there again. That was my little stand!

Good for you! Can you remember how much money you got for that?

Somewhere between ten and fifteen pound a week.

Did you have to clock in and clock out?

Yes, yes.

And get a wage packet in a bag?

Yes, yes. A little paper bag, yes.

Did they have a canteen?

No, they didn't have a canteen. I don't remember a canteen, no, it was all packed lunches and stuff. Yeah, I remember having a packed lunch. They must have given us a drink but I can't remember …

It wasn't very nice.

No, it was very unpleasant. Very unpleasant.

OK, so they were your holiday jobs, and then after you finished at Art College .. . ?

After I finished at Art College I got a job in a shop in London near the British Museum in John Adams Street which was called Dryads, and Dryads supply art and craft material to hospitals and schools. You can still buy them on e-bay actually. I don't think the actual company's going any more, but they sell stuff for every craft you can imagine. I mean cane for chairs, all the stuff for making rugs, all the weird stuff for doing marbling for book binding and gold leaf, leather for book binding and all embroidery stuff. Judi Dench was one of the customers, she used to buy embroidery stuff, and I'd be very nervous trying to cut this embroidery fabric.

Did she come into the shop?

She came into the shop, yes.

Was she nice?

She was really lovely, and said "Oh don't worry if you go crooked. That's all right. I'm only using some of it."

Are they still going, do you know?

The shop isn't there any more, and I don't think the company are going any more, but I was looking for something … .because they used to sell looms, and I was looking for Dryad looms and you can get them on eBay.

Occupational therapy in the psychiatric hospital

So how long did you work there for?

Oh, only from September to Christmas because I'd been offered another job working in an old mental hospital, a big psychiatric hospital that my mum used to go and visit patients there. It was very sad. It was in Woodford Bridge, which is outside London. It was in Essex and the patients who'd been put in there were all people from the Tottenham area of London, right from many miles away, not on a direct bus route. So people had been put in there to be forgotten basically, and most people in those days … I mean I used to have to cycle there … most people went there by bus. This was in 1967 … 68.

How old were you then?

I was 22. I was 21 when I started working there, because I was 22 in the April. I started working in the January. And people had been there all their lives. I mean there were old ladies there in their 70s who, on their notes, had "adolescence" as their reason for being admitted. Also there were under age … girls who'd got pregnant under the age of 16. They'd been put in there, had the baby taken away and then shoved in a mental hospital.

And it didn't seem like there was anything else particularly wrong with them other than they'd just had this baby?

"Adolescence" or had the baby, yes. Well if they'd had a baby and were under 16 they were obviously in need of moral welfare, so …

And do you know how many patients would have been there?

I think roundabout a thousand if not more. And there was one very sad man. He used to frighten people. Whose mother had had syphilis, so he'd been born very deformed and mentally affected, and he had a very misshapen face. He looked really quite scarily ugly, and he always used to hang around the entrance, and he used to frighten the life out of me when I used to first go there. And then I realised he was very harmless and very friendly.

And what was your job there, what did you do?

I worked in the Art and Pottery department. There was an Occupational Therapy department. In those days it was a separate building away from the hospital, this bit, although there were other Occupational Therapists on the Admission Wards. I think there were about three different Admission Wards. But I was in the Occupational Therapy department in the grounds, and the grounds were big. There had been a farm there but that just fizzled out while I was working there. So, massive grounds and the patients had to walk across about a five minute walk to go to OT and it was always coming over to our department, except one morning we had in one of the Admission Wards. Everyone else, was long term patients who'd been there for years and years and years. One of the closed wards, the ladies came over, accompanied by warder-looking nurses with keys jangling from their belts, and they used to sort of lope across with their arms going like that …

Were the nurses males and females?

Always female with the female patients, and they were single sex wards except for the Admission Wards. But it was to provide meaningful employment or meaningful activity for the patients, and also to get them out of the nurses' hair. It stopped the boredom because the poor souls were in these wards in this hospital, day in, day out, year in, year out, and they came to me for doing art work or pottery. But we used to do things with slip. We had slipware moulds so you'd have molten clay and you'd pour it into the inevitable ashtrays, teardrop shape ashtrays and other squarer ashtrays, but the teardrop ones were the favourites. They'd be up on the wards and they'd get broken so there was always a need for a constant supply of those. And we used to do slipware decoration by putting something in and then putting another colour over the top.

So you didn't make the actual clay things?

Yes, we baked them, we did them all. We had a kiln and did a firing once a week and we had a wheel, and some patients did stuff on the wheel. And we also did slab pots where you roll it out and you cut out the shapes and stick them together with wet clay. And pinch pots where you have a ball of clay and stick your thumb in and work round and round and round. Which is very therapeutic, just sitting there, and then the rolling out, doing coil pots. Coil pots – I had a beautiful coil pot for ages that one of the patients had made, and they really liked doing it. Doing those repetitive movements was quite sort of soothing, and it was easy, and if it collapsed it didn't matter, you just started rolling out again.

And there'd just be you and the other OT there at the same time?

And the other OT and the nurses would stay if nurses came down with them. Nurses always did come with the patients.

How many patients would be there at a time?

Mmm… we used to have groups sometimes of about 15. Quite a lot. Used to be perhaps 20.

And did you form relationships with them? Did you get to know the patients?

Yes, we got very friendly with some of them. And we also used to do the art work. Up the corridor, the OT department there had a metalwork shop, a woodwork shop, industrial packing shop, … I think there was another one… a Christmas cracker factory. Now all these wonderful places had waste materials and I used to go round and skive waste materials, and we had big oblongs with circles cut out, or cellophane things, and we used to make mobiles, ‘cos this was the 60s and mobiles were very popular. We used to make these wonderful mobiles with these off-cut things. And then we used to do fabric printing. It was the days of hessian and we bought loads of hessian, cut them into oblongs, fringed the edges and printed lino block prints for place mats or things for the wards. So we did lots of that.

And did lots of the patients keep their own stuff and like it in their own … ?

Yes they did. They did. They particularly liked doing the printed place mats, and I've got a feeling, ‘cos we did it with some ladies who were shorter stay and were going … they were more doing a rehab thing … and I think one or two of them took some of those home.

We did paper maché fish — – there's one over there that I did at Hellesdon. You just papier maché over balloons to make a fish, and then we did lots of tissue paper triangles stuck round to make fins.

So you never went into the hospital? You never worked there? Always you worked at this … ?

I always worked in this separate bit in the grounds. There were other Occupational therapists who did activities on the wards.

Can you remember how much you got paid?

That was a princely sum of something like £14 a week.

And at that time were you quite pleased with that?

I was very pleased with that. And I also started an Art Club that happened in the evenings. Thursday evenings people used to come round and do their own work, and above the clock there, that picture there, was this wonderful lady called B.G. who looked like an old-fashioned school teacher, she looked like something out of Miss Marple, and I think she had "adolescence" on her reason for being admitted, and she was well into her 70s when I saw her. And she used to go off every day with her little artist's box and her easel and she went all the way down to Southend to do that. On the bus.

Did the patients sometimes leave the hospital on their own to do things like that?

She did … one or two of them did, yes. And F, the weird looking bloke, he used to go down to the village and buy fags and that sort of thing. Certain ones were able to go, were allowed to go out.

And did they provide canteens and things for the workers?

There was a canteen there, yes there was. There was quite a nice canteen in Hellesdon, because it provided the nurses proper meals and tea and stuff. And the patients used to go in there as well.

Weaving technician

I worked there for two years and then I went on to Hornsey Art College to work as a weaving technician at Tottenham. And then the School moved to Cockfosters. It was the Middlesex Polytechnic, it turned into the Middlesex Polytechnic.

Are there still weaving technicians these days?

I don't know because I haven't had anything to do … I know they have technicians in schools, so presumably they would have to because we used to manage all the stock and order all the, like, yarns, and thread up the looms, because the students were always too busy doing other stuff. And one holiday I had to weave a load of silk, a whole length of very fine silk, beautiful colours, and somewhere I've still got the ends of the thing that I made and plaited. It was brightly coloured silk, sort of check, but very fine and we did it on a Jacquard loom which was quite complicated to thread up.

And did you do weaving at the Art College?

Yes, I had done woven textile design at Art College, so I was quite well placed to be a weaving technician. But then we had a man from Yorkshire, from the mills in Yorkshire, came down to be, sort of, Head technician, to work the Jacquard loom because that was beyond me. That was punch cards and like a sort of basic computer thing. And he knew how to do all that. But I could thread up looms and order stuff, and know the difference between the different thicknesses of thread.

So, did you enjoy that?

It was brilliant! And I worked there for about three years until I saved up enough money to go travelling and then I went off.

Adventures in South America

How long did you go travelling for?

Only six months – to South America.

On your own?

Yes. Well, I went on my own, and I went to stay with a friend in Argentina.

Who you already knew?

My old friend [C.] from Woodford County High School for "Gals". She'd gone off there, and then her sister was there as well, so her sister and I travelled ‘cos C. was teaching English. She still lives over there, teaching English.

And was that a good experience?

That was great fun. It was quite scary in places, but the best thing about it was going out by sea. I went on a French passenger liner, and they don't have those any more. They don't have passenger liners any more, do they? You can occasionally buy a ticket to go on a cargo ship, but this was a passenger liner that also carried cargo. It wasn't one of those awful cruise chips. It was only about two storeys – upstairs was the first class and then it was the level with the swimming pools and stuff, and that was our deck, the hoi polloi. And I think we had to go downstairs for the dining part, the restaurant bit.

How long did it take you to get there?

Over three weeks. And we had the crossing the line ceremony and all the rest of it.

Were you seasick?

No, not at all. It wasn't rough going out there and I wasn't at all sick … but coming back one of the stabilisers went and it was quite rocky when I woke up, and I thought "Ooh it's tipping a bit", and we were going through the Bay of Biscay, of course. And went down to breakfast and there were only about four people in the restaurant car, all of whom were English. All the foreigners were doing a dying duck act! (laughs) So again it was only English people for lunch, and I think … a few of them started staggering out looking rather grey and ill. But I wanted to go up on the deck because I love being out on the deck when it's rough, but they wouldn't allow me because it was too rough and they were frightened of me being swept over. It was lurching in a weird one-sided way and there were waves going all over the deck.

Can you remember how much your passage cost at all?

That was … because I had to get an open return … It was round about … it was less than £400, it was £300 and something, return. Return. And you got, obviously, all your food and your wine with your meals.

And was it good food?

It was fantastic French food in beautiful … First time I'd had sort of like umpteen courses, I don't know, five course meals. And things like Brie and Camembert that I hadn't really ever eaten before. ‘Cos this was in 1971, and I hadn't eaten Brie and Camembert … I don't know. I know I was very, very interested in all this gorgeous cheese.

And in South America where did you stay there?

I stayed with my friend's brother when I first arrived and then with my friend in Argentina, and then, when we started travelling round, we stayed in cheap hotels, and had a guidebook called "The South American Handbook" and that told us all the cheap hotels. And we travelled by hitchhiking and train and local bus.

You didn't have any terrible, scary events happen to you?

No, no scary events … well only one slightly scary event was that my friend's bag was nicked. We were on the train in Bolivia and we were sitting opposite each other … I think M. had gone to the loo on the station, and two men came and pushed over, shouting to friends outside, and when they went the bag had gone.

Oh dear!

And M. went absolutely mental and ran outside and found the man in charge, the stationmaster I suppose he was, and, funnily enough, when we looked back, the bag was back. The passport was there, the ticket was there, it was just money was gone, cash. Traveller's cheques were still there. They'd had a good rifle through. Of course they all looked very similar, they were all wearing ponchos and those hats with flaps. I didn't really take any notice of them when they pushed past and shouted out the window. So it made us be a lot careful. We had to hang onto it. That was a good lesson to learn actually. So I've never, ever left anything untouched ever since, for the rest of my life.

I travelled on my own by taxi some of the time. You bought a ticket for a taxi you see, in Peru. You just went to a little office and they said "taxi to so-and-so" but you bought a ticket, and according to your ticket you sat in various places in the car. You couldn't sit anywhere. If you got so-and-so ticket you sat in the middle on the back seat, type of thing. There were three in the front, three in the back. And that was fun, that was a jolly good … and I met a lady in a taxi who then invited me to stay with her, ‘cos she had a daughter who spoke English. So I stayed with them, and then I stayed with her son in Cusco. So that was very good.

So that was quite adventurous.

That was an adventure.

Assessing needs for the DHSS – not the usual clerical job!

So when you got back to England by this time you are how old?

Er… 25ish … 26 … 26.

And what job did you then get?

Then I got a job with the Department of Health and Social Security. I got a lot of training, loads of training, going on courses.

What was your job called?

I was a clerical officer and I worked assessing people's supplementary benefit.

And what was supplementary benefit?

It was a benefit for people who hadn't paid enough National Insurance contributions.

And these were people out of work?

People who were out of work, people who were sick, and what they used to call liable relatives. Well, they weren't the liable relatives – we were chasing the liable relatives for money. It was women who had been deserted by their husbands or women who'd been deserted by the fathers of their children. So, I thought it was incredible actually. They did get a liveable amount of money. It wasn't like nowadays when you couldn't really live on it. ‘Cos we assessed you so much a week for each person, each child, added on the rent or whatever, the mortgage interest. We allowed mortgage interest only and rates, water rates and whatever else you had to pay, and then extras, like if you were diabetic you had extra for diet or if you had T.B. you had extra for diet. And if you were unable to move about you got heating allowances. So it was quite generous. I thought it was quite reasonable.

More generous than it would be now?

A lot more! But the other thing that was much better in those days, we used to give people money for things. If they didn't have any savings they could claim for clothes for the children or clothes for anybody in the family. Curtains – my first job was to go and visit an old couple who wanted some new curtains. And so I went round to visit them and they said "Yes, we'd like some new curtains for our windows, because we've just taken down the winter curtains and we want some money for summer curtains" (laughs). And unfortunately I had to say no because they had got one pair of curtains. And I'd never heard of summer curtains and winter curtains!

And we also used to give grants for fridges. It wasn't new but we knew where the decent second hand shops were and we had an arrangement that we'd pay the money and they'd deliver it to the person.

So, in a way you'd be going round to the houses and assessing what people needed?

Yes, what they needed.

And who would make the decision?

I would, and although we only just had to have 5 O Levels to do this job it was very responsible I think.

Did you meet any aggression or anything like that?

The worst aggression was when I was working on the counter and I had a woman coming in, and I can't remember what the row was about, but she called me a "f***** w***" or something like that, and slapped me. Managed to get a hand through the thing and hit me. So that was great because she got taken to court and got done, and eventually she went to prison, and I actually got damages through her prison earnings.

Really! Gosh! So you got properly hit?

Properly whacked in the face, yes.

And in those days did you have any glass or anything in front of you?

There was glass. I think she … … I can't remember… it was lowish … I think what she'd done, she jumped up on the chair and hit me over the top of the screen. We used to always have people on a Friday – this was at Braintree Office – always have people on a Friday if their giro hadn't turned up, there'd be all the f-ing and blind-ing under the sun: (imitates) "I want my f-ing giro. If not … .", and if their f-ing giro didn't arrive they would literally plonk their children over the screen. And we used to always have a supply of chocolate biscuits and sweets for the children, always dumped over the screen on a Friday. And then we'd phone up Social Services and the poor little b***'s'd be taken off.

Into care, for the weekend?

Mmm. And I don't know if the social workers knew who they were and took them back to their parents, I don't know, but it was just always make sure you'd got chocolate biscuits on Fridays.

And were you frightened sometimes?

No, funnily enough … funnily enough. And I also started off at Braintree … no, I started off in Leytonstone, then I went to Walthamstow, then I went to Braintree … moved down to Braintree, then I got a job as what they called a regional reserve.

This is all through the DHSS?

Yes, I worked at all different offices all over the Eastern region. If there was an emergency, like Ford's strike, did the Ford's strike, did the firemen's strike in Hertford, did Golden Wonder Crisp's factory strike somewhere over in Hertfordshire way, I can't remember where it was now.

What did you have to do during these strikes?

We just used to have to assess people; we used to have crowds of all strikers coming in and had to do quick assessments. And you couldn't give money to the striker, but you'd have to assess the family's needs, and the rents.

So they didn't get any strike money … ?

Well they should have been getting their strike pay, hopefully, if their Union had money. And then we would allow for the families and the rent and the rates and all that stuff.

But, you see I don't know what they do nowadays. I bet they don't get anything. But there were quite a few strikes in those days. And then I used to go to offices that perhaps had got a load of people off sick or got behind or something. Used to come to Bury St Edmunds quite often, and then you'd be visiting all the – Lakenheath and the other one … Mildenhall … bases for the Americans who'd got women up the duff, and you'd have to go out there. We used to have to try and find the blokes as well … make them look after the girls.

And you would do that as well?

Well, I never had any luck, because they'd always say they weren't there or wouldn't answer the door or something. But it was scary going onto the bases because the blokes were there with all their blimming guns and things.

Would they try and take blokes to court?

The Americans always sent them back to the States or to a base in Germany or somewhere. That's what they did. They got out of it that way, but it was very interesting.

So how many years did you work all in all for the DHSS?

The DHSS, about nine years.

And that would be until what year?

1980, because I ended up when I was expecting N. I ended up at Diss.

And you left that job because you were pregnant then?


So in that nine years …

Oh, I tell you what, one really interesting one I saw when I was at Braintree office. It was an old tramp who used to … He was OLD, he was in his 70s, and the directions … because we used to have people living in weird places … we used to have to visit gypsies as well when they came round… … But this old man was a tramp and he lived in a hedge in the winter, and they used to say "Park in so-and-so lay-by and look along the hedges for smoke, and he'll be where the smoke is". And you had to go early in the morning before he got up and started walking about. And he was literally living in a bivouac made out of fertiliser bags, old farm sacks, and just sitting there with a fire next to him. I mean, talk about dangerous! God knows where he got the water from. He'd have a kettle on the fire making a cup of tea, and he was quite well. I mean he looked OK, he looked chubby faced. He wasn't all gaunt and thin and ill.

And he would receive his supplementary benefit?

He used to get his money … it was sent to the local post office, so he had to trudge up to Coggeshall Post Office to get it. You see that was good … I can't remember what he asked for … clothes, and we used to give him money for whatever he wanted. I mean, poor man. I remember giving him money for boots. He didn't want to be housed. He was a tramp and he liked wandering about. We used to have regular tramps that used to come round, go from office to office. I suppose they hitchhiked. I don't know how they did it. We used to have to phone up … if we paid one at Braintree, we'd phone up Chelmsford and Colchester and say we'd paid Billy Bloggs so-and-so, because he might get a lift to the next one and say he hasn't had any money for three days.

And how often did they get their money?

A tramp would be allowed so much a day, but our tramp, the one who lived in our area, because he was a pensioner, he used to have a weekly amount.

So he used to collect it weekly.

He used to collect it weekly. But he was found with frostbite. The good thing was that people were good and caring and obviously the post office he got his money from would chat to him, and he did have frostbite on his feet and he went into an Old People's Home for the winter. Then he came out and tramped again for the summer, then he went in and he ended up there full time.

In the Home? But he was happy to do that eventually?

Eventually, yes, he'd had enough of frostbite, I suppose. But also the gypsies who used to travel round, but always came back for certain jobs at certain times of year in certain places. But we didn't see the gypsies, it was the grandmas, the old gypsy grandma that we used to go and visit and give them their money.

And where was their grandma? Was she in a Home?

No, no, she was travelling round with them. And that was fascinating!

In what way?

Well, because they were … I had no idea that the gypsies were very much like Jewish people with bowls for this and bowls for that …I went to visit one afternoon and the women were in the caravan and the men were outside. The men were always outside fiddling about with their dogs or whatever they were doing. And all these dogs would come running up but they would never go for you. I was never bothered by them. You had to take your shoes off to go in the caravan, gleaming, it really was. The Crown Derby and the cut glass crystal and all this. You didn't want to look too much but it was beautiful, and this woman was having a wash and they said that they washed certain parts of their body with different bowls, enamel bowls.

To do with their religion?

Well, no, to do with their clean way of living. They washed their bottom with one, their top half with another, their feet in another bowl.

Of course they'd have no baths.

No, they had to have wash downs. But they had a very thorough clean.

So what kind of caravans?

Those gleaming modern ones. I never saw anyone in the old wooden gypsy caravan.

And always spotlessly clean?

Absolutely spotless.

And loads of furniture inside?

Well, all those sort of frilly mats and gleaming and gold trimmings and sparkling. So it was really good.

Did you see much of the children?

No, we never did actually see the children. I never remember seeing children. It was always the ladies. There must have been children but I never remember seeing them. Perhaps they kept them out of my way.

Did they wear lots of gold jewellery and things like that as well?

Yes, lots of gold earrings and chains and rings.

And they were all very pleasant to you?

Yes, they were always very polite. They all had funny accents, spoke like those ones on "Gypsy Wedding", you know. I don't know what that accent is. It's not the Irish thing. It's more of a twang thing that they had. But that was interesting.

And there was another poor man who lived on the A11. At Quendon, no between Ugley and Quendon, and he lived in the woods, but he was looked after by a lady in the house opposite. He was only a young man, but he lived in a hut in the woods. Someone I met recently said "Ooh there was a man used to live in a hut in the woods at Quendon" and I said "Yes, I used to go and visit him". And he died. I remember him dying in the end. The woman told us he just died in the hut.

And he used to get his supplementary benefit?


But again he wanted to be homeless?

Yes, he was quite happy … well, probably he wasn't happy .. but that's what he wanted to do. Whether he was happy or not is immaterial.

So that was a quite interesting eight or nine years.

It was a very interesting eight or nine years.

You did feel at least people were getting a reasonable …

I did feel … I felt quite satisfied that people were getting … It used to occasionally worry me that people were obviously on the fiddle. You knew some people were on the fiddle, but I was more worried that people weren't getting enough. Some of the poor old souls I used to visit. One old woman with literally light through her roof, and I remember getting in touch with Social Services, and she was in an old tied cottage. It was a weather boarded, clapboarded Essex cottage and obviously tiles had slipped, and she had lived there probably since her husband had started work or since she got married, and really didn't know any different.

And the landlord hadn't …

Well, he was wanting … it was a tied cottage so they couldn't push her out, so they made her uncomfortable in order to get her out that way. So she did. She got re-housed by Social Services.

I see. You can't really put pressure on the landlord but you get her re-housed.

Get Social Services involved.

So that was good. It was a good job, a very satisfying job.

I also worked in London, based at Shoreditch Office, working round Hackney and places, and the only time I was ever attacked was by a little yappy dog that bit my suitcase! My suitcase! My briefcase, my E.R. briefcase! This little dog got hold of it and I was sort of shaking it and it wouldn't let go! And it was hanging on! And the old woman whose dog it was came out with a basin of water and tipped it over the dog and it let go! (laughs) But that was the only time I got close to being attacked. I never had anyone I remember … they might have been a bit rough, but you can usually get round people.

And can you remember how much you were paid for those … that job?

That was quite well paid for those days, mmm …

And quite good benefits? Did you have a pension scheme?

Yes, my pension scheme from that has gone towards my NHS pension, so that was good. Yes. But I can't remember what the pay was. Isn't it awful? I can't remember what I got paid. I know it was good money, I was earning good money.

So you did that till 1980.

Till 1980, yes. And then I left work to have N. and then the other three, and then went back to work in 1992.

Right. So you were out of work for 12 years.

Yes. Just doing a bit of helping out in play groups and things like that, but never any paid … Oh, I did the Census.

And being a mum.

[Read on in Part 2]

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