Working Lives

Movies to Medicine (1957-2018)

Location: Coltishall

Ruth was employed in the British film industry from the 1960s, working on publicity and in admin. She met many stars and famous directors. After a break to bring up her family she became a medical secretary, then a lady of leisure living in Nigeria with her husband. They returned to England in the late 1970s and Ruth became the manager of a medical practice in Norfolk.

 Films and television

I was sixteen when I first started, in the 1950s. My mum got me a job with a local solicitor, which was stuffy in the extreme. I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect this stuffy office surrounded by files, and I’m afraid, after two days and earning nothing, I walked out and decided that was it – that wasn’t for me. My mum wasn’t very happy, I can tell you!

But I got a train to London; went to the various temping agencies that were around there, not really knowing what I had to offer them, actually! I’d been educated at Watford and I’d had typing and shorthand experience, so I went to the temping agencies and had an interview and got a job in Associated British Pathé, the newsreel people. It was nothing to do with the film side of it at that time: it was all office-based, working for an American producer called C.J. who was rude in the extreme. He used to slam around; he really was the great ‘I am’, there was no doubt about that. I was the junior in the office. He also had a secretary – very high-flying girl she seemed to me at the time.

I did stay there for quite some time, about six months, but it was a long journey into London. I was in Wardour Street and I loved being in London, I loved being in Wardour Street, but I wasn’t that impressed with the job. And then my dad, who was also working in the film industry – he was a stagehand in the little film studios in Elstree, Borehamwood, where we lived. And he gave me the nod that there was a job going there that I might be able to do. So, by that time I obtained a union ticket, I think that was called NATKE, something like that: National Association of Cinematograph Employees or some such thing. It was one of those industries where you couldn’t work without a union ticket, and you couldn’t get a union ticket unless you worked there.

So, anyway, I went down there and I did get a job with them and I worked in the publicity department for a producer, who’s long since passed away. The chap I worked, for who wrote the publicity, was Roy. He was very tall, very skinny, very bearded, and flounced! I’d never seen people flouncing to the extent I did then! He was a nice guy, and we worked together. We also had a stills photographer, B, who was a lovely guy who took publicity shots of all the stars and starlets, as they were.

And we did lots of films. The Dam Busters was one the biggest of them that we worked on. But we typed the scripts; they didn’t have computerised scripts then, it was all hand-typed.

And, what else did we do? We made up stories! I can remember scouring cookbooks and finding recipes that we attributed to these various stars – as ‘this was Richard Todd’s favourite roast dinner’, or something, you know, ‘this was somebody’s favourite cake.’ And they were all just by us girls in the publicity department pulling these things out of whatever cookery book my mum had got on the shelves, so probably somebody was given corned beef hash or something!

But we did all things like that. Lots and lots of typing of anything that needed publicity to get into the papers. It was all to get publicity for the people there. And there were a whole load of… I think they called them ‘starlets’ at the time. Sylvia Sims was one of them. She was tiny, little skinny thing, you know, no age. And there was somebody called Yvonne Furneaux, I remember her. And, as I said, Richard Todd was around a lot, he was only a youngster. And John Fraser; there were lots and lots of them. Guy Rolfe, who I think played one of the Doctor Who characters later on. But they were all, you know, whippersnappers: they were all in their very late teens or early twenties.

They were always in and out. Tommy Steele was a sixteen-year-old at the time, and he was in and out of the studio.  I can’t remember what he was making. We had, like, front offices; we were in front offices, and all the studio stages were behind us – sort of like big warehouses, full of lighting. Everyone was walking around in costume for whatever they were doing. But once I’d seen all these stages I sort of thought ‘That’s not really what I want to be doing in this front office.’

So, I somehow met somebody in the studio called Frank, who was such a lovely guy. He was a producer, and he worked for a smaller company. I think I’d been in publicity a year; I don’t know. He worked for another gentleman whose financial management was a little lax, shall we say. I went into their office, again as a secretary.

We filmed a whole series of Mantovani musical programmes, but I don’t ever remember seeing those. It was Mantovani playing everything under the sun, and the only one I can remember is Die Fledermaus. We did half-an-hour of music, and there must have been a series of about twenty-eight programmes. This was film for television. I don’t ever remember seeing them come on.

We filmed something called Dial 999, which was one of the first cop series with Robert Beatty. By that time, I was more interested in the actual working of the filming rather than the typing. So, I sort of somehow got myself promoted to what they call a production secretary, which got somebody else typing the scripts up. So, what I used to do really was to coordinate who was on set at what time. We used to phone up if we needed people in at a certain time: we would phone up the artist or the extras, if extras were needed, and say to them ‘We’d like you in a shirt and tie, but not a white shirt because it gives camera glare.’ You know, ‘we want you in,’ or ‘we want you to come casual,’ or whatever it was.

I think we made about thirty-nine of these Dial 999. I can remember cars being mashed up – you know, police cars, old style police cars, not like they are now. So that was a lovely place and I worked, as I say, for Frank, and we used to go out on location. It was a lovely job and I stayed there doing that – just working on set, getting to know everybody – until I got married.

I got married at nineteen. A stills photographer took all my wedding photographs, which was lovely because they were all very different. You know, now it’s all very modern and everything, but then it was wonderful to have him buzzing around, because he could take photographs from angles that others may not have thought of. But he did all of the photographs, and I stayed working in that industry with the same group of people, really until up to about twenty-three or something like that – twenty-two possibly.

Then we decided to have a family and the travelling was too much, because you could never be certain that you could be in the studio. You could be anywhere, and, of course, you could be called for six in the morning. You didn’t have set hours. If  they were filming a chase through a London street, you had to be chasing through the London street before the London traffic got on; you know, a lot of it was done in the studio because some of it was out on location.

So, about twenty-two I left and that was the end of the end of my film industry work. I did intend going back but I never did, because once you’re out, you’re quickly forgotten. Whilst I was there, I would have hundreds and hundreds literally of Christmas cards from people wanting to keep you aware of their presence because they wanted to be remembered, to be called. They wanted the work. But, of course, once you’re no longer there you’re of no interest to them! But I got to know all the art directors and sound men and, in fact, Michael Anderson (I believe his name was), who is a very famous film director – his first major film was The Dam Busters and he then went on and he’s made a tremendous career.  And guys that were first and second directors, gophers, basically: they’re now directing, you know, massive things like Prime Suspect and big television things.

So, that was the end of my film career. It’s a shame really.

When you see the credits come through, you see, I think ‘oh, I knew him,’ especially on the old films you see now, you know, in the afternoons or on the film channels on the television that are on. I think ‘oh goodness me’ or ‘he’s been gone a long while!’ Yes, you know, it’s sort of in the blood, because my mum worked in the industry as a dressmaker, and my sister worked in the industry, and my godson now works in the industry. So, we’ve all done it all our lives, so we’re quite well known in the film industry!

The doctor’s surgery, laughter and sadness

First of all, after the children, I didn’t know what to do. My husband didn’t want me to go back to work. It was one of those situations where the man looked after the household, but I’d been out a bit by then. I think my son was about ten – something like that, ten or eleven. And I got a part-time job in a doctor’s surgery, and I’m still in touch with the doctor. She lives in Beccles. In fact, she was over here the other day.

I’d never been in a doctor’s surgery. It was very prim and very proper. One of the senior partners, Brian, had a white coat – always wore a white coat in surgery, very nice. I liked to tease the doctors, and I just really was a receptionist! I’d never done anything like that before. I could still type; I could type rapidly. And I’d never had any background of medicine, although I could spell – my English was good, and I could spell most things. But, of course, it was a bit difficult when you’re working with medical lingo.

I was very used to meeting people; I had no problem with that. I learned that you don’t say to a patient when you come in ‘how are you?’ because they’ll tell you, and you don’t really want to know! When they say ‘Oh I’m good thank you,’ and you say ‘well what are you doing here then?’

I worked there for a while with a lady doctor, which was very unusual then. There weren’t many lady doctors around. And I got on very friendly terms with the hospital staff; I managed to get easily on good first-name terms with them, which always jumped your patients through if you needed to. And I used to take dictation – they didn’t have dictaphones in those days, you used to take shorthand dictation. I can remember one day – and I still go red to this day – I had to type this letter. I typed what I thought they’d said, and what they had said was that somebody was having a baby and were referring her to the hospital, and they said this ‘elderly primip’, which is primigravida, and I put ‘elderly primate’, and I could hear them hooting with laughter upstairs. I never heard such laughter, and she even remembers now, she says, ‘we still chuckle over your “elderly primate!”’.

I worked there for about – I don’t know – about five or six years. I loved it. I soon adapted and, you know, the ‘elderly primate’ was, I think, one of the only ones. I had a little notebook of the words that I always got a mental block on. They weren’t necessarily hard ones. But there were just some words you got a block on. I always got a mental block on Caesarean – Caesarean Section. I could spell virtually any other medical term but that one always threw me. And there was Hemangioma, or some name, and I can’t even say it, and I couldn’t get the syllables in the right order, but apart from that I could spell pretty much everything.

I soon adapted to dealing with patients, that wasn’t a problem. We had constant changes of doctors. We had three partners, two men and a lady, and they used to take in trainees, as they’re called now. I don’t know what we called them then, really, because they were trained doctors but had never worked in general practice. We had one chappy from New Zealand, Paddy, who came over and really couldn’t understand some of what the patients were saying to him, because he’d got a whole different attitude to things.

We used to have, you know, pretty sad things. We had cot death, things like that, that we were dealing with. I went to work one morning and found somebody – I think I was the second one in – I arrived the same time as one of the nurses and found a patient unconscious on the doorstep who’d taken an overdose and then presumably changed her mind or something.

But it was a lovely job. I really liked it.

Off to Nigeria, but don’t take your emeralds

And then, when we were at home, and we were dissatisfied, I suppose, about life, we wanted a change. I think I’d been there five years, so it was probably about 1978, something like that. My son had joined the army as a boy and was away; my daughter was nursing and was away.

So, my husband saw an advert in the paper for working in West Africa, so he said ‘Shall we go to Africa?’

And I said ‘Yes, okay then’. Never thinking for one moment that he would get this job, because he didn’t really have a university education, but they didn’t appear to want that. They wanted somebody with hands on qualifications as a brewery engineer, which he was.

So, he went for lots and lots of interviews with Guinness, the brewers, and he got a job in Nigeria. We didn’t even know where Nigeria was – to be honest we had no idea where Nigeria was in Africa!

So, we were going to live there and he came in and he said ‘Can you speak Swahili?’

And I said ‘No, why?’ And he said ‘Because I’ve been offered this job!’

Well, I just didn’t know whether I wanted to go. I had absolutely no idea what to do, having got it.

So, after a lot of faffing around, we decided we would go, so I gave my notice in to these people. By that time, I was working for another lady doctor, Yvonne. She was very grand. I said that we were going to Nigeria, which was even more corrupt then than it is now, I think, and the Biafran war had just finished, which was in Central Nigeria, where we were going. Hadn’t been over for very long, so there was a lot of robbery and that sort of thing over there.

When I said I was going to Nigeria, she said ‘My dear, don’t take your emeralds with you.’

‘Don’t take anything valuable with you, just buy some fakes! My dear, don’t take your emeralds with you!’

So, ‘I promise I won’t take them!’

I didn’t work over there. I was a lady of leisure; I was an employer over there. We had staff. We arrived in Benin, which is about an hour’s flight from Lagos. We landed in Lagos and then were transferred on to Benin, were the brewery was. And we stayed with the general manager – which was a gentle introduction to the fantastic house, where there were, you know, floating flowers in dishes and all the rest of it – until we were transferred to our own house, which was like a pit. It was just awful!

Anyway, we eventually got it turned around, and we had a houseboy that we had to find, because it was far too hot to work there. It was incredibly hot. A guard, not an armed guard, but a guard on the gate, day and night, because we were in a ‘compound’, they called it, a government compound. It was just streets really. And a gardener – but the gardener was generally found to be asleep in the wheelbarrow. Jacob, bless him.

And it was just so hot there. I didn’t work. I was a lady who lunched, if she could find lunch, or went to the golf club, or played cards. There a lot of very grand ladies there.

And I supported my husband, absolutely! He – oh it was just so hot there, it was incredible. He simply drove to his work and we attended functions. You had to put on, you know, sort of, best bib and tucker, and make yourself smart and mix with everybody. And the general manager was a Scotsman. I don’t know how he managed it, but he wore all his Scottish regalia: a kilt, a sporran, and a jacket and socks and everything. It was all part and parcel of being there. I needed the emeralds, I absolutely did!

No, we had some lovely things there, and a lovely time. We were there for about three years; well, I came home twice a year just to catch up with the children and see what damage they’d done to the house we’d left behind. We did lots of things there.

We were travelling by road – very dangerous roads – and there was this big hold up, vehicles and bodies and everything. Everybody was armed and we got out of the car to see what was happening and I tapped a black police officer on the shoulder and said ‘What’s happening?’

And, of course, he immediately saw that we were not African. He was very kind and he said ‘Some big person is coming.’ He didn’t know who the big person was. It turned out to be the Pope on a trip through. And, unfortunately, the Pope’s car broke down, because everything broke down there all the time. So, we saw the Pope go by – walking actually – into another vehicle.

The only work I really did over there – apart from supporting – was I did look after a playschool for lady who was on leave, for a fortnight. That was not my cup of tea, looking after all these children, in that heat. I didn’t enjoy that at all.

Coming home to routine work

We left Nigeria around 1982. We came back; we moved into our original home that we had there, that we’d left. The children had used it as their return home base from army service and from nursing. It was their base to come back to. No great damage had been done!

And then, within no time at all, I got another job with another doctor in Dunstable, where we lived. I worked for two doctors: one of whom was very suspicious of everybody. He was a very peculiar man. Although I wasn’t a signatory on the cheques – I can’t imagine why he would think I would, or anybody, would do anything – he always wanted to check everything to do with finance. He was just terribly suspicious. And I said ‘Well If you don’t think I’m capable of this job, I’ll leave,’ and that point he said ‘oh no, no’ and he suddenly made me a lovely office. So, I think he just needed someone to stand up to him or something, I don’t know. But I worked there, in Dunstable, I think it must have been for a year. I don’t have many memories of that job. It was an easy job. Just a general practice in a town.

My husband also went straight back into work. And then, one day, we sort of were virtually passing each other on the stairs, and we both said ‘What in the world are we doing?’ We’d spent three years working around the world in some pretty hairy situations. We’d been held up at gun point, we’d done all sorts of things, and now we’re doing the same as we were doing four years ago. So, we decided to have a house hunt.

Moving to Norfolk – supervising the medical practice

We looked around our area where we were, and then decided to go for a total change, so we came down to Norfolk, which was a holiday area that we’d been to with the children. And we started hunting around here, and we made a pros and cons list of what we wanted. We wanted land and the opportunity to take life easy. So, we moved, I think, about six months after that, possible nine months after that, to Norfolk – to Bradfield, which is a few miles out of North Walsham, where we bought a bungalow with five acres of land. My husband did what he’d always wanted to do, because he came from a farming background. He didn’t farm it, but he pottered around with animals, and we’d sheep, and cows, and ducks: a smallholding.

We were financially secure enough for him not to do anything, but it didn’t take me very long at all before I got fed up with that, and I got a job before we even came down! I’d seen a job and had been for an interview, and had been offered a job in Coltishall as a supervisor in a doctor’s surgery. So, I been over for this interview and I remembered the previous GPs I’d worked for saying that they’d like to see something smart but memorable at interviews. You couldn’t remember if you saw several people who you’d seen, but you would remember the lady in the red jacket or something of that nature. I can’t remember what I wore but I did something of that type.

They offered me the job. Of course I was still living in Hertfordshire, or Dunstable – Bedfordshire, and so I said ‘I’d love it but my house is not due to complete until May or whenever,’ so they said they’d hold the job for me because I’d got the experience of all these surgeries and it’s not something that comes easily. The experience is available now, but it wasn’t then.

So, after a while they were phoning and getting anxious, and of course, as happens, delay after delay after delay with the housing exchange, but I did eventually start work there. I moved down before Brian in the end, because he was still working his notice, so I moved down here and started work three weeks before he arrived down.

And when I went into this surgery, the girl on the desk – who was a very long time employee of this group – she didn’t even look up when I went to the hatch (as we’d got a hatch then) and I thought ‘If I start here there’s going to be a few changes!’ Anyway, she eventually said ‘Yes?’ and I said to her who I was, so she said ‘Oh, wait a minute,’ and I thought ‘You and me are going to fall out.’

But anyway, I started, and I’d got this tiny little space up in the corner where you were supposed to be supervising, and we were what they called ‘fully dispensing’. We dispensed for virtually all the patients as well, simply because there was no chemist within three miles as the crow flies, which is still the legislation I believe. So, I had this tiny little corner, and I thought ‘Right, we could have a few changes here.’ We’d got no computers, it was typewriters, and, of course, there were a couple of other girls typing letters as well. With the clanging of the typewriters and the telephones, which were constant, you couldn’t hear yourself think. I used to do the accounts for the surgery, and, of course, with all this coming and going you just couldn’t hear what was going on – there was no room to think.

So, after a little while the doctors hugely expanded the premises and I had my own office, which was lovely. But we had builders in for, you know, it felt like months – probably about six months in the building. And, of course, everyone was getting so cross because we had pneumatic drills taking down back walls and, you know, all sorts of things like that. You couldn’t hear yourself think. All the tablets were dancing on the shelves with these drills, and they’re trying to dispense medication.

Another day – still in the surgery – we’d expanded the building by this time, and we’d got computers, a wonderful fire alarm system and burglar alarm systems and everything. Computers in the offices – all the offices. I was driving to work one morning, and it was hammering down with rain, absolutely hammering down. And I was driving through past the Captain’s pond, which had very big trees; a very nasty road in bad weather. I could hear a siren somewhere behind me, so I pulled off the road and saw this fire engine go hooping past. And I said ‘Oh some poor chap’s in trouble,’ and I get to surgery and the surgery’s been struck by lightning!

So all these wonderful burglar alarms, fire alarms and everything else were all ringing at the same time, there was no stopping them. The surgery had been struck down. I don’t know what it had hit, because it was a fairly ordinary standard building. But a telegraph pole had also gone outside so the live wires were across the road, so the fire brigade were still there.

Of course, people were still coming in saying ‘Ooh I’ve got a sore throat.’ It was incredible: they were still coming into surgery, saying ‘Oh, I’ve got my appointment at nine o’clock’.

All these bells were ringing and the fire alarm was going, and well, I think I phoned up the – I don’t know who it was – one of the local dignitaries at the parish council or something, and I said ‘Can we borrow the village hall to help them?’

‘Course you can,’ so that was fine.

So, we went in there, in the main room. The doctor took surgery in there; we didn’t go in with him. We were just dealing with other things. We got the fire alarm people to sort that out. All the computers were completely useless, and my boss said ‘Did you back the computer up last night because we have all the patients’ files on there?’

And I thought ‘Phew,’ and I’d got this little tape which I hoped had got everything on! It was just awful, the computer people came because in my room was – I don’t know what they call it now, it wasn’t a laptop, it was a great big server thing. He came to see what he could salvage from that, and he took the back off and the whole of the inside was completely melted. The lightning had come down that. And he’d come from the Midlands or somewhere like that, and he looked at this computer and he said ‘Eeeh lass, you’ve completely buggered this up!’ It was just a wedge of melted plastic!

So anyway, we got it sorted out and got up and running again.

I think the doctors were happy. I didn’t get a bonus! No, we got up and running and I think the insurance company paid out, and I think we had to replace every computer in the building, and there must have been, I don’t know, about twenty in there. But the whole lot had gone: the main server had gone and everything else was useless. I think the only thing that was salvaged, and I had no idea why that would be, were the keyboards; they were okay but, you know, not much good. So, everything else had to be replaced, but it was covered by insurance.

I didn’t think really that there was that much difference in the new equipment. It didn’t move at the same speed as it does now. And we’d got a system on there that was used by all doctors, basically, which was for dispensing doctors. It used to be uploaded by the company, which had all the new drugs on, the amounts that you should be taking at any one time, and it would give you a warning if you wrote somebody up for the wrong dosage – it would warn you! And I got my own computer in my room – oh, I’d got two computers, one with the medical stuff on, and on one I’d got the payroll and the doctors’ money and the finances and everything like that on.

So, by that time I’d sort of moved into my own office, and just about the time also that practice managers were coming into surgery, because doctors are not money managers, no way. And most of the supervisors weren’t money managers; nobody was business trained. There weren’t business graduates in there as there are now, and we all, I think, went on a course. I think it was about two weeks that we stayed at The Links, which was a very posh hotel in West Runton. We were there for two weeks solid, and we worked our socks off. We started lecturing at about 9 o’clock in the morning, and we still had to go back after our evening meal for another session. It was what they expected of managers, which is pretty much what you do expect of a manager, really. But we hadn’t had that sort of training, some of the girls that had worked as long-time receptionists at a doctor’s. They didn’t know they were looking for managers either, and they said ‘Oh, but you’ve been here a long while,’ but there’s one thing being there a long while as a receptionist as being there and managing the whole building.

So anyway, I was fortunate and did that, and did all the training, and I worked in that role for ages. And that was buying – buying in drugs, because at that time when people had flu jabs, in the winter for instance, you would have everybody over sixty-five, or whatever it was then, entitled to a flu jab they didn’t have to pay for. So, you’d order enough vaccine in from a company; get the best deal that you could get, depending how many vaccines you ordered. We would order two thousand possibly. Every other doctor would do the same, every other practice.

So, you’d order your two thousand flu jabs in, but course you’d say to the drugs company, ‘Well okay they’re ten pounds each, but if I’m having two thousand, what’s the deal?’ So, we’d usually get down to ‘Well, fifty per cent’, so you’d buy them for five pounds. But of course, when they were written up on prescription, the pricing authority would pay them at ten pounds so you were making profit, you see? And that’s how it still works with dispensing doctors, and that’s why doctors like to dispense their medication, if they’ve got an astute money manager.

But that’s all stopped now, about four or five years ago. I think it was decided that there would be central buying, which was only common sense, absolute common sense. We had incidents where somebody couldn’t have medication that they thought they should have for various reasons. And we’ve had a chair literally thrown through a big glass window in temper, showering everybody with glass, because they couldn’t have what they wanted. It was just awful the way that you were treated by the public.

I think they were more respectful when I first started. They’re much, much ruder now, you know. I’m sure you – and certainly I – would never dream of saying to the girls in the reception ‘Oh well, you’ve only got to do this, it won’t take you a minute.’ Why would you do that to people? But they are very demanding; the public are demanding anyway, the sick public probably a bit more so!

And so we had incidents like that. We sadly had a cot death, which is just really, really upsetting, if you’ve come across or got to be on duty. Our doctors used to be on call for road accidents – I can’t think what it was called but before air ambulances came in, the doctors were available. If they got a possible fatality or something or really bad on site, the ambulance would phone the nearest doctor. They had all the names of the practices, and the doctors would have to go out, so we were on that call as well. On a couple of occasions I’ve taken overnight calls for a doctor whose wife has been away or his partner hasn’t been there, so if he was called out there was nobody there to take the next call before the days of the mobile phone. Because one of them was technophobic and wouldn’t have a mobile phone but had a bleep, and then you had to bleep this thing and then he had to find a phone in the patient’s home or something, which wasn’t very direct.

And then we decided we’d have a mobile phone for the duty doctor which was the size of a house brick! It was only one shared between the partners and was passed around the partners as they went out of the building and they were the duty doctor! It was huge and they all used to grumble that they would weigh their pockets down, but it was very handy because in a rural practice you are spread a long way out and we used to cover, you know, a circle out of about eight miles. Eight rural miles, difficult.

So I did all the accounts for the surgery, right up to audit level for the accountant, and I’d never had any accounting. I did lots of courses all the way through, but nothing in accountancy. We were constantly doing upgrading courses, but that was just to keep up-to-date with what was going on because first of all they had what they called the Family Health Services Authority (FHSA), which was the health authority, and then surgeries were going fund holding, and then some went fund holding, some didn’t. And then it went over to PCTs and it’s turning full circle, going right back to where it started.

My job was to keep up with it. Of course, doctors, they wanted to practice medicine. They didn’t really want to keep up with this. So, I got a girl was who brilliant at keeping us both together, because one person could no longer keep up with all this, so you had a deputy who could drop in if necessary.

And then I stayed there; I must have been there for quite a few years, since about 1984. I worked there until I was about fifty-nine, and was thinking of stopping work at sixty and that was my plan, and then sadly my husband died very suddenly and very unexpectedly, and they were very good to me. I stayed off for about, well, two months while he was ill and about a month afterwards, and then I went back to work because I thought ‘Now I can’t do nothing now, this is crazy,’ and I stayed there until, well, I always said the day I wake up and I don’t want to go to work is the day I give up.

We’d been overseas; we weren’t on the breadline fortunately, touch wood. And one day I woke up and I thought ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ so I gave my notice in and I think from then, for them to get another person in, I think it took me about six months to get out of the building. And if I hadn’t said ‘I am leaving on the last day of June and if you haven’t got anybody you are going to be on your own…’ And they said ‘No you won’t,’ and I said ‘I will’. And they eventually got somebody else.

It was a big job to fill because I’d been there so long, right from scratch. I knew everybody and I’m a great one for management by walking about, because that way you know what’s going on. I mean, I’d seen doctors in tears – male doctors in tears – with patients making unformed complaints against them. The trouble it causes.

So, you’re mother confessor, accountant, signing cheques, thousands and thousands of pounds’ worth of cheques, And one day I said to one of the doctors ‘I’m not signing these cheques, I want a signatory with me, I don’t want to be responsible for all this money!’

In the corner of this room we had a fire alarm thing, a burglar alarm, and I said ‘You see that spy in the sky, well, that ought to be spying on your practice manager because, you know, things are going to happen. Somebody’s going to get well caught out here because you have total control and run of the finances.’ And I do know that there have been problems in places. Not personally – people I know, I’d heard of, because they’d got total freedom, but now it’s much tighter.

It was a lovely job but I stopped work for a very short time, two months, and I felt ‘I can’t be doing with this’ and that was how I came across Citizens Advice and that’s where I am still.

Working with people at the CAB

I’m still working. I work at the Citizens Advice Bureau. I love people; I love helping people, but I didn’t want to be committed to working every day. I don’t mind doing a day and I wanted a job that would give me seven or eight weeks’ holiday a year and they wouldn’t. Well they would now, because that’s the new rules. And I went there – I suppose, that must have been ten years ago, more than ten years ago. I thought ‘I wonder if I can do this,’ and I did, I love it and I’m still there. It’s advising on everything from debt to marital breakup, everything; relationships, housing, benefits. I know my way through the benefits system!

So, I’ve worked there a day a week, sometimes two days a week, unpaid. Lots of courses, constantly taking courses to keep up with Mr Osborne, because he keeps changing things, a bit difficult otherwise! Lots of reading, lots of constantly keeping turning over, but I’ve been there. I supervise there now – not every day but if they need a supervisor. I’ve done that training, overseeing the advice that other people give. Because, you know, it’s a constant change, people coming in and out. And lots of things – anything from a broken kettle to an abused child, you’ve got to go across the whole range. So I’ve been there since whenever I left work – I think I’d left work for about two months and then I thought ‘I don’t really see me in a charity shop, I’d be buying too much!’

I wanted something intellectual, to a degree, I don’t wish to take a degree or anything but I wanted something where I could talk to people. I love people and they seem to love me! I seem to get on alright with most people!

Ruth Kay (1937-2018) talking to WISEArchive on 25th June 2012 in North Walsham.

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