The other night I watched Jo Brand at the Hay Festival (on telly recorded of course). I have always liked Jo whether she’s doing stand-up or appearing on Question Time or Have I Got News For You – but until I saw she was on at Hay, I didn’t realise that she was a novelist.
Her birthday is one day different to mine – we’re practically twins - I like her even more! Jo was a psychiatric nurse – which is something I considered as I used to do voluntary work* at a mental health nursing home as a teenager.
It was a sort of holiday home and although there were a few permanent residents, most seemed to stay for a short while. I was told that some were there for respite care after being ill treated in other homes. If you’re old enough you may remember hearing about some homes being exposed in the early 70s for their cruelty.
I remember taking one sweet old man into a shop where he bought some postcards. “I’m going to write to my mum and dad and my family,” he told me. “I’m going to tell them where I am and when they find out, they’ll come and take me home.” And then this gentle soul asked if I could write in their addresses as he didn’t know where they were and he thought I might know. He’d been put into a home for stealing – he said it was a misunderstanding and he hadn’t stolen anything.
He was part of my group once when we were out for a walk. We went into a shop to buy some sweets and the shop owner came out from behind his counter, waving his arms about like a demented octopus and demanding we get the bloody looneys out of his shop! I never set foot in that shop again I can tell you. I don’t suppose he mourned the loss of me popping in occasionally to buy a packet of potato puffs, but I felt better about it.
I washed a lady’s hair. It was about half an inch long and she begged me to put it in rollers as I had done for her friend. I did. There wasn’t enough hair to wrap around a roller so I pinned them all over her head to her enormous excitement. I was afraid she was going to be let down, but oh the joy on her face when I’d dried her hair and she looked exactly the same. “I look beautiful,” she said. She did.
I sat out in the sunshine with another lady who was about the same age as my mum. She told me she’d been put in a home when she got pregnant and had been there ever since. “Don’t you want to get out of here?” I asked her. “No,” she said. “I’d be scared to live outside now.”
Most of the people I met had stories to tell and their stories made me sad, but I have to say that they were some of the happiest, nicest and most honest people I have ever met in my life. There were darker moments, but I don’t want to go into the dark now.
I’ve gone off track a bit haven’t I?
Jo said writing a novel was like doing homework for two years! She said a lot of other things too which, as well as the nearly being my twin thing, also made me like her more.
Also watched John O’Farrell who was interesting and entertaining. A week or so ago I watched Jacqueline Wilson whose anecdotes about working for D C Thomson were fascinating!
*(sorry about that, but I’ve always wanted to do the asterisk** thing) When I say I was a volunteer – I was doing Music*** and hated the teacher almost as much as she hated me – it was decided that as I was a disruptive influence I should be sent elsewhere and so for some lessons I joined the people doing “social services”. I think those “lessons” that weren’t really lessons and weren’t even on my timetable were some of the best.
**I had to look up how to spell asterisk . . . I’d be too embarrassed to tell you that I spelt it “asterix” at first!
***The reason I did music was because it was the only thing left after I’d made my other choices – I think, no I know the poor music teacher was even more upset about it than I was!
Ps: I read a story in My Weekly (13th June) by Julie Coffin called “Don’t Look Back” and it made my skin tingle! I’ve always liked Julie’s stories. And in Woman’s Weekly (16th June) there is a reader survey - I love the “It’s a Funny Old World” slot in the magazine (particularly when Julian Clary is the columnist).