Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Hay Diddle de dee

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).


  1. Another great post. I bet you've got even more fab stories from your generous time spent helping others.

  2. Yes, it's a great post, and you were obviously very attached to those people you met in the nursing home, Teresa.
    It reminds me of the time I spent 'helping' in a residential children's home when I was a teenager - a very long time ago now.
    Nobody wanted those kids. Some of them were quite severely disabled and some of them had terrible behavioural problems but I became quite attached to some of them too.
    Another student and I took a small group of them on holiday to Dungeness in a mini bus. We stayed in a grim hall in a grim part of the country very close to the power station but the kids loved every minute of it - especially when we took them on the railway.
    There must have been some adults carers there too, I suppose, but I don't remember them. Just remember those 'kids' who must be in their forties now.
    I haven't thought about them for ages but your post brought it all back.

  3. Thanks Tam, but to be honest there was nothing generous about it. My motives were purely selfish - I thought it sounded like a good skive - a way of getting out of lessons I hated. It just turned out that I really enjoyed the experience for the short time I did it.
    I think I'd have been a lousy nurse!

  4. It's so sad, Susan. And you do wonder what happened to them don't you.

    We rarely saw any adult carers. I suppose they must have been keeping an eye on what we were getting up to but like you, I don't remember them.

  5. I can really identify with you, Teresa. I love Jo Brand, too.

    I once worked in mental hospital in Bridgend as a young nurse. It was a compulsory module for my SRN training. I was on an admission ward that had a mother and baby unit as well for patients with puerperal psychosis.

    We had some hair raising times there. One nurse was only saved in time because she had a radio that transmitted on the Tannoy loud speaker around the hospital. A patient had locked her in a room and had a knife threatening to kill the nurse and herself.

    Apart from the odd scary occasion though, mostly it was a joy to work there and one of the best experiences of my nursing career.

    I remember one occasion where my mother came to visit me and stayed for a few days. It was during the time of the royal wedding of Charles and Diana. After my shift I took her to a party for the patients and everyone thought she was a patient. They even tossed her a bag of crisps when she walked in the door.

    That was a happy period of my life and I got on well with all the patients and staff. Another thing I loved about it was we were near the seaside, so could escape for a bit of off duty sunbathing!

  6. LOL Teresa! I say spell it anyway you please :) If you want an 'x' stick have an x :)

  7. How lovely to look back on the time you spent with those folk, Teresa - as you say, some sad stories but happy times. All those experiences help to make us the people - and the writers! - that we are. I loved your asterisks/asterix too! (We could make 'asterix' the plural, couldn't we?)

  8. Sounds like a great experience, Lynette. Lovely anecdote about taking your mum to the party (you conjured up a whole scene there in a few words!)

    Thanks Lacey, maybe I should!

    I love the idea of it being a plural, Olivia. (Your book arrived yesterday and it’s jumped the queue in my to-read pile – am looking forward to reading that soon!)

  9. Thanks for writing this. I used to volunteer at Samaritans and had to give it up through lack of time. I miss it again, reading this.

  10. Yes, this was lovely and reminded me of the wonderful people I met when I was working in social services, both paid and voluntary.

    * I often do the asterisk thing, but I also call him Asterisk the Gaul. It took me ages to work out why everyone laffed every time I said that ...

    I didn't know Jo Brand was a novelist either and I love her saying it was like doing homework. What a great way of looking at it.

    Anyway, reason I popped by is I just picked up my June issue of Writers Forum ... lovely to see you, missus. ;o) And Simon Brett, who I've met several times and love, love, love to bits.

  11. Oh, I'm a great admirer of Simon Brett too, Diane. I love his books and as he is patron of the writers' club I belong to, I get to hear him speaking every now and then. He's a very funny man.
    And Julie Coffin belongs to the club too by the way, Teresa. I'm sure she'd be thrilled to know that you appreciate her work.

  12. B, the Samaritans is a wonderful organisation isn't it.

    Thanks, Diane, I was tickled pink to be in there. Simon Brett is in this weeks WW with an excerpt from Blotto, Twinks and the Ex-King's Daughter!

    Great that you know Julie, Susan! And that Simon Brett is a patron of your writers' club! Fantastic!

  13. I adore Jo Brand. We saw her at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago and she was great. One story invoved her being too shy to get undressed in front of her husband, but she couldn't be bothered to go and switch the light off so she just poked him in the eyes with a pencil.

  14. Tee hee - Suzanne, not a lot makes me laugh this early in the morning, but you just did!

  15. Great post Teresa. I bet you've had short story milage out of your memories of working with those people!

    Jo Brand is brilliant, isn't she. I'm a big fan of hers too.

  16. Funnily enough I think this is the first time I've written about those times, Womag. Strange isn't it?

  17. Jo Brand is terrific and a one-off. She is completely irreverent and speaks my language. She's jolly good on Question Time too. Writing a novel is painful but it is also a great creative process. I find it equally frustrating and cathartic and possibly excellent therapy too as I can right wrongs and create an outcome that should have happened had the gods been on my side!

    You run a great blog here ma’am. Full of wisdom and golden nuggets.

  18. Thanks MOB, tis very kind of you to say so (if my posts were even half as entertaining as yours I'd be more than happy!)

    I think Jo Brand speaks for a lot of us doesn't she?

    Keep righting those wrongs!