Never Leave Home Without Your Troubled Teen.

Being a mother is a struggle between wanting to care for your children, whilst at the same time, trying to preserve your own identity and continuing to develop as a person.  Many people, including my parents, have thought, wrongly, that an education for a woman is a waste of resources.  How can that be?  An educated mother is more likely to pass on good principles to her children than an uneducated mother.  Well, I think so, at least.

With this at the back of my mind, I had been hankering after a university education for some years, and when my children were approaching school age, I began to look into this.  My inquiries into re-sitting my exams mostly resulted in negative replies, due to the fact that I was over 21, and I was unable to obtain a university place due to my poor performance at school.  However, a local college accepted me onto their daytime German Advanced Level course, which I passed the following year.

After some further evening courses in German over several years,  I was finally accepted onto a modern languages degree course.

I had been given two interviews, one at the local university and another at Manchester.  The Head of Department  of Salford, was interested in my application, but expressed some serious reservations on how I might cope with studying, being a mother of teenagers.  The view at that time was that women should have equal opportunities with men,  and I thought that too.

I accepted the offer from Manchester University as it was a course based on German literature.  However, as I was unable to fulfill the residency condition of a year in Germany, due to having a family,  I was, therefore, enrolled onto a double degree with Spanish, which had a compulsory attendance requirement of at least a month in each country.

I worked hard at my studies, and, after two years it was time to leave for my month’s stay in Germany.  I had chosen to take two courses, rather than just spend time on vacation.  There were no set rules.  I discovered later that one languages student had spent his entire free time in an Austrian bar, having learned only the local dialect, and no doubt the names of all the local beers,

Due to my age, by this time, I found it slightly more difficult to make friends, as most students were quite young, but managed to find a few companions.  In Jena, in the former East Germany,  I became acquainted with a  Japanese woman and an elderly Englishman, who other students often mistook for my husband, and in Bamberg, in the west,  I met a young Italian woman, who spoke no English, and so we communicated only in German.

My family came to visit me in the second part of my stay, and we spent a weekend together.  My husband said all was going well at home, and that some of my boys’ friends were helping with preparations to decorate our hall and stairs.  This sounded wonderful, though quite unusual and  I wondered how they had been persuaded to help.  It was rather a mystery.

My courses came to an end and I returned home via a University friend’s apartment  in Heidelberg.  As a divorcée, she was staying for the whole year with her children.  I was travelling by train and could stop off quite easily.  We spent a weekend together, but while I was there,  I phoned home to some disturbing news.  My husband had discovered a bong in the wardrobe!

On my return, I had a discussion with my sons, who naturally blamed everything on the young lads who had been helping with the decorating.  Apparently, these lads had been entering the house during school lunch breaks in term-time, and using my attic room to prepare their blocks of cannabis for sale to the other pupils.  As an incentive to use this room,  my boys were given samples for their own use.  During my stay in Germany that summer this activity had continued under cover of helping my husband out.  He had absolutely no idea what was going on until the bong episode.

I went into school at the earliest opportunity to complain about those other pupils who had been abusing my home.  I had all their names and information on what they had been doing.  I also had the offending bong in a black plastic sack.  The deputy Headmaster invited me into his room and I sat perched upon a low seat.  My youngest son was sent for and questioned by a representative of the local drugs squad.  It turned out that my eldest son, who was at the local college, had been constructing the bongs to order,  from central heating pipe off-cuts which he had found in the cellar.  I actually fell off the seat when I heard.  We were then asked to make a statement about the whole incident and submit it to the police.

On the local radio news the next day, we heard that two pupils, but not the main supplier, had been suspended from school.

We received several visits from well-built pupils wanting to enter our home, who tried pushing past me,  as I am quite small.  I wasn’t about to  allow them to enter, however.  We, therefore, tightened up on security by locking the outer door to the house.

It was during the following school term that my youngest son became psychotic.

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Italy, Here We Come!

Shortly after graduating, my friend, Lorna and I received news that we were to go to Macerata in Italy to take part in a two week course with a final exhibition.  The brief was to “think outside of the box” and to not make anything too obviously representational.  Two other colleagues were to go with us, one had the status of lecturer and would stay in hotel accommodation, while Lorna and I and the other student were to stay in a student hostel.

The hostel was altogether what I expected as I had been on a visit to Rome some years earlier and stayed in similar accommodation.  We were to sleep in a large room with four beds and scarcely any other furniture.  We all got on well to begin with, although as the fortnight went by very slowly as we were all homesick, and various difficulties arose, the atmosphere became a little tense.

Our first drawback was that we had no plan for our fresco.  The other groups of students seemed to have entered competitions with winning designs in order to earn their place on the course, and so we were at a great disadvantage.  The course was held during the the summer of 2010 and the weather was hot.  We enjoyed making ourselves acquainted with the town and the other students, who were from different European countries.  We were allowed to make use of the University studios, in order to draw and design our plan for the fresco.  Unfortunately, we had difficulty in coming to any agreement about how it would take shape.  We all made our separate designs, but there was never any overall plan.

In the meantime, we had to learn how to weave the base from and to mix plaster for the fresco.  This was a precise business, and, under the direction of the tutors, we made a stab at it.  Some of our group attempted to adhere to the recipe for the plaster, but occasionally another person would chuck in extra ingredients, so that our mix did not resemble the other groups’  mixes in any way.  We did our best, however, with what we had, but the end result was lumpy and did not stick to the matted base.

When the fresco was dry enough to paint on, we all agreed in the end to draw our individual designs, which was not very successful, I thought, and as we worked, the plaster was crumbling at the edges.

I had left my two sons at home together, as the eldest had been living with us for some months, as he had split up with his wife, and the brothers seemed to be getting along quite well, as far as I could tell.  Unfortunately, though, Bob phoned me shortly after I had arrived in Macerata to say that my grandchildren had also come to stay, which was not the plan at all, and that he was left alone to look after them some of the time.  I sent texts to their parents to express my concern about the children, as there had been no agreement beforehand,  but the response I received was that their mother had already gone on holiday,

I promised myself that I would never go away from home again without Bob.

While we four were struggling to make a compromise of a design onto our fresco, we saw that the other groups were making real progress,  and that some of theirs were absolutely fantastic.  They were obviously working as a team under the direction of their tutors, who did not actually get their hands dirty.  When the exhibition of frescoes was put up,  there was also a film show produced by the French team, and a reception was given with local dignatories and the press in attendance.

It was not all hard work, though.  We did manage to fit in some tours of the local countryside and important places of worship and pilgrimage.  We had a lovely afternoon at the beach after a wonderful lunch and then continued our journey until nightfall.

However, our plans to return home were scuppered by the volcano ash from Iceland, and it was touch and go whether we should travel to the airport or not on our final day.  Lorna phoned home to find out if there was any clearer news about what might be a sensible course of action to take, and we were informed that the journey may have to be delayed.  This was bad news for our tutor, who had only brought enough medication for her current ailment to last the exact two weeks we were away,  and there were frantic discussions between various parties about what she could do to obtain a further supply.

We decided, at the last minute to take a chance and travel to the airport to see if we could get on a plane home, and luckily, our interpreter came with us.  After several hours in the airport and many discussions with travel representatives, our UK group were allowed to queue up for boarding.  The interpreter also kindly enabled a young married couple to come along with us.  We counted ourselves very lucky, as many would-be travellers remained at the airport long after we had left for the UK.

On arriving home, I found that everyone was well and there had been no incidents, which was a great relief.  Bob had been quite worried that we might be delayed.

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All Change …

During my first year of the M.A. in Contemporary Fine Art at Salford, we heard the news that all the art courses would be moving away from Irwell Valley.

Bob was fortunate in that he had completed his M.A. course while still at Irwell Valley, and had returned to START in Salford, an arts charity for adults recovering from mental health issues,  as a volunteer arts worker one half day a week, where he could also paint.

The foundation courses would now be taught from a modern office building, Centenary House, and the remainder of courses, including the M.A., would be moved to a compact annexe of the old Salford College of Technology, where I had met my future husband in 1971.

At that time, I had been working at a bank in a building opposite the college and I was due to leave, to go where, I did not know.  The bank manager suggested that I enroll at the college, so I did.  Colin Burrows was teaching on the pre-diploma course in Art and Design and for some reason, I found him very irritating.  Later the following year, we got together,  and married in 1975.

It was strange going back to the former college.  One of the local landmarks happened to be the three stone totem poles in the college grounds, which were erected to commemorate the arrival of Buffalo Bill and the North American Indians in Salford  over 100 years ago.  They had camped along the banks of the River Irwell during the time they had been performing in his Wild West circus show.

One of the difficulties with the new arts building was that it was much smaller than Irwell Valley,  and,  in the M.A. studios there was no facility for water, so it was not conducive to painting, although that  did not not prevent others in the group from this activity.  Instead of painting, I took up knitting leaf shapes, firstly as a favour to a former student who still runs a knitting circle  in aid of a breast cancer charity.

I had also recently joined a website,  which honours people who have died, and found that many women were kindly lighting virtual candles in my late husband’s memory,  and saying prayers for him.

I looked into this and found that many of these women also honour and pray for the souls of neglected and abused children, who had died from their injuries, and I began to draw some of these children’s portraits.  However, I started to feel very uncomfortable about drawing them and decided to find another way to honour their memories, so I asked Rachel Elwell, the leader of the knitting group, if I could borrow the idea of the leaves for my new project, and she had no objection.

After a year of knitting, I had over 800 leaves.  Each leaf was knitted with at least two strands of the finest wool, silk, or sometimes with mohair, to represent that all children are precious and have a unique heritage.  Each leaf was a different size, although  from the same pattern. The leaves  were also of a variety of natural colours and interesting textures, and curled up in a foetal position.

I devised a short performance for my final show, to be held at Cow Lane Studios, a former factory, whose pillars had collapsed in the 19th Century, killing 200 workers.  The space was large, bleak and industrial. The atmosphere was eerie, the lighting dimmed, and the temperature was just above freezing.  The corridor leading to the space was dark and dirty and very grim.

Above: Leaves, 2010

I performed the piece, trimming the strands of yarn from each leaf with a huge pair of shears, representing separation from the mother, and allowed each leaf to fall on the hard, cold paving stones.  After a while, some of them would land on a soft bed of leaves.  This performance aimed to represent the element of chance in life, i.e. that some children are born lucky and others are not so fortunate.

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Light at the end ….

The summer of 2007 was spent showing people around the exhibition, working in the fibre room on the felting machine or sewing machines, or in the wood workshops making new stretchers with Bob.

I had persuaded him to start making smaller stretchers, as the large ones were difficult to fit into our house and so, when the exhibition was finished, the paintings were stored in our joint studio at Cow Lane in Salford.  The studio was an odd shape, so that only one person could paint in it at any one time.   Together with the extra paintings, the room was even smaller.  Eventually, we were using the whole of the  studio as storage space, as Bob was working constantly on his paintings at Irwell Valley Studios.

Unfortunately, when we had first moved into Cow Lane, we had been offered a very badly maintained studio, which was without a door, so that anyone could walk in and move things about.   It was also shared with another artist.  One time we found Bob’s work had been pushed to the outer wall  and the rain had damaged quite a few of the paintings from his first degree,  so he was quite annoyed.

Apart from the mildew, everything was going fine.  I needed to earn some money, so I took on some part-time English tutoring with some girls from Seoul.  Their housemother was obsessed with Oxford, so we used take the girls and their Korean teacher on day trips, usually to Oxford!  Sometimes we went to stately homes, where we enjoyed mashed potato sandwiches, a Korean delicacy.   Bob was not amused!

The next event in the pipeline was his dissertation.  He had already written the first half of it in the first year of the M.A.,  and the second half was due in the second year.  His final exhibition was to be held in Spring of 2008,  By this time I had finished my degree and had sold one collage from my show to a student  for his mother’s birthday.

We had both taken part in an art auction the year before in aid of the degree show expenses, and in another auction, I had bought a copper sculpture and the proceeds of this auction which had been organised by a student, went to a cancer charity.

I had also started my M.A. in  Contemporary Fine Art and was still supporting Bob in his.  In fact, we were supporting each other!

Bob attended a number of meetings to discuss his final show and it was, as usual, a struggle to get an equal share in the gallery space.  Quite often, dealing with artists’ egos is a problem which manifests itself in the huge amount of space which they require for their work.

The other artist was a lovely guy, but there was a language barrier, so it was difficult to make him understand that he shouldn’t take over the whole of the gallery space,  even though Bob only  needed wall space,  the viewers would want to walk around to look at the paintings.

The other artist made paintings, sculptures, media, almost everything you can think of,  and the final exhibition of the two, including Bob’s paintings was really good.  As usual, we made brochures listing all the works.  His co-exhibitor, who had been away for weeks before the show, thought, at the last minute that he would do the same.  Both artists did very well in their finals.

After the exhibition, all the students had to talk about their work and so I drove us to the gallery in good time, but I was informed by phone that the Korean girls wanted to see Bob’s work and that I should wait for them outside the gallery, as they didn’t know the way, etc.  So I waited outside in the rain, only to find that they had already gone inside.  Also, they had a young child with them,  my boss’s daughter, so I felt that, rather than have her disrupt the talks, which were being assessed and filmed, I had better keep her occupied with a drink and a snack.  So, in the end, I missed Bob’s talk, which was a great shame.

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Bob was really happy when the tutors of the course shook his hand and congratulated him.  I had to tell him that he was now their equal, in qualifications, at least.  He was very impressed with that thought!

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Some of the paintings from the M.A. exhibition.

Top: Studio Tea and Coffee Corner, 2007, and Fire Extinguishers, 2007, Below: Irwell Valley Clock, 2007

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Stars

My time at uni passed all too quickly.  Before I knew it, I was already in the second year of the degree.  In the first year, I had a lovely wall space, where I could display my work.  It was plastered in all those drawings I had started earlier in the year.  Some of them were worked up into larger paintings and, in the second year, I acquired a couple of huge canvases from the woodworking shop, which cost me £14 altogether.  I made a massive collage onto one of them, which was quite successful, I thought.  It took me so long to make this one work, that I was advised to go smaller, which I did, and became much more productive.  I used to work really hard all the time, even throughout the summer holiday, I would be machining away in the fibre workshop, making felt pieces from offcuts of rayon.

One of my felt squares was exhibited in a second-year student exhibition, “This is Our Pretty Mess”, in Bankley Studios, Levenshulme in Manchester.  It was there that I received a ‘phone call, whilst helping to put up the show with several other students on the course.  The call was from the husband of a friend, Linda Dhamikka, a Buddhist, working mainly in Zambia as a Primary Health Care worker, who had set up a clinic several years ago to treat the sick from the villages surrounding the Tithandezane  clinic, near Lusaka.  She had contracted malaria some time ago and over the weekend prior to the call, she had suffered a fatal asthma attack.

The show went ahead and the private view was well-attended by students and their relatives, and we took turns to invigilate during the following week.  Shortly after this, I was asked if I wanted to attend a memorial service in Leicester for Linda, which I did and travelled to the Buddhist Centre with some of Linda’s friends and her husband.  The service was similar to what I had expected, as I had attended her wedding years before in Manchester,  a part Buddhist and part Quaker ceremony.  The memorial service was very interesting and revealing about her life.  She seemed to have been quite a rebel, even though, as a partly ordained Buddhist minister, she had refused to shave her head, as the sun in Zambia was too hot!   Linda was also one of the emergency aid workers who supported and helped the Tsunami victims.  She used to spend only two or three months of the year at home in Eccles, Greater Manchester, and the remainder in Zambia.  For some time, I had been collecting medication and dressings for her to take with her on her trips and had supported the work in other ways too.  It was a very sad occasion and I still miss her, as do all of her friends..

Meanwhile, Bob had started his Masters degree and there was no stopping him!  He was often covered from top to toe in oil paint.  His canvases were also very large and he would often be in the wood workshop constructing them.  After a year of painting, he was asked to devise an exhibition for assessment, and for some reason, he chose to display drawings in a small room, which didn’t impress the tutors, as the work was crowded together,  so he decided to do another show in the summer of his paintings, and exhibited them in the Borland Gallery, in the Irwell Vally Campus.  This was a much better idea, and together, we curated the show and organized a preview, with drinks and snacks..  Booklets were also printed, which were given out to the visitors,  This was to be Bob’s first real show.

Even though he was working hard and seemed well to others, he was still having episodes of depression which he couldn’t shake off for days.  The first failed show of drawings had started one of these spells off,  but he had picked himself up again to everyone’s amazement.

Below is one of the heater paintings in the exhibition.  On the left, Bob and I in 2007.

Bob and Heater 2006 1005

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Pre-cruise Blues!

Sometime before going on the cruise, Bob was experiencing some issues at the new shared house.  At first, on the surface,  all was well.  There were barbecues in the summer and the residents were invited to be guests at a party for one of the staff members.  Other days out were suggested, but one of the residents was notorious for agreeing to join in and then declining to go,  so nothing else took place.  The weekly shopping excursions to the supermarket continued as usual.

The problems with the building began with an occasional leak from the ceiling; the worst was in the bathroom, when the floor became flooded.  Then there was a leak coming through the light fitting on the landing for which I was called out,  instead of the staff.   The plumbing in the bathroom was also an ongoing problem.

Then there were the test fire drills and one serious drill, when all the residents had to go outside in the middle of the night.  Bob was very indignant!

The men who shared Bob’s house had their problems too.  One of them was a young man, in his early twenties, who enjoyed going out  drinking.  He also said to my son,  in confidence,  of course, that he was open to taking any drugs which were on offer.  Another was almost fifty and tee-total now,  after being off the drink for many years.  He was quite grumpy with my son and regularly moaned about Bob not pulling his weight in the house, even when he did the dishes regularly.  The third housemate was also middle-aged and an alcoholic; still drinking, when the staff had gone home in the evening.  He was also a chain smoker, or might have been if his supply of cigarettes was not locked up in a tin box in the safe.  He was only allowed one cigarette per hour.  This man was unfortunate because he never had visitors.  I asked him one day, if he had any relatives.  He said he had a mother but he did not know where she was.  I was appalled and astounded.  I could not believe that he had not been in touch with his mother for many years.

I asked her name and the town in which she lived and had no trouble in locating her phone number, and gave it to her son, who rang her immediately.  They began seeing each other at the weekends, and I was very happy about that.

The party-going resident was very charming.  He was all smiles when I was around, but his character changed, apparently, when alone with my son.  He could be quite devious.  He would also play his music very loudly with his bedroom window open wide.   His room happened to  be close to the next-door neighbour’s bedroom, who, apparently, did not enjoy popular music,  especially during the early hours of the morning!

Most days the man from next door would ring the doorbell of the shared house, and it was usually Bob who answered the door- to a tirade of abuse!  When I was alerted to this,  I told my son to refrain from opening the door.   This was, however, not always possible, and the neighbour  managed to catch him out several more times.

The house was supposed to be staffed from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., but this did not always happen due to staff shortages.  The usual scenario was that one member of staff was present from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.  I was unhappy about this, as it meant that the young lad could bring in unknown visitors, who drank with him and occasionally slept it off overnight in the lounge.  The staff did not seem to know what was going on at all.

I was also alarmed when women’s underwear was discovered in the washing machine.  It turned out that the washing machine in the women’s house, which was located a few blocks along, had broken down, so some of the women had been using the men’s washer.  I’d had the wrong idea about it entirely!

Bob was also disturbed by some of the comments which were made in the house.  The tee-total alcoholic was complaining to a staff member one day that he should not be in the house ‘with all those mad people’.  Bob objected to the comment,  which, I thought, showed that he was more aware than he had been previously, and was determined now  to stand up for himself.  Also, at a meeting with staff and psychiatric nurses, he expressed the desire to return home, but one of the nurses, who knew my situation as a widow, said that she thought that I might want to use him as a substitute husband!

Well, my son was really annoyed at that suggestion and said so.  I was quite insulted, too, on hearing about it, and would have said something to her if I had been there.

One of the staff members was chatting to us one day, and Bob said again that he wanted to go home for good.  She said that she hoped he wouldn’t be doing a midnight flit, which comment put the idea into his mind to do exactly that!

One night, around midnight, Bob was packing up all his belongings into a large black plastic sack, while I was waiting in the car parked right outside the house,  listening to  music playing quietly,  as I thought.   A small, elderly man, dressed in a dressing gown over pyjamas and wearing slippers, ran to my side of the car and banged hard on the windscreen with his fist.

“Turn that noise off!” he shouted.  “I’m trying to sleep!”

All I could think of to say was, “You are a very nasty man!”

The banging continued relentlessly for some time.

I didn’t get out of the car, but locked it from the inside and waited for him to go.  Eventually, Bob came out with his plastic sack and we drove home.  I had begun to shiver at that point with shock, and did not recover from it for a couple of hours.

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Art Immersion

Getting ready for the cruise, we bought some new outfits and thought we looked quite smart.  We were not expecting to sit around the swimming pool all day, wallowing in the sunshine, and, as it happened, the pool was full most days.   We were surprised that more people did not get off the ship and take part in the sightseeing trips.

As Bob was still not quite himself and sleepy, we decided to take a city tour on alternate days.  What we really wanted to do was to visit the art galleries.  It was difficult to motivate my son to get up early, but he managed it, and slept on the coach.  We booked tours to some of the important cities, such as Barcelona, Rome, Genoa, Marseilles, and Naples and managed to visit the galleries in most of them. 

We went to the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City, which was amazing.  The massive space was full of people and every so often they were asked for silence, as people couldn’t help speaking louder and louder.

In Barcelona, Bob was delighted to come across a large painting by the American artist, Phillip Guston.  He decided there and then that he would be writing his dissertation on this painter.  Guston was an interesting artist because he was known for several styles of painting.  Bob particularly liked his later style.  Grotesque cartoon-like characters, painted thickly in oils on large canvases.

We tried to see the  remains of the city at Pompei, near Naples, but, unfortunately, we did not arrive in time, as we had made our own way there by train and missed a connection.  There were other compensations, ‘though, as we found yet another art gallery to visit.

In the evenings there was onboard entertainment on the ship and lots of food, so we enjoyed ourselves.  On the days when we hadn’t booked a trip, we explored the local ports at our leisure. 

Shortly after returning home, we enrolled on our courses.   I began the first year of my degree and Bob started on his final year.  I was given the task of making 500 drawings in one week.  I don’t think I was alone in not quite managing the full amount of drawings, but I gave it a good shot.  Bob, on the other hand, was concentrating on drawing Philip Guston’s paintings in his sketchbook.  He made so many drawings that I began to think he was being obsessive and became a little worried about him.  There was no need for concern, as it happened.  It was his way of getting to know the works of art. 

As the year progressed, we were both working hard, attending lectures, seminars, exhibitions and doing our art work.  We also spent many hours in the university library, researching for our written work. 

Bob began a series of  paintings based on objects which he carried around with him, such as his wallet, a watch, coins and pens.  These were quite small paintings in comparison with his final works, some of which were 8 ft (2.44m) x 5 ft. (1.52 m).  When it came to his final show,  I remember holding one of these mammoth canvases up at the wall, while he stood back, deciding, at his leisure, whether it was straight or not!

Occasionally, I thought the pressure of work might have affected him, but he managed to pass the degree well enough to enable him to join a taught master’s course the following year!

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Post Trauma

The days following my husband’s death were difficult, as you might imagine.  Most of the time I was seeing through bloodshot eyes.  My puffed-up face was not pretty, either.  I lost almost 3 st. (40 lb.) in weight within the first couple of weeks.

Bob, on the other hand, did not seem any different.  I continued to visit him daily and after a month I returned to work, which was, I suspect, too soon. 

On arrival at the work’s entrance, I was greeted by the porter,

“Was it your fault?” 

To which I replied, with a hint of sarcasm, “of course it was!”

Moving quickly on, I went to my office to find that my filing drawers were easier to open than before.  Later in the day, I was working in the general office.  My line manager, happening to walz in, quipped,

“Alison, I meant to tell you.  I am soooo grateful to your husband for being ill in February.”

“Why’s that?” I asked with a frown.

“Well, while you were away, looking after him, I was able to clear out all the filing drawers in your office.”

Big smile!

I looked at my colleague and he stared back in disbelief.

Everything went on as before, except that I often wondered why I had returned to work.  I would have rather had been down a deep hole.   Because there was nobody left at home and I was below par, I let my dog go to the rehoming centre.  Both the dog and I were very unhappy about saying good-bye, but I was no longer myself.

He had been my only comfort and now he was gone, too.

Some time later, we had news that Bob was to leave rehab. to live in a house with three men.  There was to be full-time care from 9.00 a.m. until 9.00 p.m.  We went to visit the house and saw that it was well-decorated and well-suited to its purpose.  A large TV lounge, a quiet lounge, a kitchen, bathrooms and four bedrooms – really spacious and well-thought out.

Bob moved in shortly after the visit, having said goodbye to his friends at rehab.

Everything seemed to be going well now.  One of my girlfriends has a daughter who works at a local war history museum and she suggested that my son might like to join the volunteer programme.  He needed to be persuaded, as he had lost all confidence in himself.  The care staff at the new house could give limited support to the residents’ outings, and it was usually to the nearest supermarket.  So, eventually we began to get this new programme of volunteering underway.

Bob gradually became more confident, in general, and his role was to show the public around the building and answer questions.  We visited exhibitions there, and I found it interesting to inspect some of the exhibits. 

About eighteen months after my husband’s death, I decided to leave work and start an art foundation  course.  I was accepted onto the course, which my husband had taught on previously.  His colleagues were very kind and I was given an essay topic during the summer, which happened to be on an exhibition I had visited.  I wrote about the show at the war museum.  

My son was also feeling more motivated, and his drugs had been changed, which were working very well,  so I suggested that he enrol back onto his course in the September.   He was not sure, and, as we also really needed a holiday, I booked a cruise, so that we could visit some art galleries around the Mediterranean Sea. 

This was my best idea ever!

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Rehab.

Rehab. was a different kettle of fish from anything we had known before.  We were invited to visit the rehab. centre and view Bob’s new room.

A standard room, we expected.  But this was something else!  The smell was horrible.  We tried to have the room changed but it didn’t happen.  The problem was in the carpet.  I have never smelled anything so bad before and can’t imagine what had caused the odour. 

We brought in deodorants, air sprays, but nothing worked. There appeared to be no choice but to take this room. We were not trouble causers. I wish we had been. So it was settled. I don’t know how my son put up with the smell. Perhaps the fact that he was still smoking caused the odour to be less troublesome to him.

When we visited, therefore, we spent most of the time in the common room, where we could watch the residents playing pool together and chat with them. There was also a “quiet” room where they could go to be still whenever necessary, and a conservatory at the back, where people could smoke and look out at the car parking area.

Visiting times were quite flexible at the rehab. centre and my husband and I visited in the evenings.

I was working at this time and one evening I could not start my car to drive home, so my husband came into town to fetch me. The weather was bitterly cold, and he became ill the next day. His health had not been very good for some years, and he stayed off work for the next few months. We were constantly visiting the doctor and Accident and Emergency due to his panic attacks and depression.

One day he said he was going to kill himself because he felt that everything was too much for him to bear. I didn’t take it seriously at first. I suppose I was too shocked. But afterwards I phoned my manager and said I would have to take time off to be with him. We went to see the doctor again for sleeping pills but he would not prescribe any. Then we went to the hospital and saw two consultants on separate occasions who both contacted the doctor to request that he prescribe the pills, but he would not.

Shortly after these visits we applied for my husband to be committed into the psychiatric ward of the hospital, but there were no rooms available. The nearest alternative was miles away and it would have been difficult to make visits to both my son and my husband every evening. So my husband stayed at home, barely eating and becoming even more depressed.

Shortly after this time, he killed himself. He had waited until I went shopping with my aunt and uncle, and even sent me on an errand to the chemist for a prescription. It was quite obvious to me later, that he had planned everything thoroughly.

I had then to break the news to both my sons. The older son had been visiting that same day and had left something behind, so he returned to collect the item and found the ambulance and a police car outside. Later, we both had to visit Bob and break the news to him. He was very quiet. We were assured that a member of staff would look out for him when we had gone home.

To this day, Bob can sometimes dream about his father, and during the dream I can hear him crying. He has seldom cried when awake.

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Turning it Around!

I love the way psychiatric units are named after the most inspiring of places.  Names such as Springbank, Meadowbrook, Daisyfield or Rosewalk.  Such descriptive tags seem to be endowed on the most deadly, dull institutions.  

Imagine being a pet owner, if you went away on holiday and left your precious pet in kennels or in a cattery, you might expect the staff to, at least, take it out for a walk or play ball with it once a day.

On the adult wards of a psychiatric hospital, in my locality, however, there was nothing to do.  Granted, there was a small library corner in the lounge, but when your head is all messed up, who can read a book?  There was also a pool table (a simplified version of snooker), but the most popular room used to be the smokers’ room.  Smoking in public buildings is now banned in the UK, but fifteen years ago it was okay to smoke in a designated room.  

Looking into that room, it was hard to make out who was in there.  The fog was so thick. There was a fellowship amongst the residents.  Lending each other cigarettes and offering a light when necessary.  I was quite dismayed by all this at the time, but smoking was, at least, something for them to do.

After a couple of weeks in there, we were able to take Bob out, but only to the cafe in the hospital’s shopping area.  It was good for him to be in a different environment, and we looked at the clothes and magazine shops and usually bought something to amuse him. Once he asked for a cactus plant. A good choice, as it only needed water every month or so. We still have that plant, probably the only object which has survived the fifteen years which have elapsed since that time.

We spent many hours and not all happy ones, in that place. Most of the residents stayed in their rooms if they could get away with it, smoking by the window. You only had to walk around the building to see the evidence of cigarette ends on the ground outside. There was a small garden outside the building with a seating area, fenced off from the rest of the hospital and the nearby motorway.

I found it quite disgusting that there were barely any activities and absolutely no opportunities for the residents to go out as a group. I suppose it is all dependent on what money is available, and for these clients, there was none.

A good friend of mine from my school days sent me a leaflet on health courses of various kinds, so I chose a course which I thought might help Bob, once he left the psychiatric unit.

It was a day-long course, so I was invited to stay overnight at my friend’s house and return home the next morning. The course was given by a very interesting lecturer, who had written books about dreams and what they might mean. I bought the book, but I just like to dream, not analyse them. Sorry!

Anyway, the main point about his talks was that activity, rather than delving into a person’s past and going over and over his or her difficulties, is the key to regaining both mental and physical health. I must say that I agreed wholeheartedly with this and, why hadn’t I thought of it myself?

The second part of the course, which was aimed at healthcare workers really, was practical. The lecturer asked for a volunteer, and I put up my hand, not knowing what was coming. I was gradually put under a trance whilst being asked questions about myself, which I answered, and then I fell asleep. I woke up, not knowing much of what had happened at all, except that I was very relaxed and quite happy.

We were then shown how to hypnotize someone and had to practice this on a partner. I did the hypnotizing this time, but I was slow at getting my partner out of the trance and she complained that she couldn’t breathe as I was counting slowly down, so I didn’t ever do that again. End of my new career!

When I returned home the following day, I was more determined than ever to involve my son in some activities.

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