The first care home I ever visited was in Southend. It was a lovely small house and there were only 10 residents...The experienced inspector introduced me to the matron who gave me leave to wander whilst she talked....
"You'll find them all through there." I followed her finger and went into a small conservatory and then choked....it was very smokey indeed. There were about 6 people in there, all smoking...
After I'd coughed a bit I sat down next to someone who moved away immediately. I tried a few times to engage them in conversation but they really didn't want to know.
Eventually the story appeared in fragments, with different sentences from different people but the story was that they had all been together for many years. Home for them was the huge Victorian asylum in Southend.
This was the "Care in the community" period....this group of people had been told they were to be rehoused and a charity had bought them a house so that they could stay together.
They hated it and talked with massive affection for the loony bin as they put it..
"We were happy in the loony bin" they said....."Why did they have to move us?"
Gradually bits of the story were being revealed after I had assured them that no further moves were being inflicted on them.
Lunch was served and I was invited into the dining room to eat with them whilst the inspector checked the medicines.
"Let us not be neglectful of our guest" The woman spoke in a cut glass Edinburgh accent who brought out a bottle of Scotch to put on the table.."You will take a wee dram" It was an order not a question.
The scotch loosened tongues and soon they were all chatting away.
A cat strolled in....."This is not our cat......you understand? We are not allowed animals"
The cat, clearly a resident sat on a knee and purred....."You understand? they asked nervously.
I did....it was alright....the cat would not appear in my report.
After lunch the rooms cleared. "They've all gone for their nap now dear, "
I followed the Scottish lady into the lounge and sat down at her invitation.
Her story was a very sad one.
She had become pregnant at 14. Her rich family had sent her away to have the baby.....she had never been home since. After the birth the baby was taken away and she never saw him again. She wept as she told me.....she had kicked up...demanded her baby....They had locked her up, for her own good they told her and she had spent the whole of her life in asylums. She was one of the sanest people I ever met.
Ironically she was now free......but her freedom meant nothing to her....these people were her family and she loved them....she did have money and she spent it on treats like the scotch on the table and I believe the boxes of cigarettes dotted around the place.
Hers was the worst story but one more is another illustration of a time long ago.
One of the men kept coming to sit with me and after a lot of hesitation he finally asked if I would go to his room with him.
This was something I knew I wasn't supposed to do but he was really desperate.....there was something he wanted to show me.
With some small misgivings I went upstairs with him.
He had a beautiful room....and it was not just spotless but polished so that every surface shone.
It was his room that he wanted me to see. He did all the cleaning himself....he spent hours every day polishing and tidying.
His story emerged in fits and starts. He was also from a good home. At fifteen he had been caught masturbating. He cried too when he told me......."They called me dirty, a dirty little boy."
They too had sent him away and he had also been kept in an asylum for the rest of his life..
They all had sad stories to tell......but my day at that home had filled me with horror ....not for the home but at the way the people had been treated over the years.
Care in the community hardly worked for them.....they had been institutionalised from an early age...it was too late to offers them liberty.
For the most part they were happy.....they had been able to stay together.
That was twenty years ago.....I imagine they must all be dead by now...Rest in peace! You all deserved better.