Cosy Corners in Depression and War
Autobiography of Joan Hughes
The story of one person's nests


1982 started badly. I was back to a wage of £40 per week, because I had been forced to accept part-time work. This money did not go far, after paying expenses. Anna was picking on me at work. Farouk was also very aggressive. Export orders were becoming non-existent.

I became very depressed and stayed away from work for a week. When I returned, in desperation I phoned a few embassies to try to get export orders. These were places like Libya and the Yemen. I told Rod, the accountant what I was doing and he said there was no harm trying. As there was very little work in my department, I had to do a job called "crossing off books sold from the back-list and the current list" in Farouk's department. As relations between Farouk and myself were poor I did this very badly, not being able to read his hand-writing.

In addition to this, I started to have chest trouble. In these days smoking was allowed on buses, as well as at work, and I felt this aggravated my illness. I noticed that each time I got out of the bus, my pain was alleviated, especially if the weather was warm and dry. In January, February and March I began to feel progressively more ill, and in mid-March had to hand in my notice.

After resting at home during April, I recovered somewhat, and felt well enough to attend the Union branch meetings. We were trying to support a member who had been dismissed from Foyle's bookshop. About this time I was also attending Inquest group meetings in the House of Commons. After a long but successful meeting with Michael Meacher MP and a crowd of people in one of the larger meeting rooms at the House of Commons, I left in the afternoon together with Andrew and a Scotsman who had been appointed to the staff of Inquest together with Tony Ward, the qualified lawyer. The Scotsman whose name I forget had recently been working with the Scottish Society for Civil Liberties, and had recently moved to London. We decided to have tea in a nearby cafe before returning home. Unfortunately while engrossed in talk as we were walking along the pavement, a woman approached and gave me a very hard hit in the chest. The Scotsman remarked that she was "probably a schizophrenic" and gave me one of his pain-killers and we sat down in the cafe, but the pain in my chest hardly eased up. Mentally I had reservations about the woman being schizophrenic, because most of those who I had known in the past who had been labelled "schizophrenic" had been extremely quiet and depressed, not violent. However I said nothing. I was grateful to accept the pill, together with tea and sympathy. This was the start of a period of severe chest trouble. This blow may have triggered it off, but I could hardly tell. Unfortunately my doctor did not help. I was with an unsatisfactory local practice and the doctor said that he could find nothing wrong except for the fact that "I was severely debilitated."

I felt unable to breathe, deserted my room upstairs which was poorly ventilated and slept in a box-room. As I always felt ill in the room upstairs and unable to breathe I told Andrew I would apply for a separate flat with Newlon.

In August 1982 I received the offer of a flat in Saratoga Road, Clapton. I was very pleased with it. My chest trouble had eased up by August and I felt able to move my furniture. But it was very slow work settling down, as from time to time I felt very short of breath and developed a raised temperature. The doctor gave me a few anti-biotics but did not get to the root of the problem.

By October I felt reasonably well. Andrew asked me if I would look after Edward, the white poodle owned by Tony Ward, the new employee of Inquest. I agreed to take Edward for a week-end and took him for a walk across Hackney Marshes on Friday evening. On Saturday my father visited. He was now 85 years of age and this was the last time he visited London. He enjoyed the day and I cooked him a good dinner on my new gas cooker. Leonard heard that he was visiting London and also came over for the day. My flat was full that day, as the dog was also there and it kept me busy. This was the last time that Dad visited me in London.

Though I had been ill most of the summer, I had contrived to do the minimum amount of study for the open university course on Crime and Punishment and was able to take the examination in November. This was a third-level course, and my lack of experience in social science together with bad health prevented me from doing well. I obtained a third-class pass. It was the first third-level course I had attempted. A total of two units at third level were required for the honours degree of the Open University. There were few meetings of the students and no summer school. I knew I was not well enough this year to attend a summer school, but was grateful for some interest to pursue at home. The work consisted of reading only and writing essays. In such a subject there was no practical work, as most students had little opportunity for observing crime. Even if they did so in the course of their work, it could hardly be made the subject of a current university study. However in general psychology we were able to do practical work by making observations on ordinary people in social situations. It was my aim to do such a course when my health improved.

Marjorie was still working at the Government Chemist. Her aunt and uncle had now become ill. She was hoping to retire shortly and in the meantime was commuting from Bexhill each day. In November, she invited me to have lunch with her on the South Bank at the restaurant attached to the National Film Theatre. Unfortunately I had an attack of breathing trouble while I was walking along the pavement approach to the Laboratory of the Government Chemist. The weather was cold. I could not breathe and could not move along the pavement. I dropped my bags and managed to ask a passer-by to carry them into the entrance to the Government Chemist. I think Marjorie was standing there waiting for me, because she came out to help me along the pavement. She was upset that I was ill. But after visiting the toilet I felt sufficiently well to go to the restaurant. I had to catch a taxi home and ask Marjorie for a pound towards the fare, as I had not sufficient money to pay for it. I felt this visit was rather unsuccessful. However next time I visited the Government Chemist I felt better. This was in the Spring of 1983. Marjorie took me to meet the people she worked with in the laboratory and to see Dr. Egan, who was now the Government Chemist. When I knew him he had been a senior principal scientific officer, in charge of the pesticides division where I used to work. He remembered me and asked how I was. I spoke to him briefly.

Unfortunately a spell of very cold weather set in just before Christmas. The winter of 82/83 was exceptionally cold. Often I had to get up in the night and sit by the gas fire, as I found I could not breathe properly while lying down. The pain in my chest returned, and on many days I felt unable to go out. Andrew was working part-time only and he had spare time, so I often visited Glenarm Road. Valerie was often unwell. She had some part-time work as a lecturer at Enfield College where Andrew worked.

During the winter of 1982 I felt too ill to visit Dad at Christmas. He was very disappointed.

before after


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Copyright Joan Hughes 1993-1997. Published with permission.