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

1973 - From Goodmayes to Mental Patients Union

I am going to interpose my diary entries with what I can remember from 1973, but did not write down.

Probably I spent Christmas with my father at Manningtree though I have no clear recollection of this. Probably I also called for a day at Aunt Violet's flat in West Kensington, and visited Leonard and Teresa at Romford.

Early in January Leonard visited the top floor flat in Notting Hill Gate and brought me an angle-poise lamp. This was a lamp which could be fixed to a table and adjusted to any angle for ease in writing with a good light shining directly on to the paper.

Though I had settled in this new room, I was uneasy there. The janitor was distinctly unfriendly towards me, and the people who occupied the rooms were not particularly friendly. I visited the room of the person directly below me, and though she was not unkind, she rather depressed me, as she stated that as soon as she gave up work, she wanted to move into a home for old folk to be looked after. This was rather a funny attitude.

Her room was much tidier than mine, and I believe that she was about 10 years older than me. On her book-shelf, she had a book about the sea. She told me that this was written and published at his own expense by a postman who wanted to go to sea but never had the opportunity and that this was an example of someone to be admired.

I looked at the book, which seemed very dull, full of facts and figures, but reading it did not appeal to me.

She told me about this postman after I told her that I used to be a chemist but now had to do clerical work, and missed my old profession.

I had few words with her occasionally, and also spoke to a women who had just moved in, who wanted me to change a light-bulb for her. I got on to a chair and did this, but wondered why the lady could not do it herself, as she looked fairly young and capable, though like all of us, was over forty. DIARY 20.1.1973. I went on a demonstration against the war in Vietnam. I had never heard much about this war, because I did not take in much that appeared on television during the years 1970 and 1971, and although I listened to the news in 1972, I was much too preoccupied with settling down to a life at work once more, to pay much attention to the news. The women I mixed with did not discuss the news, either at work or in the blocks of apartments which I occupied.

1.5.1973. There was a transport strike, and I believe it was joined by many other unionised workers. I was not on strike, but the managers did not want any of the junior staff to attend the office, even though there was one woman at Spicer-Cowan's who was insisting that she should. I went on the demonstration to support the trade unions, though I did not mention this to anyone at work or at home.

DIARY 29.7.1973. I did not write anything in the diary for a long period, because nothing interesting was happening. I managed to join the Union APEX and began attending their meetings in January. At the meetings there was much talk about proscribed organisations; the two chief proscribed organisations were the Communist Party and the International Socialists. Four people were on the committee of the Local APEX branch and two of these were Communists, including the one to whom I had to send my subscriptions. I wrote several letters to the financial secretary, a Communist, as I wanted application forms for the Union to distribute at my place of work. However this man persuaded me not to do this.

1996 comment - In June 1973 things took a turn for the worse after I had spent a week-end with Aunt Violet. We had roast chicken. This tasted a little bit "off" but I never suspected that it was really bad. Unfortunately when I got home on Monday I was taken ill with violent stomach pains. I phoned my aunt to find that she was also ill with stomach pain. She grumbled at me because she wanted me to visit and look after her but I could not even get to the toilet before I had diarrhoea, so that was out of the question. My illness would have had no long-term bad results if I had been on my own, but unfortunately the janitor found out that I was ill and unable to use the toilet. I spent my whole time sitting on a wash- bowl in the bed.

The janitor said that he did not want anyone with my kind of illness in his rooms. This was most unkind, but he told me that my illness was my own fault, because I was dirty! He had a commode installed in the room and ordered a district nurse to visit. I did not wish to see this district nurse.

I think she must have been told some bad things because when she called she said, "Have you washed?" in an unkind tone of voice.

Unfortunately I could not use the commode because the onset of the diarrhoea was so sudden that it passed out before I could stir an inch. I was forced to continue using the wash bowl and sitting on it the whole time when I felt stomach pain coming on. The onset of stomach pain was sometimes gradual, but I could not spend all my periods of pain on the commode. Nevertheless during intervals when I was well enough to get out of bed I washed the bowl, emptied it into the toilet and got back to bed. The commode remained empty and never needed washing.

The illness lasted about ten days. Likewise my aunt was ill for a week, but no-one grumbled at her and she got better on her own. Her son was visiting every Saturday, so was able to take care of her needs, and for a few days, her daughter-in-law was able to look after her.

The result of my illness was to make the janitor determined to have me evicted from the room.

Just after my illness with stomach trouble, I looked round for employment which paid more money. The reason for doing so was because I was unhappy in the block of apartments, having been treated so unkindly by the janitor, and needed a higher income if I wanted to rent a private apartment. I considered working as a clerk for Lyons at West Kensington, but this would have paid only £2 more per week.

The solution was to obtain a job which also employed men on the same grade, so I took a job as toilet attendant. For this I was paid at least £30 per week, and thought that I would look for more pleasant accommodation. I had to do shift work, sometimes working on Saturdays and Sundays, but as I was paid double time on Sundays and time and a half on Saturdays, I did not mind this. I was earning £11 per week more than as a clerk with Spicer- Cowan, so I was happy.

My colleague was a widow, and she instructed me in the job. She was a reasonably intelligent woman, and said that many female toilet attendants were paid more than secretaries. This was a little known fact, but the reason for it was the equal pay rule. The work was not arduous. The toilets were in a quiet spot near the river bank at Hammersmith and were little used. I was never nervous. My colleague advised me to keep one toilet locked for personal use, but I laughed at this.

We had to wash the floor twice per shift, once when commencing duty and once before going home. Sometimes this was the only work I performed on a shift and I was able to spend the rest of the time reading and studying Russian, as I still had an ambition to work as a scientific translator.

I found a Penguin Book on Summerhill School in the drawer and concluded that some quite intelligent women were resorting to this kind of work. Certainly it paid more than an average office job.

I did three months in this work fairly contentedly. June, July and August passed agreeably.

Then I was summoned to the office and told that I was sacked.

I was astonished, as I had worked well and had never given cause for complaint.

When I asked the reason I was told that I had been taken on only as a summer relief.

I protested that I was told no such thing, and informed the union official, but he was not interested in my complaint.

At the end of September I went home without a job, and after two or three weeks the janitor found out that I was unemployed and told me to leave the apartment, as only employed women were allowed to be tenants at the "Over- Forty Housing Association for Women Workers."

literature concerning the Mental Patients Union

However I was not sure whether it was because literature concerning the "Mental Patients Union" had been found in my room. The janitor was in the habit of going into the flats and inspecting them while the tenants were out.

I am continuing for a while to type out the diary extracts. From my standpoint in 1996, some of the writing seems peculiar- but it was how I was thinking in 1973.

DIARY- 29.7.1973. I decided to attend meetings of the International Socialists. The first one was in Paddington. The organiser seemed quite friendly towards me and took my name and address. I told him that I was going to attend the meetings in Hammersmith in future as this was nearer to my place of work. The first meeting in Hammersmith was interesting. First there was a discussion on activities in Trade Unions, and it seemed that I.S. members wished to exclude outsiders from this part of the meeting. A vote was taken, deciding that in future the first part of the meeting would be private and visitors would come at 8.30 pm.

Afterwards a young man spoke to me. He was quite pleasant, and invited me to go down to the pub with them. However, I told him that I had to get up at 5.45 am, and he laughed and advised me to give the job up.

At the meeting a talk had been given called "The United Front" by an Italian giving the early history of the Italian Communist Party.

At the following meeting on July 26th, a talk was given on the situation in Ireland. Too much support was given to the IRA by the speaker, and I noticed that the I.S. member who appeared to be in charge became uncomfortable and mildly criticised the speaker. This branch supervisor appears to be a very sensible and tolerant man compared with some of the others.

1996 comment - I soon found I did not like some of the I.S. members. However I recall meeting someone called Roger Protz. He now writes for respectable newspapers on "The Campaign for Real Ale". He was very fond of drinking. He took me down to a pub and bought drinks for us, and seemed very friendly. The members who associated with him all seemed reasonable people. Not so, some of the more intolerant youths.

DIARY 29.7.1973. One of those so-clever young men spoke to me after a meeting and I told him about my old Union Secretary who was still sending me letters urging me to join the Communist Party. I told him that I had informed this man that I was opposed to abortion and dialectical materialism, being a Christian. I do not equate dialectical materialism with Marxism which is altogether more human.

1996 comment -(I had gained my ideas from reading Father Laurence Bright's ideas on Marxism).

DIARY - The dialectical part is O.K.; it is the materialistic part to which I object. Only material things matter - how ugly! Marx could not have meant that or he would not have put forward his concept of the alienation of the working class.

The progress of history is entirely controlled by materialistic forces! Marx could not have meant that either, or he would not have urged people to make a revolution in order to overthrow capitalism. If materialistic forces control everything, and the ideas of humans have no power, then it is a waste of time for humans to attempt to change things for themselves. Of course, perhaps I am wrong and dialectical materialism does not really mean what I think it means. It is partly true anyway. - Material things are important. First, we have to have them, before we can have anything else. Yet at times it may be necessary to abandon all our material things and maybe even life itself, and this is indeed the noblest part of man.

We are indeed partly controlled by material things. What about a baby? Nearly all its first needs are material ones. Love comes later. And it seems that humans in the mass are indeed more influenced by material things than by ideas. But man is a very complex creature. Each individual is influenced to a different extent by materialistic forces and by ideas. Dialectics! - that is another thing entirely and entirely valid. Conflict there will always be.

Anyway the clever young man - so great an expert (my sarcasm) informed me that all the International Socialists believed in materialism and that he would have to get me to do so also. With this I disagreed. I do not mind discussing something, but not with someone who states that he wishes me to be brought round to his point of view. I do not try to work like this on other people with my ideas. I do not know what the total population of the world is, but whatever it is, there should be freedom for many philosophical variations. People can agree on many things but not on everything.

But this was not the most unpleasant part about this young man. I told him I was on shift work and he asked what factory I was in. I told him that I was not in a factory and he said, "Have you sunk so low?" I wanted to give him a cutting reply "Not quite as low as you." Instead I said nothing. We had reached the pub, and he said that I could come to the meeting next time, but I noticed that he did not invite me into the pub with him. I am not sure that I would have wished to go in.

The Union Secretary who was urging me to join the Communist Party had sent me a pamphlet on dialectical materialism by Joseph Stalin, and this horrified me, for I did not wish to read the writings of Stalin. I had told this clever young I.S. acquaintance how much I objected to being sent the writings of Joseph Stalin, but he did not seem very sympathetic. He admitted that he had read this pamphlet himself. I do not know what to think either of the I.S. or the C.P.

This is a long diary entry to cover the last 8 months and I will try to be more regular in future.

(1996 comment - I am amazed that I should write all this philosophy in a diary and not write much about daily life).

Wednesday 1.8.1973 Nothing particular has happened, but the people who have been trying to get me to believe in dialectical materialism have caused me to think about it. To believe that everything is controlled by inhuman material forces is an odious thing to believe. In the same way one surely does not want to believe that everything is controlled by God, acting as a sort of dictator, and giving no freedom to Man.

I believe that God was the first cause, the Creator, the one who set things in motion, but not that he is a heavenly dictator. And those who do not believe in God would surely not want to believe in the dictatorship of material forces.

Both these forms of determinism have been put forward at various times and both seem untrue.

In the world I believe there is God. There are material things. Then there is something between the two called life, the highest part of which is Man. Part of Man is like God, and part like material things, but the noblest part of man is like God. Even among those who do not believe in God, surely most would believe that Man is superior to material things.

I believe that neither God nor blind material forces control everything. Man also has a say in it, because he has free will. However, God actually knows everything which will happen in advance.

Even if there is some truth in determinism, it surely can only apply to people in the mass (statistically) and never to the individuals.

As far as philosophy is concerned, in the world there are many variations of philosophical belief, and even in the same individual there are changes.

Sunday 2.9.1973. Today Mr Blood, the supervisor informed me that I was only engaged as a "temporary summer relief". I told him that I had been quite unaware of this, but he swore and declared that I had been told about this. I complained to the Union Representative about this; and he said - "Oh, well, it is their word against yours - so the union can do nothing for you." What is the use of having a Union Representative like that! A lot more discussion took place between "shop steward", branch secretary and myself, which I have not recorded. The supervisor and the shop steward both shouted, "On the stated day, we want you out!"

Thursday 6.9.1973. Our local C.P. branch secretary came to see me and I had an interesting chat with him.

Saturday 8.9.1973. I had been ejected from my employment with the last week's wages.

1996 entry. I had to sign on at the employment exchange. The people there were not very polite to me. I had to fill out a large form stating what sort of employment I was prepared to take. Then I saw a notice in the exchange stating that counselling on employment and an aptitude and personality test would be given to volunteers. I took this test thinking that it might help me. Though it appeared to be "fun to do" it did not help me. The people at the exchange thought my answers were peculiar and became more hostile towards me, so I regretted bitterly what I had written down on their papers. My answers were too academic and not straightforward enough for them.

DIARY 8.9.1973. I applied to a School of Journalism for a course in writing articles. I am not making very good progress with my book.

1996 entry - I do not remember what sort of book I was writing. I found the course involved much expenditure, even though it stated that all fees would be returned to applicants who were not successful in placing articles. Initially I paid these people about £50. I believe that I signed a contract involving payment of more instalments. For this money I was sent four small booklets, each consisting of about 16 small pages.

I was given a list of magazines to buy. These included many which I did not normally read and in which I had little interest such as "Woman's Own." As I had been a working chemist for most of my life, my usual reading matter was "The New Scientist" and other magazines of an academic nature. Nevertheless I bought the "Woman's Own", and "Homes and Gardens", and attempted to follow the course and write articles for them. I always had a compulsion to keep busy, and as I could not get employment easily I thought this would occupy my time. One attempted article was about a holiday in S.W.Ireland at a small village called Glengariff which I had visited with Aunt May ten years earlier. It was returned to me with a demand that I should supply photographs. This was impossible. I found that all my articles were rejected by the tutors who made impossible demands on an unemployed person without the means to travel.

Meanwhile I was subjected to harassment. The janitor found out that I had lost my employment. As the policy of the Housing Association was to give accommodation to employed women only, continual demands were made that I should leave, unless I found employment again quickly. This was very difficult especially as I was being harassed by the janitor, and by some of the women residents who were his special friends. The harassments were often pin-pricks, but added together they soon depressed me. One was the demand that I put milk-bottles out daily. As I had to descend seven flights of stairs to put out a milk-bottle, I had got into the habit of leaving three or four out on any one occasion. They were always well- washed. But everything I did to save my time and energy was deemed to be wrong. On another occasion I found a stinking bag of rubbish just outside my room. It was intended that other women in the house should think that I put it there.

Meanwhile I tried to go out of the house as much as possible and stayed a long time in cafes in the area. This was another mistake, because the culture in that area was unknown to me and could be frightening. On one occasion I was locked inside a cafe, because the owner had decided to close. Inside the cafe were myself and a person dressed in very strange brightly-coloured clothes. I became frightened. On being asked to be allowed to leave the owner unlocked the door but the incident had frightened me. No longer did I know where to go to get away from the harassment that was taking place in my room.

Mental Patients Union at Prince of Wales Terrace

It seemed that a year of stress was packed into the six weeks between the beginning of September and mid-October 1973. I was attending meetings of the Mental Patients Union at Prince of Wales Terrace once per week. Prince of Wales Terrace was a squat. This meant that it a dilapidated building that had remained unoccupied by legal owners or tenants for a considerable period. Here, once per week for two hours in the evening, I tried to answer callers on the phone giving details of weekly meetings. Usually someone was leaving just as I arrived for my two-hour stint between 7pm and 9pm. This was often a quietly-spoken young man. The premises were quiet and eerie and rather dark. Fortunately there was not much sign of agitation or disturbance and I was able to spend most of my time reading.

Pam Edwards, an American lady was living there. She had studied architecture, had a mild breakdown and was now employed as a shorthand- typist at one of the foreign embassies in London. I did not see her at home during the time I spent alone in the ground-floor office. She came to the weekly meetings. Frank, an ex-Rampton patient appeared at one of these meetings and declared that Pam was a witch. I had never met Pam or Frank before, so did not know what to think. Certainly Pam appeared to have grandiose ideas on getting a new building for the Mental Patients Union, for which she would be the designer and architect. She did not take much notice of me.

Another attender at the meeting was Brendan, a large Irishman, who said "My life is not worth a light." I do not know if he was living at Prince of Wales Terrace at that time, but during one of the weekly meetings Pam gave him a curry on a plate, as he said that he had not had anything to eat. Then Brendan said, "The phone is bugged. I can tell." He picked it up, and continued, "I can hear a clicking noise. This means it is bugged". All these things made me nervous, though Brendan himself was not a frightening person. He appeared to talk reasonably logically, therefore I was prepared to believe that the phone was bugged.

When Frank and Jim Conway appeared at some of the meetings, they often became very agitated, and the pair of them frightened me, though Frank was much more frightening than Jim Conway, who shouted a great deal but was not personally abusive.

At one of the regular evening meetings I first met Andrew Roberts, who appeared to be having a disagreement with David Coleman. I do not remember what this was about. However one of the main sources of disagreement in The Mental Patients Union was whether this society should concentrate on being politically active or whether it should mainly be an advice centre for ex- patients wishing to contact alternative therapists which would enable them to avoid treatment by regular psychiatrists in mental hospitals. When the argument between Andrew and David became very determined, Liz Durkin suggested that I was very useful as a peacemaker. I told her that I wondered whether I should continue to come to meetings; she urged me to do so, as she thought I was doing valuable work there.

Liz Durkin was a college lecturer. Her partner Brian worked in a factory and was a union organiser. Liz and Brian were committed Marxists and wished to make the Mental Patients Union into a politically active organisation. Andrew continued with this trend and MPU was to remain politically active for three years, and in this it had a large measure of success. However MPU was far more than simply a political society.

Andrew and his family were homeless, having lost their home in Tottenham. They then obtained the lease of a short-life property in Mayola Road and wanted to let some rooms in this house to homeless ex-patients. This enterprise was under way before I met Andrew and had been set up just before I became involved with MPU. Perhaps this was lucky for me, for I was soon to become homeless.

Liz Durkin had been brought up a Catholic and she gave me a rosary when she heard that I was a Catholic, saying that perhaps I could use it.

DIARY Tues 1.10.1973 (The following is almost the only diary entry which I managed to write in the period from the beginning of September when I lost my job and when I left the premises on Tuesday 16th October, because this was a period of intense harassment). I have decided not to join any Marxist Party, because I am not actually a Marxist in the way in which Marxism is defined by all these parties. However, I am a Christian Communist, and will continue to work for Christian-Marxist co-operation. This would surely be a good idea to improve the state of affairs in England. Capitalism is out of date. I think that most people in England will agree that it is out-of- date.

The Mental Patients Union House in Hackney

17.10.1973 Part of diary entry - I moved from Kensington to East London on Tuesday 16.10.1973.

The above does not reveal much of my activities during the period running from the beginning of September until mid-October, so I will write what I can remember about this period.

While I was still at work, and reading the Socialist Worker, probably in August 1973, I noticed a small advertisement in this paper "The Mental Patients Union are meeting once per week in Prince of Wales Terrace." This street was not too far away. I had become disillusioned with SWP meetings, so I decided to go to these meetings instead. The first person I noticed there was someone called David Coleman. He stated that he was in the middle of divorce proceedings. The people at the meeting include many who seemed to be Marxists. But they were not the totally distressed type of person "in the midst of a nervous breakdown." Some of them were producing pamphlets and newsletters, and they were running a telephone help-line, which they were calling for volunteers to man. I volunteered to do this for one evening per week. Perhaps the reader will wonder why I was not nervous of these people whereas I was nervous of many people in my home and on the streets. The reason was that I had spent a considerable period in a psychiatric hospital and knew that many people there were not the totally flaked-out kind of people one often imagines. Most of my associates had been capable of doing housework, some of them were talented artists, many had run a home, some had pursued careers as doctors and there was even one ex-psychiatrist. I met another chemist who had supervised a large laboratory there. There were many ex-secretaries, clerks, nurses and teachers. There were also teen-agers who had never had the opportunity to work, and many less able people. But the ones who were in an acute stage were usually not put in the same wards as the more stable. I had spent much time among fairly stable psychiatric patients. That is not to say that I did not suffer much distress, especially when an apparently stable person was reported dead from a successful suicide attempt. One such was talking to me one day and doing some knitting. I remember remarking on how well she was doing. The next day she was reported as being drowned in a river in Birmingham. The other patients and staff coped with these distressing incidents because there was always some new crisis occurring, so dwelling on the past could not occur. Perhaps I was fortunate in that my closest friends during the hospital period did not die in this way. I met someone called Eric Irwin, at Prince of Wales Terrace. We discussed the huge graffiti on wall by the railway in Notting Hill. This stated "Death to Failed Suicides". I thought this meant there was someone who was trying to track down people who had attempted suicide in the past and was trying to kill them. Of course this frightened me, as I had to walk by the sign every day.

There had been a meeting in the Paddington Day Hospital organised by the MPU. I did not attend this, but read about it in an MPU publication. Shortly afterwards I attended an AGM of the MPU for which a room in Friends House was hired. It was chaired by Brian Douieb. One of the main speakers was an attractive young woman called Valerie Roberts. In the future I was going to get to know her extremely well, but at that time I did not know this. There was also a man carrying a furled umbrella, walking about the room, unable to sit quietly on the seats, like everyone else. He made me feel nervous and inclined to sit on the edge of my chair, though he did not harm anyone. Brian spoke to him as he neared the platform, in an attempt to calm in. Then he said, "Unfortunately, the image which the public sees is that of our most agitated member." In the circumstances this did not seem to me to be a helpful remark.

DIARY 17.11.1973. (Continued after moving to 37 Mayola Rd, Clapton, E5.)

"One should not say Raca to one's brother, but neither should one say Raca to oneself." (Paraphrase from Terry Eagleton).

During the last two months from about September 11th until the present date, many extraordinary things happened, which I shall not attempt to write down, but these things have certainly been rather disturbing. But things do seem to have improved a little, or should I say, quite considerably, just lately. I moved from Kensington to East London on Friday evening, 12th October, and moved all possessions from Kensington to East London on Tuesday, 16th October 1973. I visited the Kensington flat on Tuesday 22nd October to collect letters. I handed in the keys, and posted a letter resigning my tenancy as from the end of the month, 31st October 1973. As the electricity, heating and light had been turned off from the main, and the janitor made it quite clear that I would not, even if I wished to, be allowed to re-occupy this particular flat, but if I wished to remain a tenant, must apply to the Head Office for their consideration for a tenancy in another house, I decided that even if I had at some time to look for accommodation again, I would not apply to them.

30.11.1973. Father L. Kelly of the Mission in Botswana, Africa has promised that he will never be unkind to Marxists, or to anyone else, even though they may not agree with him on lots of things. There are always lots of things which they can agree about. BOMBS should be abolished. Father L. Kelly thinks unorthodox Catholics are quite good people, actually.

I started writing this diary while I was still receiving treatment, and realise that my opinions have changed since the kind of treatment was changed, and even more since treatment has stopped. I think that I am much more stable now that treatment has been stopped and more able to decide things for myself, instead of always being persuaded to follow advisers, who are sometimes mistaken. (1996 comment Andrew and Valerie had a large picture of Stalin on their wall- this is probably why I wrote the following)- Maybe Stalin was not as bad as I used to think he was, but I don't know really. He did seem to improve during the war, and when he got older, but then everyone thought when he was very old, that he was very paranoid about doctors. But maybe some of the doctors were not really nice people, and he did really have some good reason to be paranoid about them. One does not know really - surely a man in Stalin's position would be able to get reliable doctors. Of course one does not know. Even some of Pope Pius X11's doctors were reported to be unreliable, and he should have been able to get reliable doctors.

I have got a virus, and I think Jean has got a virus, and now Andy has got a virus. I have managed to get on the doctor's list nearby, but unfortunately, they cannot put a family on their list as it is too full. So I have got some penicillin, but Andy has not got any yet. And I don't think Jean would want to take it, even if she had it.

1996 entry - Jean, aged about 55 wandered into our house from the street. She was hardly able to speak to us, but told us her name was Jean. She was not able to give an address. The room next to mine was temporarily empty. We put a two-bar fire in there to give Jean some warmth, and gave her tea and sandwiches. We did not know whether Jean was an ex-psychiatric patient or resident in another sort of home. Jean stayed with us for about one week, during which she had an attack of influenza. As we could not look after her permanently, Andrew decided to contact the Social Services. I do not know whether Jean went back to her former residence, but she was cared for.

DIARY 30.11.73 - continued. The Socialist Worker newspaper recently published one of my letters; the Catholic Herald has published three of my letters so far. Socialist and Christian newspapers seem to be keen on publishing my letters. The ordinary Capitalist newspapers never do so. The Capitalist newspapers are always publishing the letters of Patrick Wall, M.P. and his opinions seem unpleasant.

1996 entry. I remember the day when I left Arundel Gardens quite clearly. I hired a removal man from BIT. BIT was an agency which helped people in trouble to move quickly, and was one of the fashionable co-operatives of the late sixties and early seventies. When the janitor saw him coming up the stairs to remove my books, and small pieces of furniture, he shook his fist at me and said, "I don't want your dirty friends round here!" This man probably had long hair but he was not dirty. He was quite efficient and soon I had all my property stowed in the van ready for the trip to Mayola Road. The only furniture was a table and a book-case. The other furniture belonged to the Over-Forty Association. When I got to Mayola Road, I was shown two rooms and asked which I would like. I opted for the smaller room because it contained a sink, and I thought it offered more privacy, because I did not know how I would get on in shared facilities with people I did not know. I spent the evening in a large common room upstairs. Someone (I believe it was Jim Conway) asked if I would be an activist, because only activists were allowed to live at Mayola Road. I did not know what being an activist meant, so I asked.

Jim Conway said, "Well, there is a lot of correspondence to do and the typewriters are there."

I sat down that evening at the typewriter, composed and typed a letter. I do not know if it made much sense.

I asked some man standing in the room who he was, and he said "I am called Riverboat. I am a friend of Janet's."

I thought that the name Riverboat was very odd, but was in a mood to accept anything people said.

The man from BIT stayed to unload my property in the small room and said, "Are you sure you will get on here? The bed looks uncomfortable."

Sure enough the bed was uncomfortable, but I quickly threw it out and bought my own bed. I had not been able to do this in any of the furnished rooms I had previously occupied.

Gentle Ghost was another co-operative which did removals, and was used by some MPU residents. It was better organised than BIT and was a craft co- operative. It still exists in 1996, according to the telephone directory. BIT and similar co-operatives which also promoted "alternative politics," as well as providing jobbing workmen have long ceased to exist. They were a phenomenon of the early seventies.

That first evening at Mayola Road, I did not see much of Andy and Val or Lily, the family that I was to come to know very well in the future, but was glad to go to sleep in the narrow bed, and I slept well, as far as I can remember. It was the first night for six weeks when I did not feel that I was being harassed.

I am not sure of the exact order that things happened in Mayola Road, but will set down my memories, the most important of which concern the other people living there.

Stability was provided by Andy and Val who occupied a fairly large ground- floor room. The other ground-floor room opening on to a small garden was occupied by Lily, their eight-year old daughter. The kitchen, shared by all the residents was also on the ground floor. We each did our own cooking whenever we could. Often chaos reigned.

Valerie must have found it difficult to look after her daughter. At that time she was engaged in a college course in Enfield for a degree in sociology. Andrew had just finished his degree in Enfield and had gained first-class honours. He had been accepted for a Ph.D. research degree in Sheffield. He went to Sheffield for a few months but was never able to finish this degree.

The room where I lived contained a an old-fashioned sink. I bought an electric fire for heat. £3 per week covered the rent and heat for each resident.

Before I arrived Andrew told me that the room had been previously occupied for four weeks by a young woman from what was then known as a "Mental Handicap Hospital". At that time the law stated that anyone who was able to spend four weeks in the community and support themselves could not then be taken back into a hospital, if they had committed no offence, even if they had previously been detained under a 28-day Compulsory Section of the Mental Health Act. At that time a significant minority of patients who had never offended against the criminal law were detained in this way. This young woman proved that she could look after herself. She stayed four weeks in Mayola Road and was then able to move on.

Andrew told me that she was quite intelligent and definitely not mentally sub-normal. Many such people were detained in inappropriate hospitals in the sixties and seventies. I never met this young woman.

When I arrived Janet occupied the room above mine. She was a friend of Jim Conway. The first time I met her was at the regular Saturday afternoon meeting in the common room. The top-floor rooms were very gloomy, but it was convenient for Janet and Jim Conway to occupy adjoining rooms. On the top floor the two rooms were very small. Occupants possessed not much beyond a mattress on the floor, and possibly a radio, and a few clothes hung on a rail in an alcove.

Janet had long fair hair and was an attractive young woman. She seemed very nervous. Once when I was carrying a pair of scissors she ran out of the room in fright. I had brought the scissors into the common-room to cut paper for letter-writing, or possibly to cut knitting-wool, as I sometimes took my knitting upstairs to occupy my hands while sitting for our two-hour Saturday afternoon meeting. This lasted from 3 pm until 5 pm and was de rigueur. Sometimes Valerie made the tea for this meeting, sometimes Andrew made it and sometimes I made it. Jim Conway was rather rough looking. He seemed stable and sensible when I first met him, in spite of untidy long hair and a stout frame. He spent some time at the typewriters during the week answering some of our many correspondents. I asked him why, when he was able to write good letters that he could not get a job.

He said "I cannot get it together."

He had met Mary Barnes, the famous patient of Joe Berke, who had written a book on her non-drug cure and had become an artist with exhibitions in London and Paris.

But Jim Conway said, "Even so, she cannot always get it together."

Mary Barnes had given him one of her "Finger-paintings" inscribed "To Jim with love from Mary" on the back. I had met Mary Barnes once at the AGM of the MPU., but she was never an MPU activist. She sat at the meeting with her head in her hands and said nothing.

Brian and Liz attended our early meetings. They had prepared some stickers advertising MPU meetings. They told me that Janet had demonstrated recently outside Goodmayes Hospital. I said that I thought she seemed too nervous for that.

"Janet has been a good activist," Liz told me. "She never used to be nervous."

Though I was not prepared to demonstrate, I agreed to walk into Goodmayes Hospital, which I knew intimately and enter a ladies lavatory there and leave stickers inside the toilets. Nervously one cold morning, I set out to do this job, and was surprised that I was able to walk down the hospital corridor without attracting attention. I was extremely glad when I had stuck the stickers inside a lavatory to hurry out quickly and catch a bus home to Mayola Road.

Janet was applying for private therapy but unfortunately she ran out of funds for this. Unfortunately she was becoming more nervous. After a few weeks she disappeared and I heard that she had had to re-enter hospital with another breakdown. After this Jim Conway became disconsolate and agitated.

"Have you ever been happy, Jim?" I asked him one day. In answer he produced some photographs showing himself sitting on the cliffs in some seaside resort, with friends.

"I was happy then when I was on holiday," he said.

One night a resident kept us awake all night. I was too scared to stay in my room. Valerie could not sleep, Austin was visiting her, but Andrew was away in Sheffield. Valerie entertained Austin and me all night in her room downstairs and we stayed up all night, listening to the man run up and down the stairs, talking in some strange language. "He must be quite intelligent to have learned that foreign language," I said. Valerie answered, "That it not a foreign language. It is just some strange sounds he is making up." But I continued to think it sounded very much like a foreign language, though not one that I had heard before. But I expect Valerie was right. That night I watched Valerie do one of her drawings. She was one of the most talented artists I had met.

Several of the rooms were now empty. At the next Saturday meeting a young woman called Jenny Shakeshaft arrived and applied for a room. She was presently enrolled at a college course at East London Polytechnic, and seemed a quiet person, She had been an ex-patient which was a requirement for occupancy of our rooms, so was eagerly accepted. She occupied the large room, adjoining mine. Though she was often sarcastic, I was not nervous about talking to her, or going out into the kitchen, common-room or corridors when she was about.

The next person who arrived was terrifying. He was called Frank and I was always terrified of going near him. He was an ex-patient from Rampton, and at a Saturday meeting, the meeting agreed that we could accommodate him. He was given the room over mine. He was reported to be a witch. This filled me with fear. Other people in the house were also afraid of him, including Jenny and Austin. I did not know what sort of witchcraft was practised by Frank, as I had never met anyone like that before, but he said that he was a witch.

Austin arrived to fill the last of the vacant rooms at Mayola Road. He was a college student at Enfield Technical College, where Andrew and Valerie had studied and was also an ex-patient. He was not a terrifying person when he first arrived, though he said he was an alcoholic. He was previously known to Valerie and Andrew.

Austin and Jenny became friends and on some evenings went up to the common room to answer some letters from MPU applicants. Letters arrived from patients all over the country, from hospitals and from ex-patients living in the community. Soon several local MPU groups were established. One of these was in Manchester, chiefly run by Estelle Beninson. Sometimes people from other groups would visit Mayola Road and spend a night sleeping in the common room. We were always prepared to put people up for one night, as long as we were not too overcrowded. Besides visiting activists, we also had people who required emergency accommodation for one night only. There were far too many of these people for me to remember them clearly. One of these who I do remember was a young man who had previously been staying at the place run by Anton Wallach-Clifford. Anton had the reputation of being a saint. I never met him, but read about him in the Catholic Herald. He was a man who devoted his life to running an accommodation centre for homeless people. He had no connection with the Cyrenians but did similar work.

The Cyrenians are a society who set up many hostels and other facilities for the homeless, which was at that time headed by our good friends Tom and Brigid Gifford. They had been to some MPU meetings and had given strong support.

The young man from Anton's spoke to me for about two hours. and I listened patiently. Then he said that he thought I was better than Anton, who he said "was a drip". I did not believe that. Anton caught TB while living with his homeless people, was treated in hospital and told not to go back to the work. He insisted on doing so and shortly afterwards died. I think he was probably a saint. The famous Catholic Socialist Lord Longford went to his funeral.

DIARY ENTRY 1.12.1973. The Arabs, should, of course, do their own oil refining; then they could send us the paraffin, which we need because it is often cold in England, whereas it is usually hot where they live; it is quite unnecessary to send us fuel for aeroplanes like the Concorde. Concordes fly too fast; no-one wants to fly as fast as that; even politicians would prefer to travel more slowly in order to have more time to relax and prepare their political speeches. Therefore it is a waste of time to build Concordes. The Arabs need their aviation fuel for themselves, so they can use it in the smaller types of aircraft which are so useful for flying people about in countries where there is so much desert, and travelling on the ground is so difficult.

The Arabs could also send sufficient petrol for use in cars by people who live in the country in England. The town dwellers should use the buses or the tube trains.

Mr Edward Heath would probably not want to arrange this, because although he lives very near to his work, and it would do him good if he walked there every day, he will not do so, but wakes people in Tokyo up in the middle of the night, thus wasting money on expensive phone calls.

I have heard that for the last three years, Peter's wife has come to Manningtree in Essex for three months in the summer. The rest of the year she prefers to spend in her own country, Hungary, because most of her other relatives are there, and the Hungarian authorities give her a good retirement pension, although she is only about 55, and she knows she would not be able to get this in England, and Peter might find it difficult to pay all the expenses on his own, especially as his own retirement pension will probably be rather low, as he has only worked for about ten years in England, and will have to retire in ten years time.

Peter does not want to go back to Hungary because he did not finish serving his prison sentence there. He only did two years, whereas they wanted him to stay in prison for twelve years for allowing people wishing to leave Hungary to cross the border on the trains. He was a railway employee.

When I was in hospital, I was very pleased that the untrained woman in charge of knitting and sewing in the Occupational Therapy Department allowed me to study Russian, read interesting books or write applications for work during Occupational Therapy periods, instead of getting so bored, as one usually does when one knits or sews all day. Unfortunately when the trained O.T. staff were on duty, they were nearly always very strict, and always made one do the occupations in which they have been trained and which interest them.

3.12.1973. My throat is still very sore, and I cannot do much work yet. I think it will be better soon.

"The philosophers have interpreted the world; the point is to change it."

"And, I, John, saw a new Heaven and a new Earth."

Teilhard de Chardin was another philosopher, and he saw that both the above were right. Not a heretic; but a saint, who may one day be canonised by the Church. And after Pierre de Chardin died, some people read his books, and tried, although in a very feeble and imperfect way, to make his ideas come true in practice.

I had a very interesting talk with Austin recently; we had both had two glasses of cider, but I don't think we were drunk. Neither of us believe in determinism. "Man is not completely free, but neither is he completely bound," Austin said. Life would be intolerable, or at least I think it would be, if either of these extreme conditions were true.

4.12.1973. I think Karl was probably very pleased with the red roses and carnations which I put on his grave, because I took the trouble to make sure the flowers were fresh, and were of his favourite colour; whereas the leading members of the CP had probably sent their expensive bouquets of pale pink, yellow and blue flowers by means of Interflora, and had them charged up to their accounts. I don't think Karl thought they had taken sufficient trouble; although I suppose he thinks their flowers are better than having none at all.

5.12.1973. I believe the drugs I had been taking had made me overweight, as now I have ceased taking them, my weight is returning to normal, even though I am eating approximately the same quantity of food as I did while taking drugs.

9.12.1973. One of the first of the squatters. "Foxes have their holes; birds have their nests, but the Son of Man had no place to lay his head." In these days single men and women appear to receive even less consideration than those who are married. But one does not wish to get married, merely to receive accommodation provided by the GLC. Of course, I do agree that married couples have a greater need. Babies cannot survive the cold, and the damp. and places where bacteria thrive. I am very lucky, for I have a home, and do not myself have to put up with such conditions.

14.12.1973. I went to the Hackney Branch I.S. social held at Northern Polytechnic, and met two friends of Andy and Val, with whom I had an interesting chat. They were called Pete and Raymonde. I spoke to another young man who bought me cider.

17.12.1973. George Robinson phoned up to give me the name of a woman who speaks Russian, which I would be interested to practise. However, she lives in Acton, which is a long way away. I shall try to arrange a meeting after Christmas. I saw an advertisement in Nature, advertising for free- lance translators and I will apply.

21.12.1973. Andrew returned from Sheffield to Mayola Road in the evening.

before after


home page for society  and
science read Joan's poems in the
divine donkey's anthology of poetry What does she do
when she is not drinking tea?
Find out even more
about Joan's work


Copyright Joan Hughes 1993-1997. Published with permission.