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

1975: The begining of the end of Mayola Road

I continued to work at the Metal Box Company, but now I was in the office. I was given work estimating costs of materials. This involved a set of simple arithmetical calculations and instructions for these were contained in a manual. Within two weeks I became expert at this job, using a hand- held calculator. I filled in each costing on a standard form, and after this, they were checked by my supervisor, an Indian accountant. Then they were passed to Ron, who was a senior manager. The supervisor appeared very pleased with my work during the first two months, and Ron was also pleased with it. Very seldom were any mistakes found.

Unfortunately this led to my supervisor passing the work through without checking it, as he had got accustomed to me getting everything right. One day, I made an error. This was a glaring, but easily recognisable error, in that I put one nought too many in my final answer. For example, I stated that the cost of metal sheets was £1,000 per batch instead of £100 per batch. The supervisor did not look at my calculations but passed them through to Ron.

Ron noticed this error at once, and came through to the office and told the supervisor off. He stated that he was not telling me off, as it was not my fault, because errors such as this should have been picked up by my supervisor, when he checked the results.

I wished that Ron had told me off for this error instead of telling the supervisor off, because from this day, my life in the office was made miserable by this supervisor. It was now the beginning of March. Every day when I gave him the form, he changed my figures by a very small amount, so that now it appeared that I was making errors every day. As the form was passed back to me to hand to Ron, I was aware of what was happening.

No doubt, as the amounts were estimates with a leeway for variations, it did not make much difference to Ron when he ordered materials. However if I said that the cost of a sheet was £12.45, the supervisor would change it to £12.43 or £12.47 according to his whim.

I knew that the revised figures were incorrect and pointed out this to my supervisor but this was no use. He insisted on the revised figures going through to Ron. Ron did not check for minor errors himself.

The fact that I knew that my work was correct at least 99% of the time but was being made to appear incorrect most of the time, made me feel miserable.

I could not stand being treated like this. I stuck the job for two more months, but was also being made tired by events in the house.

When I got home from work at about 5.45pm each day, sometimes I found Ralph waiting for me with a request to borrow money. On several occasions I gave him £5. I did not want to do this, as I wished to save as much as possible from my wages, which amounted to about £29 per week before deductions. Probably my take-home pay was £20. Living at Mayola Road was cheap, but I knew that probably I would have to give up my work shortly. The combined pressures at work and at Mayola Road were too much to sustain for very long. When I came home in the evening I often locked myself in my room, not wishing to encounter Ralph in the corridor or in the kitchen. When he first came to live at Mayola Road, he had not been too aggressive, and on one occasion had accompanied me to Mass at St. Scholastica's Church in Kenninghall Road on Sunday morning. I'm not sure whether Ralph was a Catholic, but he told me that he believed in God, and certainly on that occasion was well-behaved during the church service. By the end of April 1975 his behaviour was deteriorating, and his drinking bouts became more frequent. The psychiatric nurse visited only once per month to give him an injection. Apart from this he was not receiving any help or counselling.

After the injection he was sleepy for a period but this did not last long. These injections did not appear to stop him drinking.

We began to suspect that the psychiatrist in Devizes had known that he was a problem drinker but had not told us, when he persuaded us to accept him at Mayola Road.

Other people in the house were also becoming nervous of Ralph, including Austin. One day at the end of April, Austin went out on a drinking bout and scattered broken glass in the road just outside our house. Andrew persuaded Ralph to sweep this up. This is the only useful job that I remember Ralph performing while at Mayola Road. Usually he did not get up until three o'clock in the afternoon and then went out. This was a blessing in disguise as it meant that we did not see much of Ralph. But sometimes he came into the house drunk late at night, and woke everyone up. He started to threaten people in the house.

One day on April 30th, we could no longer remain impervious to Ralph's behaviour. I think he kept us awake all night, and the entire household was so nervous that we sat huddled together in the common room. Tony O'Donnell was there, Andrew, Valerie and Lily and myself. I am not sure where Austin was. He may have spent the night out drinking himself, but on this occasion, he was not the main problem. We had spent most of the day in the common room, and as dusk approached, Peter Sneddon arrived. Andrew had told him that we were having major problems at Mayola Road and he had agreed to spend the night with us. We sat together talking all night. Peter tried to make polite conversation with Tony O'Donnell and others in the house. This was the first occasion when Tony had not been able to pursue his own activities. Usually he had been most unruffled. On the surface he was the calmest person in the house, though his actions were not always very sensible. He did not drink alcohol at all, and this was a great blessing, as I believe that many people in Tony's position would have become alcoholic. He told me that he had wandered through Scotland as a tramp, had been convicted as a poacher on some Scottish loch, and had been caught taking something from a derelict house and for these minor crimes had spent some periods in prison. Originally he had been a ship's engineer, and if more resources had been invested in his education in early years, would probably have done well in a technical career. But Tony could only pick up his technical knowledge on the hop, from libraries and magazines. Today at the age of 70, he still reads "The New Scientist" and takes a keen interest in the articles on psychiatry.

We were terrified all that night in Mayola Road and Ralph was shouting and screaming in the corridor. Eventually dawn came.

Peter said "It is May Day". The nurse from Hackney Psychiatric ward was due to arrive in the early morning. At this time Peter Sneddon said good- bye as I believe that he had to go to work at Enfield Technical College, where he worked as a lecturer. He was a close friend of Andrew and Valerie who had both studied there.

When the nurse arrived, she took Ralph to the psychiatric ward at Hackney Hospital. We believed that he might be able to stay there, but unfortunately within a fortnight he had been sent to Broadmoor as he had threatened a nurse, and the staff had been unable to handle him. At Mayola Road, we thought we had been a failure, where Ralph had been concerned.

There was a room empty now. Austin moved into Ralph's room which was larger than his. The little room just over mine was now occupied by Mary. Mary had been Michael. She had now assumed the identity of a woman. She smoked incessantly. This did not help her chest trouble. She applied for the room as she was unhappy and did not get on with the tenants at Woodford. By this time we were not taking very much interest in the tenants at Woodford as we were now overwhelmed by problems at Mayola Road. Matthew O'Hara from Woodford still visited regularly.

Andrew worked persistently at producing some very successful publications. One of the successes was first published in May 1975, a miracle in the face of all our problems. Andrew did most of the work on this publication, called "A Directory of the Side-Effects of Psychiatric Drugs". Some of the first copies were printed, using the facilities at Centerprise in mid-1975. It was published under the names Charles Hill, Joan Martin which was my name, and Andrew Roberts. We had been issuing a one-sheet listing the main psychiatric drugs with their side-effects, almost since MPU was first formed. When the MPU was first formed, in 1973, one of the demands had been that patients should be able to refuse treatment by drugs. A specific demand was that long-acting drugs should not be administered without the written consent of the patients. While it was difficult to make this demand in the case of detained patients, the overwhelming majority of patients were voluntary, and they were not aware of their rights at this time. The Drugs Side-effects pamphlet was soon in huge demand and MPU had a voluminous correspondence on the subject. For our 8-page pamphlet we charged 25p; we included a free sheet summarising it on our usual mailings to members. Orders for the drugs directory soon outpaced the supply and Andrew said that it was one of the few reliable sources of income for MPU.

[22.3.1975] On the 22nd March 1975, Angela filled in a form stating that she wished to join MPU. She was a Czech immigrant. I have kept a note of this because we first met Angela at a Saturday meeting early in 1975; she was a quiet person with a child of about eighteen months, but was soon to precipitate a crisis in MPU.

[Angela befriended Victor Anon who had squatted in an empty house next door]

More and more of the houses in Mayola Road were being vacated and the residents had found alternative housing. The reason for this was the fact that the houses were scheduled for demolition early in 1976; a new comprehensive secondary school was going to be built on the site.

Victor wore a leather cowboy jacket with fringes . This clothing made him look odd, because though most people in Hackney wore casual clothes, at this time it was not the fashion to wear anything too unusual.

Sometimes he spent the night on the flat roof just outside my room, smoking cigarettes. This un-nerved me, and at one time I moved my wardrobe from an alcove to cover my window. This made the room unpleasantly dark. However, as Victor did nothing aggressive towards me but directed his aggression mainly towards Andrew, I moved the wardrobe away, and overcoming my nervousness, tried to talk to Victor whenever I had the opportunity, as I hoped to persuade him to stop harassing Andrew and Valerie. Unfortunately anything I said had very little effect. Victor carried two guns. He let me examine these, and I was convinced that they were unloaded, which reassured me somewhat. But carrying guns even if unloaded was frightening. For about a month Victor continued to argue with Andrew. I did not understand much of what the argument was about but the atmosphere in Mayola Road became unbearable, as I believe Victor was demanding money.

I have still with me a certificate of pay and tax for the year ending 5th April 1975 when I was still working for the Metal Box Company. I believe that I completed six months work with them, leaving about the middle of April 1975, just after MPU's traumatic experience when Ralph was taken back to Hackney Hospital. When I left I gave as an excuse that I was looking for work as a chemist, in which work I was qualified. Indeed I would have liked to have returned to such work. But my body was becoming weak. I could scarcely walk around and it was in May 1975, a year after I had picked up the infection that I was treated for thrush in the vagina at Hackney Hospital. Within two weeks of using the pessaries the infection cleared up and I felt much stronger, but psychologically was despairing and not knowing how to continue living at Mayola Road. I realised that if I had gone for treatment before, I would not have felt so physically weak. Shortly another crisis occurred, just as I was getting back on my feet and taking an active part in preparing copies of the pamphlet on Side-Effects for MPU. Large amounts of work were needed in collating, stapling these, even after the printing was done and despatching them to people who had requested them by post, in most cases sending money, which was put into the MPU account.

I have a diary entry for the day I left Metal Box. DIARY 11.4.1975. I packed up my job as accounts assistant with Metal Box, intending to look for another job. Unfortunately we had so much trouble in our house recently, with someone turning against us, throwing bottles through the window that I have not been able to think about moving. 1996 comment - This must have been Victor, however this was a preliminary crisis. The main crisis with Victor's bottle-throwing did not occur until 30.5.75. according to my diary.

Between these two events, apparently on 1.5.1975, we had a crisis with Ralph, but Victor may have been difficult at the same time.

DIARY 30.5.1975. Since April 30th approximately, I had been kept awake almost continually by Victor making a noise. On Friday night, May 30th I was in bed when I heard two very loud knocks on the door. I went downstairs and saw a yellow piece of paper with ANDELA GIVE ME THAT BOX OR THERE WILL BE AGGRO printed on it. I went into the downstairs front room, as I thought that the note was meant for Andrew Roberts. I gave it to him. He was in bed but awake together with his wife who was asleep. He said he did not know what it meant and neither did I, but as I was fully awake and worried, I decided to stay up and after a time went to talk to Tony O'Donnell in the upstairs room about other business which concerned us both.

We had been talking for about quarter of an hour, when I heard Victor's voice behind me. He said, "Joan!" loudly. He had been banned from the house since causing a disturbance on a previous occasion, so I did not know how he got in. However, as he had got in, I went upstairs and took Victor into the room next to Tony's, to talk to him as I thought he might be going to attack, or at least disturb Andrew or his wife seriously. I asked him how he had got into the house, asking whether it was possibly through the front door or through my window (which I sometimes leave open). He said that he was not going to tell me, so we dropped the subject, and Victor and I talked about my own affairs for about quarter of an hour. Then he started to talk about his girl-friend, Angela, and told me that Andrew Roberts was keeping Angela in the house and he was going to see. I knew that this was untrue as Angela had been banned from the house, and I tried to persuade Victor not to go down there as I thought he might attack Andrew, or get his wife out of bed, though I do not think he would physically attack a woman, otherwise I would not have been talking to him myself.

After a time, I said to Victor, "Well, before you go down, why not have a cup of tea? I will make it, before you go downstairs. However, I don't want you in my room. I will bring it up to you." I went downstairs and put the kettle on. Then Andrew Roberts appeared on the stairs and I told him I was making Victor a cup of tea. He said, "How did he get in?", and I said, "I don't know." Then he said, "Oh, don't make Victor a cup of tea; make one for me." I said, "O.K. I'll do that, then." I think that I managed to make the cup of tea and also one for myself and was standing by my door, when I saw Victor come down the stairs and say to Andrew, "Where is that guitar?" Then he kicked Andrew in the groin. As I was nervous of violence, I stopped looking, but heard a lot of talking on the stairs as there were other people in the house. I was standing by my bedroom window when I saw Victor fall heavily on to the flat tin roof outside my window and guessed that he had made his exit by the upstairs bathroom window. Later the police arrived, and I told them this. It is probable that he entered by this method. It was by now early in the morning and I was very tired, so I went to bed, and slept until late Saturday morning. About 2 pm in the afternoon, I went out shopping and was probably out about two hours. When I got home, as soon as I entered the house I smelt smoke, and knocked on Andrew's door, calling out that there was a fire in the house somewhere. I went into the kitchen and saw the back door ablaze. So I called out loudly, "Call the Fire Brigade! Call the Police! First the Fire Brigade, and then the Police!" Andrew Roberts came out into the kitchen and put out the fire himself. However, shortly afterwards both the police and the fire brigade arrived, as someone else had called them. END OF DIARY ENTRY written in 1975.

Before all this happened I had visited Angela in her council flat on one occasion. She had a baby, but as far as I know had never been married. The baby was still less than eighteen months old, and slept for most of the day. The flat was on about the 14th floor of a tower block but was well decorated. I thought it was a nice flat, but Angela said that she did not like it. The neighbours did not bother her but were stand-offish and she felt lonely in a strange country. She was doing a college course, but said that her lack of fluency in English was making it difficult for her. I could understand all she said and felt she knew English quite well, but probably she found the written language difficult.

After the fire Victor disappeared and we did not see him again near Mayola Road. This was a great relief. He had probably gone to live in the council flat with Angela.

After the above mentioned incident, MPU began to run down. It was the beginning of the end of MPU, though the repercussions of the MPU experience remained with the participants, particularly the Mayola Road and Woodford residents for many years afterwards. Solon Housing Association tried to make Andrew legally responsible for unpaid rents at Woodford, in spite of the fact that it was agreed that these houses were independently run by the residents. Andrew was having to claim social security for his family, as apart from Valerie's college grant they had no income. It was impossible for him to pay for Woodford residents' failures and luckily, he managed to disclaim legal responsibly. At the same time the Peter Bedford Association let us know that it was likely that the house at Mayola Road would have to be vacated early in 1976.

After Victor had disappeared the tenants who remained at Mayola Road were Andrew and Valerie and their daughter on the ground floor; myself on the first floor; Tony O'Donnell and Mary Wade on the 2nd floor. We decided not to take any more permanent tenants, though people still slept for a night or two in the common room. The room next to mine was empty.

David Hughes was visiting the flat, writing me love-letters and pestering me to marry him. I was not interested in him, but events made me so low that I seized this option.

The houses at Woodford were now officially in control of their own tenants. They did not cone to Saturday meetings at Mayola Road, which were open to all MPU members, not just those at Mayola Road. However, we sometimes had news of our friends living there. Tom Ritchie had a series of casual friends visiting him. Tom worked in an office and sometimes did additional casual work filling supermarket shelves. Unfortunately he had an argument with one of his casual visitors and hit him. He was taken to Brixton prison on a charge of assault. I knew that he was unlikely to have visitors so I visited him and took him some bananas. I have a diary entry about this:

DIARY 4.10.1975. I visited Tom Ritchie in Brixton Prison on remand. He has been a tenant in our house in Derby Road, Woodford for about a year. I do not know what he has been accused of, but was told that it was a minor sexual offence. (Tom was gay). He seemed fairly cheerful, but anxious about affairs back at the house. I managed to buy a packet of cigarettes and bananas before going in (I cannot afford much) and had to hand this in to the policeman in charge of the office for receiving gifts for prisoners on remand. I have never visited a prison before but conditions here seemed to be fairly good. One of the prisoner's wives told me that complete cooked meals could be handed in, as special treats for prisoners, and also canned beer. This would not be allowed to prisoners after sentence. The men did not have to work during the day, and were able to obtain plenty of reading material.

DIARY 17.10.1975. I had a dream last night. There was a big square, full of masses of people in uniform. There was someone addressing this crowd. Everything was in perfect order. Someone told me that it was the New Fascist movement. I knew I had to run to get out of the square. When I did, I woke up to find it was a dream. All I could hear when I woke up was Mary Wade, the pretended, unofficial social worker at Mayola Road addressing someone on the phone.

Diary 25.10.75. I married David Hughes in the Catholic Church at Clapton. On 26.10.75. we went to David's flat in Kidsgrove. Though I kept a diary about my time in Kidsgrove, I am not going to include it here as the memories are painful and I want to forget about this time.

I had been living in Kidsgrove from 25.10.1975 until 6.11.1975.

On 6th November I walked out. I arrived in London on Saturday November 7th. I have a diary entry:- Saturday 7.11.1975. I had arrived a bit distraught and sat in the room all day with Andy and Val. I did not do much. David was expected in the evening, but never came.

Sunday November 8th 1975. There was a temporary resident in the house called Marian. She found out that I was a chemist who had worked in the past on "weed-killers" and was pestering me to tell her about this. She said that she wanted to kill herself with a weed-killer, so I said that I did not know much about them. Mary Wade was standing by making inane remarks, to the effect that I should tell Marian all I knew about weed- killers. I was glad to get away from this conversation and sat in my room, but made quite an extraordinary entry in my diary. DIARY Sunday 8.11.75. Here I am sitting in the office writing this. Maybe my knowledge of weed- killers may help Marian, and I will look into that on Monday, but feel that I can do little for myself at present. Certainly I never told Marian anything about weed-killers, but made vague remarks in order to get her to go away.

The rest of 1975 was an anxious time. I have a diary entry indicating that Ralph was still with us on Christmas Day 1975. I am not sure whether this is correct. If it is, then the incident when Ralph was taken back to Hackney Hospital and then to Broadmoor must have happened in early 1976. I am not sure about this but will type out my diary entries. My memories of 1975 are not as clear as those of 1973 and 1974, as I think 1975 was the most troubled time I had at Mayola Road. By 1976 the life at Mayola Road was still difficult but we knew we were going to be rehoused soon. Mayola Road was not finally vacated until April 1976.

I will give the few diary entries I wrote at the end of 1975.

[9.11.1975 was a Sunday] DIARY Monday 9.11.1975. David arrived with no money. We lived very simply for a week, eating vegetarian food, but I included a little fish and eggs for David. My intention was to encourage David to lead a more reasonable life; that is - to save money to pay the essential bills, rent, electricity and gas and buy sufficient food, before spending a lot on drink, cigarettes, betting and social outings, and also to try to get him to be quiet for a little, not to talk so much, so that I could occasionally do a little work which required thought, and also not to go round rubbish dumps collecting unnecessary items of equipment, which took nearly all the available space in his Kidsgrove flat, before I arrived there.

Monday 17.11.1975. David walked out, early in the evening leaving me with no idea where he had gone.

Saturday 22.11.1975. During the week after David left, I settled down to deal with the business of filling in forms dealing with rent rebates for the Council flat. But today, the CID called (two men in plain clothes) and questioned me, as to whether I had any bombs or guns in my room! I spoke to them first, asking them whether they had called about David, my husband, saying that he had done nothing wrong, or even if he had (like not paying his bus fare) it was because he was a bit muddled. They then asked me about bombs or guns, stating that Mr Hughes, my husband had asked them to investigate as to whether I had any. I said, "Search if you like, you won't find anything!" They then left, saying that they ware sorry that they had troubled me. I said, "Oh well just say the search has been made!"

Soon after this incident, I learnt that the CID had also visited my father living in Manningtree, because he had been reported by David to be an IRA man. Dad was 78 years of age and living quietly occupied with gardening and visiting friends in the village. This incident did him no good and he was glad when I told him I had left David. He never reproached me with making a mistake by marrying. I think that this was because his second marriage to Mary the American woman was also a mistake. Some relations began hauling me over the coals about marrying David. I had to take absolutely no notice of them and completely ignore what they said, otherwise I could not have continued making the best of my life.

After this incident, I decided not to have anything more to do with David. I had left him and that was that. But he still knew the address. He visited once more on Christmas Day 1975, and that was the last time I saw him. On Christmas Day 1975 Janet Cresswell visited. She wanted to help cook the Christmas Dinner. Valerie wanted to do this and said that Janet could do the washing up afterwards.

DIARY 25.12.1975 (That is the last diary entry I have for 1975) Christmas was a troubled day. David stayed one night. We went to Midnight Mass. Andy, Val, Lily, Paschal, Ralph, David and I had Christmas dinner together. Janet had hers upstairs, but came down to tea. Michael-Mary had hers alone, and we did not see him at all, except to take dinner up, and collect the plate. (Michael-Mary was Janet's name for Mary Wade). Janet did all the washing up. Tony was working on Christmas Day, and Janet took some food up to him when he came in.

About this time Tony met Nina . Though we had agreed to have no more tenants, Nina moved in with Tony and we turned a blind eye to this. Nina kept trying to clean Tony's room. Valerie said she liked Nina and thought she could have been a friend if circumstances in Mayola Road had been better. However Nina had an unfortunate propensity for causing fires. One day in the kitchen Andrew saw Nina in the kitchen with a frying-pan filled with fat which had caught fire, and this filled him with alarm. Luckily the fire was quickly put out on this occasion. Nina and Tony became engaged to be married. However there were a lot of ups and downs in their relationship. One day Nina went out very late at night, and I was worried about her. There was a knock on the door at 5 o'clock in the morning. I did not want to get out of bed but the knock was very insistent. I was glad to see Nina standing there, as she had told me that she might go out and harm herself. But she had returned quite safely.

At the and of 1975, I attended Tony and Nina's wedding which took place at the registry office in Hackney Town Hall. Afterwards a few guests which included Mary Wade had a meal at a Turkish restaurant. Tony and Nina returned to Mayola Road and lived there until just before the house was demolished in April 1975. Shortly afterwards the marriage broke up. Nina liked to knit. I think if she had had a quiet life she might have avoided the mental distress which led to further hospital treatment. She disappeared saying that she did not want to see Tony again. At the end of 1975, we were looking forward to 1976 being a better year and indeed 1976 was a better year for most of us.

Some of us attended a Council meeting, putting the case for MPU members to be rehoused in Housing Association flats when the eviction order for the property at Mayola Road became due. Some of the residents at Woodford were also to be rehoused in Hackney. Some like Jenny had left getting a flat at a south coast seaside resort, in the summer of 1975. Matthew O'Hara wanted to be rehoused in Hackney and would take responsibility for a house with other tenants. As Andrew and Valerie had a young child, the Council had a statutory duty to rehouse them as a family. It was more difficult to persuade the council to give places for single people,

before after


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Copyright Joan Hughes 1993-1997. Published with permission.