LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE
I will never forget how lucky I was to be rescued and brought back to England at, what really was, the eleventh hour for me. And I will always be so grateful to the group of women who rallied round and made it happen. I will never forget their strength, love and kindness. It was one of life’s most amazing gifts, the memory of which has most certainly given me the strength to climb on out of the ‘mud’ and stumble forwards to where I am today.
It may seem crazy to say that I missed my little shack with the tin roof, badly fitting windows and no central heating but I missed it so badly I sometimes used to wake up crying in the night. I missed the wide open spaces, the clean air and the beautiful flowers, birds and wild life. I missed my garden and the sea and the mountains. And yes, I missed the reclusive life that I had lived for so many years. In their place, I now had a borrowed room in someone else’s home, poor health and sight and a continuous battle with the D.W.P. Not only this, but I had to accustom myself to London and its hurly burly and getting back into teaching mode once more, this time with vulnerable adults, rather than the children that I was used to.
Dear France was fierce. She would not allow me to sit back on my laurels. I was dispatched to Harrow Town Hall, without delay, to get myself registered and on the list for housing. This was easier said than done. I queued for hours to obtain the necessary forms and was finally seen by a gentleman who told me that I did not meet the criteria required by Harrow Borough Council. I went back to my room and a far from pleased France, who told me that I must try again. This time, luck was on my side and after a two hour wait I saw a man who put me on the list for sheltered housing for the elderly and told me calmly that I may have to wait up to 5 years… I never dared mention the possible time scale to France, on the grounds that she may well explode with rage!
In June I was called to Moorfields Eye Hospital in Central London, one of the best in the Country. I spent the day being examined and tested by various different departments before being seen by the Specialist. I forget the Specialists name, but will never forget my despair when she told me that there was little that they could do. My left eye was permanently damaged, my right in the process of growing a cataract that could only be removed when it was fully grown. I asked how long this might take and was told that it may grow quickly but could also take years. Poor eyesight was a condition that I must accept for the foreseeable future and sadly, curtailed any hope I had of being able to paint in the months or years to follow.
My voluntary work was my saviour. Although I could not paint myself, I could teach others to do so and seemed to be able to give inspiration and confidence to a group of people who had previously lacked both. In time, a paid position became available at the centre and I was persuaded to apply for the post. I have to admit that I had not told anyone about my health problems and did not intend to do so – in fact, I only admitted my poor vision right at the end of my two year employment, just before I retired. I had to undergo a rigorous training regime in order to become a full time member of staff. I took examinations, went on course after course and even had to train in the kitchen, so that I could work in the busy cafeteria, when it was my turn. I was also persuaded to become the Centre Fire Officer. I was allocated a quota of clients whose background I must learn and whose progress I must continually monitor. Worst of all, I was expected to acquaint myself with a complicated computer data base, which must be updated regularly. I continued leading my art groups and also ran a Women’s Group and various other therapeutic projects. I worked hard and adored my clients. I loved watching their progress and was particularly proud of a liaison I forged with Northwick Park Hospital, which gave us the opportunity of holding an art exhibition in their Mental Health wing. My clients were wonderful. They produced more than twenty excellent paintings which were displayed and offered for sale. A few of my talented bunch even gave a little speech at the opening ceremony and all were available to chat to the patients and staff of the hospital, an enriching experience for patients, clients and staff alike. My new career path was fulfilling and enlightening and taught me some valuable lessons about life and living. At the end of each day, however, I went home absolutely exhausted.
In December 2013, right out of the blue, I was telephoned by the Housing Officer and invited to view a one bedroom flat in a sheltered housing complex not far from where I worked. I could not believe my luck. I had been told that it may take years for me to reach the top of the list, whereas, in fact, my application had only been submitted in April – a wait of less than nine months. The flat was small and rather dark, which would prove a problem as my eyesight worsened, but it had a new kitchen and was recently decorated. I accepted it gratefully and was told that I could move in two days before Christmas. This was a Christmas present larger than any I could have dreamed of.