Three weeks after arriving back in England I became sixty. It may seem strange to some of you, but I was delighted to have reached this ripe old age. I was not eligible to receive my state pension as the minimum age had been raised, but I was able to have a free travel pass which would take me on buses and trains anywhere in London. This was marvellous. I could also have free prescriptions and free eye tests which, considering all my medical conditions, was heaven sent.

France and a group of her friends clubbed together and took me out for a birthday meal. We went to The Grimsdyke Hotel which sported white damask table cloths, beautiful silver cutlery and swanky waiters, not to mention a Grand Piano. The food was gorgeous and we drank sparkling wine in my honour. It seemed like a fairy tale although I must confess that I felt a little out of my depth at the time in borrowed trousers, shoes and top. France, however, was determined, that my sixtieth should be celebrated in style and remembered for ever. And that it will be.

In May I was summoned to Northwick Park Hospital. I saw one of the Country’s leading ‘Nether Regions Specialists’ who examined me and pronounced that he could operate the following week. I would be treated as a private patient in the private hospital, but everything would be paid for by the N.H.S. I could not believe it. I do not remember the Specialists name, but he was a lovely fellow and assured me that he could make life much less painful for me and hopefully cure my problems. I was in and out in a day and told to rest. There followed a month of excruciating pain which left me weak and tearful, but slowly I healed and got back on my feet – the Nether Regions were far less problematical also.

I must say before continuing, that I am not political at all and do not wish to be seen as such. I am including this next part of my story purely on humanitarian grounds…

Three or four days after my operation, I had a series of letters and quite menacing phone calls from the Department of Work and Pensions telling me that I had missed an appointment at the Job Centre and would therefore lose my Job Seekers Allowance forthwith. I had informed the Department that I would not be able to attend the appointment, but apparently, no excuses were acceptable and further benefit claims would be denied. In desperation I spoke with a Claims Official and begged her for an appointment. I managed to get myself on a bus, but had to stand as it was too painful to sit down. By the time I reached the Job Centre I was almost at breaking point, but I was armed with a statement from my lovely G.P. pronouncing me unfit for work and eligible for Employment Support Allowance. Thanks to that lovely man my ‘grouping’ was changed to the Employment Support Group and I was re-allocated £70.80 per week, and permitted not to seek work for a period of 14 weeks!

As soon as I felt stronger I began attending The Harrow Women’s Centre two or three times a week. The Counsellors there recognised my artistic leanings and put me in touch with the Manager of Rethink Mental Illness in Harrow who was looking for a volunteer to lead art and sewing groups at her Centre. I went for an interview and was immediately made to feel welcome. The Manager was lovely. She looked at my precious art designs that I had been asked to take with me and insisted on showing them to her colleagues as she liked them so much. That was it. I was back on my feet. I felt whole again and valued. I enjoyed my time as a Volunteer immensely and learned to love my clients in the classes that I hosted. I designed many projects for them over the coming months and have added a picture of one group project that we completed in a sewing group. I wrote a poem to accompany the finished piece, which was called Metamorphosis, but unfortunately I do not have a copy of the poem. The embroidery was made in sections to allow several clients to work on it at the same time and then stitched together before being mounted and framed. I think it still hangs in the Centre in Harrow.

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