I’ve written about my father – or at least – included his words in this blog about his time in the police force in Manchester… I’ve mentioned his book that is in the process of being published and I’m wondering where to go next. Logically it would seem that my mother is the next person on whom to focus… so here goes.
She was born Eileen Constance Tebb in 1920 in St Helens, Lancashire the only daughter of her parents, Minnie and George. I know that at some point they moved to Blackpool and my grandmother was instrumental in them buying a boarding house on Leopold Grove. So, my mother grew up with a number of folk who came and went and, probably, this helped to nurture her love of conversation with a variety of people.
She met quite a number of folk who were connected with the entertainment industry and was quite a sociable young woman. She also enjoyed wearing fashionable clothes and I suppose that, as an only child, she was able to have more than many of her peers in this respect.
After the war she met my father who was based in Blackpool and as a result of their relationship and becoming pregnant their marriage was, perhaps, sooner rather than later than planned.
She was a strong willed woman in many ways and having strongly expressed her preferences my father came out of the RAF and set to work finding a job. Her second child was born when they lived down in the south of England nearer to his parents and it was only through sheer bloody-mindedness and by pestering the family doctor that it was discovered that this child was born with a curvature of the spine that would be crippling if allowed to continue to develop naturally. Her insistence on having her child’s condition treated properly resulted in weekly visits to Great Ormond Street hospital, the baby subjected to spending almost the first 9 months of its life in a plaster cast and a daily regime of exercises mean that within the year the child was given the ‘all clear’ and was set to lead a normal, healthy life!
She was a forward thinker for her day and would embark on health diets long before they became fashionable. Some of these involved drinking apple cider vinegar to somehow improve her ‘system’ and the name Gaylord Hauser was a name known in our household. (He advocated black molasses daily – a sort of treacle!)
I remember one health diet that involved peanuts and orange juice for breakfast… it didn’t last too long, though, as I seem to remember that she was quite ill one morning – I don’t think her digestive system appreciated it too much.
For a time she was a member of the WRVS and helped out at one of the local hospitals – possibly Withington or Christie’s, the one next to the Holt Radium Institute in Withington. She would push a trolley around the wards, I suppose, and give tea and biscuits to the patients. Another activity that she enjoyed was flower arranging and she went to classes in the afternoon to learn this art. The thing was we didn’t have much money in those days so she learned the art of Ikibana, Japanese flower arranging. In this type of arrangement less is more and there are only three elements that are needed to represent heaven, earth and man… buying only three stems was a great deal cheaper than buying a great big bunch to arrange!
At one point she and I used to attend an art class at my school, Barlow Hall, in Chorlton-cum-Hardy… the school I attended during the day. I went with her to keep her company as it was a fair distance from where we lived and on cold nights was none too pleasant. However, I think that she really enjoyed her painting and it was one activity that she continued until a few months before her death, when she lived in the care home.
She was a pianist of sorts… practising long and hard, but never really getting too far in her level of playing. She was, at times, known to play until about 1-00am in the morning until I came downstairs and asked her to stop as I couldn’t sleep! This trait was, I’m afraid, a harbinger of later problems in her life.
It transpired that my mother, also, was not unaffected by the mental health problems that had affected her father and she suffered some barbaric practices of the 1960s.
I was about 13 when my mother was ‘sectioned’ by our doctor, Dr Goodman (no relation), to Prestwich Hospital. In the old days it had once been a lunatic asylum and I had to endure some snide remarks when I was at school about this fact (being in a loony bin)… in my naiveté I had told some of the other children at school! The fact was, though, that the place was a hospital for people with mental illness and she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Schizophrenia results in people not being able to tell the difference between reality and the product of their imagination and the paranoid version of the illness means that she wasn’t sure whether people were talking about her, for example, or whether it was her imagination. Hallucinations, delusions and the lack of a normal emotional response are characteristics of the illness. She experienced it as real and it must have been frightening for her. The treatment then was to give electric shock treatment and the practice was rather barbaric in those days. The shock was so great that large parts of her memory would be wiped out so that she had to re-learn how to do simple household tasks. In addition she was given rather large amounts of drugs to suppress her symptoms. She tended to think that people were talking to her through the radio and that people were out to ‘get her’.
She had some behavioural characteristics that we got used to at home – she would count her cigarettes constantly, maybe thinking that someone was taking them from her or possibly it was an activity that somehow brought her comfort. She would step forwards and backwards, rocking endlessly unless she was reminded of what she was doing and this behaviour was displayed when she was anxious more especially. The effect of all these drugs wasn’t pleasant – but neither was the effect when she decided, on a fairly regular basis, to stop taking them. She would have psychotic episodes that would land her back in hospital for a period of time. I think the longest time that she was there was about 3 months and my grandma (Lavinia) stayed with us to help out when my father was at work. His work necessitated shifts and sometimes these were extended by the work he was doing.
Her fate, then, was to be prescribed large doses of medication for far too long and it was only in the 1990s that a perceptive doctor realised that her permanent state of confusion was not ideal. By this time she was in a care home after having suffered a stroke and a couple of bad falls which broke her hip and wrist.
She still suffered mental health problems whilst in the home and the largely untrained staff found that they couldn’t cope with her which led to her being sectioned again. It transpired that she had been hiding her medication and was suffering a psychotic breakdown. She couldn’t go back to the home in which she was previously living and a new home had to be found for her… but the same thing happened again. The hospital realised that there was a problem with the usual means of giving her medication and decided to inject her every few weeks to maintain the doses and maintain continuity in her mental state. Eventually she was placed in a home more ‘in tune’ with her problems and she spent her final years in a relatively happy state of mind, writing, painting and listening to Radio FM.
She died on 14th May 2008 in Manchester Royal Infirmary of pneumonia and chronic vascular disease, aged 88. Because of her immobility for a number of years she started to get sores on her heels and eventually, because of the poor circulation to her extremities she started to get gangrene. As she was so frail it wasn’t possible to operate and remove these areas of dead flesh and so she was given morphine for the pain. However, eventually her system couldn’t cope and the morphine kept her pain-free until she died.
As a final gesture to somehow ‘make a difference’ with her rather sad life that had been ‘on hold’ for so many years, she bequeathed her body to the Department of Anatomy at Manchester University so that others could benefit in some way from using her mortal remains for the furtherance of medicine… a fact that pleases me greatly!
The memorial service took place on 29st Apr 2009 at the Church of the Holy Name, Oxford Road, Manchester next to the University Department of Anatomy. (See right)
The funeral took place on Monday 27th July 2009 at Manchester Crematorium and her ashes were scattered there on Wenesday 29th July.