I just love walking. I can’t do it without my walking trolley to hold on to but as long as I can use it I can go anywhere. I’m 82 and exercise keeps your fitness up. I can do 2000 turns in half-an-hour on my static bike in the hall – singing aloud all the time. Nothing gets me down. You go down and it’s a long way back up again. When you’re a carer you’ve just got to keep going.
I looked after her husband Ian for 28 years following an accident on his moped which left him with a serious brain injury. And I cared for my daughter Susie for 50 years following a difficult birth. Now I mentor for Carers In Herts and run a choir for children with learning difficulties as well as looking out for my good friend Ann who goes on the Stepping Out Walks with me for a bit of fun all over Hertfordshire.
My husband was a former paratrooper but after his brain injury it was like looking after someone with dementia. I’d find him stripping the wallpaper in the house for no reason and for three years he didn’t know who I was. At the same time I was looking after Susie who had learning difficulties and all kinds of other problems after a forceps delivery in hospital. I remember the sister telling me after she was born to get her baptised quickly because ‘she’s not going to last the weekend’.
But she did and she was a little joy. She was only tiny, she took a 2 in a shoe and only weighed six and half stone, but she loved people, cuddles and singing especially. She knew all the old pub songs. Every word. Like “Daisy, Daisy” and “Bye Bye Blackbird”. That was probably because of me. I’d sung round the working men’s clubs with my dad from the age of 15. Dad was an opera singer and I could belt out all the Shirley Bassey and Connie Francis songs. “Hey Big Spender” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” were a couple of my show-stoppers.
We’d go on the bus, Dad and I, with our suitcase full of clothes to clubs around Watford and Wembley way. It was good money. We’d earn four pounds, seven shillings and sixpence which we gave to Mum for our gas and electric at home.
Things were pretty tight money-wise as a carer. I worked nights for 28 years at an old people’s care home so that I’d be around during the day for Susie and Ian. I didn’t get much sleep but you get used to it. In the end my husband died of a second brain tumour when he was 62.
Sometimes you’d have an unbelievable run of bad luck. There was one year when I’d fractured my foot, Susie needed an operation for a hernia, my son Gary had been electrocuted at work with 30,000 volts and fell 30 feet fracturing his pelvis and then the doctor called to confirm Ian’s tumour. There were times when I felt I was failing Ian because I didn’t have the strength carry him to bed and get him ready next morning for his chemotherapy sessions in hospital. The hospital had to keep him in and I visited him by bus everyday until the end.
“Susie died just a couple of days after her 50th birthday. She was already in hospital and I was sleeping by her bed. But then she had a huge seizure and had to be transferred to intensive care. A hospital doctor asked me if she had ever been in ITU before. I looked at the calendar and remembered. “Funnily enough,” I said. “She was there when she was born exactly 50 years ago to the day.’ We had to turn off her life support three days later.
I’m keep myself busy these days. I love the volunteering work, the choir, the mentoring. I love the walks. It often takes me ages to get where I’m going, or even round Sainsburys, because I stop and talk to everyone. I go to the Crossroads meet-ups and another group in Stevenage that meets regularly for coffee and a tombola. If my trolley can get there, so can I.”