About Daphne Meyers - A 'home help' in the 1970s

Daphne's story of the people she used to look after

Text written by Daphne Meyers

Daphne Meyers in 2015 at the Allotments - a familiar sight around Wivenhoe on her buggy
Photo by Peter Hill
Daphne Meyers holding baby Stephen - early 1980s
Photo - Daphne's Family

This is the story of Daphne Meyers in her own words, working as a ‘home help’ in Wivenhoe in the 1970s

I have been a home help for the best part of seven years and many funny and sad things have happened.

About Mrs D

The first memory that comes to mind is a Mrs D who lived in a wooden cottage at the end of a terrace.  The conditions she lived in were so bad that the house should have been condemned.  Mrs Kemball was my organiser at the time, and she told me that Mrs D had discharged herself from hospital.  I was to get her shopping as she could not walk, and any other jobs she wanted done.

I arrived at the cottage to find Mrs D sitting on a bed in the front room.  There was so much furniture in there one had to climb over a chair before sitting down.  After getting shopping, I was asked to wash the kitchen floor.  In the kitchen was a very dilapidated piece of lino, a useless gas cooker, table, two rather worn rugs and two dead birds.  Apparently she had two cats.  Having swept up the bodies and pile of feathers, I proceeded to wash the floor with cold water, an inch-wide piece of soap and moth-eaten rag, kneeling on one of the rugs that I had previously shaken.  When finished, I said goodbye and promised to visit again in two days’ time.

Back home I made myself a cup of coffee and felt my legs begin to itch, I absently scratched them while reading the paper.  Half an hour later I was horrified to see my legs covered in large red bumps.  Having the car I raced hot foot to the Chemists to ask Mrs Miles what they were.  I nearly died when she told me they were flea bites, but what made it worse was the fact that I found out I was allergic to anti-histamine.  That was a nasty fortnight until the bites disappeared.  A funny PS to this story is that when my husband and I went to bed that night we both started to itch and think there were things in the bed.  So at midnight we stripped the bed, went and had a bath and hair wash in strong Dettol water, then hoovered the bed and made it anew with uncontaminated sheets and blankets.  Our organisers tell us not to take our patients’ troubles home with us; to this day I don’t know whether I did or not.  Needless to say I never went back there again as Mrs Kemball got Mrs D back into hospital.

About Mrs N

My next memorable case was again a lady.  Mrs N was a retired school teacher having taught most of the population of the village at one time or another.  She tried to impress me with stories of how her daughter was married to a famous actor’s brother, and her son-in-law was doing very well in a business.  Also that the vicar had a glass of sherry with her once a week.  Talking of sherry it was the bane of my life, as every day she would offer me a glass and I would refuse for the simple fact that I don’t drink and if I had had I would have been under the table and no work done.  One half of a pint of lager and I am anyone’s! Mrs N was quite offended when I refused but I think she got the message in time.  I started work with Mrs N at the same time as decimalisation became official.  She would send me shopping with a list leaving a space beside each item for the prices in new and old money.  Then she would ring up the shops to check on the prices.  This annoyed me very much as I hate money troubles.

Mrs N had a nice semi-detached house.  She would let me do all the housework and dusting barring one thing – wash the kitchen lino.  Some milk was spilt on the said lino and I offered to wash the whole floor.  She was horrified at the suggestion and would only let me mop it up saying that the lino had been polished 30 years ago and she didn’t want the shine taken off.  I left her with a beige patch in the middle and dark choc covered edges.  She was perfectly happy with it so what can one do.  The customer is always right!  Mrs N and I parted not the best of friends as she accused me of cheating her with the shopping and saying that she had fed my family and myself all the time I was with her, all because she gave me a couple of small bones for my dog.  So take heed.

About Mr S

One of my favourite clients, but then we called them patients, was Mr S, a very big man who could not come to terms with his disabilities.  He had been active all his life, having been a crew member of the luxury motor yacht ‘Venetia’ and had been all around the world.  He was also manager (I think) of the local Gas Works.  His wife, who was an invalid, was a member of the Salvation Army, and Mr S nursed her until she died.  Mr S was a bit of a puritan and could not understand the younger generation and their ways.  He thought the world was going to wrack and ruin.  We got on very well, and became very good friends, in fact he was like a father to me:  he took an interest in my husband and children, and loved to hear how they were getting on and the funny things that happen to them.  He had not family except a nephew who lived in Norfolk and visited him every other Sunday.  So I suppose my family was the nearest thing he had to put any thoughts and affection to.

I remember arriving at his two-up-two-down cottage one day, and seeing him in a very upset state.  When I calmed him down and given him a cup of tea, he told me what was wrong.  As he was getting dressed he dropped his shirt on the floor, bent down to pick it up, and split his only pair of decent trousers, and was worrying himself silly about replacing them.  Mr S was a big man all round, he was 6’6” tall, very big around the middle, and I had a small car.  He put on his overcoat to hide the split, and somehow we squeezed him into my little Morris Traveller.  I took him to the Navy and Army Stores in Head Street, parking on double yellow lines.  Two shop assistants helped him into the shop, with me following.  I got back to the car to find a traffic warden looking at my car.  He was a very nice young man, who must have got out of bed the right side that morning, because when I explained what had happened and why I was there, he offered me a cigarette, chatted with me until Mr S was ready to get back into the car, and helped him in.  I don’t know whether it helped, but I was wearing my official overall and had my time sheets with me, and I did show them to him.  I shall be ever grateful to that young traffic warden with a heart of gold.

Mr S always suffered with pneumonia or bronchitis, and as he had no family I would go there three times a day to get his meals, give him his tablets and tuck him up for the night and lock the door.  During these bouts of illness he would be delirious and I often wondered what I would find when I opened the door in the morning.  Here are a few examples:  the chamber pot in the oven full of Readybrek and milk; drawers and cupboards turned out on to the floor and left; his stone hot water bottles down the loo, and potted flowers in bed with him.  Twice I found him on the floor and had to get some men from the local factory to get him back on to the bed and hope that he had not broken any bones.

I returned to him one morning after the Christmas break to find I could not open the door.  Looking through the letter flap I could see him apparently asleep in his chair.  I called the doctor, the police and Mrs Coombes.  The doctor came immediately and broke a panel in the door to unlock it.  Mr S had died so peacefully in his chair, after a long time of suffering with bad circulation and a touch of gangrene.  His nephew, who was a builder and undertaker saw to the funeral arrangements and Mr S was laid with his wife, in a lovely churchyard, very peacefully at Eccles in Norfolk.  I was invited to the funeral and took a day’s holiday to go.  I finally said goodbye to him at 3pm that day.  He was a dear friend whom I will always miss.

About Mrs T

About this time I started with Mrs T who had just come out of hospital after a hip operation.  She needed her fires lit, and coal got in, as well as the usual housework.  We got on very well.  She had a green budgie called Joey who does not speak a word, just chirrups.  As I was laying the fire one day I noticed Joey was scratching his rear end and looking very sore.  This carried on while we were having coffee.  Mrs T said she could not get hold of the bird to see what was wrong.  I opened the cage and eventually got hold of Joey.  Turning him rear end up I could see what the matter was – he was bunged up.  Joey never scratched himself once I had bathed his bottom with warm water and rubbed olive oil in.  This happened a few times more; in fact I had to ring the vet once because I could not shift the droppings. Joey does not exactly draw blood, but very nearly does and has a painful nip.  I cannot see animals in pain if there is something I can do about it.  I have also taken Mrs T out in my car to Texas Warehouse to choose some wallpaper for her sitting room, and to the top of North Hill to renew her glasses.  Again I parked on double yellow lines but there were no wardens about.

Mrs T’s house is situated in an area that occasionally floods.  Twice I have sat with her of an evening watching the water steadily creep up her garden.  One time the water came within an inch of the top of her back door stop before ebbing.  I felt like King Canute willing the water back.  Her toilet floor is lower than the rest of the house, and while watching the water coming up, I had to use the loo.  Rolling up my trousers, I waded into the freezing water and sat down, rolling up with laughter at the situation I was in.

About Miss G

About a year later I started with Miss G, a sprightly 90 year old.  Up to then she had done all her own shopping, cooking, washing and housework.  She broke her knee in a fall and found she could not bend very easily.  All I had to do was clear her grate and get the coal in.  Now I sweep the rooms and get her paraffin.  She still washes, dusts and cooks.  She is very independent and will ask me to do extra if she feels under the weather – I don’t ask her.  Her fireplace is very big and wide where the flue starts.  Once a month I go up and clean the soot down.  There is usually a good bucket full although she has the chimney swept twice a year.  Every year we spend a day in Maldon, at friends who have a large draper’s shop.  They have a sale every June and we spend the day looking at the bargains, and have a lunch at a restaurant.  It makes a break for Miss G and the weather is usually good.

University students

October 1977 started an exciting time in my home help career.  Mrs Brightwell (my new HH Organiser) rang me up and asked if I would like some extra work and become a car user at the same time.  It meant helping three students at the University who were in wheelchairs.

Carmelle was a young student at the University and could manage most things, except her washing and ironing, which I did in one visit.  When the ironing was done she would make me a cup of tea and we would chat.  There were five girls with rooms in the flat all sharing the kitchen-cum-diner, and the place was spotless.

Steven, however, was entirely different.  He was handicapped quite a lot.  He had the services of a nurse to get him up in the morning and to put him to bed.  Steven was a bit of a militant, and so were his friends who shared the flat.  My duties were to do his washing, ironing and keep his room tidy.  All flats are supplied with kitchen and cleaning equipment, but I had to use my own iron, dustpan and brush as theirs had been pinched.  Quite often there were many unofficial lodgers in that flat, sleeping bodies everywhere.  One called Alex slept on the floor under the table in the bathroom, another in a sleeping bag on the floor in Steven’s room, and another on the benchseat in the kitchen, and girls popping into and out of each boy’s room.  One just had to shut one’s eyes to the goings on, and sing loudly to let the boys know you were coming.  The only embarrassing thing that happened to me was I knocked on Steven’s door one morning.  I knocked again when I got no answer, and opened the door.  There was a strange couple on the bed who told me Steven had gone to town and they had borrowed his room and bed.  I hastily shut the door and let them get on with what I had so obviously interrupted.  The boys were never house-proud.  The kitchen was always filthy – dirty dishes and saucepans from the night before, food and rubbish on the floor and I had to do the ironing in there.  They were a good-hearted lot though and would often offer me a cup of tea if there was any milk left.  I would push my squeamish feelings aside and have a cuppa with them.

The third one I went to was a little older than the others and did research, and teaching.  He lived in a married person’s flat, which he shared with a Malaysian student.  John was nearly helpless, caused by an accident.  I admired him for what he did for himself though.  He wrote with a pen in his mouth; and went to the shops and got his goods.  I would go there every day and make his lunch, two pints of Complan, and make his bed.  If there was any time left I would hoover, take the washing to the launderette, put letters in envelopes, and wrap his Christmas and birthday presents.  Twice a week he would ask me to wash his hair.  This not only involved the hair but washing his long beard as well.  I flinched when he first asked me as I do not like beards or moustaches,  but got used to it in time.  John was a lovely person considering his disabilities and we soon became friends.

Becomes a mobile home help

I have now left the University as I am now a Mobile home help.  This entails going anywhere there is an emergency, such as home help being away ill or a new client.  It is certainly different as one does not know what the person is like when knocking on the door.  Also I shall not get to know the clients as I shall be only temporary, but I meet a lot of different people and I love travelling.


This page was added on 14/06/2019.

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