Saturday, July 07, 2007
Dorothy Johnson 1949-52 (?)
Initiation rites Ward 2 - 1950
So Susan was in the next bed to Dorothy Johnson! ( see yesterday's post).
I am gobsmacked to read this.
I was next to Dorothy in 1950 before I got moved to the balcony in 1951.
Dorothy was my teacher/mentor/protector during that first year in Craig-y-nos. I was 9 and Dorothy must have been about 14, maybe even 15.
It was Dorothy who explained to me that I had TB and that everyone else in the ward had it too. They didn't seem bothered by it. There were 18 ( I think) in the ward all much older than me.
It was Dorothy who told me that I wouldn't be in Craig-y-nos for three days as my mother had promised me.
“More likely three years” she says.
She's close: it 's 4 years and 3 days.
It was Dorothy who told me that the reason my mother was fat was because she had a snake living inside her and the reason my father was so thin was that he had a snake inside him too. I believed her and each visiting would look carefully at my parents for any sign of these strange serpent like creatures living inside them.
How could this be? it didn't seem logical . Why should a snake make one person fat and another person thin? Dorothy was unable to answer this question. It puzzled me.
Inside Ward 2: Ann on 12 inch blocks with friends
Initiation rites Ward 2 - 1950
But back to the beginning. After a couple of days in Ward 2 the Ward Boss demands I sing.
I refuse. I don't know anything to sing. It was clear the other girls - this was an evening ritual after lights out- all know something called “pop songs”.
Having never left Ty-Llangenny farm, my remote home in the Black Mountains except twice to go on holiday first to Aberystwyth then to Llandrindod Wells I had no knowledge of the outside world. All I know are nursery rhymes and hymns.
Somehow I sense this is not appropriate.
“Go on sing!, sing, sing” they chant.
And still I remain silent.
The Ward Boss changes tactics.
“Who is your favourite film star?”
Now having failed miserably the first test how was I going to attempt to pass the next?
Other girls repeat the question.
I remember the silence, the waiting expectation. What could I do? the only film I had ever seen in my life was the occasion we all went to a special film show in Crickhowell and it was set in a castle where the hero used to frighten people into doing what he wanted by taking his head off ( somehow the alleged ghost of Adelina Patti wandering through the wards never seemed so scary after that screen image of the man taking his head off and putting it under his arm).
No, that wouldn't do. There must be something.
Mother used to like to listen to a woman singing on the radio. My brother and I always had to be quiet, real quiet as the whole family stood in silent homage around this big brown box once a week in the farm kitchen listening to a woman's voice emanating from it.
Was she a film star? I had no idea.
“Who is your favourite film star?” the Ward Boss repeats the question.
“Gracie Fields” I say my voice trembling, hoping that this woman whose singing enchanted my mother so much was indeed a film star.
Some girls laugh.
The Ward Boss is suspicious of my choice:”Don’t you like men?”
“Yes” say I wondering what this has to do with film stars.
“Most girls choose male film stars,” she adds.
Dorothy guesses my ignorance.
Next day she hands me a book full of pictures of film stars.
“Learn their names. I will test you tomorrow.”
And that marks the start of my initiation into the culture of Ward 2.
By 1956 the rituals had grown more brutal. B. ( she doesn't want to give her real name ) recalls that as a 12 year old she was terrified they would strip her naked and force her to run around the ward. She had watched it happen to another girl but she got let off by the Ward Boss on the grounds that “she’s only a child”.