Saturday, December 01, 2007

Mary Slater (nee Davies ), age 10 1950-51

Mary on the balcony

"I find it really difficult to believe that 57 years ago I spent 11 months as a patient in Craig y Nos. I kept diaries whilst I was there and have looked at them for the first time. I was surprised to find that, even though the entries are very short, I had forgotten most of the events and people that I had been writing about. Or, more likely, suppressed it all.

It seems like another world, which, of course, it was. I have only once been back, on a really bizarre journey, when Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff took a busload of people to a very avant garde performance in Adelina’s theatre. I spent most of the time remembering myself aged 10 weeping bitterly over ‘How Green Was My Valley’.

I ‘got’ TB the day before my 10th birthday, on June 17 1950. One minute I was picnicking in a field with friends and the next thing I was having x rays in the War Memorial Hospital in Brecon and listening to other children coughing up their insides after having their tonsils out. The doctor said that I had pleurisy. From August 21 1950 to 18 July 1951 I was at Craig y Nos. I thought it was ‘quite nice’ but for the first few weeks I noted that I cried a lot.

My diaries record a life of sending away for things, reading, getting parcels, writing to people, going to film shows, being kissed by boys, getting clean sheets and waiting for the weekly Long Round and the monthly visits from family. There was also something called ‘hygiene’ but unless that was getting a dose of cascara I cannot remember what it was. There were also patients going home and new patients coming –‘Mary Morris, Maureen Evans and Molly Wade went home’. There was also school and I took the scholarship exam in March 1951 and failed it.

I was on the balcony and I can remember Ann Rumsey, Joan and Mair Edwards. Mair, who was older than me (May 4 1937 is her birthday apparently) was clearly my best friend ‘Mair, Kay, Mary and I have started the Secret Four’. I was clearly very struck by the short stay of a German girl – Gerda Grazier from Aberavon- who was there for 4 months and spent a lot of it playing ‘March Militaire’ in the main ward. By February I was getting out of bed I by July I was home – 6 days after Caroline Havard, who was upstairs.

I remember being woken at about 2am and having my face washed as the nurses shift changed over; Ronnie Renalde (is that how you spell it?) singing ‘If I were a blackbird’ and someone else singing ‘If you roll a silver dollar down upon the ground it will roll because its round’. It snowed and we had tarpaulins on our beds and got chilblains on our fingers. We has something like ice cream called ‘mousse’ and it was years before I found that it was supposed to be soft, not a pink brick.

I liked Dr Williams but was frightened of Dr Huppert and really did not like Sister Morgan who made fun of my accent which was too English for her. When I got home I was made fun of because it was too Welsh. Until I read other people’s accounts I had forgotten about the nice nurse Glenys and Auntie Maggie. Nastiness was more memorable.

Looking back I can see how hard it was for my parents to keep in touch. We did not have a car and it was a 2 hour journey by bus for them. They also kept up a seemingly constant flow of parcels and letters and must have been in the post office almost every day. I have 3 sons and cannot imagine being parted from them for so long when they were small. I was very very homesick for a time and, although I understood why I was there I did not like it.

I think that I became institutionalised fairly quickly and stopped crying, as it was the only way to cope with it all. Once I got home I must have tried to forget everything. I don’t think I wrote to anyone still there, even my best friend, and, oddly enough, I don’t think I talked about it to the other 3 people from my school, who were also patients. We all wanted to get on with our much more interesting lives and forget about hospitals.

It left things though, apart from improved health. I was still at school when I was 19, having passed the scholarship at a second attempt, and it always felt a bit odd to be so much older than other people. For years I thought putting on weight was a good thing, after the once a week weigh in to see if you were fat enough to go home. I was bad at games because I was not allowed to play any for a while. However, I read the whole library at Craig y Nos, including stuff like ‘Forever Amber’, which was a bit advanced for a 10 year old! This may have led, indirectly, to my English degree. Even more curious, I became an NHS manager.

57 years later I realise that I still know very little about TB and the treatments available at the time. I was told that I got it because I had been swimming in a river where there were cows drinking, but I never followed this up."

Mary, along with two other former ex Craig-y-nos patients and pupils at Brecon Grammar school, Caroline Havard and Gwyneth Davies have all had distinguished careers within the NHS.

Mary as a NHS manager, Caroline as an occupational therapist and Gwyneth as a doctor.

Mary says in an e-mail:
  I graduated in English in 1962  from Queen Mary College in
London and started doing an MA in, wait for it, Robert Borrowing's use of
imagery in his earlier poems. I was too busy being Secretary of the
University of London Students Union to pay it proper attention so gave up
and got a job as a sub-editor with the Encyclopaedia Britannica which then
had a London office. Nice job, involved going round libraries checking
articles by famous people but the pay was awful.

Then I moved to Brighton for a job in the (then) new University of Sussex ending up as an Assistant
Registrar. All very exciting and I was really sorry to leave Brighton.
Marriage to a Sussex postgraduate took us to Liverpool for his job and I
joined the NHS management training scheme, as there did not seem to be any
jobs like the Sussex one around.  We moved back to Wales in 1971(and have
been in Cardiff ever since) and until 1998 I worked in the NHS, stopping off
to have 3 sons, rather late in the day, who are all in their 20's.  My last
job from which I was made redundant (a reorganisation) was as Manager of the
Welsh Artificial Limb and Appliance Service - a rather niche activity in the

 I then joined the voluntary sector and managed a team of out of school
childcare club development officers.  My very last job was as manager of a
new organisation, the Wales Women's National Coalition, an umbrella group
for women's organisations in Wales which is consulted by the Welsh Assembly
Government.  I retired in May 2006 but have been back to help out when our
new manager became an Assembly Member.

I am still the Wales representative
to the European Women's Lobby
and have just been to Borovets in Bulgaria for
a conference - very strange place as it is a ski resort, but minus the snow
it looks like something out of Disney.

I am, finally, retired and trying to finish my second attempt at an MA -
this time in Equality and Diversity. Robert Browning would probably turn in
his grave!"

Mary still has her diaries from her time in Craig-y-nos. Reading them again she says:

“ the best bit is where, like a prisoner, I total up the months and days I
have been there.”

No comments: