Saturday, September 20, 2008
The bird tamer - "Ann on Blocks"-1957
"Ann on Blocks" feeding blue-tit on balcony.
Ann Peters, ( nee Williams) known as “Ann on Blocks” because her bed was raised on 12-inch blocks, was known as “the bird tamer”.
From her bed on the balcony she would entice robins, blue-tits and sparrows to hop on to her hand by saving crumbs of bread for them.
“They used to come in and sit on my hand.”
Life on the balcony was cold, with the temperatures plummeting below zero in winter yet on clear nights it could be very beautiful:
“We used to watch the Northern Lights from our beds. We had tarpaulins on the bed to keep the snow and rain off. Yet it was very enjoyable. At the time, it didn’t seem as if there was anything wrong or hard about it. We were all in the same position and nobody complained.”
Ann’s father had died of TB at home when she was “ about five years old” and her two brothers and sister had also been in hospital.
Ann says:” One would have it, come home, and then the next one would have it. It seemed to go on forever.”
So, when the time came for her to go into Craig-y-nos she knew partly what to expect.
“I know it might sound silly but it was really enjoyable there. We had visitors every weekend. My father’s sister was in at the same time as me. She was on Ward 1. She died, unfortunately.”
“ I wasn’t allowed to sit up. I was on my back for sixteen months.
I was caught sitting up once by Dr Huppert.
Oh, gosh! She told me that if she caught me doing that again, she’d put me in plaster of Paris so that I couldn’t move. It was for my own good, I know, because I was so ill.
She said that she’d put me in the room next to her so that she could watch me all the time.”
Ann laughs as she tells this story.
“It did stop me sitting up, I can tell you.
Dr Huppert told my mother that when I went in it would be twelve months before they’d even know if I was out of the woods. Those were the words she used.
“Dr Huppert was a lovely person. It’s just that she was so very abrupt. She was nice to me.
As I say, I never felt ill. I used to think, why on earth am I here? I don’t think any of the girls really felt ill.”
After eighteen months Ann was allowed up.
But it is the friendship of the other girls that remains in her memory:
“They were smashing. We had loads of fun there.
Even though I couldn’t sit up and do things, they’d position me where I could watch the telly. (Later I went out on to the balcony). I wasn’t allowed to do anything, only read. The girls would all come around to talk to me.
I started off in the centre of the ward and then I went up near the window, and if I had a mirror in my hand and I held it up I could see who was coming in and out. “
Eventually she was moved into the Six-Bedder, Adelina Patti’s former bedroom
“That was a very posh! It was very hard to get in to there.”
When she was allowed to get dressed she says some of them bought orange trousers.
“I don’t know why.
We could be seen for miles. We couldn’t escape anywhere, with these bright orange trousers on. We used to go over the lake, the boating lake. We’d fall in a couple of times. Then we’d go down, over the bridge to the woods, to the end of the Craig-y-nos mountain. The grounds were lovely.
I remember a Mary Williams. She was at death’s door when she went in. She had a terrible, terrible cough. Every morning they would have to bring her over the bed and thump her back to get rid of what was on her chest.
We had schooling in Craig-y-nos, very elementary stuff.
Someone bought me a typewriter, I don’t know where it came from, and I learned to do shorthand out of a “Teach yourself” book.
“We had a lot of fun. We used to go down to the basement and they had ‘Jimmy the skeleton’ down there.
We used to go down there and frighten the life out of one another.
One of the girls used to have an empty bottle and blow into it so it made an eerie noise. We used to be awful. We’d frighten all the new girls that came in.
I know it’s a terrible thing to do.
We used to have a lot of fun there.”
She remembers settling well into the sanatorium regime:
“No problem at all. It was a very enjoyable stay.”
“And it’s never bothered me to say that I’ve had TB and been in Craig-y-nos.”
To-day Ann, a mother of three in her sixties with four grandchildren, has restricted mobility and gets around with the aid of two sticks.
“I’ve had both hips replaced and has been on sticks for four years.
It has left one leg two inches shorter than the other one. As long as I can get about I’m happy.
It’s painful all the time. It hasn’t stopped hurting from the time I had it done.
But it’s part of me. I don’t notice it too much.”