Lifestory Showcase - Chappell
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Before the Sink War really got under way I had my great day out at the Buckin8harri Palace Garden Party so I will break my story and tell of that day. It was July 23rd 1981 , and we left Gillingharn Station in sunshine about 9 o'clock in the morning. We were met by mini-bus at Waterloo by the Spastics Society and taken to Fitzroy Square, London, for drinks and a buffet lunch before changing into summer dresses and hats for the ladies or toppers and tails for the men. Photographs were taken in the sunshine, before loading up and setting off down the Mail, joining a long queue of Mini-buses, cars, coaches and ambulances all travelling towards The Gates.
There was bunting all along the route for it was only six days before the wedding of Charles and Diana. Just as our bus got to the gates and inside, the heavens opened up with pouring rain. This was to last for the next three hours while we were spread around the garden in one big horse-shoe shape. The band played on and the rain poured down.
Princess Diana, leading the way, was shaking hands and talking to everyone she could reach, receiving cards, flowers and good wishes from everybody. Two things will always live in my mind. The first was when Diana spoke to a lady who had no arms, she looked her straight in the eyes and pinned a tiny rose which she had been given into the ladies brooch.
The second was the huge card the children at my school had made up from other cards and which I was to present to Diana myself on their behalf. Security was very tight, a policeman stood right behind mother and me and all the time the parcel was tucked under my wheelchair to keep it dry. He moved away after I had handed it to Diana, telling her where I had brought it from.
We last saw it being carried away by a courtier under an umbrella keeping it dry. The school later received an acknowledgement card which was framed and hung on the wall when I left. After Princess Diana came Prince Charles, hands behind his back as usual, talking away, asking if anyone was going to the Wedding on 29th July. The only other thing I heard him say was “I wonder how everyone manages to get to the loo on these occasions”. By the time we had tea on the lawn and saw the Queen and other Royals on the steps, it had stopped raining. We were soon on the return journey up the decorated Mall again, back for a cup of tea and home once more to normality.
By now the battle of lowering the sink was well underway. I was doing more in the kitchen but trying to wash-up at a normal height sink meant I was drowning myself with water up my arms, dripping down my sleeves and thoroughly soaking myself. The Social Worker / O.Ts were coming from far and wide with their tape-measures of all shapes and sizes, to find the height I needed the sink to be. The answer was and still is twenty-six inches from the floor. Kathy and I had decided on this figure weeks before. This went on for months, until one day, an ordinary workman arrived to lower the sink. He had a paper with diagrams, figures, everything marked.
We left him to it all one day and when he left, the 'bloody SINK' was higher than when he started, finishing up at thirty-two inches. The man said at the time, he knew it was wrong but he was carrying out strict orders and it was more than his job was worth to do otherwise. This caused my dear mother to have a nervous breakdown arid we were left alone, no one come back to inspect the job. I could not go near it, mother would only fill and boil a kettle.
For six long weeks she sat in her armchair wearing only her nightdress and dressing gown, talking only about that sink. She could neither rest nor sleep, would try to read when I tried to sleep. Only one thing would come into her thoughts. That sink, it blotted out everything else in her mind. Derek and friends did appear at last and try to get something done, but no, it went on and on.
I was not dressing by now, as there was no day or night for either of us and even suicide was being planned by mother, to get away from Social Workers and SINKS. But somehow, I was able to hang on, or God helped us not to let her get near that car for I'm convinced she would have driven it over a cliff or done something equally drastic.
Late one night. I had to go along with her when she was desperate. She made me get into my wheelchair, pushed me out the door and along the village street at about 10.30 ending up in the pub. The police were called, all they did was to take us back indoors where the sink was, and call the doctor. He told us to go to bed and he shut the door. Mother at some stage got a big hammer and tried to beat the sink to pieces. I felt in real danger while she was swinging that hammer around.
Next day, a Sunday in early March 1982, we got dressed, packed the car, took picnic stuff, all the money we had and just left. Just as we were about to leave, Derek phoned suggesting we did just that and find Bed and Breakfast somewhere. Going to stay with friends was out of the question, as we were both far too overwrought. The car just seemed to lead us out of hell, we travelled on vowing we would not return until somebody listened to us and something was done.
We were wending towards Wiltshire where mother had always felt secure, she was calming down and we were looking for somewhere to stay which would be accessible for my chair. There were very few B.& B. Boards out in early March, the afternoon was getting late and it would soon be dark, when we saw the entrance to a Guest House.
We stopped at a flight of shallow steps which were negotiable and it seemed the door opened and mother fell in exhausted. Two men came and carried me up the steps, we had a cup of strong tea and there was a double bedded room just inside the door. We both flopped down on it and went into a deep sleep, the first real sleep either of us had had for weeks.
We settled in, told the lady of the house our story, and phoned Derek to let him know we had a roof over our head and had a long restful night. It was to be our home for the next month at about £240 a week for bed, breakfast and evening meal, but no proper sitting room. The landlady could not have been more suitable or more understanding, for she was Austrian and had spent her early years in a German Concentration Camp. So who better could we have gone to? I think I must have gone to bed first that night, for she sat up with mother and let her cry in her arms and listened. She has remembered us at Christmas ever since, and we also visited her again after this was over.
We would get into the car every morning and drive around, eating and sleeping in the car in the afternoons which wasn't very warm in early spring. After about three weeks of this, how it happened I still do not know but we ended up at a Police Station one afternoon with steps before us again Mother climbed up them, virtually collapsed and they came and took us into the Station. By this time mother was sound asleep, I tried to explain to them what was by now ‘The Saga of the Sink’. Mother woke up and they being tough policemen and women told us that if we had a home, we had better go and fight out our troubles with the Social Services there.
We would not budge, so they phoned around probably back to the source of our troubles. A Wiltshire Social Worker appeared from nowhere, listened and there were phone calls back to the Sturminster Newton office again. It was now March 24th and we said we would not go back home until we got a firm written statement, stating that at 9 am. on April 1st a workman and the Head of Social Services would be at our bungalow. We returned to the Guest House and sat out those few days, including my birthday until April Fools Day. We arrived back at 8.55 am. to let them in, the workman was left to do exactly what ‘we wanted’ and it took him less than three hours.
Our Social Worker, promised to arrange a holiday for us at Swanage. Some months later she came back asking why we had not been on a certain date. We knew nothing about this at all. She produced a leaflet saying she had left us one in our letter box, which we had not seen at all. When she swore she had booked for us, we asked who had paid the required deposit.
She did not answer and left. We thought they should have recompensed us for the B. & B. expenses but nothing happened. It was well into 1982 by the time all this was finally cleared up and by March 1984 we were on our way to Milton Keynes. How this move came about is revealed in the next chapter.
Dorset Social Services were probably glad to see us go but not as much as we were to see the last of them, but not before they had kept Milton Keynes Development Corporation waiting weeks for the necessary paper work. We had to sit in the office and beg for that to be sent off. We could have moved weeks earlier if they had done this. We were glad to be heading North where we did not know anyone but we were now away from all that. Ironically, the new tenant had ‘the sink’ put back where it should be.
Before I had even moved to Milton Keynes I had seen an Occupational Therapist. Within five weeks of moving in the sink had been lowered, everything we asked for and a lot more was suggested and done. Other alterations were done later with no hassle at all. We could not believe everything was happening so soon and so easily.
We say we jumped one hundred years overnight from March 9th to March 10th 1984. How I wish the Dorset Services could see me now. Mother now has her own little bungalow almost next door while I am living on my own although I obviously need and get some Community Care. At the age of 86 she is still helping and supporting me here in 1993. 1981 was more than just the IYDP for mother and myself.
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