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Can I ask you a little bit about the nature of your uh, disability or health condition please?

Yes, yes. Um, I have Usher's Syndrome, which is a combination of retinitis pigmentosa,
the eye condition and hearing impairment. I was first diagnosed with my hearing
impairment when I was two and my sight uh, my parents were told about my sight when I
was sixteen, but we didn't know what it was specifically until I was about 25.

Ok, so we'll go back to the beginning. Um, when and where were you born please?

I was born in Clifton in Buckinghamshire, Slough. Um, because, uh it was a Canadian Red
Cross Hospital at the Lady Astor place there. Used to be and uh I, I am one of four girls.
I'm the second of four girls between- we've five years between us. And, the oldest sister
and myself both have this condition. And uh, when my sister- we lived in Cippenham in
Slough. When my sister was at nursery, uh, the nursery teachers were a bit concerned
about her because she didn't seem to be hearing or communicating with the other children.
So they suggested to my parents that she was assessed. So my parents uh took herself
and myself, obvi- I was two so obviously they took me with them. I think my next sister was
a baby so she was left behind, and we went to Gray's Inn Road ENT – Ear, Nose and
Throat Hospital - in London and whilst they were assessing my sister I was sitting on my
mother's lap and the Consultant went behind my mother and did a few things and said, this
one's worse than the other one, meaning me. So, after that session we came out with
these huge big black- uh, hearing aids. At that time they were a big black box, see, with
thick wires going to our ears. And uh, but coming out of the hospital, my parents noticed
some children in the waiting room who were signing with their hands and making grunting
noises and my mother said to my father, well at least our daughters aren't as serious as
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that. Um, when it came to my education, going to school, the Bucks Authority, because
Slough was under Buckhinghamshire at that time, wanted me to be sent away to a sboarding school in Liverpool. And um, but my parents weren't happy about that.
Unfortunately, Theresa my older sister and myself, when my mother was expecting my
next sister, we were put into a home. I was two at the time and uh, my parents were told
that nobody could visit us whilst we were in the home. And so, when my father came to
pick us up I was traumatised and that made them think, well no they didn't want to send
me away to a school for the deaf. So, they spoke to the Consultant at Gray's Inn Road and
um, they said no, she's not that bad that she needs to be sent away. What we could do is
for, both Theresa and myself, to uh, go to London for speech therapy and we'd be able to
go to mainstream primary school. So that's what we did. Uh, we used to go by train from
Slough to Paddington. And then King's Cross and then on to the Ear, Nose and Throat.
And Theresa and I have very fond memories of the speech therapist there, Mr
Macpherson. And uh, and then after that we used to go and visit my grandmother who
lived in Streatham at that time. Uh, uh, and had lovely lunch! Lamb stew with barley, I
always looked forward to that. So, yes.

Nice. So what did your mother and father do? What was, what did they do for a living?

Oh. Um, at that time of course my mother, having four children she was ho- at home, but
my father worked for a company called Hanovia. It was an American company that actually
uh, made radisal lamps and uh, the UV you know, sun lamps and so forth and heaters.
And my father was a clerk in the office. He originally came down from Oldham in
Lancashire. But of course, you know um, his family, he was one of ten, seven surviving,
children. And uh, during the depression years some of them had come down from up there
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to Slough where there was a lot of industry. And um, ye-, my mother when we were a bit
older went to work for Hasbro's that would be up there. And um, oh, lots of industry
including Mars. And, you know, Horlicks and all the other, uh car- Citroen, the car
company. So a lot of people obviously uh, moved down there to find work at that time.

Was that where your father met your mother, in Slough?

Well yes, interest- in- interestingly enough my mother had been born and brought up in
Old Windsor. I mean, there's a story to that too really because um, her father got- wa- lived
in London um, Mayfield. And um, he worked in the church there. He already had one
family which was um, he had eight children by his first family and he used to be an altar
server at the Jesuit Church in London. Park Lane, somewhere near there and um, his wife
had TB, Tuberculosis and she wasn't very well, so they suggested that he move to Old
Windsor where uh, there was a Jesuit college, Beaumont College. And um, you know thattha- so they went to live there and my grandfather was the chief engineer eh, uh, at
Beaumont College and they lived in a lodge in the grounds of the Jesuit college and uh, ah
well, his wife died and my grandmother uh, her family, you know, they lived in different
parts. Um, they li- anyway, they were living in London at the time and um, she worked fouh, was a dressmaker, at tailor for uh, connecting with royal family. And uh, so they
suggested that she move to Windsor because that's where they resided a lot of the time
but I think she must have sewn uh, made ar- garments for the ladies in waiting and that
sort of thing. Anyway um, they they met uh, you know, in this date in Windsor through a
friend and that and then they got married and my grandfather had five children. So, my
mother was the fourth child of the five children and interestingly enough she was born in
1923 and there's a photo of her family with her siblings and her parents and I think even
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her great aunt um, outside the lodge. Well we, when she was 90, uh, in um, well it would
have to have been three years ago now. My sisters and I took her to Beaumont. It's now a
hotel, Beaumont Hotel and we stayed in the room that she said, oh this is where the boythe dormitory part. And uh, you know she was saying, oh this is where the dining room
was, this is where the um, the uh, the dairy was and all that. It, it it it's a lovely place to visit
it's open to people to stay and we had tea there and so forth so yeah, that's where they
came from.

So you said you were born in, was it The Canadian Red Cross Hospital?

Yeah, The Canadian Red Cross you know, they had kind of like, I suppose like a hospital
in the grounds of um, Clifton. Yeah. But it's all gone now. Um, I, Theresa and I, were born
there and then, I'm not too sure whether it, you know, I should mention the names of my
sisters really because I haven't had their permission, do you know what I mean?

Mmhmm. No that's fine, yeah.

It's ok?

Yeah.

To mention their names?

Um, if you're happy with it, yes.

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Um, it's difficult isn't it?

Yeah, if you'd prefer not to then-

I don't know that they'd be happy.

No, that's fine. That's, that's-

Anyway, the, the other two younger sisters um, were born in Upton Hospital in Slough.
Now, when, obviously um, when it came to my going to schooling I went to, I went to um, a
Catholic primary school in Farnham Royal in Slough. And well, I, I'd gone to the nursery as
well. I remember certain things with the nursery, um, but I think I might have been there an
extra year because when I went to uh, the school in Farnham Royal, St. Anthony's it was,
um, I had the, the first three years in the infant section but then I skipped a year and had to
jump a year to the junior section. And um, well of course with having hearing problems, it
was quite funny with those hearing aids because they were awkward. My mother even had
to make batter- um, a harness to fit the four big batteries in to connect with the aid. And uh,
I wasn't comfortable wearing the ai- you know, boys would tease me and this sort of thing.
So I didn't really wear hearing aids when I was at the primary school. I don't know how unI survived really because- I suppose a lot of the time I must have just copied my friend
sitting ne- well, the the person sitting next to me in the classroom and um, I certainly
remember being very pleased with being able to do joined up writing and things like that.
And uh, but going into the junior section they had the A and the B classes. And um, so I
was put in the B classes for those, uh for three years. And then of course it came to the,
uh 11 pu- Plus. We had the prelims. And um, before taking the 11 Plus. Well at that time,
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um, my parents um, I know that they had arranged for me to have private tuition. And uh,
so um, I, I visited this lady, usually um, on the way home from school. You know, I had to
go by coach to the school it was quite a fair way. And um, so I would go to her bungalow.
She was an elderly lady but very nice lady, very good. And she did things with me like
algebra, even a little bit of French. Comprehension exercises. And they really you know,
captured my um, intellect if you like. But um, more of some- for some reason I failed the 11
Plus. Now in Slough, there was uh, a convent in Slough, St. Bernard's that was a very
good kind of like Grammar School and if you passed your 11 Plus you were able to go
there. But sometimes they had the convent entrance examination and uh, Theresa was
able to go there. Um, now when it was my turn to sit the entrance examination, the first
question was, put any letter you like in this box. And I thought, ooh there's a catch to this
and I can't see it. It got me upset because I thought, I don't, I don't know. I don't know what,
what to do. Having done all the other comprehension exercises, all clever work I thought.
So I got upset and then the head teacher, the nun took me out and comforted me and that
sort of thing. They let me sit it again but you know, it was the same paper and you know, I
went ahead with doing it. But they decided that it might not be helpful for me to go there,
they didn't think I would cope. Well my parents, they always wanted uh, their daughters to
have good education. So um, they asked around other convents, there was one in
Windsor and they said, oh well if you can't find anywhere else you know, we might take her.
But um, I had heard that there was another girl in my class who was going to be going to a
school in Maidenhead, a convent in Maidenhead, so I told my parents about that. And we
went there and they said that they would take me on. And so I, I went to Maidenhead
Convent, it was the Convent of the Nativity of Our Lord. What they did with me there was
put me in Junior Four instead of Senior One straight away. So um, I started in Junior Four.
Now, they had exams and things like that but the first time I sat, I think it was before
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Christmas actually but um, I, I sort of, I suppose I wasn't quite used to it but I didn't- I was
away a lot. I used to get quite a lot of colds and, and th- and it affected my hearing and if I
couldn't hear that was it really. But anyway I remember uh, the uh, you know at that time
they used to stand people in rows according to the position that they came in with the
exams and I was last and I was absolutely horrified. I thought, ah you know. Uh, I'm not
going to let this happen again. So when I went into the senior school and of course, you
had one, well this was the other thing also in the Junior Four class I was in, we had one
teacher who taught all the subjects. See this? And uh, in fact what happened when I went
there to begin with, um, they had a radio on the wall for some of the different subjects like
English and History and Nature and I thought, I can't hear that! Uh, so I, by then, the audio
hearing aids um, were a little bit better looking, still a body aid. And I thought well, I'll wear
my hearing aid and if the girls, it'll be a nine days' wonder with the girls, they'll get used to
me wearing it so it won't matter. So I started wearing that you see. And so in the senior
school we had all sorts of different subjects, you know, different teachers for different
subjects and when I sat the exams you know, I, I, suppose I worked hard, I came second
which, you know, sort of boosted my morale. And I always, it was a small cla- , school, um,
I always came within the top four for the exams and so forth and um, you know, that kind
of gave me the motivation. Now, when I came to uh, you know, Senior Five, you were
doing your O Levels at that time. And um, well it was quite funny because I saw uh, a, a
younger girl wearing red-framed glasses and I said to my father who you know, went to the
opticians, he wore glasses, oh can you take me with you because I think I fancy a pair of
glasses. And so he took me to the optician and the optician had noticed something with my
eye and suggested that I went to Wrexham Hospital in Slough for an eye test. Uh, but uh,
they didn't tell me that. And my mother took me to Wrexham Hospital. I remember being
told to wait outside whilst they told my mother something. When she came out she didn't
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say a word. She grabbed my hand and we went into Slough, shopping I suppose, but we
went to BHS, British Home Stores. And when we were, you know, walking down the aisles,
I saw this beautiful flamingo pink sombrero hat on this model and I just fell in love with it.
And uh, that was the fashion at that time. And my mother bought it for me and I thought,
well I've got three sisters why has she done that? You know. And uh, she said, well you're
going to be going on a French exchange, just before the Easter break you know. Sbecause it would be to help me with my French, with the French O Level. And so um, and
that's why I bought it for you, you know. So, I wore it going to France you know, Alsace.
And um, and then um actually, shortly before doing my O Levels, I found myself going on a
pilgrimage trip to Lourdes in France. Uh, it was a national pilgrimage and um, well, I was
kind of like half-expecting to be in a kind of hotel but it was we- it was kind of like a hospital
in the Domain part of Lourdes. And you know, and there was a dormitory and I, I was a bit
overwhelmed really and I got upset in the dormitory and these ladies came and you know,
comforted me and they took me with them. And one of them, she had a four year old son
with her who had Leukaemia and there was a, a boy there, ten years old, who had cancer
and you know, some of these other people were quite seriously ill and I thought, why am I
here? I've only got a hearing problem. And um, so, with the- it was a good experience you
know. I eh, learnt a lot through that and uh, came back and I sat my O Levels. And I did
quite well with that, I got eight O Levels all together. And um, and then um, you know,
managed to get into the Sixth Form, because you had to get certain O Levels to be able to
move into the Sixth Form. And uh, and I carried on. I was doing, by then I was doing
English Literature and French uh, A Level. Um, I wanted to do a third one but for some
reason mm, you know, I, I don't know, they made me do two. But I found myself with a lot
of time you know, and I asked if I could do another subject and, you know, like art. So I did
art but it wasn't for the A level. I, I did because I enjoyed doing drawing and, and painting
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and things like that. Um, but y- you know, wi- during that time, uh, with- the following year
after the first trip to France I went with my youngest sister to um, France again, but we
went by boat and train this time. And on the way back of course I had to carry the luggage.
And the French family had given us this huge big box of bi- mirabelle fruit. You know,
they're yellow like cherry-type things. And, so I was struggling with the cases and this big
box and going up the gangplank of the boat, which resulted eventually in me having a
misplaced disc in my back. And I was starting to have pain and shooting pains in my leg
and my back and uh, I thought, you know, by then people's attitudes had changed towards
me, you see. So you know, I was, people were giving in to me, people were being kind and
all sorts and I thought, there's something wrong. Uh, I'm dying, I thought. Because
obviously I'd been to Lourdes and was with seriously terminally ill people. And I um, but I
didn't want to approach my parents because they were afraid, presumably, to tell me. And
I didn't want to upset them. But as it so happens, you know, with doing essays and things
like that for the A Levels, I was doing uh, an essay in the dining room and I asked my
sister Dorothy, my youngest sister to take me, uh, to go to my father's bureau and get
some paper because I'd run out of paper. So she brought a pile back but there was a letter
in the middle of it and the words just jumped up at me, slowly but surely going blind. And I
thought, oh I'm not going to die after all, it's only my eyes! And uh, so anyway I waited until
my sister went to bed and um, approached my parents and they were quite shocked and
horrified to realise what I'd been thinking and I did say to them, look you know, you must
always be honest and open about it. I came to the wrong conclusion, two and two making
five, you know. And uh, well yes, after that um, I mean, it was the practice in those days,
especially at my school. Actually, I could come back a little bit because Kate went to St.
Bernard's and, sorry, Theresa and Kate went to St. Bernard's and I wanted Dorothy the
youngest one to come with me to this convent in Maidenhead so that, you know, I wouldn't
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feel the odd one out, so it was two and two you know? But anyway, um, when I um, did my
A Levels I didn't quite do so well. I got what they called O Level pass. I couldn't understand
that really, but the practice at that time in our convent was that um, your aim was to go to
Cambridge or Oxford University. If you couldn't make that, you'd go to teacher training
college to be a teacher. If you didn't do that you, you'd train to be a nurse or secretarial
work.

Right.

It, it was, it was like that at that time, you know the um, choice of career it was, was very
restricted. Anyway, but I was always very keen to do teaching and I love children and uh,
so I was a bit concerned, would I be able to go to teacher training college? But I think that
my head teacher um, had got in touch with the training college. It was St. Paul's Training
College in Rugby, Ne- um, between Rugby and Coventry out in the countryside. Uh,
Newbold Revel, Stretton under Fosse it was there. And um, so I think they must have you
know, sort of worked it out that yes it would be ok for me to go there. Well, that's what I did.
I went there to train to be a teacher, uh, primary school teacher. And um, I did quite well
there it k- kind of like clicked with you know the studies and so forth. And um, and in fact
uh, it was a three year course. I could go on about my problems that I had there sight-wise
so early evening. I'll come to that later perhaps. Um, but um, yo- you know, after the three
years, I went uh to uh, a teaching, well, interview in Marlow in Buckinghamshire. Uh,
primary school teacher. It was my first interview and I was accepted. And it was my first
teaching post. So, I taught there, primary school, for eight years. I had seven to eight year
olds and it was lovely I enjoyed tea- it was a beautiful s-, you know, time. And um so,
phew- there's so much really. Um, having taught seven to eight year olds for about seven
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years um, I was getting a bit, I wanted to do something a bit different so I asked if I could,
um, take older children. Well, I was middle school trained you see, anyway. And so I um,
you know, took children- at that time you had remedial classes, English and Maths, you
know for those that didn't, weren't quite, you know, succeeding in the top classes. So I
took the top class doing remedial English and Maths in the school. Mostly in the library,
you know. It was interesting that uh, about two years ago, they had a reunion at the school.
Um, when I first started there, the- there was the old um, school and I had a chapel with
my class by the River Thames it was there, in Marlow. Um, but then they built a new
school at the back of Marlow the town. And uh, so you know, they were celebrating fortforty years of that school you see and uh, I was quite keen to go, so Dorothy and I, my
youngest sister and myself went. And um, whilst we were there we um, you know obvi-,
there were these three ladies talking to the Headteacher there and they looked across and
they came across and spoke to me and they said, oh they loved it in my class, thought it
was great, you know, and so forth, so it was really nice to hear that.

Oh lovely.

And then um, there was this man, he kept looking across and smiling. Dorothy said, you
know, I think he wants to come and talk to you, and he came across as well. And he was
one of the ones I helped with the remedial work you know, and uh, he said that you know, I
did really well for him too.

Marvellous.

So it was great. Anyway, well, having you know, been there for about um, yeah, suppose
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I'd say, I started in 1972 teaching uh, in Marlow. Obviously, my parents, when- I'll come
back to the fact that I discovered I was losing, slowly but surely going blind. My mother
had been told at that time, that we- I went for my assessment, that I'd be blind by the time I
was 30. And uh, so obviously that was what had upset her. And then, with my teaching
you know, you're sort of thinking well, coming up to 30 now what am I going to do? And it
so happened that the Special Education Advisor for Buckinghamshire Authority visited me
at the school that I was teaching at. And um, she suggested that I should go to Edgbaston
University in Birmingham uh, to look at a course there where it, I was training to be a
teacher for visually impaired children. So I went there to, you know, just to see what it was
like, it was just to be introduced to it and I thought, oh that's quite good. I could carry on
teaching but I'd be more focussed as a teacher for visually impaired children. Uh, so that's
what I did and that was 19 uh, basically 1979 to '81, but the full year was 1980. Uh, that's
with the university. And I trained to be a teacher for visually impaired children. Now, this
Special Needs Advisor was uh, wanting to set up unit provision in High Wycombe um,
because children who were partially sighted were being taxied to London, John Aird
School in London, every day and the 1981 Education Act meant that local authorities were
to try and integrate children with disabilities into mainstream schools. Now it so happened
that actually that there was one teacher that was for physically disabled children and she
was promised to be working in a unit. And uh, so she gave up her, resi- resigned from her
teaching post but there was no unit for her to go to. Well, when this Special Needs Advisor
told me about her, uh, s- you know, uh strategy for setting up a unit in High Wycombe for
the partially sighted children, I kind of like refused to hand in my notice at the Marlow
school until there was something established for sure because there wasn't you see. Well,
having done that training to be a teacher for visually impaired, and of course it's all paid for
by the authority. I thought well you know, it's a waste of me doing that if- so, there was a
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compromise when I, uh, there was a school in High Wycombe where, well three schools
on the same site. One was a Special School, one was a, um, First School and a Middle
School. And so I was based there for one year having resigned from Marlow to uh, support
children in the Special School who had multiple impairments and there were one or two of
them who were in the other First and Middle School. Um, and uh so I supported them.
Now, um, in the Middle School uh, the Special Needs teacher she was having to be, I do- I
don't know, made redundant or something, something happening and um, but they needed
somebody to help with those children. Because of my experience of working with children
with remedial English and Maths I also to- in the Middle School, um, took on um, the
children to do that work with them as well as supporting the partially sighted children. The
Headteacher wasn't too keen to begin with you know, but at the end of that year he, he
said I did a good job, which was great to hear. Uh, but it wasn't really what I wanted and I
had a friend I'd met on the course at Edgbaston who was living in Bury St. Edmunds at the
time. And, you know, he kn- was aware that I wasn't too happy. I wanted to do unit work.
Ah- y-, you know, in um, Edgeba- Edgbaston of course, we visited Special Schools for the
blind and partially sighted in London and Worcester and Coventry, Exhall Grange, there
was Worcester College for the Blind. And they were, you know, segregated. I mean,
Worcester College for the boys, you know, was Grammar School orientated. I remember
going in there, into one class and the children were sitting there and they were reading
braille Ladybird books and one was about gargoyles. And I thought, you know, are they
going to have an idea as to what a gargoyle really looks like? Had it been me I would have
said, yeah take them out, let them feel something, touch it, you know. Um, but anyway, I
also did teaching practice at a school in Wolverhampton where they had a unit for visually
impaired children and I thought, this is what it should be. Because blind children were sent
out to Special schools and partially sighted you know, well I'll come to that later but- um so,
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um yeah, my vision was integrating children into maintream, mainstream schools. And this
friend of mine, um, he noticed that there were two job offers. One up in Hull and one in
Cambridge. For teachers of par- well, partially sighted children. And um, I thought well taHull was too far away. I was still living around Buckinghamshire, by then I was in digs. Uh,
and um, I thought ok, well give the Cambridge one a try. So I went for an interview. My
mother and her friend took me by car to Cambridge and it was a Primary School in
Cambridge, The Grove Primary School. And there was a teacher there, part time teacher
for partially sighted children who was due to move away because her husband was
moving away and it was a replacement for her. Well, there were two people being
interviewed and the idea for me was to go back to High Wycombe and say, hang on look
you know, I've been to this interview, what are you going to do about it in High Wycombe?
So, um, but with there just being two people, there was a man and myself being
interviewed I thought, ooh this is a fifty-fifty chance of getting it. And we saw the children in
the unit in the mainstream school and spoke to them. I was interviewed by the
Headteacher of the adjoining Secondary School, The Manor Community College and the
other fellow was interviewed by the Head teacher of the Primary School and, of course we
had the governors and- and there was a Special Needs Adv- um, Special Needs came
under the Educational Psychology Department at that time. The Cambridge or,
Cambridgeshire Authority. And this Trevor Miller was the Senior Educational Psychologist
and he was interviewing me. Well, it was, the focus was more on the Secondary School
that was adjac- adjacent and the- there were forty children at the Primary School who were
due to transfer across to the Secondary School and they asked me about, you know, what
would happen there. And, well of course I'd not been in Secondary ap - apart from going
on this teaching practice and I said, well you'll have to go to Wolverhampton and see what
they do there, you know. But at the end of the interview they had accepted both of us,
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which I thought was a bit odd. And going home, my mother's friend in the car, she said, oh
you'd be mad to turn it down. It was a promotional one because I was on Scale 1 before
and this job was Scale 3. And so I decided in the end, yes I would take it, expecting to be,
you know, a teacher at this Primary School. Well after having accepted it, well I had said to
them, I said, oh can I think about it? Because I need to get back to High Wycombe but as I
said, you know, well um, it, it made me realise that yes, ok it could be a new fresh start
and moving away from Slough and uh, things like that. So um, I was sort of coming up to,
well I was 30, 31 then. And um, so um, I accepted. And then I got my job description, the,
the acceptance from Cambridgeshire and I thought, it, it said Area Special Team Teacher.
I thought, what's this about? Nobody spoke about it. Uh, I had to come back to Cambridge
again, um, to meet with Trevor Miller. And we met at the Pike and Eel pub by the river in
Cambridge and he was explaining his vision. At that time, partially sighted children, they
were, most of them, went to Roger Ascham School, which was a school for physically
disabled children. And there were these partially sighted children at the Primary School
and they were due to transfer over to the Secondary, Manor School. Obviously, well, blind
children were being sent out of county to Kent, Liverpool, other places, uh, Coventry,
places like that. And he wanted to set up no, uh, nothing, there was nothing in
Cambridgeshire at all. And he wanted to set up a vision in Cambridgeshire and a, a team
of people to work with special schools, to work with these children going into mainstream
school, to work with families with babies and young children and um, I saw it as a
challenge you see. I thought, that sounds really quite good although I've not been in a
Secondary School before teaching-wise. And um, and uh, you know, his idea was that this
other person and myself would work together, tos- to set up this team. So I accepted, but
the thing was that um, the, the person, the other person, he was actually doing the course
for training to be a teacher of visually impaired children and of course you know, I was still
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working. So when it came to the end of term, he had the time to go to the Primary School
and, and then later, we, he was invited to go to the teachers' staff meeting um, at the
Primary School and I was invited to go to the one at the Manor School, the Secondary
School. And uh, but the, the teacher at the Primary School, his vision was that he took the
children, partially sighted children in the unit and even those with remedial English and
Maths in the other classes so they were in this unit separate. But my idea was, no, they
should go into the mainstream classes. So when I went to the Manor School and I said to
them, we, it's not going to be a unit here, they're going into your classes. Uh, the Manor
School at that time had about 1,500 children. And they had a tower block, English, Science
and Maths classes in the tower block. It used to be two separate schools, a Boys' School
and a Girls' School but then they combined. And um, anyway, so um, I say, you know I
have some teachers saying oh, I'm going to say that the sky's blue in my English lesson,
how am I gonna do that? And I'd say, well they know the sky's blue, and that sort of thing.
But yeah, I'm, I'm jumping a bit here. These were partially sighted children that were due to
transfer over to the Secondary School. So the year that um, I was appointed, 1981, I
worked with their preparation and the other teacher chap was, was the Primary School
teacher so I didn't have much to do with the other children to begin with. Um, and I
arranged for the teachers from the Secondary School to go and see them working in the
Primary School and I even arranged for the children to have sample lessons in the
Secondary School you know, with, with me supporting them. And uh, but, at the end of the
year there was an article in the paper about the other chap and myself being teachers for
visually impaired children in two mainstream schools. Now, it so happened that it pricked
up the, sorry, picked up the attention of two parents who were living in Huntingdon who
had blind children and their children were at a boar- a residential school in Kent,
Sevenoaks. And they wanted their children to come to The Manor to be with mainstream
16

children. So you know, obviously uh and then later, the Social Services, there was one boy
that they wanted to also join us. So there were three blind children and three partially
sighted children that started in September 1982. The other chap saw himself as the
teacher at that school, would have, not have anything to do with anything else. So I had to
be the one supporting those in the special schools and the rest of it. And then there was
myself, with these six children. Two of the blind children were already fifteen and the other
one was thirteen. And uh, the Social Services had asked us to take on the younger boy
because of certain problems and also he was in a foster care situation you know, he
needed stability, you know. Um, so anyway, I had visited them in their schools uh, in
Sevenoaks and I thought, well you know, the two fifteen year olds academically and
socially, they were years behind their peer group. And uh, the thirteen year old you know,
he, he needed specific one-to-one attention because he was firing questions at people and
had mannerisms and so forth. So I thought, if we were going to have them we would have
to have it working. Work hard with them. There happened to be a teacher, Geography
teacher at the Secondary School who was, I think was going to re- resign- uh, retire. Uh,
but anyway, she became my Support Assistant. And um, I, you know, after she was,
worked with this boy who um, you know, he needed a lot of support and help. He was
firing questions at people and I kind of like said, well you know, he's got to listen to other
people's, you know, the, the subject, be more focussed on that and, and interact in that
way. Academically he did do quite well but socially it was a bit difficult. Sometimes the
foster situation broke down quite a few times and so forth.
But I'm not going to go into his situation. Um, the other two were fifteen. I couldn't put them
in the um, GCSE year 10 and 11. They couldn't have coped. Also um, I put them therefore
in year 9 and they had partial integration and partial, I mean because obviously when they
were in the Special School uh, they would have had things like Mobility. So I arranged for
17

the Mobility Training Officer in Cambridge to work with them to, you know, Arbury Court
opposite had shops and things like that, so they had the living skills. They also went on
buses. They did the um, Cookery classes you know and, you know some of the easier
things. But, you know, Geography, History that would have been fine. So, but it was a, a
bit of a mixture of, of their timetable, their, their course. Um, so uh, in that year I started off
with six children. The three partially sighted children unfortunately didn't quite get the
support and help that they should have had but the fact that they'd had the introduction
and support in the year before helped a lot. And uh, and then gradually um, over the, I was
there for seventeen years at The Manor Community College. And there, gradually um,
there was another teacher of visually impaired children who'd worked in London who'd
joined me. And um, and then aft- he was from New Zealand, ah- after a couple of years he
went back to New Zealand so I had another teacher working with me and some more
Support Assistants. The first year I had six children. The second year I had two more
children. Um, one was from Suffolk and he was literally dumped on us because he was a
traveller boy. And um, I suppose they didn't know quite what to do with him so they
dumped him. I say dumped, I shouldn't put it like that but yeah, literally. And uh, and then
the following year I had fifteen children. The numbers increased. We had them coming
from Peterborough, from Suffolk as I said, uh one of- Hertford, Huntingdon and they were
all coming by taxi to The Manor Community College. And I had, as I say, Support
Assistants. So gradually, you know, the team built up. Visual Impairment Team for
Cambridgeshire. And there was one person who managed the whole service if you like. I
was still focussed at the Secondary School and doing some visits to other schools; primary
schools, special schools and even one or two other secondary schools. Chesterton
Community College, I went there. Melbourn uh, you know, a school in there. Ely. All over
the place. And um, so you know, that took place over the years and towards the end the
18

focus was more that uh, the children would go to their local schools as much as possible
because obviously travelling to the school, you're not associating with the children of your
home areas for example. So gradually we became peripatetic teachers as such. And um,
as I say, Peterborough by then, you know had set up their provision for visually impaired
so they focussed on the children up there. It was interesting that um, you know, I've just
moved to Godmanchester here uh, in January and I joined the Hunts Blind Society. And uh,
you know, I had been with Cam Sight for many years. Um, you know I had to give up my
work uh, after seventeen years. I have to say it wasn't a very pleasant time and I actually
found myself suddenly you know, being asked to take garden leave and um, uh, at
Christmas of '90...7, yeah '97, Christmas '97, at the staff meeting you know, some uh, part
time teachers, you know um, they were being thanked for the work that they were doing
and, and I knew that that was my last day but only one or two other people knew that I
wouldn't be there anymore and that was it. Nothing. Not any recognition for anything I had
done for the children. I don't know quite exactly what went, went on but, things did get a bit
more difficult towards the end and I just found myself really being harassed and uh, but I
don't want to go into all the details with that really. Um, so after that as I, I said, it- it was
interesting. I'll come back to what I was saying about having join- ye, you know, with Cayeah, after that, sorry I, I'm jumping a bit.

No it's fine.

Um, the thing was you see, uh, I had garden leave until September of '98 and um, well I
wa-, I don't know that, as I said, things got a bit uncomfortable, awkward. Things weren't
going to get any better tha- I was asked to take early retirement. So um, I thought things
weren't gonna get better so I will take it. So I, I took early retirement. But after that, the, the
19

year after that there was uh, an article in the paper I think about um, a, a conference taking
place at Bottisham Village College. Which was um, Mary Archer was chairing that meeting
and it was to do with employers taking on people with disabilities. And when I saw that I
thought, I'm going to go to that meeting and I'm going to say, ok you want people, disabled
people to work in the, to work in general employment, you have to ensure that they are
safeguarded against bullying and harassment. So I went along and uh, I did uh, sort of
kind of like say that. And shortly after that actually, another person came to me and said
that they had uh, set up um, mm cos ih-, there was a charity, Red to Green supporting
children, people, with um, learning difficulties, special needs and so forth and they asked if
I would become a trustee to that, so I did. Now I mean there's a long story to that too um,
but I was there for fifteen years as a trustee. But you know, since the time I gave up my
work, I sort of worked with Cam Sight in Cambridge uh, sort of finding out from the general,
um, client, you, you know what support and help they needed, things like that. I found
myself sort of mostly campaigning you know, in the interests of people with sight problems
and special needs. Uh, so um, I represented, um, Cam Sight with the Cycle and Walking
Liaison group in Cambridge. Also the Disability Consultative Panel where uh, ih, we
focussed on access needs and support and help and so forth. I could go into all that, but
coming back to you know, having been a member of Cam Sight uh and, and having moved
here, joined Hunts Blind Society. And I was saying about, someone, you know, having
lived in Cambridge for 35 years and the kind of work I did and said I you know um, was a
teacher at The Manor Community College. And um, they mentioned the names of the
children, one boy, one person who was from Huntingdon. I said there was, you know, a
chi- a boy from Huntingdon who went to The Manor and they said, oh is it? And they gave
his name. I said, yeah. And they, they spoke to him and they said to me afterwards, he
said, oh he was so pleased to you know, to know that I'd moved here. And uh, he, you
20

know, he did say to him I was a brilliant teacher.

Oh how lovely.

And that was really encouraging for me to hear. And uh, and I've met him two or three
times now and uh, well he must be about um yeee, coming up to forty I suppose. Yeah,
coming up to forty. And you know, I knew him as fifteen to nineteen you know. And so it
wa-, yeah, those meant a lot to me. And we said we'd keep in touch you know. I've seen
him, at[?} Hunts Blind Society we meet. It's very good. Um, so yeah, and uh you know,
some of, what I really miss really is knowing how the other children have got on, you know,
especially those that I was working with at the time. And uh, not to have any
communication at all from anybody, wa, was really quite upsetting. But I'm the sort of
person that thinks, well ok. You know, life goes on. And in fact, actually what I did do uh, I,
as I said, um, I finished work at, officially um, September '98, uh August '98. Um, and um,
well it's quite funny because the year re- before, wa, one of the pupils I supported at
Cottenham Village College, actually, she told me about Guide Dogs for the Blind holidays.
And um, so you know, I got their brochure. And you know, Guide Dogs you see they, they
had um, one aspect dealing with Guide Dogs holidays for people who were visually
impaired and you know, bit like a travel company. And they affiliate with the other company,
but there was a trip to Nepal. Um, in, well covering the half-term of um, you know, the '98.
Now I had asked permission of the team manager if it would be ok if I went on that and just
had a couple of days, it was two days you know difference with coming back. And uh, so
she said yes. And um, that would be ok. But of course um, when, you know, it came to the
point that you know, I wasn't, you know working. I thought woah can I do it? Well it so
happened, do- the Christmas that I knew that I wasn't going to be working any more was
21

my first trip with uh, Guide Dogs for the Blind holidays and we went, we had Christmas in
Finland. Now what they did you see, they provided trips um, for visually impaired people
but you had sighted guide support. And anybody could become a sighted guide and they
offered training on how to guide people and things like that. And then of course I'd asked
about this Nepal one and I thought, well yes I'm going to go anyway. So I went with them
um, and uh, I sent the school, The Manor School a postcard! Oh look, you know! And I, I
travelled the world and for the first few trips, you know. I've been to Vietnam. Uh, I have
travelled the world. And in those early years I, I kind of like sent them postcards indicating,
ok this is what you've done to me. But the thing was you see, I was also thinking well it
could be possible that my sight might go. Now, my parents had been told that I'd be blind
by the time I was 30. Coming back to that point, you know, we still didn't know what the
condition was at that time. And um, I um, I, not quite so sure how it happened really, but
my family, my sisters and myself, uh, we were asked to go to hospitals in London. Um,
Children's Hospital was one of them, St. Thomas' I think it was? And one or two other
hospitals for assessments and so forth. And that was when they told us that we had
Usher's Syndrome, my older sister and myself. Um, and uh, at that time, this was when I
was still teaching in Marlow, there was a chap who, who also had two sons with Usher's
Syndrome and he formed a kind of small group. He was living in London and his vision
was eventually that there would be a kind of residential facility for his sons who'd gone to a
special school for Deafblind up in Condover. Um, but wa, he was concerned about what
would happen if he and his wife had problems, you know, died or whatever, to his sons so
the idea was for them to, to go. Um, we had a small group and there was one lady working
already um, with a boy with Usher's Syndrome. Um now, Sense, uh you know, they orthey're a Deafblind organisation. Um, mostly working with children who had uh, I think my
mind's going now, uh, there was one lady there who was, owned, you know I was saying
22

at the time that you know, people with our cond- Retinitis Pigmentosa. There was one lady,
Lan- Linda Drummond Walker who had formulated the R- Retinitis Pigmentosa Society
and that's where I sort of started going to those meetings to find out more about the RP,
Retinitiis Pigemntosa and uh, and that's where I met this lady, um, supporting this boy with
Usher's. And my focus was welfare, you know. Um, and we should work with families. Um,
it so happened that uh, sh- she eventually worked for, Mary Guest, eventually worked for
Sense and, and was, was really good with what she did and th- they started having uh,
conferences for families, you know. And there was one in Birmingham again and they
asked me to go along and you know, be part of a group where we were talking about our
experiences. And there was one time when I was talking about my experience and saying,
you know, I, I thought I was dying but you know, asked my parents, saying you must
always be honest and open and this lady next to me just burst into tears, because her
daughter had RP. Hearing problems. Um, well hearing problems and when she discovered
her daughter had RP she couldn't even tell her husband, and cer- let alone the daughter.
But her husband and she- you know, because I said, you must always be honest and open
you know. And uh, so but after that she did tell her husband and her daughter. Um, and
her husband eventually became a director of the RP Society, it was all good you know
and um, so um, and also, what I did when I did the training to be a teacher for visually
impaired at Edgbaston University. Um, as part of my thesis I did a study in Usher's
Syndrome. And I was quite shocked to realise that all the information, the literature was
American. There was nothing here at all whatsoever. So I started questionnaires, sending
them to deaf, schools for the deaf, thinking, ok you might have somebody there who trips
into things or bumps you know and you're thinking, oh they're a bit stupid, you know. Or
we- certainly the, RP starts off with night blindness. And the, you know, now I know that
you've got different types of Usher's Syndrome. You've got um, dominant where it goes
23

from family to family to family. You've got X-linked, where usually mothers are carriers and
it comes out in the males. And you've got auto-recessive where it skips generations. Now,
in the first place, with some people with Usher Syndrome, they can be born totally deaf
and then by the time they're about ten they lose their sight, so they're virtually Deafblind.
You've got, mine is- that's Type 1. Mine is Type 2. Moderate hearing loss from birth and
gradual loss of the sight. It starts off with night blindness and your sight with start round
about your teen time and it's a loss of your peripheral vision. And um, you're gradually
closing in and then the final stage, the advanced stage is where it affects your central
vision. And of course you know, well, I've been lucky enough to be able to have my sight,
you know uh, retained, good vision. Central vision is important because that's where you
get colour. It's where you get um, definition, sharpness. And um, but the mm- other people,
I, I, when I say, speak to people about what I can see, what I can't see I would say to
them, look straight ahead, put your fingers either side above your shoulders and start
wiggling them. Can you see them? Most of them would say yes. That's a hundred and deeighty degree vision. And I say, well I can't see mine and I wiggle my fingers towards the
centre and I can't see it until I get to there. Which is, and it's a hundred and forty degrees
the other way from top to bottom. So, my vision is like a tiny little, uh well, it's like looking
through you know, tunnel vision or bino- binoculars. So if people are wanting to hand me
something. You know, you look straight ahead and, doing what you did just now. Can you
see me?

No.

No. So I have to move my eyes around a lot to, to see. You know, and that would affect
my vision and so forth. And um, so uh, just the last couple of years I, I've been struggling
24

with my central vision a bit. I can't read very- I can't read normal print now and usually I
have uh, a reader come in, reading things to me or I try with my magnifier. I've just been to
um, hospital at um Hinchingbrooke because I've moved from Addenbrooke's to um, um,
Hinchingbrooke just recently. And um, yeah, I saw the eye specialist there with an update
on my vision. Coming back to like, night blindness in my teens. I mean, you know, I was
conscientious with my studies, my schoolwork. I didn't go out at night time and you know,
the convent was quite a long way from where, so friends you know, you know, I couldn't
access them easily and whatnot. Uh, and then going up to the training college in Rugby.
Um, it was out in the countryside and at that time um, you used to be able to hitch-hike to
places, you know. If I did it I would do it with a group of girls and so forth, rather than on
my own. And um, with um, when I first, in my first year at the um, training college you, you
know, I lived in for the three years. But they had a pavilion in, in the ground and that's
where they held discos. And other boys would come in from other places. It was all girl
training college at that time. And I went along and uh, but I mean there was this chap who
was, tried to talk to me and we sat down and he put his head on my knees, which I thought
was a bit funny you know But uh, I couldn't see or hear. I didn't even know what his name
was and that and you know, in fact I decided oh, you know, can't do it. Go back to my
room you know. So he, he took me out and that was where I had my first kiss but I didn't
know who he was, you know! And we arranged to meet the next night at uh, a, a disco
again in, in, the schoo- uh, college hall you see. But I went along and I thought, I don't
even know who he is, what he looks like. How do I know, you know? And I got a bit upset
and I thought I can't do it so I went back to my room. And then there was a time when
there was a group of girls who um, you know, they were going to go to a party in Rugby
itself. And we hitched and we went in and um, you know, it was a town house and uh,
again it was all dark and loud music and everything and I, I knew somebody was trying to
25

talk to me but I couldn't communicate. And uh, so I um, you know um, I thought oh, this is
no good. And I sort of thought, well I'll go and get my coat from upstairs uh, and sort of
wait until the other girls have had enough and go back with them. And I went in to the
bedroom to get my coat and there was a couple on the bed! And I thought, oh my god, you
know. And that was when I decided, I decided that, ok no, I can't do any night time
activities sort of thing. It, I'd be a day person you know. But I mean, in terms of
relationships and that it wasn't very good. I mean, I got more focussed on my work you see.
And uh, being a primary school teacher they were mostly lady teachers and things like that
and um. I, I di- I have been out with, you know, a few men and that. But um, I, I think, I,
I'm a believer, my, I'm a Catholic and I'm, I, you know, I think that God had a role for me.
And that was, you know, working with Special Needs and things like that. And that, that's
my vocation. And uh so, yeah. So there's that side of it too. Um.

Has your faith, your faith has been very important to you?

Sorry?

Your faith has been very important to you?

Oh yeah, definitely yeah.

And do you feel that's been, helped you, while, through having your Usher's. Has that
been a comfort to you?

What my faith?
26

Yes.

Definitely, yeah. Uhh, in a, we're a very Catholic family anyway. Because as I said, my
mother was born and brought up in Beaumont College, a Jesuit college. Um, my father, he,
he'd gone to um, Freshfields schools. I mean, being one of seven surviving children. There
was always a tradition about your sons, what they did with certain jobs. And uh, well
anyway, you know um, he, he, of his siblings, he was the one that was kind of like
educated if you like. He, he had wonderful handwriting and did poetry and always
corresponded with people. But that group was connected with um, Mill Hill Missionary. Uh,
in London. I mean, when we were children we used to go and visit Mill Hill in London and
that, that um, uh, monastery kind of place. And um, and in fact actually, it, it's interesting
because, have you heard of Call the Midwives?

Yes, yes.

Well, when they first had the series, Kate saw them and she said, that's Mill Hill! You know,
because it's not a monastery any more. And uh, obviously they used that accommodation
for the film, the series, you know. But anyway, they've moved on now. And um, but the Mill
Hill, my father, the Mill Hill, the priest would go and, and be missionaries across the world,
you know, Africa espe- and my father always kept in touch with, with you kn-, you know,
people out there and so forth. And uh, it was quite funny because, well I could come back
to perhaps um, me being here. I've been in Cambridge now for 35 years. You know if I
went to the, the church there. I, yeah, am a devout Catholic. I always believe you know
that uh, the Lord is with me, you know, protecting me and helping me with my work. Um, it,
27

it stemmed from my parents, they've been very very supportive and you know, ensuring
that their daughters had good education. My mother, she, you know, she, she worked
really hard and um, uh, mostly because of my parents I think, being very supportive, now
it's interesting because I've lived in Cambridge for 35 years as I said. I moved in 1981 and
um, you know, we- been involved with campaigning. Now, Cambridge is going through a
massive change. Development, Biotech, everything. And I lived in Cambridge itself and um,
with my sight problems it was getting increasingly more difficult for me. Um, you, you know
some years ago in fact actually, going across from the main city centre to The Grafton
Centre, I actually got knocked down on a pavement by a cyclist. And um, you know, my
big main issue was um, well especially lately and not just mine, but other visually impaired
people and there was another man with uh, supporting Cam Sight too and we were always
sort of trying to campaign in the interests of, of people with sight problems uh, about the
conditions in Cambridge. And it's just getting worse and worse and worse. I mean, we
don't drive. I do do tandem riding. But, um, walking all over the place and the pavements
are really really really bad.So we would campaign, not just for visually impaired people but
wheelchair users, um elderly people who have to go f- to their shops and things like that.
And um, so um, sss- it, yeah, it was getting more difficult. I, you know obviously um, my
mother died two years ago. Now um, my father died in 1988, he was 78, he'd had a stroke.
Mm- then after a while, my mother went to live with my sister in Rugby. She had a granny
annexe, a flat. We used to take it in turns with having my mother to come and stay with us
to give my sister a break. Um, then um, I've forgotten, well she died two years ago and um,
with my sight getting worse um, I thought, you know, I, I co- yeah, my sisters were wanting
me to think about moving to a retirement place. Um, so therefore I looked around. I went to
Ely, I like being near rivers! And um, and I looked in Saffron Waldon as well. Uh, and you
know, I had volunteers from Cam Sight read- a reader, who came and dealt with my
28

paperwork and everything and she looked online. I also had a communicator guide who
used to work with Deafblind UK and then part of Deafblind Enablement, which, I pay her
now to do five hours a week. And she was aware that um, my sisters were thinking you
know, about- I had a house, the, uh, a semi-detached three bedroom house in Cambridge.
And um, which was, I was able to pay off the mortgage for through having retired. You
know, I got a package as well. Which was good, I didn't have to worry about a mortgage
any more. Anyway, um, now this communicator guide, she was looking online with
Retirement Homesearch and saw this place here and showed me on the papers, you know,
took copies and y- you know it was similar, that, looking at the outside, similar to my semidetached house and I thought, oh that looks quite nice, we'll go and have a look at it. So
her husband and myself, we came here and you know, it looked nice outside. You come
inside and we came, you know, the manager at that time, he was acting manager, brought
us in and we thought, oh yeah, it looked quite good that- I expressed an interest in it. And
um, as it so happened, we went back to the office and he started taking my details, asked
my name and I said Pauline Brown. Oh, we've got a Pauline Brown! And there's a Pauline
Brown in the flat above.Number 35, this is number 33. And he said, mm she, she used to
be a primary school teacher and I said, I used to be a primary school teacher! And uh, and
it, it was just so strange. And then, you know, the following week I thought I'd ask my sister
Kate and, and her husband to come and have a look here and see what they thought
because Kate is very supportive and helpful and is always there when you need you know,
support and help. And, um, anyway um, they came. Now, I mean they had, my mother was,
was, you know, getting quite, more frail. She was 91 when she died so they had been
thinking about her going to a retirement home. Had looked in various different places. But
when they came here, they, they saw this and thought, oh this would have been great for
her as such. But anyway, um, it so happened that um, she had the papers about this
29

place and, and the previous occupant was uh, a lady who wasn't here that long, an elderly
lady. And her name was Vera. My mother's name's Veronica. And previously, just before I
met them here. I came from Cambridge, they came from Rugby. I tried to get in to, to the
office part and there was a lady there. And I asked her what her name was, she let me in,
and I said, what's your name? She said Dorothy. That's the name of my youngest sister.
And then Kate, looking at the papers, she noticed that um, the son who was dealing with
the sale of this place lives in Maidenhead, where my parents were buried. And it was all
seeming to be one thing after another. And I just felt that my mother and my father are
looking after me. And this is a wonderful place to live in. Cambridge, very difficult. To, with,
with all the cyclists and everything. And the infrastructure there. I mean, there's lots of
things on the television now about problems in Cambridge. With- and I lived off Histon
Road and traffic and development. They're taking, doing development on the land behind
where I was living. And the squash club that they had there, they were knocking that down.
Making that into flats and you know, two storey, two um, uh what do you call 'em?
Terraced housing and so forth. And uh, I thought, I can't cope with this anymore. And so
um, that's what made me decide to move, um, here. And it's been a good, a good thing
actually. And the people here are very good. We, there's accommodation, properties for 38
here. This is an old house here, the lounge is next door. They have um, they have
entertainment. The, the couple next door, they organise dr- all sorts of things. We've had
Elvis! And people, you know, playing the ukulele and the guitars and eh, providing
entertainment.

That's smashing.

And they have coffee mornings there and it, it's good to meet up with the other members
30

you know, here. It's, it's a very well maintained um, retirement home here. As you say,
very pretty outside. And so I'm glad I've made that move. But I am, at the moment, still
very busy. As you know, I'm a me-, a member of CAIL.

Yes.

Involved with all those different board meetings and so forth. Went to one yesterday and
you know, one of the main problems in Cambridge was to do with the floating bus stops.

Yes, oh yes.

And you know we've all been campaigning against that because it's not in the interest of
the public people who use public transport, and you're talking about elderly people, mums
with buggies. People who are visually impaired, blind and partially sighted and wheelchair
users. And they just don't, all they're interested in Cambridge is the cyclists. And they're
spending all the money on that, which isn't right really. And also the fact that you know,
they're cutting back on support for people with disabilities and Special Needs um, who are
struggling, they really are struggling. It just gets you really bothered I have to say. So, I
could go on and on and on and on but I think I've told you most of it.

No, this, it's absolutely fascinating. You have great clarity in all the different things you've
done and great recall as well. Um, and I think that's, the, I've asked less questions in this
interview than I have in-

Mm?
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I've asked less questions in this interview than I have in, I think, any of the others because
it all, you've built such a wonderful narrative, it all follows on so beautifully. Um, so I think
we have pretty much um, covered it. Um, just a couple of like, um, kind of more perhaps
historical questions, how do you think over the course of your life, attitudes towards people
with disabilities has changed?

Yes, that's a very good question. Um, because obviously you know, my parents had
always fought, if you like, for me. My father especially to do with my education. Um,
because he had to pay for me to go to the convent, had to fight with the local authorities
that, because I had hearing problems at that time. Eventually they, they paid the fees for
that and provided me, bu- with bus transport. Um, but he had to fight and that made me a
fighter as well really. Um, I've always you know, uh, been a believer in integrating, eh, with
mainstream schools. It's int- uh, mainstream people. Uh, it's interesting that actually um,
having been in Cambridge for about ten years or so, they started up a group called
Cambridge Organisation Promoting Disability Awareness. COPDA. And um, they had a
meeting at The Meadows Community Centre in Cambridge. I thought I'd go along and
there were a group of people there in wheelchairs and for the life of me I couldn't make
myself go to them. And I thought this is silly. They're no different from you. So I made
myself go and introduced myself to them. And oh, I mean, wonderful people, you know.
Still in touch with some of them and uh, but uh, COPDA, we, we had regular meetings and
in fact they organised a session whereby you know, with the councillors and all sorts to
have uh, experiences with uh, awareness raising with, with disabilities. And so that was
held at um, the Community uh, building in Campkin Road near the primary school. Grove
Primary School. And um, so people had experiences of going under blindfold and, and
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doing- I have, you have to be careful with blindfolds because, you know, general public
tend to think, ok you're blind you can't see at all. And uh, this is, you know, being a teacher
for visually impaired and I've, I've done awareness raising in many different areas. And I
have uh, a set of different simulation specs and so forth, some I've made myself anyway.
I've got one that depicts how I see.

Right.

I made. Um, uh, but you know, because you've got the, especially age-related sight loss.
Um, you have macular degeneration, you, you have, like what I've got, retinitis pigmentosa,
RP for short, uh tunnel vision, you say tunnel vision. Um, and then you have cataracts.
That's another thing I was going to say because that's a condition, another condition you
can get with Usher- with retinitis pigmentosa. And my sister, Theresa, she had uh, cataract
problems living in Reading. And um, I had mine done here in Addenbrooke's. Well, when
Theresa had hers done in Reading, now she had it under general anaesthetic. And uh, she,
she had the pressure on her arm thing but it was too tight and she tried to tell them that it
was too tight. Well, the fact is that she went in, she came out with her sight worse than
when she went in for some reason or other. Something went wrong. So when I had mine
done I insisted on having local anaesthetic. So that um, you know, and it, after cataracts it
was so much clearer it was unbelievable. Towards the end of my teaching at, at The
Manor, you know, I was starting to have um, I was starting to have sight problems towards
the end, you know with the cataracts developing. And uh, some people suggested I should
have a guide dog. Um, I thought at first I didn't need it, so I wouldn't consider it but with
having the cataracts I thought maybe, might do. So, I did, I mean this was back at the work
situation and uh, I, you know, I took, I made enquiries of all the schools and the auth- you
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know, the team and so forth that it would be ok if I had a guide dog because I'd be going
into classrooms and things like that. Two years it took for them, because they tried to find
a right match with your kind of activities, your personality and things like that, so it took two
years before they found a dog for me. And I went to my team, you know, to say that um,
you know they'd got a dog for me and to organise for cover for my work. And then one of
the support, I will say this, one of the support assistants came to me and she said, I'm
allergic to dogs full stop what are you going to do about it? I was shocked and horrified. I
said, you know, I've been preparing this for two years. It, you know, seeking advice from
other people. Well, I didn't think you were going to get a guide dog. And uh, I mean it, it it,
you, you know, I don't know, anyway. So I had to let that one go. And uh, so eventually
after I, I left work I did get a guide dog and uh, had her for two, four years you know so.
And um, yes, you know. Well um, and then, having had the cataract operation I was a bit
better. So, but then, my main condition started to get a little bit more difficult and I, I went
for another guide dog. Um, and trained in March here in, in, Pe- near Peterborough. Um,
and I loved that dog, Jasper. I had him I think for two years. But he was a strong dog, very
big and uh, you know, it was difficult trying to keep him to go to, at my pace and so forth.
So I had to give him up. But it was, whilst I had him actually, there were a couple of times
when he was attacked by other dogs. And um, there was one in particular, there was a
group of young people around and um, I was coming away from Arbury Court and
suddenly this dog came and tried to get underneath Jasper, you know, with his tummy.
And we were going round in circles all the time. I, I, I said get him off him, get him off him
but the others were, they were just laughing. And uh, you know, picked him up and carried
the dog a- away, the dog, the little one. But it was quite awful. I did report it. I reported it.
But anyway, I mean there's been quite a bit of focus on, you know, other people not um,
really appreciating the difficulties. And in fact at the meeting yesterday um, uh what was it
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now. Oh, somebody mentioned, you see, they pay thousands of pounds for these dogs to
be trained and so forth and if anything happens to them, you know, that, that's gone. Well,
we were talking about the floating bus stop, that was it you see. Because you know um,
you're supposed to give way to cyclists apparently. They have the right of way, oh! You
know, I always thought pedestrians had right of way wherever. Somebody did say that to
me who was a cyclist himself but anyway, apparently at these floating bus stops they have
the right of way, but if you can't see them. And the guide dog is walking and they get hit,
you know, this is what this chap was saying that um, you know, it's a whole money wasted
if the dog gets injured. Anyway um, so yes, um, I'm one for sort of, you know, I d-, I go
round with my cane, uh my white cane, which has a ball tip on the end. And um, it was
interesting that about two years ago, I went with my sister to a show in London, we were in
a railway station. And uh, you know, getting out of the car, the car park, getting out of the
car going to the railway station, my sister was guiding me, I had my cane out. And there
was a young girl, little girls getting out of a car and one of them said, oh look she's got a
metal detector! And I said, oh I wish I could find some treasure here. But my, my sister
said, oh it's because she can't see very well you see. And as I'm walking down the street
you know, and I see little children, you know, suddenly you can see them looking, looking
at the cane you know, we- and then they're looking at me as if to say, well what's that, you
know? There was a time when I had uh, red bands on my white cane, because that
indicates that you have hearing and sighting problems. Deaf and blind or you can't hear
very well. But, and I used that a lot, but not many people knew about that. When I did have
some guided support you know, as I do, sometimes when I go shopping um, they noticed
that people didn't move away, out of the way so much as if they saw somebody with a
white cane. Yes. And um, you know, so I've gone back to using the white cane now. And
it's interesting too that I've no- noticed that a lot of um, people now, we ha- we're becoming
35

a multi-national country here, people from other countries, but they don't have the
understanding say, even of, I suppose, guide dogs. You, you, pe- when you were younger
you knew, you have them on television, you, you knew, you know, what they were, who
they were and so forth. But you know, there was a time when I was at a uh, traffic light
system, which had a rotation button underneath, a push button thing. And that tells blind
people that it's safe to cross over the road. And um, uh, there was this lady who was
leaning against it and I asked her if she didn't mind if I put my hands there. And you know
she, she sort of was saying, me no speak English. And I tried to explain what I was doing I
said, me no see! But yes, coming back to like, the infrastructures for example, because I
went to um, well, yes, in Cambridge, I'm always referring back to Cambridge. You have
tactile paving in various different places. Now some of them are not appropriately placed.
And so, and they're removing all the crossings, zebra crossings and pedestrian crossings
and- or if they have got traffic light systems it's uh, shared use with, with, with cyclists and
pave- and pedestrians. Um, now, I mean, in city centre the, it- you know, some of the
streets, St. Andrews Street and, and um, er the other one, forgotten now, where the buses
stop and that um, they removed the pedestrian crossings, uh, which was safe for people
like us to be able to know that we can cross here, but I mean, they removed it because
they wanted to buses to go up to wherever. But um, what I was saying in terms of uh, shall
we say, I went to a meeting at The Meadows Community Centre. Now, there's a guided
bus from here to Cambridge and it stops at Orchard Park. And um, no it was a-, as I said,
there was a meeting to do with the infrastructure believe it or not. Well, um, they want- it
was a meeting about how people see Cambridge in 20 years time. And they wanted to
know, you know. Well, anyway, getting off the guided bus and there were so many of
these traffic light systems and I thought, well where do I go? I don't know where to go. And
I, I sort of managed to try- find one lot, which I thought would get me across the road to the
36

other side. And I pushed the button, and when it rotated it told me to cross over, which I
did do. And then suddenly there were all these cars coming up from the other way towards
me and they had to slow down. Until I got across. And uh, I thought, oh what's going on
here, you know? It, it's so difficult. Um, and I don't think they do enough, well they- there
are consultations, uh, uh, especially with the floating bus stops but the county, the city and
county council, they don't listen to what the public want. They have it in their mind about
what they want to do and it's not in the interests of people with disabilities and Special
Needs. Ok, it might be that we may be a minority or whatever and it's not worth spending
all that money on that. But then, you know, they're having other organisations, um, you
know, try- providers trying to support people. It, it's, it's a no win situation isn't it really?
That they're providing these conferences if you like, and providers but at the end of the
day it's not working. Um, so those are my views at the moment. I want to see action. You
know, and with this floating bus business again, they've got it in Histon Ro- uh, Huntingdon
Road and Hills Road but they're wanting to do it elsewhere in Cambridge. The roads aren't
too, they're too narrow. They're not suitable. They're not suitable and you know, ah, it's
that sort of thing that doesn't help with people's awareness of the needs of people with
disabilities. And I, ah, there's another aspect too, because you've got a range of people
with special needs and it, and especially those with mental health problems as well. I have
some friends and associates uh, who um, are struggling. Interestingly, I mean you talk of,
ok all those years but I feel now it, uh, this, you know, with this government they seem to
have got worse actually to be honest. Uh, they're not supporting people um, with the
cutbacks and things like that. Um, it, and it, it's making life more difficult. The NHS is, you
know, uh, is, is a mess. And there are people in denial about it. But you know, I hear from
one person who says that you know, her husband who had dementia, he had a fall, he
was in hospital, they kept him overnight. And, but then they moved him to a different ward.
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She didn't know that he was being moved to a different ward until she went there
eventually, but he was placed somewhere downstairs or wherever. And he was, they gave
him a, a g- a drink of water, two and a half hours and he was shouting out, “Where am I?
What's, what's happening? Where am I?” For two and a half hours. You know, somebody
else had to come up to him to help him. What kind of support or help is that? And the fact
that she wasn't, you know, told. And then I had, I met up with another lady just this week
who used to be a nurse, a theatre nurse. All sorts of g- and had worked in different
hospitals. She said that at the beginning of this year, she had pneumonia but she didn't go
into hospital. She in- you know, made herself stay at home and support herself because
she, she didn't want to be stuck in a corridor for so long. And she knew what the situation
was like. She was an experienced nurse in her time. And uh, so she made herself, uh
treated herself and made herself, that, you know, she stayed at home. She had
pneumonia. And um, so I'm hearing things like that now, you know. You shouldn't we- you
shouldn't be hearing this. Uh, I mean, they talk about this country being a wealthy country.
And um, you know, I don't know. I, you know, it's not good. No, Justin, it's not good at the
moment with support. And uh, I think people have become a v-, a lot more self-centred
amongst themselves. Um, I mean years ago you used to know who your neighbours were.
Your families, you knew them by name but you know, now, you're sort of um, barely seven saying hello, you're not looking up, you know. I've found that in Cambridge a few
times, you know, so. But since moving to Godmanchester it's quite interesting because
you know, you're at the bus stop, you're on the bus and you know, the people are all
chatting to you all the time.
It's really lovely here.

Yes. Yeah, I notice that on the bus going out to Papworth.
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Yeah.

Um, because you see the same people over and over again everybody's chatting and, and
like, if you don't see them for a while you're like, oh how have you been and stuff? It's
really sweet that sort of um, yeah, that sort of sense of like, community kind of just on, on
the s-, people on the same bus route. You know?

Yeah.

So um, I think we really have covered everything now but one final question I'll ask you.
Um, what do you think the future holds for you?

For me? Well, you know, I'm really lucky now. It's a beautiful place I'm living in at the
moment. And um, I can, and Godmanchester or GMC for short, is such a lovely beautiful
place. Everything is accessible for me. I can go to the One Stop shop, which is just, less
than five minutes away. Uh, the bus from here, I do go into Cambridge quite a bit using the
Guided Bus and uh, and um, the X3 bus you know. They take about an hour or so. Um,
I've, you know, I've, I've got friends through the organisation that I'm still connected with.
Now, possibly my sight might go, it might not. Uh, I can see myself being here for the rest
of my life. And um, you know, obviously financially my concern at the moment is how the
PIP will go. DLA being changed to PIP and uh, that does concern me. Um, and um, you
know, whether I'll be able to continue living here. You know, that's the concern my sisters
have. I have to watch what I spend my money on. No holidays or anything like that but I've
done quite a bit of travel anyway but there's still one or two places I'd like to go to. Anyway,
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um, yes. That's being selfish in a way isn't it? When you think there are people, other
people, who are struggling. Uh, we've got people coming from other countries, immigrants
and so forth. And uh, certainly you know, you've got that kind of a future to be thinking of
whether we're in the EU or not and that causes some anxiety to a degree. Although I
would feel that I'm better off than most people. If, you know, I've worked hard from, in my
life. And, and what I've got here is, is, uh, my achievement. Fully my own efforts, nobody
else at all, which I'm quite proud of. And I'm sure my parents would be. And uh, so um, yes,
increasingly you know, um. I think I would be quite- I love nature at the moment and you
know, I can't see it quite as well as uh, you know, I'd like to. For example, outside there, I
don't know if you've noticed have you? That, well the bush is out there. And you get all the
birds.

Oh yeah crikey yes, there've been loads. I've been s- watching them, so.

Yes. Well the chap upstairs, he feed- he puts the, we've got bird feeders and things up.

Uh huh.

And sometimes he even sees black squirrels there as well.

Oh really?

Yes.

Wow.
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But, no-, they're hanging on the bird bath in there. And, but, you know, it, it, you kno- I'm
appreciating beauty of nature. I love trees and uh, you know, if I can still maintain having
that, that would make me happy and contented and uh, we'll just have to wait and see. But
I won't be moving from here.

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