Growing and working “Up the Brae”

There were wonderful social evenings and as children we learned to dance with the patients, they were held in Morven ward, with Ceilidhs in East House women's section.

There were exercise squads out twice daily. They'd walk round the hill up by the bowling green, up past the cottages to Blarbuie farm, then up to Fernoch.

The Islay ward walked very slowly with an attendant at the back and front.

We just stepped aside, weren't alarmed

The Argyll ward walked very smartly like soldiers, about 30 in number. One nurse at the front, two at the back, as they were more acutely ill.

If we saw the 'Argyll' coming we dodged out of the way fast. I remember always hiding when I heard their boots.

The boots were collected from the Boot Hall, they just wore any that fitted.

Don't forget the moleskin trousers. They were white, worn by patients who might try to escape.

But we lived there without any mishaps.

Once a patient escaped and set fire to the barn, a hay shed, it was a big event.

The male end of East House was emptied to accommodate patients from Gartnavel due to the bombing in Glasgow.

We heard the planes going over during the Clydebank raid but all the windows were blacked out.

Always a big Xmas party for staff children

There was a season for walking the burn. Old shoes were kept for the purpose.

All the work was so good for the patients, great therapy.

The upholsterer made covers with a shoulder strap for our gas masks

A patient who thought she was Carmen Miranda. Quite plump, fancy clothes, fruit on her head. Sang just like her.

People there who maybe shouldn't have been there. It was a patient who trained me in what to do in the dayroom.

30 men in the male infirmary. Lovely old man who recited every night when he was being tucked up

“My daughter, my daughter, come back, come back he cried in grief

Across the stormy water and I'll give you a golden crown

My daughter, oh my daughter”

In the 1980's dogs were welcomed in the wards and there was 'dog therapy' until recently in Cowal.

About 25 years ago there was a lot of stigma about mental health. People thought I had a dangerous job.

Mid 1990's Personalisation became the thing. Everyone allocated their own basin of washing water, their own hairbrushes, got to choose their own duvet covers. Some older staff thought all this unnecessary.

Two patients were bathed at a time in baths side by side, not always a screen available.

I used to get the grue at baked eggs, made from packet egg which I disguised with tomato ketchup, but on the whole meals were good.

Kids used to come up and sing Xmas carols but that has all gone.

Had to put all the leftover food down a waste disposal tube. The piggery had gone but food was not allowed to be given to other farms. Huge waste.

Sometimes someone was dying and nurses took turns to ensure the person was never left alone.

A lady of 80 had been there since she was 17, totally institutionalised, could never leave.

There because she had tried to drown herself when her boyfriend left her. Her hands were beautifully soft – she had never worked and her face was smooth, no wrinkles. She'd never experienced 'life'. A sad story, but I have always remembered her.

It was hard work, no hoists or equipment.

I love the fact that people are cared for in the community now but there are long periods of emptiness in their lives.

The gardens were always busy, a good source of volunteering. Some patients came back to do this. They found contentment in the gardens, putting something back.

The patients loved Arthur the cat.

The patients made the beds, patients ran the wards, either that or worked in the gardens, if they didn’t get paid they got some tobacco – that was the best thing. I don’t know how they’d have managed not smoking.

They either worked in the ground squad or in the gardens.

The laundry worked 6am – 6pm all bedding, clothes and sheets were ironed.

Banks and banks of batteries, they used to charge the batteries during the day so they had power at night.

A&B Ball was the biggest, it was always the last in the season, it was packed.

When they had the bell it was rung to get the nurses in, it was the curfew bell for the nurses. Nurses flats were up top Jura and top Appin. What we called Islay corridor were nurses flats – they were locked in. 10 o’clock curfew.

Staff had to ask the medical superintenant permission to get married. Run very much like the services or army. Still very caring.

Safe wandering space around the hospital for people to go out and get fresh air.

It was remarkable in those days to not have big walls.

There was a room at the front door of the hospital that was entertainments co-ordinator and there was hospital radio for a while.

The A&B Athletic football team – mainly staff but 1 patient maybe in my time.

We had marriages between patients, they had flats in Lochgilphead and it was lovely.

Lecturers used to love coming to talk at the Academic Programme, for the scenery, coming to Argyll from London.

We had the first Psychiatric Intensive Care unit in Scotland – we created it to look after patients who needed a locked secure environment.

If the doors locked you don’t need the intensity of staff, if the door was open you needed attendants, people felt less crowded.

We introduced single rooms, male and female could then be together.

No design plans for ICU model, they needed special light fitting that couldn’t be taken apart and used as a weapon.

We introduced holiday exchanges, patients would go away to Butlins. We took them to a hotel in Grantown on Spey. We got on smashing.

One patient complained that there was more to do in Carstairs and if he had to kill someone to get back there he would. He thought Carstairs was great he could play snooker there. Back then there was no therapy as such, well no real evidence of therapy.

Appin was rehabilitation ward in 1983……….. interesting you were trying to rehabilitate patients who had been in 30 or 40 years.

One patient took offence at me a 20yr old telling him how to wash his hands.