My mother didn’t have a happy life

I don’t mean that it was uniformly unhappy but after a promising start she suffered a misfortune which, despite her undoubted mental strength and determination, was to blight the rest of her life.

Audrey Vickers was born in 1923 and as far as I know enjoyed a happy childhood in a stable and loving but fairly strict family environment. Her father was a successful butcher and the family lived ‘over the shop’ in Wepre Buildings in Connah’s Quay. She went to the same schools, and was taught by some of the same teachers as me: Dee Road Infants, Custom House Lane County Primary and then Hawarden Grammar. From school she went to teachers training college as was the norm in those days for many girls who’d made it through to the 6th form. She secured a place at IM Marsh in Liverpool.

IM Marsh dates back to 1900 and is now a part of Liverpool John Moore’s University. It pioneered the development of physical education (PE) and teacher training and was the first state-maintained specialist institution of its kind for women in the country.

Sadly it was wartime and I don’t know if my mother even started her studies. Certainly she did not finish them because at some time she contracted polio which would have put an end to any career ambitions she might have had regarding teaching PE. She told me that she had spent some time working with Polish refugees and believed that that was when she caught the infection.

My mother then spent a lot of time in hospitals including what is now the Robert Jones & Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust at Gobowen near Oswestry. For some time it was not certain that she’d ever be able to walk again and that she’d have to use a wheelchair to get around.

But walk she did, albeit with an awkward gait, and although her stamina let her down in later years she was able to retain some considerable independence until the very end of her life.

She would have met my father at a family gathering, they were cousins, in the mid 40s. Soon after he went to work in South Africa and he wrote to her asking her to marry him. She duly accepted and travelled out in 1946. I was born in 1947. Sadly (again) the marriage appears to have fallen apart quite quickly, I have no idea why and I never asked, and she returned with me to the UK.

My mother and I moved in to live with her parents who’d now moved to Oaklands, Wepre Drive whilst my father went back to his parents’ house in the neighbouring town of Shotton.

There’s just one episode I remember from that time. I remember being pushed by my mother in a pram, I would have been about three, along the High Street in Connah’s Quay. My father drove up in his car, leapt out and snatched me. It must have been humiliating.

This all meant that Audrey was a single mother and there weren’t many of those around in those days. As such she might well have attracted some opprobrium but she must have been determined to live independantly because she got a job as a librarian at the local council library. She studied for the appropriate qualifications and applied for bigger jobs. After missing out with a first application she was successful a second time and became librarian at what was then Flintshire Technical College in Kelsterton at the other end of Connah’s Quay.

It can’t have been easy living in her parents’ house so it’s not surprising that in 1958 she was able to buy her own house and this was on Kelsterton Road, conveniently just across the road from the College.

The first weeks were not easy and I remember troubles with the electrics and my mother suggesting that she over-estimated her ability to live independently. But she obviously met the challenge and we stayed at Sandileigh throughout my grammar school years.

I don’t think life was that easy for her in her work. This was still the late 50s/early 60s and the workplace wouldn’t have been very easy for those women in it. She took time off for stress and she told me of one incident when the doctor had pronounced her anaemic. She told her line manager who pulled down her lower eye lid to see for himself. Even then it would have been classed as assault. However there was some happiness and she formed friendships with the other female members of staff. She also had a close relationship with a male colleague which endured. I never knew how close it really was.

It might have been the stress of the job or simply the desire for change but in the early 60s she applied for the job of librarian at the big new library at the Civic Centre on Wepre Drive. This meant of course that she was back to commuting but fortunately there was an easy four times an hour bus service between Kelsterton and Wepre.

I suspect these would have been the best years of her life. She had a job, was living independently and managing to bring up her son with little interference from his father, and although the polio made her less mobile than most she could get around. Then in 1966 her father died.

Gilbert Vickers was a patriarch: strong, protective and uncompromising. He took care of my mother during her difficult times and he was also the outward face of his marrriage. When he died he left a big hole in two lives. My mother took this as meaning that she should now take care of her mother and promptly moved back into Oaklands to live with her, selling Sandileigh in the process. It was the time that she learnt to drive which gave her more independence but the move itself was was a big mistake. Fortunately in a couple of years the opportunity arose for the two of them to move into two nearby bungalows on a development in the grounds of Farfield Hall at the end of Garthorpe Avenue.

That proved to be a good arrangement until the mid 70s when I let her down by starting my life overseas. Once again she moved in to live with her mother and once again it proved to be an unsatisfactory arrangement. This time the solution was to buy a small house nearby on Garthorpe Avenue.

I left the UK for work first in the US then Indonesia, Hong Kong and Switzerland before returning to live in Wilmslow in the UK in 1994. Audrey took some advantage from this with holidays in both Indonesia and Hong Kong and frequent visits to Switzerland.

The house in Garthorpe Avenue was fine but it was a house and that meant stairs. These were not easy for my mother but she was able to improve matters with a stair lift. Eventually though it was to prove too much and she moved to a flat in a retirement complex in Knutsford in 1995.

This meant that my mother could live close to her family and see her grandchildren. Sadly it was not to last. In 1996 I lost my job and found a new, and better one, in Cambridge and moved away again.

Throughout her post polio years Audrey was hopeful of some solution, surgery or otherwise to her disability and in the mid 90s a surgeon deemed it a good idea to operate on the knee which gave her most trouble. She was operated on at Guy’s in London and I can only presume that there were some expectations of improvement but I saw none. Perhaps it just arrested any decline.

I guess that was it. Although we visited frequently and my mother stayed with us in Cambridge her strength deteriorated and in 1999 she moved down to a care home close to us in Cambridge. She died in 2001.

There’s no doubt that fate dealt my mother a poor hand but she faced her misfortunes with determination. Her father was a great strength and she told me that she took pride in my academic successes. She was a good mother and I could probably have done more to support her but perhaps my future was set by the upbringing which she gave me. Later on she took great pleasure in her contacts with her grandchildren and Juni gave her as much, and more, support as you’d expect from a dutiful daughter-in-law. Overall she had more than her fair share of unhappiness but I think she would have nonetheless reflected on some, albeit limited, highlights.

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