Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Jeanne- my life in London.

Life in London.

I went to the Labour Exchange looking for work. With my qualifications I ended up in a laboratory in Gartons Glucose in Battersea on the river, next to Prices Candle factory. I was the junior laboratory technician in the Laing National section which made starch and was developing starch products.  There was a lot of starch dust in the air. I got an attack of impetigo whilst I was there. There were just two of us in the laboratory and I had to regularly test the consistency of the starch coming from the factory as well as test different types of starch with additives for foodstuffs and puddings. I was not destined to be a laboratory technician.

I met Dave, my husband to be, at my sisters flat on Lavender Hill. I discovered recently on a walk with Sean Creighton, social and Labour historian, that John Burns MP once lived at the same address. I met Dave through my brother-in-law Jack Halliday as they both taught at a night class in north London. Dave was an economics teacher at Chiswick Grammar School later to become a comprehensive school. He was 28 had a proper job and he had a car! He gave me a lift back to the flat I shared in Balham a few times.

I was homesick and went home to Ireland for a one week holiday which coincided with the University’s drama festival in Galway in February. Marie mentioned to Dave, when he called around to their flat, that I had gone back to Ireland and he thought I had gone back permanently.

In the meantime, whilst I was at home I met a student, whom I really liked, another Dave, who was coming to London at Easter and we arranged that we would meet up. I also met another student from Dublin who likewise was planning to be in London and we arranged that he would give me a call.

When Dave Rathbone next saw me, and realised that I hadn’t returned to Ireland for good, he asked me out after giving me a lift home that evening. When two people who come from different backgrounds/culture meet and feel a strong connection/attraction things can move quickly as a lot of talking, comparing and catching up happens and you can fall in love very quickly. We used to go the Queens Elm in Chelsea and I probably drank a little too much – pints of Guinness were my tipple then.

Dave asked me to marry him within three weeks after we started going out together! We were at a party in a hotel run by an acquaintance of his and we were discussing holidays and he mentioned Italy. I asked if he was inviting me to go with him to Italy in the Summer and he replied yes but that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me!! It was hard to believe and it seemed so unexpected.  I really did go weak in the knees, felt a bit dizzy and sat down recognising that my life was about to change fundamentally.

Meanwhile , Dave was returning to Manchester and the Isle of Man for his Easter holidays and I remained in London and went out with my visitors. It was a bit  complicated but I explained to them how I had met someone and I had really fallen for him. I did not mention that he had asked me to marry him. After all, it was only a few weeks previously that I was footloose, carefree and probably a bit of a flirt having my first fling back home!

Marie and Jack were somewhat aghast at my shenanigans. It was an interesting time. Dave and I wrote to each other while he was away- they were the only love letters we exchanged. At that time the only friends I had in London were some fellow, failed students from Galway or some just taking a year off. They were mostly from Tuam. I would have seen them for a drink at weekends and another friend Hugh Watson came down occasionally from Derby where he had got a job with Rolls Royce through a connection with my aunt Ruby and he would stay at Marie and Jack’s.

Marie had told my parents, unbeknown to me, that I had met a man and it looked serious. When they came over on holiday in the Summer half term I still wasn’t aware that they were checking us out. Dave took them around in is Hillman Minx and we all had a jolly time. We got engaged. Dave bought the ring from the jewellers/pawn shop in Northcote Road that Marie had chosen! It was  sapphire and diamond. I really wasn’t much aware of these things but my older sister was. Dave and I had planned to hitch-hike to Italy during his Summer vacation. I think it was considered to be proper and sensible for me to be wearing a ring before embarking on a trip together in the sixties!!

Also by then I had moved in with Dave into the sparsely furnished house in St. John’s Hill Grove that Dave shared with a solicitor Dave Andrews from Manchester and a fellow city supporter and an older Irish man Jimmy Lynch who also had come down from Manchester.

Dave -editor of Manchester University student paper 1958.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a romantic holiday and you learn more about your dynamics as a couple from hitching and camping. Not that many young women had the experience and opportunity of hitching around on the Continent. It  was yet again something that we had in common as well as student life, me in the Lit and Deb and Dave as editor of his Manchester University student magazine and both of us were involved with our dramatic society. We had some interesting lifts, caught the semi final and final of the world cup, in Belgium for the England Portugal game and Lake Como for the final with some German tourists present.  Venice seemed so magical to this newly in love couple.

Dave taken on a river Corrib trip in 66.

I had packed in my job at Gartons Glucose and when we returned to London we decided we would go to Galway and he could meet with the rest of my family and friends. Dave had been to Ireland with his friend Ian, a fellow economist and editor of the magazine, in 1959 and we had figured out that we could have passed each other on the promenade one lunch time when I would have been a thirteen year old schoolgirl. Of course, when Dave and I met I reckoned I was a mature and sophisticated teenager. I do believe that emigrating does make one grow up. Although Dave is some years older it felt right to me as a lot of the younger chaps seemed immature to me then. Mummy had sent me to the hairdressers and photographers and my photo and engagement announcement appeared in the Irish Times.

I had said I was prepared to get married in a registry office in England but went along with the Catholic church wedding idea in Ireland which Mummy and Daddy were prepared to pay for.  However, this required some silly marriage guidance sessions with a priest in St Vincent De Paul Church in Altenburg Gardens. He was a bigoted Rhodesian who was in favour of a ‘unilateral declaration of independence’ for the government of Ian Smith. I seem to argue a lot about theology with him or was quite ignorant of some of the dogma! But we persisted. Dave was tolerant of all this.

When we returned I got a job through an agency this time working for Graphite Products based in Point Pleasant Wandsworth. It was a subsidiary of Morgan crucible. I met Heather Anderson, a Canadian, who started going out with Dave Andrews whom she married and divorced later. She was a psychology graduate but somehow found herself in the same laboratory as me. It had a strange ethos. They were developing graphite paints/coatings. I am sure that the chemicals/solvents did not agree with me. On the Friday before Christmas  two of our male colleagues went to play tennis in the adjacent courts in Wandsworth Park which we thought was a bit weird. Heather and I went to the pub for a festive drink and Dave joined us. When we returned we were tipsy and I drank some ‘analar’ pure alcohol. I was dancing on the lab bench when our colleagues and some Directors came by to wish us a Happy Christmas and, apparently, I wished them a ‘Merry Christmas and a fucking New Year’.  We were dismissed there and then!  What a hangover. I reckon I had a touch of alcohol poisoning and developed a rash. We travelled to Urmston for Christmas and Dave took me to his friends father’s chemist shop for some treatment for my ‘condition’.

Job hunting again! I did some temporary work with Freemans the mail orer company. It probably seemed a bit iffy on my CV. I next got a job as a technical librarian with a firm of engineers called Humphreys and Glasgow based above Victoria tube station due to start afer I returned from getting married in Ireland on 27th March 1967, before the 5th April as we did then for tax reasons.

We were married in Moycullen Church because my uncle Father George Quinn was the Parish priest there. There was a flurry of snow when we exited from the Church. Photos reveal that I had purple hands. I had a cotton lace dress that I bought for eleven pounds and a headdress. We heard my mother-in-law say to a friend in Urmston that I looked really pretty wearing a Dutch cap. We laughed but didn’t tell her the significance of it. Marie and Carole were bridesmaids and Dave Smith and Jack Halliday were bestman/groom.

Daddy sang at the wedding – Ave Maria and Panis Angelicus. He had rehearsed with John Mulholland who played the organ. John had been one of my first boyfriends when I was young teen. He later told me that he thought he had to marry his first girlfriend. He became mayor of Galway subsequently. Carole got upset when daddy started singing as she thought it was last minute decision and that maybe he wasn’t prepared.

Our wedding reception was held at the Bridge Hotel in Spiddal by the sea. That venue was chosen because Daddy had done some work for them and was paid partly by barter in the form of his third daughters wedding. The usual bestman speech consisted of conflated stories of him and Dave getting pissed. I recall Fr George referring to me as a pseudo intellectual – the sod. We stayed very late. I drank too much Guinness and was rude to mummy who was trying to get us to leave the reception but we didn’t see the point as all these people had come from England to see us. An elderly bachelor cousin Harry Quinn was heard to say that ‘maybe I was nervous of my first night of married life’ when Dave Smith assured the assembled company that that was no bother as we had been living together.

We had booked a first night of our honeymoon in Ashford Castle which was one of the prestigious hotel where visiting dignitaries and Presidents stayed when they went west. Mummy and Daddy had also been likewise booked to go there for their first night in 1939 but Daddy had skidded on an infamous bend in the road near Ballindooley and they never made it. We just about did. It was really quite improper to be driving in our mini van after so much alcohol was consumed in the early hours after our wedding. We arrived at about three to be let in by a night watchman by lantern. We were so hungover when we saw all the ‘just married’ stuff on the van the next morning. We came embarrassedly for our fry up which we ate and left as soon as we could.

We went camping down south Clare, Kerry and Cork for a few days and then decided to get back to Galway as that is where friends and family were. I had rung Mummy from a wind up phone from the renowned Kate Kearney’s Cottage in Killarney and apologised for my behaviour which was gracefully accepted.

When I returned to my job I was told a few weeks later that I didn’t fit in and, as I was on probation, I had to leave. I must have had an unfavourable reference from my previous employers as I had left the Gartons job without serving my resignation! I was a bit naughty but the money was a pittance.

I was out of a job again. I really didn’t want to go back to laboratory/technical  work but didn’t know how to change tack. Dave was, as ever, very tolerant and got a taste of the ‘for worse’ of me. Later that year we had started to house hunt. I was pregnant. Marie had just had her third child Tom and as I was not working I was able to help mind Tom.

We only saw two houses and put a bid in for the second one which had four bedrooms. We moved in to Lavender Sweep just as Dave school holidays began and Barbara was born a week later on 2nd August in St Stephen’s Hospital Chelsea. Dave recalled phoning my home and it was answered by one of the three northern Irishmen who used to stay in ‘Beltra’ for the Galway Races- Eddy a Catholic, Tommy a Protestant and Sammy a Presbyterian.                Me in Isle of Man 1970

Marie, Jack and three children, Mark, Sarah and Tom moved in with us with the intention of saving up as they wanted to return to Ireland. They stayed for about a year. We got used to having a  resident babysitter. There was a Council by-election in the Autumn and we were canvassed and ended up joining the Labour Party. Soon after I became a school governor of three primary schools- Highview, Joseph Tritton, Falconbrook.  (We were called managers in Primary schools then.)

During the election of 1970 we met Joan and Mike O’Pray. Joan was running a playgroup from her home in Lavender Gardens. I had volunteered our house as committee rooms and Mike had ‘volunteered’ Joan to look a after Barbara for me when needed. We have been friends since then with Joan. When Joan went back into teaching I ran a small playgroup from home.

Aengus was born April 1972. By then I had decided to study for A Levels rather than seeking recognition for my existing qualifications with the intention of going to University again. I did not want to attend any classes so I chose English, Economics and British Constitution. Dave got me the syllabus and tutored me for the latter two as they were his subjects. I needed baby sitters for when I sat the exams and I got two Bs and a C. I had applied to LSE and Bedford College. The LSE interviewers were not impressed when I told them that I knew little about Sociology and had not read up on the subject because I wanted to come to it without any preconceptions. They were probably underwhelmed when I told them I chose the LSE because it was handy for the 77 bus route!

I got accepted to study Philosophy at Bedford which was so right for me. Bedford was a delightful small college which had been the first Women’s College in the UK. Sadly, it was amalgamated with Royal Holloway College which was based in Egham and has been subsumed by much to the chagrin of many Bedford allumni.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time there although it was very different to my earlier typical student life. As London is such a vast city there isn’t really a campus lifestyle/ethos when compared to other Universities in smaller cities. There were occasional folk evenings run by the students union and the annual balls in June were quite magical as the roses were in bloom and it was in the wonderful setting of Regents Park. Barbara was attending school then and Aengus was in the crèche which was based at UCL and we travelled by 77 bus. I graduated in 1977. When I went to celebrate my results in the Cornet, our local pub, I just didn’t feel like drin having a drink. I soon realised that I was I was pregnant. I was now fully qualified to become a mother of three.

Dave decided that it was his turn to study and he enrolled at Birkbeck College to do his MSc. His main theses was on the economics of football attendances.

I was now a governor of Belleville School and became more politically active as the Thatcher/Tory era began. Fingal was born 3d February 1978.  In the following summer I got a flu which I didn’t fully recover from. I had a an active one year old child and got involved in chipping out our uneven concrete floor as well at the time. Somehow the flu symptoms and tiredness didn’t go away and after various tests it was, by elimination, deemed to be ME now called chronic fatigue syndrome. I just had to muddle through and became a registered childminder taking on the care of Ellie whose Mum, Linda, was a GLC architect.

With a family of five we couldn’t really stay with Mummy and Daddy in Galway so we decided to buy a place. In 1980 we viewed a lovely 250 year old hipped, thatched cottage in a village called Tonnegurrane between Corrandulla and Clonboo which is on the road from Galway to Headford. With Marie’s help we bought it from the Fahy’s who were a delightful family. They had built their bungalow adjacent to it. We had our first holiday at Easter ’81.

This was taken that first holiday as we prepared the extension. Dave and Liz Smith with Fingal and me.There was no toilet and we used a chemical one till we built on the bathroom/toilet extension ourselves again with expert advice from Marie about laying the foundations and erecting the walls. We were to spend many enjoyable and busy holidays there. We had some visitors from England occasionally.

As it was a cottage that needed to be inhabited we used to let it for ‘a reasonable rent for a suitable couple’ on the condition that they would move out for the six week summer holidays.

5 Sisters at a wedding 1999 in Donegal.

FAMILY IN IDA’S GARDEN ORANMORE.

Marie let it for us initially. The second couple stayed for some time and grew some great produce. There were some lovely and not quite so good tenants. One tenant did time having been busted on a drugs charge with the premises having to be searched by the police. After that we would advertise and then interview the seemingly more suitable couple. There were always quite a few interested in it. One couple were friends of our niece Maire. There were, inevitably, a few hiccups.

Fingal being the youngest had the strongest connection with the place and befriended Kevin and others there. It was the good life as Dave was always busy gardening and repairing with a little help from me. We would often pop down to Headford to visit uncle Billy and sometimes get him to join us for a drink in his local Varleys.

I had attended classes based on feminist themes run by the WEA based at Battersea Arts Centre. The main tutor was Sheila Jeffreys, a radical lesbian feminist, now a Professor in Melbourne. Having a crèche was crucial to the most of the women who attended. I certainly found it all very interesting and it radicalised me as a feminist.

There was a lot of fightback campaigns  going on at this time  – the Latchmere Baths, the Nightingale Nursery, The Winstanley Junior Library and later the Battersea Arts Centre. In ’82 there was a Battersea Labour Party selection for a parliamentary candidate for Battersea North. Although the two Battersea seats were due to be amalgamated in 1983 someone pushed for a selection to replace Douglas Jay who would be retiring. Alf Dubbs was the MP for Battersea South and would be the main contender for the seat.  I decided to to put myself forward for the selection on the basis that we should have some women contestants. It was a strange experience for me, especially as the first branch to go through the process was my own St. John. I was not prepared for the surreality of pretending to people who knew me to have a passionate ambition to become an MP when they knew I was just entering the fray in the interest of equality, democracy and a little mischief. It was embarrassing! I was more prepared for the Shaftesbury selection. It was inteseting to see who were contenders. Frances Morrell, Diane Abbot, Martin Linton, Tony Belton, Tony Banks and Russell Proffitt  who was a black educationalist who was actually selected. Russell became the labour parliamentary candidate attending meetings/ events. I felt, all along, that this was blatant tokenism. However, when the selection for MP for the new Battersea constituency was being held there was some panic among members who now realised the vote could be much more split and so there was great lobbying and voting to ensure that Alf got selected. The voting was overwhelming in favour of Alf and it must have is seemed like two-faced hypocrisy to Russell. That’s politics. I became convenor of the constituency Women’s Section till they got rid of us because we were too radical for them!

This is taken from a GLC leaflet with Linda  and her daughter Ellie, me and Christine Eccles. I was Ellie’s childminder then. This was taken at a meeting in Battersea Town Hall.

NIGHTINGALE NURSERY PROTEST 1980.

At that time I decided that I would have to try to get into work that was part time as I hadn’t the energy or stamina for anything fulltime. I don’t honestly know what career path I might have followed if I had been able to work full time. I applied for youth work with an interest in provision for girls. I went on a training course. I soon realised that the ethos of the youth service was very male, sexist and that it was the Cinderella of the education service of the ILEA.

The centre I worked in was attached to Southfields School and the set-up was questionable as it had to employ teachers from for the management regardless of their qualifications or suitability. I did get involved with the ‘Girls Working Party’ as a means to challenge and redress the macho bias which had persisted since Victorian times when youth work was seen as a way of controlling working class boys by channelling their aggression into boxing/sports activities! I resigned from youth work.

By then the notion of job share was becoming established mainly due to pressure from women’s groups and also facilitated by the new style GLC which had a Women’s Committee.  So, having applied for two jobs in Hammersmith that I saw  advertised in The Irish Post I got both! I started with The Hammersmith Community Trust which was a community planning  organisation mainly concerned then with the development of the Hammersmith Broadway site. Then I was invited for interviews and was shortlisted. There were about 350 applicants for 4 posts for Women’s Officers with Hammersmith and Fulham Council. Both of these jobs positions were job-share posts.  I believe  the ‘job-sharing’  notion first introduced by the GLC.After the first flush of excitement in establishing the department I ultimately found it alienating working in a Town Hall albeit in the newly established Women’s Department. Heather Rabbatts was the Head of the Department. She went on to become Chief Executive of Merton Council and then of Lambeth Council.  I reckon I was allergic to Town Halls being more accustomed to agitating and heckling from the outside. I was the only one in the Department who had been very active in local Labour politics. I thought that I would continue in my own Bolshoi way! After all I had been interviewed by fellow Labour party women activists/feminists who were now Councillors. I was mistaken!  You have to behave yourself when you become a local government officer. I also became aware of the pitfalls and difficulties of the notion of jobshare and how you can feel somehow excluded or a nuisance when setting up meetings with colleagues. I resigned after a year. It was, of course, a very interesting time and I enjoyed working with my colleagues.

So what next. I had been involved in Irish activities, especially in trying to gain awareness of the experiences and discrimination of Irish people in Britain. The impetus for this came from the ‘troubles’ in northern Ireland, the ensuing hunger strike marches and anti-Irish sentiment that emanated from IRA activity in Britain. With an awareness of racism, and inequalities the GLC and local authorities funded some groups. There was an Irish Women’s Centre which held conferences. We set  up a small group Irish Women’s perspectives and  served on an ILEA committee to try to get an Irish dimension into the multicultural curriculum. We established the Battersea and Wandsworth Irish Group which held an Irish Festival in Battersea Arts Centre which engendered interest from local Irish people. Through this I met June O’ Sullivan and Maire Curran who were to become friends and we set up Irish Women in Wandsworth and we ran occasional ceilis and events in schools and libraries.

This a photo of June and myself doing a session on Ireland and the Irish in Latchmere School where Joan O’Pray was Deputy Head and John Bartholemew was Head. This bit was when we told them about Grainneuaile -The Pirate Queen. June was supposed to look like a stereotypical pirate and I was depicting Grainneuaile. The youngsters suggested I looked like a WITCH!

I set up as a trainer on ‘Irish People and Equal opportunities’. I had been on two ‘Training the Trainers’ courses – one at the City lit organised for ILEA School Governors before it disbanded and the other run by the London Voluntary Service Council for representatives from the boroughs voluntary sector forum. I was at that time the Chair of the Wandsworth Community Forum and that course us to help groups/ management committees to negotiate and tender for contracts as privatisation grew.

This is me chatting to two likely lads at the launch of ACROSS THE WATER – IRISH WOMEN’S LIVES IN BRITAIN   by Mary Lennon, Joanne O’Brien and Marie McAdam.

Me speaking on the experiences of Irish women in Camden.

The Irish Dimension in Education Conference in Kilburn Polytechnic College.

I also got a temporary post as a community education worker with the Wansdworth Adult Education Institute based at the Wandsworth Centre in Southfields where Teri Riley was the Head of centre. I was intrigued by my time in Adult Education which had its own particular ethos. Many of the women involved in it had come from running a class and moving into management and there seemed to be a culture of serving your time there before moving up the hierarchy. I did tutor on various classes on Irish studies, and training for management committees. The Wandsworth Centre was closed down and Teri was appointed head of the Thomas Calton Centre in Southwark whilst I finished off the last term. This was the end of another career alleyway for me.

It was in the nineties that I started into comedy. This was obviously a foray into a diiferent world altogether. The children were grown up and Dave retired in 1993 – the same year that Daddy died when he was 79. Daddy had continued to work as he was self-employed. He couldn’t really comprehend the notion of retirement. He had a haemorrhage from a stomach ulcer caused by his arthritis medication. He seemed to have developed Alzheimers at the same time and deteriorated quite quickly. He became frail and died at Easter time not long after being admitted to a residential home. One interesting thing occurred there as he began to speak Irish to another patient. As is the custom with Irish funerals his son, grandsons and sons-in-law bore his coffin.

I saw an advert and applied as a volunteer to train as counsellors with the Wandsworth Alcohol Group. This was again new territory. I learned a lot from this both about myself and insights into others and addictions. I did this for a few years as a volunteer but also later as a paid worker with the group until they lost their funding in ’95. I also did a stint as a Quitline counsellor for one New Year campaign and freelanced as a Stop Smoking Counsellor!!!  I do seem to have a very meandering career path. There must be some reason for this. I expect this is mainly because I have had to go for part time work. I had a husband to support me financially. Goodness, knows what would have happened if I didn’t, if I wasn’t a ‘kept women’. If things had been different would I have plumped for a particular career. I don’t know but I suspect that I wouldn’t. Although I was involved in politics I had no desire to be a councillor or MP. I didn’t have the temperament to be, or pretend to be, interested in all aspects of policy. It seems that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.

It wasn’t until, I joined the BHA in 1996 and discovered their need for celebrants that I found my niche. Eureka. It seems that my previous experience/career was preparing me for my grown up job. I do think that being a funeral celebrant is a grown up job – a vocation.

I took my first wedding abroad in 1999 which was a week after Barbara and Stephen were married in a CATHOLIC CHURCH!! The wedding of Hazel and Tim  near Geneva came through a connection with a couple whose naming I had conducted for their son Henry in Syon House. There were a few more in chateaux in France, in Italy, Spain and in the salt mine in Cracow. I have recently taken my name of the wedding celebrants list but will continue to do the jolly namings and two-in-ones of naming/commitment ceremonies.

So here we are in 2011. I do not have to retire from being a celebrant. Just like being a Pope or Monarch we can go on as long as we are fit for purpose. Life is good. I’ve read that a recent British poll revealed that 74 is the age at which there is most contentment that is if you have reasonable health and enough money. I am certainly content now and I am not at all bored. I have the company of a slightly grouchy husband who keeps himself fit and active with walking, cycling, singing, crosswords, sudokus, reading and enough community involvement but he has to do it for both of us!

We have put some money into the Holiday Property Bond as a way of simplifying holidays. They have very comfortable properties in lovely surroundings. This was one way of reducing the angst of choice when it comes to planning holidays and destinations. We will, no doubt, still go on other trips to Ireland, cities and occasional cruises. We have had three short breaks in winter 10/11 in Sibton Park, Kent before Xmas, St Brides Castle Wales in January, and Stigliano in Tuscany for a week using ‘points free’ holidays in the low season in March and a week en famille in Manoir Du Hilguy in Brittany in June. All were most enjoyable and so we are pleased with our decision.

One Response

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  1. Mick Morris said, on January 26, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    Did you stay in touch with Hugh Watson?

    We had a friend called Hugh Watson (long lost) who was at Rolls Royce in the 60s

    Could it be the same Hugh Watson?

    Mick Morris


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