Ann's Life Story

I was born into a wealthy family due to the fact that my grandfather had founded a timber merchant's business which was one of the first to import plywood into the U.K. at the beginning of the twentieth century. My father Basil worked in the family business and enjoyed a luxury lifestyle.

Whilst learning to dance at the Savoy Hoyel in London, he fell in love with Ada Margaret Ballard who was his dance instructor. Ada came from a working class London background, was a beauty and highly intelligent. I was born in 1932. As my parents were abroad a great deal, I was brought up by a nanny. My grandparents indulged me as their only grandchild.

My father turned out to be too unreliable for the timber trade and with his father's financial support, bought a large hotel near Oxford, called Brimpton Grange. It was luxurious with tennis courts, an eight-hole golf course, a Tudor Barn and numerous rooms. My mother, known as Peggy, and Basil started out on a new career. Neither parent was well suited to running a sophisticated hotel: Basil relied totally on alcohol and Peggy had no training for such a job.

When war was declared, my father signed up immediately, only catching a glimpse of my new-born sister before being sent to Burma. He was away for over five years. American troops were billeted in Brimpton Grange and I spent much of my time looking after my little sister and enjoying my dog's company.

During the five years of my father's absence, I had changed a great deal physically and at thirteen, weighed 15 stone. This weight gained had concerned the whole family and I had been taken to many a top specialist in Harley Street by my grandparents. No real diagnosis was found.

'When my father returned from the war, he rejected me totally as being a foundling and tried to have me put in care. He got rid of my dog as well'.

Soon after this, my parents moved to Forest Row in Sussex where they owned the Brambletye Hotel. Life here was constantly fraught as the marriage was crumbling before our eyes and my father's drinking habits had led to his total dependency. There was talk of divorce. All these experiences led me to seek solace outwith the home and unfortunately chance encounters led to my pregnancy. I was taken to a woman in Brighton where this, my only pregnancy, was terminated.

At the age of sixteen, I went to London and trained as a telephonist, staying with my maternal grandparents. The rumours of divorce became reality in 1949 and my mother, sister and I ended up in a very small hotel in Horam, Sussex. I was fortunate to get a job at the local telephone exchange which I held until suffering a mental breakdown some seven years later.

Life in the Horam Hotel was rudely halted when my mother and the many relatives she was housing was declared bankrupt and also diagnosed with tuberculosis. Everything had to be sold. Luckily, I had met my future husband and we got married almost immediately. My husband went by many names, Jo, Mac but his official name was Joseph Patrick McMahon. He had trained as a commercial artist but had suffered a major mental breakdown and had been advised to go to the country and work on the land: this is how we came to meet.

Now married, we struggled on with very little financial security although my wage, eventually as a supervisor in the telephone exchange enabled us to buy our first small home.

'Unfortunately, out of the blue, I suffered a psychiatric episode of monumental proportions from which I never escaped. There were now two mentally handicapped people in this small family, both of whom turned to art and reading as their mainstay'.

We had a good life together and mutually supported each other all the way. Mac introduced me to the Karisma crayons much later in 1990 and I started initially doodling on white A4 paper, later choosing black as the background.

'Our life was sweet until Mac died suddenly in 1997.I couldn't face up to the loss of him but rather spent two years in the wilderness, acting in the strangest of ways'.

My personal health was now appalling and it wasn’t long before I become thoroughly dependent on carers. The saddest thing was the loss of my drawing ability.

Cats had always been part of our life; they were our "children".

In the latter part of my life, I managed to persuade my psychiatric team that a cat would be company for me. Polly duly arrived from the Cats’ Protection League. We hit it off immediately as Polly was rather overweight and a touch lazy, like me.

Although I didn't realize it myself, my mental faculties were failing and it was decided that I should be put under the auspices of the Public Guardianship Office who would appoint a Receiver and administer my affairs. This was the most frustrating of times for me as I lost total control of my personal finances, something I had prided myself at doing in the past. When I suggested that I should get a lodger, the powers that be suddenly decided that I was no longer fit to stay in my own home. I was, however, assured that Polly could accompany me.

When I arrived at the Nursing Home without my cat I was determined to prove that I had been misplaced and should indeed return home. Many comments were made that I was far too sharp to be there! One day I requested that Polly should be brought to see me occasionally as I felt that I had been betrayed earlier in this respect. The answer was a firm" no way". This is when I suffered a stroke with the loss of speech, and the right side of my body. Smoking, another of my lifelong passions, was totally impossible.

'Here is where I gave up; they call it "turning your face to the wall".

I wasn't alone, however, my sister and the most wonderful of carers called Rebecca, saw me through. If ever you read my diary, you will know that the fear of death haunted me almost all my days, but I have to say it wasn't that bad after all.