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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 February 2008, 07:15 GMT
60 felt too young to go into a home

Broadcaster Ray Gosling has hundreds of TV and radio documentaries to his name. But after a series of misfortunes, he found himself facing the reality of going into care.

Ray Gosling with scripts
Ray Gosling has presented hundreds of TV and radio documentaries

I didn't want to be here - where I am. It's social care. It says above the communal door that opens with an electronic tag we've been given - "SHELTERED SCHEME". There are around 30 flats for people with special needs (built in 1984 and run by the Guinness trust) - and I'm here.

I didn't want to be. How old am I? 69. I was 60 when it happened - maybe 55 when it started. And I was forced to be in here.

I used to have a house - a proper house I'd lived in since I was 25 years old - in a quite posh Hampstead-like suburb.

I'd bought it for 3,000 in the 1960s and when it was sold it was worth 200,000. My partner and I had made that old big rickety house a home - and fairly grand, I suppose, by the end: a roof of rosemary tiles, a front room with a vaulted high ceiling, a marble fireplace, and original paintings by local artists.

When you've established yourself in your 20s, you think your life will go on. In your 30s it does, in your 40s it does, but what about in your 50s?

Series of misfortunes

Out of the blue my partner Bryn went yellow in the street one lunch time and didn't feel well. He went to the hospital where they said he had pancreatic cancer - and that is serious.

At the same time my work that had just gone on and on happily, richly, rewardingly, relentlessly - just stopped. No fault of mine. I also owed some back tax - about five grand - but he was dying.

I was trying hard to find new work and failing. And he took a long time to die - two, three years.

... luckily, I've always made big investments in the best bank in the world - the Bank of Friends

I was made bankrupt. Then they came for the possession of the house (thankfully after my partner had died in the house we'd built together).

I was 60 years old, had gone through these terrible years - and age had taken its toll. I was becoming beyond coherence with grief and bewilderment and anger some days.

Communal lounge

Luckily - and this is a tip for those who've just sailed through life so far - luckily, I've always made big investments in the best bank in the world - the Bank of Friends.

So I was trolling along in town one day when I bumped into my old mate Ken - a coal miner he'd been. We went into the pub, as you do, me feeling forlorn and he said, "Come and see where I live now".

I replied, "Alright". Ken lived in a red-brick, 1980s, three-storey block. "It might suit you, you know," he tentatively murmured.

I remember, as if it were yesterday, entering this block for the first time and walking with him through a communal lounge of high back chairs in which sat a blind lady, Celia (she's now my friend) and a wizen guy with a walking frame, John (he's now my friend).

I thought more sensibly: don't be silly, Ray. You've always been social - you might like the company. Didn't you run OAP clubs yourself once?

Ken's flat was quite nice: tiny, as you'd expect a flat in a modern block to be, but it was warm (in my big old house we'd never had central heating fitted).

There was a warden who lives in, and every flat had a red cord to call her - or central control if she was off site.

But I walked out after my first visit thinking: I can't do this, at 60 I'm not done - where is what I had?

Getting something back?

The next day, when I woke up cold (still in my big house), the interest on the bankruptcy clocking up like a London taxi meter, I thought more sensibly: don't be silly, Ray. You've always been social - you might like the company. Didn't you run OAP clubs yourself once?

Acknowledge what you are now. I'm in some need. I can't decorate/climb ladders/mend/repair/ as I once could. That's all gone.

And I've paid loads of taxes. I'm entitled to something back. Then the warden tells me there's a ground-floor flat coming up vacant - do I want it?

I thought: this chance may never come to me again. So I asked my doctor to write a note of recommendation - thank you Susan. And being bankrupt and about to be evicted "earnt" me points. And in I moved: slowly.

Raise a glass

I learnt to take part - oh yes, most Sundays in the afternoon I'll be there in a high back chair playing bingo, just for an hour or so.

At night time it's quiet and yet surprisingly close to town. Throw a stone and you are on a main street with everything - there's a convenience store two minutes walk away and five pubs near by. I'm a pig in clover.

So I raise a glass of thanks to Lloyd George, William Beveridge, Aneurin Bevan and the others who have brought about such a level of social care for so many.

And then I pour another glass to drink to myself for having the common sense - and courage - to accept.

Ray Gosling can be heard talking on You and Yours today, ending the programme's series on Care in the UK - BBC Radio 4 at 12.04 GMT. Find out more at the Care in the UK website.

SEE ALSO
What to do with Mum?
10 Jan 08 |  Health
A revolution in social care?
10 Dec 07 |  Health

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