Getting up so early in the morning was always an effort. Then there was the walk to work, hunched up inside my coat, smoking my breakfast. When I arrived at work it would be 7am or, if I'm honest, 7.03 am or even 7.05 - by which time you were hoping the assistant head was down the other end of the building, sorting out some crisis or other (not that she'd ever say anything - you just wanted to spare yourself the humiliation).
It was a real institution in those days. Benign -it was a cheerful place to live and work- but an institution nevertheless. As soon as 'changeover' was over, the morning shift set about getting everybody out of bed. This was a challenge: we weren't bullies and we wanted everyone to do things in their own time but the pressure was on to get everyone into the dining room by 8.
I'd go and hang my coat up in the staff-room. There would be a clatter of pans in the kitchen, where preparations for breakfast were already underway. There'd be a brief meet-up with the night-staff. This was usually a formality. Most nights they had nothing to do but iron the copious mounds of clean washing we'd laundered the day before. Then we'd divvy up the jobs. Some of us would have to help the residents who needed the most help to get up - you'd have to lift, wash and dress them. Others would go round knocking on bedroom doors and set the tables in the dining room.
From that moment on it was all go, until everyone was sat in the dining room. I never remember thinking this at the time but it was rather like breakfast in a hotel. Perhaps that's because I'd hardly ever been to a hotel back then. You felt a vague sense of achievement at this point: the job, which seemed impossible an hour earlier, had been done.
Once breakfast was over and the kitchen assistant had set about washing up, the residents retired to the TV room to spend the morning watching whatever happened to be on. At this point, we set off to make the beds, working our way down the corridor from room to room. Sometimes this was just a matter of smoothing sheets and blankets neatly and tucking them in. (These were the days -just- before the duvet took the British bedroom by storm: when they came in they took some getting used to for us professional bed-makers). Sometimes though, this involved a clean-up operation, a job that had been left for later in the rush to get everyone to the dining room. I can still hear my colleague H--- now, as she recoiled in horror: 'Argh no! There's a number two in the bed, man!'
Twenty-six bedrooms, split over two floors. We worked in pairs: two of us upstairs, two of us downstairs. At the end of the corridor, in the room furthest away from 'the office', we'd open the window, sit on the bed and light up a well-deserved fag. Then we'd set off back to the dining room for our break proper, collecting up any dirty bedding on the way and sticking it into the washing machine. Our break proper involved sitting and chatting over a couple of slices of toast, a cup of tea and another obligatory cigarette. A year later, a new head of home was to frown upon the provision of free toast. He was not popular.
This was London in 1980. I remember realising that just about everybody I worked with was vegetarian, gay, or a member of an ethnic minority. We made a great team, I think. This was the time just before the AIDS epidemic and I often wonder, sadly, what became of Peter and the two Johns. Young people came and either went or decided (like me) that this was the job for them.
As I said, it was a real -if benign- institution. Thankfully, over the next two years our jobs gradually changed for the better. Like the duvet, care in the community was on the way in. Where we had been expected to do things for people we began to help people do things for themselves. The staff-room became a bedsit: somewhere people could learn to live more independently before, ideally, moving out. We cheerfully gave up our space: most of us, although we had always enjoyed the job, were delighted with the way things were going.