Open Eye: 'No child should have to go through this'

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The Independent Online
From the age of ten until he joined the army at 18, Ron Barratt cared for his chronically-sick mother, doing the housework and attending to all her needs. Now 65, he maintains that 'no child should have to do what I did', but says the experience also had its positive side...

"My mother had a hereditary form of heart disease which led to a series of strokes. Eventually she became totally dependent. My father was a professional soldier and away from home a lot, so we - my grandmothers and I - had to look after her.

"You grow up very fast. I started off doing things like shopping and helping to put mum to bed, but as I got older, and one of my grandmothers died, my responsibilities increased. I found out what parts of ladies' bodies looked like through having to wash her - I quickly lost any embarrassment about it, but I don't think my mum ever did.

"Was my education disrupted? Not half! When I was ten I won a bursary scholarship to a good school. I had one houseparent who was very understanding, he gave me extra coaching in all sorts of things, but most of the staff made no allowances at all.

"If I turned up late - and I was regularly late - the form master wasn't interested in the reason, he just made me do detention on Saturday. I desperately wanted to go to university - my ambition was to be a vet - but I missed out.

"I was really a bit ashamed of doing things like housework and I tried to hide it from my peers, because when they got to hear about it they made my life a little uncomfortable.

"I had no friends to speak of, and no girlfriend until I was 17 and met Joyce. She was the first young lady to take an interest in me."

Escape finally came at 18 when Ron joined the Army to do his national service: "My father resented it, because it meant I wasn't there to look after my mum. But he had no choice in the matter because national service was compulsory. The Army gave me the chance to make up for some of the things I'd missed, educationally and socially."

Ron and Joyce married and, with Joyce's support and encouragement, Ron completed his education at college after leaving the army. Although he never became a vet, he went on to have a long and happy career in local journalism.

He and Joyce now have four children, seven grandchildren and two great- grandchildren.

Sadly, Joyce is now seriously ill and Ron is caring full-time for her. His childhood experience has now become their salvation. Without it, he believes, he would have found it impossible to cope.

With it, he was able to slip confidently into 'carer mode.' He is also involved with a local charity which supports carers.

"There is an upside to having to do what I did as a child. I can cook and bake cakes, I can iron, and sew, I can wash and set hair, I can change dressings.

"In some ways I have been fortunate - I had the support of my grandmother, who was a very strong character, and then of my wife. That's more than some young people have."