In 1976 I moved from Iceland to York as my then husband had been admitted to the University of York. As I am a social educator I quickly got work, luckily at The Retreat. I worked at The Retreat for almost three years, and during that time I learned a lot that has helped me in my profession. I got to know a lot of very nice and interesting people both staff and residents that had a lot of effect on me and to this day I cherish my memories of them. At the time I worked at The Retreat the emphasis was on old age psychiatry. The residents had all had long lives and many of them had interesting backgrounds that fascinated me, and I enjoyed listening to their stories.
I remember getting to know the English sense of humor, and the immense pride the staff took in their work. I learned a lot about values and professionalism that are important when working with people. I especially remember the head nurse who we called Sister Rita. She set a very good example for us staff members. She had mostly worked as nursing teacher, but had joined The Retreat just after I had, because she wanted to work as a nurse before she retired. She put a lot of emphasis on the importance that each and every person always be shown respect, acceptance and empathy.
I also recall a Mrs Bridges that was in charge of the kitchen in Pierce Ward. One day just before Christmas I was helping prepare the afternoon tea. I was the first to walk into the kitchen and on one of the tables there was this nice cake with a red ribbon around it. Eager to make myself useful and knowing there would be about 25 for tea I of course sliced the cake into 25 slices. As I had finished slicing the cake Mrs Bridges came into the kitchen and gave a shout of despair and asked me what the …….. I was doing to the Christmas cake. This was my first encounter with an English Christmas cake and a very unhappy Mrs Bridges who almost accused me of ruining Christmas or at least ruining the cake. I felt badly and in the kitchen there were 25 plates with just small lumps of raisins on them. Shortly after this I learned to make an English Christmas cake and for many years after I moved back to Iceland it was a part of my Icelandic Christmas to bake an English Christmas cake. Mrs Bridges did forgive me and when I left The Retreat she gave me a lovely teaspoon commemorating the queens silver jubilee. The teaspoon always reminds of Mrs Bridges and the Christmas cake I ruined.
The large beautiful garden surrounding The Retreat is also something that brings back memories to me. The many walks I had there with the residents, listening to their old memories and fascinating stories from a time and culture that I knew almost nothing about.
One old man I remember well because I used to assist him in the mornings to make his bed. He was very interested in all current affairs and liked to talk to me about the news. This meant that to be able to keep up a conversation with him I had to start following the news and every night before I went to bed I began to watch a news programme on television called Newsnight.
I also used to walk with a lady to the betting shop so she could bet on horses. This I found very strange, we have lots of horses in Iceland, but hardly any horse racing and absolutely no gambling or betting.
I was happy to be able to visit The Retreat this summer. A place I had not visited and seen for more than 30 years and I have so many good memories from. It was interesting to hear how the garden and artwork is being used for therapy and many other exciting changes that have evolved at The Retreat.
I am very thankful for having had the privilege to work at The Retreat and the experience has benefited me professionally.
Ragnheiður Hrefna Þórarinsdóttir. (Nurse Olafsson)