Bert and I spent the weekend in the caravan in Donegal. Decent weather (it wasn't freezing and it barely rained), it was a pleasant and relaxing break. The only thing was - the bed. It was too small and too soft and despite us telling Judy that she was not allowed on it or in it, each morning we found her lying between us in the bagpipes position, on her back, all four legs sticking in the air.
So it was wonderful to fall asleep in our own big beds last night. One of the best things about coming home. There is hardly a night that I go to my own bed in my own house that I don't feel glad of it. That is what comes of spending many years working in jobs where I was required to sleep on the premises.
There was the care home in Ballymoney where the clientele had intellectual disabilities. I was usually the junior staff member which meant I got to sleep in a camp bed in the office while the senior worker had a bedroom. Every time a resident left their room a panel in the office would set off an alarm, which consisted of a buzzer and a flashing red light. I was required to check this panel and ensure that the person made a safe return to their own room. It did not lead to a restful nights sleep and I'd be lying if I said that I did not resent and envy my senior getting to sleep soundly in a bed. That shift ended at eleven the next day and sometimes I was dead on my feet. Often I'd go to bed when I got home.
My next sleepover job was heaven compared to the camp bed scenario. Same sort of clientele, only this time I was the senior. A comfortable bed, a pleasant en suite room, and in three years I was only called on once.
Then I moved to the homeless sector. In the first place we had single cover. One person looking out for 12 - 15 women and children. The sleepover quarters were fairly decent. There was a phone that connected the hostel to the staff flat and there were quiet nights and crazy nights. We could also be called at anytime during the night by police or social workers to admit people. It was always a bit nerve-wracking when either of the phones went. If it was a resident you could be fairly certain that it would be something trivial. If it was the outside line you could usually be up for a few hours admitting a new resident. The staff bedroom was right at the front of the house which was on a busy street and the noise outside, especially at weekends, was horrendous. There were speeding cars, fighting, drunks singing, people trying to get into the hostel, banging windows, kicking doors, police bringing residents home, parties in the courtyard, boys being sneaked in, other boys sneaking out. I learned to blank a lot of it out. Then that hostel was closed and I was transferred to a mixed hostel on the other side of town.
And how I longed for the mild mayhem of Spide City. Tinkerton was horrible. The building was grim, the area was grimmer still. At least in Spide City, despite the night time noise, there was day time respectability. Outside the building we had riots, disputes over drug debts, drug dealers everywhere. Many of the staff were demoralised and the manager was an incompetent little toad. The staff room was full of vicious gossip. And yet there were good people on that team. There always are.
The sleepover room was the worst I have ever experienced. It was in a flat that was used for storage and it was filthy and full of rubbish. It is not possible to clean rooms that are hoarded with broken furniture and other detritus. The bed was broken and deeply uncomfortable. The actual flat was in a block also used by residents and the doors could easily have been kicked in. The flats had balconies and residents and outsiders climbed these frequently. There were many nights that I lay wakeful listening to scrabbling noises inside and out and wondered if I was going to be murdered in my bed. There was telephone contact with the main office which was manned at night by security guards. Who were a mixed bunch. One Falklands veteran, one a strange little Scottish man and one, the most affable of all, that I quite liked. He was full of himself but good craic for all that.
The residents seemed to have more problems than the women in the other hostel. They were a mixture of heavy drinkers, drug users, sex offenders, prison leavers, people with psychiatric illnesses and a murderer or two. I hated working there. I was burnt out, suffering compassion fatigue, nothing to offer.
I gave in my notice. And while I was working it two brothers, both drug users, were admitted. They were from another county. One of them was put in a flat with a Belfast man that all the staff were fond of. Norman was a drinker all his adult life but a pleasant wee man. The new fellow tried to steal his television and Norman tried to stop him. The other fellow hit Norman with the TV and knocked him to the ground. He then proceeded to kick and stamp on him. Until he was dead.
It was my day off and I heard it on the evening news. So I was prepared when I went back into work. It was surreal to sit at the desk and watch contract cleaners in hazard suits on CCTV screens go in and out of Norman's flat cleaning the gore. Place had to be cleaned, hostels can't run on vacancies. I was glad to be getting out.
Remember the affable security guard? Turned out he was a murderer too. Twenty-year old crime. Smothered an old lady. But DNA evidence got him in the end.
And that is why on every night that I go to sleep in my own bed, in my own room, I am so very grateful for it.