Hazel is age 72 and has been a resident of London since 1962, more than half her life. She was born in South Africa, and is one of a large family - eleven brothers and sisters in all. While never married, she has someone in her life she has known a long time, a close friend, also from South Africa.
Although she is also British, Hazel is South African and feels very connected to that part of her background. She was aware from a very early age of the political situation there, not accepting apartheid but being associated with “very understanding, very thoughtful people - very humanist.” Her long-term friend and partner is a Black South African, whom she had known while still living in South Africa. Going back further into her past, she believes she may have Irish roots, as well as English, from things her mother had told her.
Most of her family connections have been with the female side of the family, although one brother had also come over to England to live and still resides here. After her parents separated she remained with her mother, but for four years, up to the age of thirteen, until her grandmother died she had lived with her as she was lonely living on her own.
Like the rest of her brothers and sisters, Hazel had left school at sixteen to go to work, starting off in clerical work. She had worked for an engineering firm before coming to England and once here, applied for and got a job with the British branch of the same company.
Once in this country, she applied to train for nursing, not thinking she would be accepted and surprised when she was. She began training at the old Hampstead Hospital, and in so doing entered into the National Health Service. She says, “I loved it. I was in my element. Taking up nursing - I thought it was absolutely magnificent!” She added later that the NHS training she took - and being part of the NHS - was one of the most significant happenings in her life.
Some time after that she decided also to train for midwifery and worked for a while at one of the hospitals, then took a health visiting course with the aim of working in that area. She enjoyed working with women - women who had had babies, or were about to, or in family planning - and particularly she liked working with young people in that field.
Most of Hazel’s work has been in the areas of nursing and community and social care, including working with people with learning difficulties, and as a health visitor in special clinics, serving both the large Bangladeshi population of East London, Hazel says, as well as the white British indigenous population whose ancestors have lived there for generations. But Hazel adds that it was not only white Brits and people from Bangladesh who made that area their home. “I could go and visit various people - health visiting - and could meet twelve different people from twelve different countries.” No longer working, Hazel now volunteers, and is on the management committee of an organisation she once worked for, which offers complementary therapy to older people.
Hazel has had the same partner for over forty years, although she says there’s often a “stopping and going” of the relationship. Despite the breaks in between, they’ve always remained friends. She has great respect for him, and for his activism within South Africa. Many years before, in London in the early sixties, she had become pregnant, but it was an ectopic pregnancy, whereby the embryo develops within the fallopian tube instead of in the uterus. A trip to the hospital was necessary, where the tube and attached embryo had to be removed. She still had the potential to become pregnant, but never did after that.
She considers her partner to be an intimate partner - a friend - someone with whom she can discuss anything. They live apart, living separate lives in many ways, their individual interests and careers not permitting them to be together during their relationship as often as they would have wanted. Having grown up in a large family, Hazel enjoys being on her own, “a real zeitgeist” she says.
Hazel is part of the Older Feminists Network (OFN),
and has attended meetings in London for a number of
years, there discovering women with “similar feelings,
thoughts and actions on the way to live. . . And in the
main,” she adds, “these were women who had children
and grandchildren and sometimes great-grandchildren,
so, you know, they’ve had their lives, they’ve lived in
the ways they wanted, but they still saw this aspect of
their life - of themselves - as being so important.”
Not happy about the health problems that have come
along with growing older, Hazel realises she has to accept that part of it. But it is her background that has made a difference to her approach to growing older. In South Africa, older people were respected “for their wisdom and understanding and what they were passing on to you. And that has never left me - that feeling about older people - and I feel that way about myself”. She says, “I think I’ve got a lot to give to younger people - or to other people.”
She told me a story about when she was out walking with a friend: “In order to get to a really beautiful place you had to go up this little incline, and I started going up there and my legs just wouldn’t go - and I just stopped. And she looked behind and realised I wasn’t with them any longer, and she said, ‘Come on!’ And I said ‘No. You go up and I’ll see you later.’ But see, she wouldn’t. . . . Another time I went out and the person I was with just accepted that I couldn’t walk and just went on. And then came back and met me. . . But not everybody can do that.”
Hazel died in November 2009, at age 78