Grandmother with hidden skills

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Retiring kind: Christine Thornton is a former midwife a crack shot, and a great grandmother. Jayne Dawson meets her..

Christine Thornton, 68, worked in the NHS for her entire career, as a midwife, health visitor and manager. She lives in Beeston and has several roles in the community, including being a school governor and chair of Beeston Community Forum

My first job was as a student nurse when I was 18. I never had a Saturday job, other than a bit of babysitting. I loved school, I’d be there now if I could. It was Thoresby High School In Leeds City Centre, but it is council offices now. We even studied architecture there, though the only thing I can recognise now is a Norman church. I also went through a stage of wanting to be a wallpaper designer, but in the end it was nursing.

My best piece of advice was from my mother who used to say just do your best and you can’t do more. She was an intelligent woman but her parents wouldn’t let her go to grammar school because she had weak eyesight and they thought it would strain her eyes. She worked in Woolworths as a young women. She encouraged me to do more.

I don’t drink anything other than tea. It’s always and only tea, so my guilty pleasure is chocolate , cheap or expensive, I don’t care. Once I start I can’t stop. I have never enjoyed alcohol. As a young woman I tried putting vodka in my orange juice because people used to laugh at me, but the vodka got less and less and the orange juice got more. The best thing ever for me was when pubs started serving tea and coffee.

The thing I hate most in the world is pretentious people. I am very straightforward, and as I have got older that has become more pronounced. People pussy foot around too much, I just say it.

I would have liked to meet Nelson Mandela, he genuinely was an inspiration.

I am retired now and I think that makes you a bit lazy. Every Sunday I make a dinner for my family though, and I love that. I have two children who are both in their 40s, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. My son Andrew lives in Munich and works in computers, he went to the Oktoberfest when he was 21 and never came back. I go over once or twice a year and they come over here in the summer.

My advice to my teenage self would be to just go for it - and save up some money. I was painfully shy as a teenager, I was dreadful. In fact I still am shy although I can hide it now. I was very quiet and well-behaved, the worst I ever did was knock on someone’s door and run away on Mischievous Night, and I once smoked a tab end behind a shed, which was awful. We used to spend quite a bit of time at a cafe called Del Rio on Lower Basinghall Street in Leeds where some Greek-Cypriot boys worked. We all had massive crushed on them. Leeds was much less cosmopolitan then, so they seemed very exotic.

I have always been a single parent. My son Tom was born two days after my 21st birthday. I grew up in Middleton but eventually me and my parents decided to buy a house together for us all to live in with my two children. We were looking for something with four bedrooms but this one turned out to have eight. We decided to have it on the spot and I have been here for more than 30 years now. It is an Edwardian villa and I love it, I intend to stay. They will have to carry me out in a box.

I don’t do digital really. I use a computer and I send emails but I don’t send texts and i don’t use a mobile. I pick up the phone in the house if I want to contact someone.

My philosophy on life is that it is up to you to make the best of it and there is nobody else to blame for what happens. You have control over what you do, think and say. I coped with being a single parent and working full time for the NHS for my whole career, and I’m not special.

I couldn’t live without tea. I always drink two cups , never just one and I must have at least ten cups a day, probably a lot more.

My life has been full of embarrassing moments, especially when I was a student nurse. I was put on a men’s ward and I had never even seen a naked baby boy, never mind a man. I just had to get on with it, I couldn’t have a fit of the vapours.

I had a normal post-war childhood with lots of playing out and roaming free. We would play in the street and in the long grass verges , we would build dens and play football, cricket and rounders. I was the youngest of four girls and the family next door had four girls as well. My poor father was surrounded by us.

People might be surprised I have been trained to fire a pistol and a rifle. I was a captain in the TA for ten years, so I can shoot and take a gun to pieces and put it back together again. I was always hopeless at marching though, I could do the feet but not the arms.

PIC: Simon Hulme

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