The thing about these Warm and Toasty Memory Afternoons is that you often forget all of the detail that is discussed. It’s a good job that the residents of Havencroft Court in Walton-on-the-Naze are at hand to help you to remember.
The stories are so rich and varied that you can leave a session focussed on one flow of the conversation, and then the next morning you remember a totally different direction that the Memory Afternoon took.
Time plays tricks on you…
Thankfully Johnno Casson is also at hand to help document some of these moving stories. This was the third Memory Afternoon at Havencroft Court. The Warm and Toasty team is working towards an afternoon show next month to celebrate the achievements and memories that have been shared.
It might seem like the most natural thing for the residents to re-tell their stories and bring their community even closer together; but there is definitely a knack to setting up a situation where the conversation just flows. As ever, music and song go a long way in achieving this.
A lively rendition of On the Street Where You Live, and you are somehow opened up to be able to share some of your life stories going back over the past seven decades or so.
The most recent session at the independent living accommodation had a loose theme of the Home Front. Johnno introduced the afternoon by explaining that he was keen to hear stories about growing up, and the different domestic situations that were unique to each participant.
The residents at Havencroft Court share many similar characteristics: they are positive, playful and proud of their past experiences. But they are also very different in that they span generations and geographical locations.
Each story is unique; each story is given the space that is needed to help the residents remember some of the key points.
On Tuesday afternoon at Havencroft Court we heard how domestic chores and tools have changed over the lifetime of the residents. Historically you don’t often hear about the trivial tasks such as heating a bath. The level of depth in explaining this process demonstrated the challenges that it presented.
“I remember boiling a metal bowl on the gas stove with soda crystals. This was used to wash our clothes.”
There was the sense that technological changes on the Home Front were being played out within the very personal stories being told by each participant:
“When my first born came along, my husband bought me a brand new twin tub washing machine. Monday was always wash day, Tuesday was for ironing, and Friday was bath and hair night – two girls at a time!”
The group logic then ruled that Monday was always wash day because it took so long to wash, dry and then prepare your clothes ahead of the ritual of Sunday Best.
“My family wasn’t religious, but we were never allowed to play outside in our fancy clothes on a Sunday.”
Johnno then asked the residents if Sunday is still wash day, some sixty or so years later.
“No! Life is too convenient now. I press a button and it takes me just 28 minutes for me to wash my clothes!”
It felt a little rude to mourn the passing of the wash day ritual to be replaced by a computerised spin cycle. The weekly struggle of wash day now deserves a modern washing machine. Sometimes nostalgia can be bloody hard work.
It also felt a little rude to ask what took place on the remaining days of the week.
“We never had a Hoover. We also had to make our own carpets out of hessian sacks. Every Friday we took these out into the street and gave them a good shake.”
The Home Front for one of the Havencroft residents wasn’t just family focussed:
“I grew up in an army camp. I had to do the washing for all of the Officers. We had a big gas boiler that you fired up from the bottom. The hot water for a bath had to be ladled out into a tin tub. Father always had the first wash!”
The bath also doubled up to come in handy on wash day:
“We did all of our washng in the bath. My Mother started at 6am. It took her all day! In winter time the clothes were dried out around the fire.”
These early memories of domestic duties were soon passed on down the generations. Helping Mother complete the ritual of wash day led to some of the ladies then taking on this role themselves:
“I had four young children and no kitchen. There was always a bucket full of nappies being boiled on the go. Nowadays you can just press a button and it is all done.”
The domestic surroundings have also changed for many:
“I remember waking up each morning and having to pick the mushrooms that were growing up the skirting board! We have got a very good life now. We can appreciate what we have got.”
We soon heard how the Home Front had crossovers with the world of work:
“I had to feed the chickens and look after the pigs on the farm. They followed me around like dogs do! I also had to walk the shire horses with their harnesses. I learnt to drive a tractor at the age of 12.”
Fondness was also recalled for the different tools of the trade:
“I was obsessed with our mangle! I came home from swimming and couldn’t wait to wring out my swimming costume through the mangle. I also had a pudding basin haircut!”
This led to plenty of laughter in the room, and perhaps a suitable time for a tea break. The Warm and Toasty club wasn’t short on very kind volunteers who simply flicked a switch on the Havencroft kettle for the shared afternoon brew.
The second half of the session was incredibly informal. Various home front artefacts from the era were shared around. Most of them were instantly recognisable for the residents, triggering another personal memory to share.
An item labeled as a 70’s work dress was questioned. This was dated by the residents to be a decade earlier. This type of detail matters.
One of the residents even brought along their personal Perry Como concert programme from back in the day. This led to more songs and laughter.
A classic gents shaving kit was also produced. It was sturdy piece of engineering, back in a time when the word disposable wasn’t part of the popular vocabulary. They built them to last back in the day. Much like the proud ladies and gents of Havencroft Court in Walton-on-the-Naze.