It’s almost SHOWTIME at the charming Havencroft Court in Walton-on-the-Naze. The Warm and Toasty Club The Warm and Toasty Club is warming up for a celebratory show soon at the independent living accommodation on 16th October.
But to be honest it feels like SHOWTIME at each of the Tuesday Memory Afternoons hosted by Johnno Casson: conversations, communal singing and a shared love of Custard Creams; it is the recipe for showbiz success.
The show is most definitely taking place as well. A recent Memory Afternoon started with the fancy flyers for the show being handed out to the residents. Add in a half a dozen or so professional looking posters, and the sense of pride from the residents for what they have achieved was very visible.
Now was not a time for pre-show nerves…
Some logistics were put in place ahead of the arrival of a Barber Shop Quartet, a pianist and a local historian amongst others.
“Is there possibly somewhere suitable for our guests to get changed in?”
If you are a North East Essex local Barber Shop Quartet in need of a room to freshen up, you won’t be short on offers at Havencroft Court. But it is most definitely NOT that type of show, Madam.
Johnno then started memory conversations with a recap of recent sessions. It was suggested by one of the residents at the last gathering how shops had changed since their childhood days.
The topic for the next couple of hours or so had been kindly volunteered from the floor. Helping the residents to set the agenda is very much a Warm and Toasty ethos.
These sessions have some structure with Johnno guiding the contributions and helping everyone to feel part of the memory sharing. What followed was a wonderful trip back into the world of the Home Front.
The history books often tell a narrative that is singular and repeats the same message of domestic struggle. It is only by listening, and then politely asking questions to the people who lived through this period that you get to understand how history is often fragmented.
The Havencroft Court residents have come to Walton-on-the-Naze with many different social and geographical backgrounds. Not one tale is the same – even from the three childhood friends, still enjoying their companionship some 75 years on.
“Home and Colonial was the first shop that I remember.”
Now that’s a name that you are unlikely to find spamming your Inbox in the modern world of online shopping.
“We bought all of our dry goods from here – split peas were my favourite.”
Another resident offered:
“My first supermarket was Fine Fare. This must have been in the early 1960s. We went to the shops every day. Mothers left their prams outside with the babies sleeping in them.”
It was reassuring to hear that some practices have thankfully come full circle:
“We had no plastic bags in those days. We took our own shopping bags.”
Sometimes Warm and Toasty makes that perfect connection between residents, allowing a new nugget of information to be shared in what is already a very close-knit and well connected community:
“I used to love powdered eggs.”
The revelation by another resident that “you can still buy those in Frinton” made one lady very happy for the remainder of the afternoon.
If the taste of powdered eggs didn’t have you reconsidering the microwave pizza choice for later, then how about bread and dripping?
This was the one menu item that appeared to unite the different generations. Free-flowing conversation is very much encouraged at Warm and Toasty, but there was the danger that two hours could be taken up with different bread and dripping recipes being exchanged.
Other shops were fondly remembered:
“We were lucky enough to have a Pollards. I bought all of my knitting wool and buttons from there. They also sold school uniforms.”
This then led to tales about jam sandwiches wrapped in newspaper being taken to school for lunch:
“We used to swap these with the posh kids who had ham. They loved our jam sandwiches!”
Post-War and meat dishes were a little different to what is served in 21st Century fast food joints:
“Pigeon stew was a favourite. It tasted a little like chicken. There wasn’t a lot of vegetarianism around then!”
Perhaps one of the most poignant observations from the afternoon came when the scope of different shops was discussed:
“If you wanted bread then you went to the bakers; the grocers sold veg. Now you can go to the garage to buy both. You can buy a pint of milk in the garage, but they probably haven’t got a spare for your car!”
The Memory Afternoon continued around the room, with each resident asked to volunteer any thoughts about how our shopping experiences have changed.
“I remember Mr Cohen who stated Tesco at Elm Park. He started off with a stall at Walthamstow market!”
One thing that probably isn’t on sale in the modern Tesco was the sandwich of choice for one of the residents”
“I LOVED bread and sugar sandwiches for tea.”
This then led to one of the highlights from the Havencroft residents, with the difference between cows milk and sterilised milk:
“The eldest had cows milk, whilst the youngest had sterilised. It came from bulls.”
There was no shuffling of embarrassed silence for this mistake, but a brilliant shared laughter in the room – not for the belief that you could milk bulls, but the realisation of how urban myths were passed down and had a long-lasting impact.
It was left to a more rural resident to point out the folly of trying to milk a bull.
A beautiful Warm and Toasty moment.
Rationing was still in place long after the War:
“When I got married my Mother in Law never forgave me. She didn’t mind losing her son, but she didn’t like losing her ration book.”
A far more innocent age was described when it came to alcohol:
“I used to fetch a jug of beer for my Father from the off licence when I was seven years old.”
Which seemed like a suitable moment for a Warm and Toasty drinks break. It was a little early in the afternoon for the jugs of beer to passed around, but tea and biscuits were the fuel to facilitate the singing that followed.
Johnno introduced the idea of lyrics quiz. The plan was for the first line of a classic song to be read out. The aim was to see if any of the Havencroft residents could remember what came next.
It instantly became not so much as a lyrics quiz, but a full on afternoon singalong. A dozen or so songs followed, all word perfect, showing that no one ever forgets a half decent tune.
The songs ran out, just at the scheduled time for the close of this particular Memory Afternoon.
Attention is paid in making sure that these quotes are captured accurately to help tell the tale of how the Warm and Toasty sessions are developing.
One quote that we made 100% sure was scribbled down, word for word, concluded the session:
“We have had such a lovely afternoon.”
Just wait until SHOWTIME, Madam.