Friday, 12 November 2010

Daisy’s Afternoon Tea with the over 60’s.

Yesterday I spent two hours with a group of over 60’s drinking tea and eating cake and hearing them share part of their stories. They had been asked to bring something from home that would tell us something about them and the stories that flowed were a joy and a privilege to hear.
One lady now in her early seventies talked about her 20 years as captain of a darts team and brought her darts to show. She talked of teaching her team in the early days about the dart board and how it didn’t go round numerically and the different kinds of darts. I see the glimmer in the eye and her smile as she tells us something of her history, a part of her life that has been hidden in her memories until shared with us.
Another lady produces two photographs. One a school class photo from 1945 taken when she was 12 and the other, a recent photo with five of the women from the class photo, they are still friends after 65 years. She keeps repeating how different they all look after 65 years. The photos are passed around and everyone takes delight in trying to spot her. She points herself out as the one in the pullover on the front row as she had a cold that day and her mum wouldn’t let her wear her pinafore. She can remember the names of all her classmates. Precious photos and memories.
The conversation moves to first jobs and they tell of mums and dads taking daughters to get a job. One lady’s mum walked her into the shoe shop and asked them to give her a job, not too impressed she walked her to the factory and spoke to the foreman, she was only 14 at the time. She didn’t finish school and started a week later in the ‘Sunlight’ factory. She told us how they would employ you for 11 months then get rid of you so they didn’t have to pay sick pay and she would go down to the jobcentre and get another job for a while and then go back. She had worked in various factories including cracking nuts which made us all laugh and jokes were made about being crackers and nutty.
Another lady had wanted to work in an office but her dad knew a chemist who was looking for an assistant so she went there instead as – “you did what your parents wanted in those days”. She worked there till she got married which seemed to be how it was for a lot of young women in the 40’s and 50’s. Get a job as soon as you leave school until you get married then you will be staying home with the children was the expectation. She went back 20 years later and was so happy to tell us that she was told that ‘she hadn’t lost it in all these years’ once she returned to work. It is fascinating listening to them talk and hearing what snippets of their past they remember. This lady is well into her 80’s now and remembers the nice feeling of being affirmed by her employer which must have been 30 or 40 years previously.
They all agree that their pay, in shillings, was handed to their mum when they got it. One lady didn’t open her pay packet until after she was married as it was handed unopened to her mum. One lady in the army said half of her pay went directly to her mum from the employer, so her mum wasn’t best pleased when she left the army and hit “civvy street”.
We sit around laughing at the different stories there is some teasing about parents expectations and what they would wear when going out at the weekend. They didn’t have many clothes so would wear the same thing the weekend after, just turn it inside out or back to front. Absolutely hilarious, “in by 9 wearing a back to front cardigan.”
One lady is new to the afternoon tea group and as she walks in I note her tidy appearance, good sensible black shoes, dark green tights, just below the knee skirt just showing under her raincoat, hat and one of those spotted plastic rain hats that she folds up and tucks in her pocket. It isn’t actually raining outside. She is quite tall which is a rarity amongst the women, most are less than 5 foot, and one lady is so short she walks under my arm when I open the door for her. This lady is slim and has a very straight back, she sits on the sofa quite near the edge so as not to slouch.
She was asked to share what she did for her first job. She smiles and tells how one summer in her late teens she and a friend had helped out on a farm picking potatoes and despite the backbreaking work had enjoyed it so much they joined the Land Army. They were living in Liverpool at the time and the two girls signed up, committing to go together. Unfortunately they were sent to separate parts of the country. This lady was sent to Somerset to work on a cattle farm, she had never been anywhere near a cow before. She spent one month on a training farm and then she was sent away to different farm. She talked of getting up at 5 in the dark, fetching the cows in for milking in knee high mud, pulling her wellingtons up at every step so the mud didn’t go in over the top. She learnt to milk the cows by hand whilst being whipped by tails and then being put on a farm with mechanical milking machines which made the job much faster. Fresh milk being put in huge pan on the Arga and 24 hours later cream being skimmed off the top. She is asked whether she was lonely and she states quite openly that it was very lonely. Whilst the family who owned the farm were kind they were very busy. It seems she can remember the isolation. She sent half her pay home and as there was only one bus a day and half a day off a week she didn’t get much time to make any friends. When the Land Army was stopped she returned to Liverpool and got a job in an office till she got married. She smiles and carries on drinking her tea. An absolutely fabulous story.
Most of these women come every other week to our afternoon tea. Some come on the bus using their free bus pass, some still drive – one lady after a serious stroke, and some walk down the road. They struggle with aches and pains, bad hips, shaking and slurred speech, scary coughs, deafness and vision problems (one lady has a huge magnifying glass which is brought out to view anything close up, I think she doesn’t bother too much with what she can’t see at a distance). One lady is from Chile and is difficult to understand as she speaks quickly with a heavy accent, she sits in an armchair that envelops her as she is so dainty. One lady had a house fire that led to months of upheaval, in the midst of which her son died tragically. She came for a cup of tea after the funeral as she knew we would be there. They like their tea and coffee in a cup and saucer and exactly how they like it. They like millionaires shortcake and to sit and set the world to rights.
I love to sit and listen to them talk.
I love to see them.


  1. I love this story. I also love to hear people share about their childhood days and before they got married.

  2. How did you put this together? How do these women find out about your meetings? What a wonderful outreach. So many older women have no one who will listen to their stories. What a wonderful thing you are doing!!