24th, Feb, 2018
It's time once again to hear the stories and memories of people living in some of the retirement venues around Essex. For this latest outing, Johnno Casson and his volunteers were at Enoch House in Colchester where there was a sizable gathering of residents to recall their experiences of food.
Have a look at the bottom of the article for an audio podcast so you can get the whole experience.
Johnno's ‘Memory Afternoons’ are not only an activity for residents to enjoy but as a way of documenting and archiving these experiences for many years to come.
The format for the afternoon is simple: residents sit in a large circle and one by one are given the opportunity to recollect with the group, then there is a break for a drink and some biscuits before some live entertainment.
In some events like this, you could expect a bit of nervousness and trepidation but the whole group at Enoch House were really eager to share their experiences. One particular story about a local man known as 'Freddy the Shrimp Man' was particularly vivid. When one of the residents mentioned a man that use to walk the streets of Colchester with his wooden cart laden with shrimp, cockles and other seafood many people knew of him and offered extra information.
We also heard from another resident about how her dad was unusual in that he did that majority of the cooking and her mum, who was a vegetarian, had a rebellious streak as demonstrated by going into food stores and damaging the sausages so they couldn't be sold.
Another story from the war was how a family was running out of money and all that they rustled up for their lunch was peas on toast, with a bit of jam. Something which may give you a strange look if you asked for it in a restaurant but it's still something that she thinks about now when she is stuck for something to cook. An endearing, treasured memory born out of the hardship of WW2.
Other memories we heard from that time was about how envious one resident was of people from the nearby farm as they had the luxury of having real eggs whereas she had only experienced powdered eggs. She also spoke about an air raid, which must have been terrifying but even more so for a young girl and her sister as her mother had just popped out to the village and had trouble getting back before the bombs dropped. She finally mentioned that while she yearned for the meat that was in the kitchen, she couldn't have it as that was for her dad. "You had to look after the men," she said, "as they were the ones who went out to earn the money".
Our final tale was from a female resident who gave a harrowing account of foster care and the poverty in which she was raised. "Porridge, porridge, porridge" was all she knew. She was lucky if she managed to steal a bit of bread and sugar, but had to lie about it later. After all these years you can tell that the experiences she endured still affect her. She said she still thinks about those times when she sit’s alone.
We then broke for drinks and some snacks where the conversations continued over old family photos and books of local history. The musician that was due to perform had car troubles so at the last minute, Johnno and his friends performed some well-known songs and some of his own creation.
The appreciation for this event was clear. People who didn't normally participate in events were gathered to share stories of their past. Stories they may not have shared together before, but here they felt relaxed and comfortable to recall the memories which have shaped them. It was also a time for people to have a good, honest laugh. Chuckling about the ingenuity of wartime families and the places people lived. I agree with what Johnno said at the end; coming to these events really is the best tonic.
You know that you've only scratched the surface of what these wonderful people have to offer, and with that in mind I'm looking forward to the next one and sharing some more memories.