This post isn’t health related but I wanted to share it anyway. As some of you know, I can get a bit exasperated with people who whine. I know things aren’t perfect health-care wise in either the UK or the States but on the whole we’re pretty well looked after and have comfortable lives. I listen to my Mum’s tales of growing up in a family of 9, living in 2 rooms with a loo at the end of the garden, and my Nan doing all the cooking from scratch on a black lead grate which had to be constantly fed with coal and it’s a different world. She used to get up at 4.30am on a Monday to start the weekly wash, having to light an open fire then put a big tub of water (hand filled by her) on the top and scrub all their clothes by hand which took all day – bear in mind she did this while being either pregnant or breastfeeding for the better part of 20 years. There was no health-care until the NHS was introduced in 1948 because they couldn’t afford a doctor. My Mum’s best mate was wealthier and used to be given a fresh apple every day for lunch, so she used to keep the core for my Mum to eat on the way home from school even if it had gone all brown. Yet when my Mum talks about her childhood her eyes positively light up – despite the poverty the children were really happy and seemed much more content than today’s kids.
My step-dad was born in the village I now live in. When I moved here 12 years ago a widower was living in my Dad’s old house. He was cow man on the farm next to me, was paid appallingly low wages but lived in the house for free as part of his job. He retired a few years ago and of course had to leave his home of 42 years because he was no longer employed. My Dad asked the Farmer if he could have a look around his former family home and it was a real eye opener. The electricity was so old it still had the old bakerlight switches which were probably lethal. There was no central heating and no double glazing. The floors were stone flags and must have been freezing to walk on in winter. The bathroom was downstairs and contained a metal bath, which when I touched it was so cold my fingers actually stuck to it. The kitchen contained a metal sink on spindle legs and one free-standing 1960s unit. The roof was leaking and, while we were looking round, part of the bedroom ceiling actually collapsed. It wasn’t even fit for human habitation.
The former cow man, George, still works in our village and I see him often. Despite being in his 70s he still helps out on the farm and cuts all the grass in the village, including the Church and graveyard. He only has 1 tooth (Lord know how he eats anything), wears a flat cap and a thick cardigan even if it’s 30C outside and is constantly covered in grass clippings. He can talk for England but can’t hear much of what you say ’cause he’s as deaf as a post. He’s what we call a “character” – they’re a dying breed.
This year I’ve tried my hand at photographing people, which is something I haven’t done before, focusing on old folk. They have such life, such character, in their faces and my hope is that I can tell their stories through pictures. This week I plucked up courage to ask George if he’d let me take his photo. His first reaction was a suspicious “what for?!” but I won him round and got a picture of him with his grass strimmer, flat cap, cardigan and all. I hope he likes it.