I was invited to a meeting of the Social History Group to be a ‘fly on the wall’ so I sat at the back of the hall and tried to be inconspicuous. This proved to be impossible, as group leader Terry Cook likes to involve everyone in his meetings. At this meeting he had chosen to read excerpts from an interesting book entitled “Charles Dickens London Guide 1879 – A Fascinating Guide to Victorian London”, written by Charles Dickens, the younger. As stated in the book it is a Dictionary of London: An Unconventional Handbook”. It was a book for the capital’s well-heeled inhabitants and visitors.It was first published in 1879 and was updated and reprinted every year until the author’s death, from 1880 (the second year) to the final 1896–1897 edition (the eighteenth year).
A lesson to be learned: always check the equipment you are about to use before the actual day on which you wish to use it!
The plan was to show a film called ‘Akenfield’ chosen because of its depiction of a Suffolk farming community during the period of the 1970s and the first world war. Made by the late Peter Hall as a feature film it was shown simultaneously on television and the cinema in 1974. It was unique in that no professional actors were involved but instead local people were recruited, where possible, to play themselves: a school teacher played a school teacher and a gravedigger played…you guessed it. Shot mainly at weekends because most of the cast were working at their normal jobs during the week; with a minimum crew and on the smallest of budgets, it was based on the book of the same name by Ronald Blythe.
That was the plan. However, because of malfunctioning equipment, the projectionist (me), to his horror and acute embarrassment discovered that the DVD would not play! There was no Plan B so Terry, our group leader, decided to hotfoot it back to Southminster to get some standby notes. In the meantime all I could think of doing for the dozen or so members who were there was telling them about the making of the film that they were not about to see!
Terry returned in a relatively short space of time saying that the traffic and roadworks made the trip not worth taking, so now we were really up against it.
While Terry was gallantly trying to fill in by talking about future topics it was down to Jill Taylor to make the suggestion that we might try her laptop which she kindly went home to collect. It worked! And, although starting much later than planned, I believe that most people thought the film worth waiting for. Many thanks, Jill, for saving the day! Unfortunately, there was no time left to discuss the issues it raised, which is something that we usually do. Maybe we can spend 15 minutes doing that before next month’s topic? I’ll make the first comment: some of the Suffolk accents needed sub-titles!
And, next month’s topic will be……. ‘The 1930s’.
Terry Cook started by reminding us about the ghost walk in Maldon he had arranged for us on 6 August. He told us that after announcing the trip at the U3A main meeting he now had two spaces on the tour left- if anyone wants to fill these last two spaces they should see Terry. We are paying £3 to the tour guides on the trip. We had a really interesting and enjoyable day at Stansted Mountfitchet last year. Terry does good trips.
This week he split the group into two teams. As a change from our usual format. He had prepared a quiz for us on the hit records of the early 1960s. We were asked to guess artists ranging from Lonny Donegan to Sam the Shand and the Pharoahs. We were reminded that the BBC was still banning records in the 60s. Twinkle’s song about her boyfriend Terry dying in a motorcycle crash was unacceptable to the establishment. The Leader of the pack by the Shangrilas was banned for similar objections to the portrayal of tragic death.
Next month Terry told us that he would bring some sales catalogues which showed the sale of country estates with titles attached.
Terry Cook took the meeting today. He focussed on a book by Marguerite Patten called You are What you eat. This dealt with the sorts of food and the quantities of food through rationing that we were eating during the Second World War. This included such details as the allowance of 1 egg allowed a week or even a fortnight. Formal Government advice on the most productive way to manage your allotment. The group reminisced about hay boxes and laughed about the recipe for mock oyster soup made of fish trimmings and remembered the rabbit ration card.
Terry asked for an expression of interest from the group about arranging a guided trip to discover haunted Maldon.
We spent an enjoyable couple of hours with Terry Cook looking at the sort of things we might have been eating or drinking or watching during the 1960s and seeing what continues to be familiar in our lives today and what has become unacceptable like the marmalade labels which could be swapped for a brooch or a figure playing some kind of musical instrument, or those sweet cigarettes with alluring names like Andy Pandy cigarettes.
Terry painted a picture of the era by reminding us of the key issues like the construction of the Berlin wall, the Profumo affair and the introduction of the pill. This session allowed us to contribute our own memories of the period although our memories were less forthcoming than at the last meeting which involved newspaper stories from 150 years ago. These meetings are very informal with gentle supervision from Terry with each person contributing as much or as little as they wish.