Our W.I. our local W.I. the one in our village is to close. I can’t believe it. It’s just not possible. I remember when we first came here. I knew no-one. I was stuck at home most of the time with an eighteen-month-old toddler. My husband took the car to go to work every day and I was left on my own in a little bungalow on a country lane half a mile from the village.
Soon I was walking to the village shop and post office. Then I saw poster advertising the next W.I. meeting. It was only a couple of days away. I turned up. I explained that I had been a W.I. member when we lived in Wales and asked if I could join. The ladies were surprised. I don’t think anyone had just turned up before. Most people were introduced by friends. I didn’t have any friends in the village – not then.
I soon settled in and felt at home. In the village, in the community, in the Women’s Institute. I’ve been on the committee; at different times I’ve been treasurer, president, secretary and press officer. The secretary’s job is definitely the hardest.
And now they are going to close. Lack of interest, they say. No young members. (By “young” they mean women in their forties with kids at school.) No one willing to be officers or committee members. It’s saddening. We had such fun. I got to know women I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I went to meetings, not just in our village, but further afield. I’ve been twice to Denman College, the W.I. residential courses centre near Oxford. But that’s another story – and a fascinating one.
I am trying to write this using sentences of different lengths
When I was 12 we lived over the shop. Literally. My parents had a baker’s shop and the upstairs rooms were our living room and bedrooms and bathroom. There were three of us in the family, mum, dad and me. But sometimes it seemed more like six; my paternal grandmother and my aunt lived only a short distance away with another old lady called Mary Ellen – usually known as Nellie. She was not a relative but had lived with my gran for a long time. Nellie worked as shop assistant in our bakers. As long as I can remember the three of them Gaga (my childish name for my auntie Margaret.) Nannie and Nellie were part of the family. They came to us for meals and before I started school I was taken to Nannie’s house every day where she looked after me while my mum was working.
By today’s standards our little flat above the shop would be considered cramped. But there were good points too. We had a fine view of the street outside from our second floor window. On the relatively few occasions when I couldn’t see across the road because of the dreaded l smog I knew I wouldn’t have to go to school. All buses would be cancelled.
The bathroom was immediately above the bakehouse oven so we had a nice warm floor to stand on when getting into the bath. Strangely enough, though we had a bathroom upstairs, the lavatory was outside the back door. Not unusual in the 1940s suppose.
I took a lot for granted about the house we lived in. Everything was close. We were one of a row of shops and most of our daily needs could be supplied within walking distance. There was a post office, a newsagents, a butcher, a fish shop, a sweetshop, a tripe shop, even a hairdresser and a shoe shop. What more could you ask? This was before the advent of supermarkets or shopping malls.
Well before I was 12 I could run errands to any of the shops on our road, I could go to the newsagents next door to buy a newspaper and twenty cigarettes for my dad. I can’t imagine sending my daughter on a similar errand when she was seven.
Jane and I were walking in the park. A pleasant Sunday afternoon stroll, hand in hand as we like to walk, even if it seems childish to some people. We’d been together for over a year and I was trying to pluck up my courage to ask her to marry me. Suppose she said no!
As we passed the bandstand and the ornamental lake I saw an old lady sitting on a bench. She was busy knitting a small red sweater. She looked exactly like my gran. Gran was fond of knitting; every birthday she made me a scarf or a jumper. Now she’s living in a residential home somewhere on the south coast, I think. We kind of lost touch when she moved there after my dad died. I looked closer – it wasn’t just some old woman who looked like Gran – it was Gran! Dare I approach her? She was getting old, suppose she no longer recognised me? I couldn’t stop the hot tears that poured down my face. Why hadn’t I kept in touch?
I always knew Mark was a big softy, but I didn’t think he was the sort of bloke to cry in public. It was like this; we were out for a walk last Sunday after lunch. It’s one of our customs, even if it does make us look like an old married couple. I like it. But on Sunday we passed this old lady sitting on a park bench. She was respectably dressed, not a bag lady or a beggar or anything like that. She even had her knitting with her, a small red jumper the sort that would fit a toddler about two or three years old. Perhaps it was for a grandchild – or a great grandchild, she looked old enough. Imagine my surprise – and my embarrassment – when for no reason I could see Mark suddenly burst into tears. If the old woman had been frail and in distress I might have understood it. But…I was simply baffled. We’d had a bottle of wine with our meal but not enough to make Mark maudlin drunk. What could be the matter with him?
I went to the park on Sunday. It was a lovely day, the sun was shining and I felt like a walk. My sister had promised to visit. I find Lizzie a bit of a pain and wanted to avoid her. I knew she’d ring before coming, so if wasn’t there to answer the phone, there’d be no difficulty. I even mentioned to the warden of the flats – sheltered housing, it’s called – that I was going for a walk. You don’t have to account for your movements but if Lizzie turned up at least she wouldn’t be trying to persuade the warden to use her pass key to get into my flat.
Anyway I had a nice walk and a sit down beside the pond. I’d got my knitting with me. I like to have something to keep my hands occupied, now I can’t see so well to read unless I get a large print from the library. So there I was knitting a jumper for old Mrs Green’s grandson. She can’t knit now, poor thing, her arthritis is too bad. I was watching the people passing trying to guess who they were and how they were related. A mother and three small children, a father who looked as though he was a divorced dad taking his daughter for a weekly outing and a young couple holding hands. It seems to have gone out of fashion hand holding, now. Unless you are with a young child or a very old person who needs assistance crossing the road. I glanced up at the couple and I couldn’t believe my eyes; the man burst into tears. I hadn’t done anything, I promise. I wasn’t even thinking about my magic gift and I’d absolutely no reason to use it on this young man.
Rudyard Kipling wrote
“I’ve never sailed the Amazon,
I’ve never reached Brazil;
But the Don and Magdalena,
They can go there when they will!
Yes, weekly from Southampton,
Great steamers, white and gold,
Go rolling down to Rio
Roll down—roll down to Rio!)
And I’d like to roll to Rio.
Some day before I’m old!”
The image of a small boy contemplating things he would like to do is somehow poignant. It makes me think of all the things I’d like to do “And I s’pose I never will” .
Here is my version:
I’ve never sailed the Amazon,
I’ve never reached Brazil;
But football fans from England
Will go there, yes, they will!
No longer from Southampton,
Great steamers, white and gold,
Go rolling down to Rio
(Roll down—roll down to Rio!)
And I’d love to roll to Rio
Some day – I’m not too old!
I’d like to go to Rio
If I could go by sea
A cramped and noisy jumbo jet
Does not appeal to me.
I want to roll to Rio
On a liner sleek and clean
With waves to watch and days to pass
Alas – it’s but a dream.
I’ve never seen a Jaguar,
Except the motor car
And as for armadillos –
I don’t know what they are.
But still I think of Rio
As a place I’d like to go
Roll down, roll down to Rio
I’d love to roll to Rio
If I could roll real slow.