Moving house recently has turned up a lot of treasures long thought lost. A Gordon the Gopher hand puppet, old greetings cards, my Blue Peter badge – but nothing quite compares to my unearthing an old blue writing book that contains, squeezed between some rather awful pubescent fan-fiction, a homework assignment interview with my Grandmother.

I remember this piece of work fairly well; it was given either late on in primary school or early on in secondary school, and we were all asked to interview an ‘older person’ about the changes between ‘now’ and ‘the olden days.’ What follows is my transcription of a tape recorded interview I conducted with my maternal grandmother. The tape is long gone but I’ve typed the hand-written text up, pretty much the way I wrote it save for correcting some grammatical and spelling errors. Parkinson, Theroux or Murrow I was (and am) not, but in my defence I think we were all given a set of questions to ask.


Tell us a bit about your background.

I’m from a place called Sengenith in South Wales. I was born in 1924 – 15th of June; so that makes me seventy-seven. My mother was called Katie, my father Guillem, and brother Tommy. 


Tell us about the place you were born.

The place I was born was a pit village.


When did you go to school?

I went to school when I was three, I used to follow the other kids and my mother asked if I could stop there.


What were your hobbies?

When I was fourteen/sixteen, the war started. There wasn’t much of hobbies or things. I used to go to the park with my friend in London. I had to work, I was too young to go into the forces, so my first job was in tailoring at fourteen. I did that for two years, then I went to a place called Dunstable to work in a factory ‘till I was eighteen.


Where did you live as a teenager?

I lived in London, in North Kensington, and there were two flats over a shop. I lived with my friend and her mother. I lived with Mrs Dyer and they had five children.


What happened around Christmas?

Because of the war, the people I lived with used to keep a bantam hen, and at Christmas they thought they would kill it for Christmas Dinner. So, Christmas day we were all sitting round the table and she brought the chicken out and they all started to cry, saying, “Poor Percy!” 

Nobody would touch it.


What was the popular music and entertainment at the time?

Just wartime songs. You could go to the theatre but we never had the money. We used to go to the pictures a lot – to see musicals and war pictures.


What kind of things did you buy?

Like I said, we didn’t have money. To get clothes you had to have a ration book and if you had the points you didn’t have the money and if you had the money you didn’t have the points. Couldn’t win.


What were your main pastimes?

Going dancing.


What did you listen to on the radio?

We didn’t have it on very much ‘cause it run on a battery or an accumulator and you had to get it charged. We listened to music and comedy shows and sketches.


What was the difference between what girls were taught compared to boys?

Apart from arithmetic, boys did woodwork – the girls did cookery and sewing. We were in separate buildings.


Not exactly a riveting interview, I grant you. But there is something above that seems to capture it’s subject; she’s quiet, has some good stories, but is a little shy when confronted with a tape recorder. There has been a word processed and printed out copy of this same interview knocking about my old house for a while now, but there is something about finding my original transcription that is very special. Idiot that I am, the original audio tape is long since lost, and the notes, being only one generation removed, are the closest thing I have. 

Betty died about five or six years ago now. We were close and I still miss her. I wish I could remember the teacher who gave this homework; just to say thank you for inadvertently helping me to keep a little piece of her alive.


One Response to “Betty”

  1. What a lovely little treasure to unearth! It’s so nice to have remembrances like that. Thank you for sharing it here. 🙂

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