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Description

An interview with Helen Joy about her mother's volunteer work with the Women's Royal Volunteer Society (WRVS), 4 November 2016 in Cardiff.
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The Chronicle Project is a community heritage project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and run by VCS Cymru with the aims to document the history of volunteering in Cardiff, from 1914 to 2014. 
Visit our website at: http://chronicle.vcscymru.org.uk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chronicleVCS/Twitter: https://twitter.com/vcs_chronicle
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HJ = Helen Joy, LT = Lara Taffer

[Introduction - 0:05 to 2:37]
HJ: Okay, I’ve been asked to introduce myself first of all. My name is Helen Joy. I am local to South Wales. In fact, I live about 100 yards from where I was brought up. And I was brought up in Swanbridge, which is on the South Wales coast between Penarth and Sully. Very rural when we were growing up. Now not so rural. And I’ve had all the imagination of, as I say, moving about 150 yards up the road and I live in a World War II lookout tower with a couple of fields. I grew up with parents that were from Grangetown that met on the Whitsun Treat for their Baptist Chapel outing for the summer and actually met in the fields that I now look after.
They were people who came from working class backgrounds who were highly self-educated, who took a view that education was really important as did their families. And whilst their own parents may not have had many opportunities, Val and Greg Joy took every opportunity that they could. My father became a surveyor through night classes after his national service and ended up chairing Debenham and Tewson a big branch of surveyors in Cardiff and part of his role was to manage the Bute Estate. My mother, whose claim to fame was always that she excelled at her secretarial exams, chose to be a very traditional 1950s housewife.
That was all fine and dandy when my brother and sister – who are a little bit older than me – came along. I came along much later as a bit of a surprise when she was in her late thirties. By this stage, they could pack me off in due course when I was five years old to very good schools in Cardiff but this left my mother twiddling her thumbs with not very much to do. So what she chose to do was voluntary work. She felt she had been given an awful lot and she felt very strongly that she should give something back, I think. She was also somebody who believed very strongly in community and whilst she wouldn’t have used those words – I mean that wouldn’t have been the way she would have expressed it – she would have just taken the view: she had time on her hands, she had some money, she didn’t need to work, she was going to do something with her time. So it was as much for her own sort of health and occupation as it was to help other people.
LT: What do you think motivated her?
[Motivations of her mother's volunteer work - 2:41 to 3:39]
HJ: Oh, I think time on her hands. I think is the honest truth of it. As I say, you know, she was in a position where she didn’t need to work. I don’t think she ever anticipated that, although she was no fool when she clocked my father. And I think, you know, it was all very well and good living in a nice house with somebody to do the cleaning and somebody to cut the grass and nice cars and all that kind of stuff, kid in private school, but that doesn’t mean to say that you are occupied mentally or physically. And I think for her it fulfilled her in a way that other things were not.
And the honest truth of it is if you asked her now and I know when we went back to Cardiff prison – and I’ll talk about that – as part of a thank you for her about seven years ago maybe, she didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about. She didn’t really get that. She did it because she felt it was the right thing to do and she benefitted from it as well.
LT: And what kind of activities was she involved in?
[Activities and memories of volunteering - 3:43 to 6:54]
HJ: Okay, my earliest memories of Mum in connection with the WRVS are twofold. The first was they used to lend her I believe it’s a Ford Anglia Estate in WRVS green. I think that was by chance; it certainly wasn’t the days of livery. The boot used to be held down with string at the back and she’d stick me in the front seat and off we’d go and we’d go to the WRVS offices at the back of Park Place which were kind of a, until fairly recently I believe, sort of an admin office. And then we’d go to a lady called Mrs Mann in Rhiwbina, lived round the back of the Deri. And Mrs Mann would take all the clothes that WRVS had been given like coats and blankets and remake them, now it would be terribly trendy.
And they would be made into patchwork quilts and the like, packed into the back of this Anglia and up the Valleys we would go, distributing these blankets and clothes to families up the Valleys, particularly up round the Aberfan area because – bearing in mind I was born in 1966 – those areas had seen terrible times. And there was a lot of poverty and a lot of people who were distressed. Similarly, up into the other valleys as well. And we would take the clothes and the blankets round for people. And then we would trundle back down the Valleys in this battered old car, deliver it back to Park Place and head off home again.
I don’t think as a child I was hugely enamoured with all of this. I just have memories of, you know, constantly raining in a sort of smelly old car. But looking back I think it was remarkable. You know, all these ladies pulling together to try and help others without looking for thanks at all. Similarly, I can remember going with my mum up to I believe it was the Gurnos Estate – now that wouldn’t have been long built then – in summer holidays when the likes of us were all whinging because, you know, we’ve frankly had time on our hands again and wanted to do lovely things.
My mother would be packing me off again – probably in her own car by this stage I think the Anglia had long been resigned to rest – and we would go and collect children and take them to farm houses in the Vale of Glamorgan and down to the coast so that they could experience not just a holiday but see the countryside and see the sea because otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to do that.
And I can remember now sitting in my mum’s car with two children and the little boy was clearly very very bright and very interested in space travel and goodness knows what. And I kind of hope that young man, who is probably in his forties now, has been able to do something with that. I mean you can only hope. But the WRVS, or the WVS I think as they were then, were a remarkable organisation and very unappreciated I think except by those who experienced them first-hand.
LT: How do you think they impacted the wider community?
[Volunteering and the wider community - 6:57 to 8:19]
HJ: Oh, I think it was massive. And the WRVS had its fingers in lots of pies and quite literally in pies. I mean, it was always responsible for Meals on Wheels services. My mother was never terribly interested in that. In fairness to her, she was much more interested in a lot of the places that other people weren’t so keen to go. So, for example, she spent many many years – I think in fact it was over thirty years – with Cardiff prison, doing the tea and coffees and cake and biscuits and things twice a week: Wednesdays and Fridays. For the visitors as well as people who were in the prison. A lot of other ladies didn’t like to do that. My mother absolutely loved it.
She was a terrific character, red-headed, full of personality. She was, I think, dearly loved by everybody there because she took absolutely no nonsense, treated everybody in exactly the same way and never ever except through illness in her very very latter years – and I think she was about 82 by this stage – that was the only time she ever missed any – any – of those afternoons. In fact, we even moved my father’s funeral so she could go – she could still go to the prison.
LT: How long was she volunteering for?
[Length of volunteering contributions - 8:21 to 9:16]
HJ: Well I’m fifty this year. She started doing it when I went to school so 45 years pretty much. She also did the kind of magistrates’ courts, again tea and coffee. Funny really because she never drank coffee, although she did love tea. Again she did Cardiff Magistrates’ Court for donkey’s years. I can’t quite remember how long. It’s got to be 10, 15 maybe 20 years she did that. Used to do that I think Thursday mornings. Used to get very cross with people because she would see them in the magistrates court then she’d see them again in the prison. And they’d get a good old ticking off. Because she did it for so long, she often saw generations come through and that used to quite distress her. But she was never short of giving them some free advice. On the occasions I used to go and help her out they’d get a bit of a ‘you don’t want to be in here’ talking to in a very kind and motherly way I think.
LT: That kind of leads in to my next question. Did she ever voice any frustrations or disappointments while she was volunteering? Do you think that affected how she viewed it?
[Frustrations and disappointments in volunteering - 9:27 to 11:35]
HJ: Oh, let me think. She was never very happy with it becoming the WRVS. She didn’t feel that was necessary. She, we were laughing earlier, I don’t think she ever wore her uniform. But she did always wear her badge. She always wore her badge very proudly. She didn’t like fuss and bother. She didn’t like it if people came to photograph her. I think we’ve got one or two photographs of her in action that made it into the papers.
She didn’t like any of that. She considered she volunteered; she wasn’t doing it for any other purpose. She would never claim her mileage and some of it was quite excessive, so, when she was doing two afternoons a week at the Cardiff Royal Infirmary, one morning at the magistrate’s court, two evenings at Cardiff Royal Infirmary doing the sweet shop in the evenings, she was doing the maternity unit at Llandough and she also used to go out a couple of times a week to Hensol Castle. It’s now a big hotel complex but it used to be the mental health institution.
I mean, it was the South Wales asylum for many many years. Not a nice place to visit apparently. My mother’s view was, you know, you can’t do with being fussy about these things. These people need tea and coffee and cake like everybody else and it wasn’t going to bother her. I mention that because I think she found other people’s attitudes unhelpful. You know, she felt, you know, these things needed to be done so you got on with it and you did it. You know, you couldn’t pick and choose and she also felt if you’d volunteered for something whatever they put you up for you would do in that old fashioned kind of I’ve been given a job to do, whether or not I’m being paid for it that’s immaterial, I’ve agreed to do it, I will be there, I will be there at the right time, I will give of my time and I will also give of all my petrol and that sort of thing because, again, it was all part of her ethos. She’d chosen to do it. And that was the deal.
LT: How do you think her attitude about volunteering and her work volunteering influenced you?
[Influences on family - 11:41 to 13:06]
HJ: Oh massively. I think hugely. I spend a lot of my time thinking I’m not doing enough but in fact, you know, I am of a different generation. My circumstances are different to my mother’s. I can’t do it. I have to earn money. I think it really left me with a feeling that occupation is what is important in life. You know, the exchange of your time and skills and energy for money is not necessarily what it’s all about. We get so much back from our interaction with other people, doing things for other people and other things and animals that we often miss the point of why we get up in the morning and work.
I think the other thing that is quite interesting about my mother – you asked that question about what her frustrations were – she really hated the fact that men were coming into the WRVS. She would not appreciate its latest rebranding. She felt it was something done by women, run by women for everybody. And she didn’t feel the need to include anybody else.
LT: Do you think you could give a quick description of what the WRVS was and is?
[WRVS background and personal experience with the organisation]
HJ: I can’t, I’ll be perfectly honest I don’t know what its current kind of strapline is or anything like that.
LT: But your experiences?
HJ: My experiences – I repeat myself slightly – but I just think they were a remarkable group of women from all walks of life who just, probably post-war really, had time on their hands and wanted to do something. I mean, without a second thought for the impact on themselves.
And I guess what’s quite interesting when I ran through that very quick list of how her week was spent, you know, that’s as good as a full time job. And actually for a mother with, you know, two grown up kids one younger one to be away in the evenings and to be away during the day and when I was in junior school Friday afternoons were free and I spent them in the WRVS office. I know the maps of South Wales extremely well because that was all there was to look at.
You know there is also that thing about the modern problem. Is it a problem? I don’t know. That modern clash of interests where, you know, there’s part of society telling you you’ve got to be there for your children and your family and the other part of society that – I think this a particularly female problem still – saying you’ve got to be at home, you’ve got to be a good mother. And I think she was part of that generation trying to find the balance.
LT: So you’d say it was probably very much part of her identity?
HJ: Huge part of her identity. Massive.
LT: You’ve brought with you a form for her. If you’d like to explain.
[Explanation of items brought to interview - 14:53 to 17:17]
HJ: Yeah. I made a promise to my father and whilst I may have failed him in many directions this one I tried to get through. And I did complete a form for my mother to receive some sort of formal commendation: a gong. She didn’t get it but that’s neither here nor there because pulling together this document was a really interesting thing to do. It’s a classic problem I think a lot of us face that we never really know our own families or friends. We’re so used to them being there and we’re so busy trying to be ourselves that we often don’t really look at what’s right next to us.
And I think, I mean you’re welcome you can have the text from this document that’s absolutely fine. I think I used a line here which I thought sort of summed it up quite nicely. My mother has always refused acknowledgment of her contributions but my father thought she should be rewarded for her kindness, her enthusiasm and her staunch reliability. I think they were remarkable women. Remarkable people who did all this so selflessly.
But there was something else in it I suppose. You know we as kids had the benefit of not just trips round the Valleys but – and making an awful lot of tea and coffee – you’d also get presents. And they’d be very odd presents. Now I brought this roll of silk because I think it’s the only one I’ve got left and I had dozens of them, all different colours, because people would give to the WRVS all manner of things.
And this predates the time of people telling people what they can donate and telling people they don’t want this and they do want that and they do want the other. They would take everything. And it would all be, you know, used in some way like the blankets. But sometimes they couldn’t find a use for things and Mum would come home, in this case with a huge carrier bag full of all these wonderful skeins of silk, which subsequently I’ve given to somebody who I found who embroidered.
These silks are probably, I don’t know, 80 years old or something. Still as good as they ever were. The smell, the touch, probably the taste of them would take me back in a flash to being with her. And I thought I’d like to share that.
LT: Earlier you mentioned memories of going round and helping distribute blankets. Do you have any other memories of her volunteering?
[Memories of volunteering - 17:28 to 19:47]
HJ: Oh, I think, I mean I would dread it if I got the call and sometimes – I have done all sorts of jobs; I worked away in London for quite a long time – and I’d get the phone call what are you doing on Wednesday afternoon? And I’d dread it because whilst it suited my mother’s personality enormously, it didn’t suit mine at all. I was quite kind of shy and quite intimidated.
And I’d go into Cardiff Prison and, you know, during the week I’d be this high-flying sort of exec and there I’d be sort of crumbling and bracing myself for an hour and a half in my mother’s company endlessly being told of for the way I was making tea and coffee.
But to see her in action and her like in action was absolutely fantastic. You know, you could see all these people with terrific intelligence that just really employed it, really employed it. Never underestimate how difficult it is to do those things. Terrific fun and the affection with which my mother was received was quite wonderful. And quite funny things.
I mean in Cardiff prison there’s actually a copy of a photography of my great-grandfather who was a prison officer in Parkhurst when it first – down in the Isle of white. Parkhurst was a very hard prison. Sort of Britain’s answer to… oh God what’s that prison in the States on the Island?
LT: Alcatraz?
HJ: That’s the one. And as I say on the walls of Cardiff Prison there’s not only a photo of my mum – well there used to be – there’s also a phot of my great-grandfather Daniel Joy, lay preacher, wood carver, prison officer, looking very much like something out of Porridge, small, dapper, terrifying – actually my father’s side not my mother’s – next to this remarkable looking woman in full Edwardian dress who you can tell when she stands up she is going to be twice the size of him. And it makes me think of my mum. You know, these women that were kept back, are kind of borderline ornamental but who actually ran the show. There is no doubt about that.
LT: Explain the medal.
[Explanation of her mother's medal that she brought - 19:51 to 21:17]
HJ: Oh yeah. My mother, who I said before really didn’t like accolades, really really didn’t like it. She would have loathed this I can tell you. I need to correct myself then. She was still alive when I did that. She did loathe this. But I think she was secretly quite chuffed. The WRVS are really good at giving out thank yous. And she had lots of long service awards over the years and to be perfectly honest this is the one I kept. I think my sister has the others. Unopened boxes and you can kind of tell that.
This thing is pristine. I don’t think my mother. She may have opened the box. She might have had to open the box when she was given it. But it was in the back of the cupboard. It still smells of the back of the cupboard. And I think that’s just the mark of these people. They kind of didn’t want all this. The thank yous they got were from the people they interacted with daily.
Their thank yous came from the prison officers, the prison inmates, the people in the hospitals who weren’t very well, the visitors who were desperate for a cup of tea and a bar of chocolate late at night because, you know, their loved one’s ill. Those are the people where they got their thanks from.
LT: Recognition.
HJ: Recognition. And I think again, you know, more of us would do well to think that way.
LT: Were any other members of your family involved in forms of volunteering that you know of?
[Family members and volunteering - 21:29 to 26:19]
HJ: Oh, only things like, you know, if we were… I don’t particularly remember my brother and sister being involved ‘cause they were a bit older and I think they kind of had learnt to sidestep things rather better than me.
Evenings in the Cardiff Royal Infirmary, stacking chocolate on shelves in a little tiny weeny shop that was underneath a staircase. Oh god, smells I think, you know, the smell of like the nougat and the smell of the chocolates and having to count up all the money afterwards and always getting it wrong. Going to the cash and carry, you know, collecting bootfulls of stuff for these little shops. Plastic cups, you know, instant coffee. All these things that keep these places turning over. We seem to have become so sophisticated now.
And I think most of us, you know, don’t want to spend ten minutes making a coffee selection, especially when you’re in a situation which is already quite traumatic and a lot of the places I’m talking about with my mum’s WS activities, they were traumatic and emotional situations. You know, you’re in hospitals, you’re in prisons, you’re in courts, you’re in people’s homes where all is not good. That’s why the WRVS is there. They don’t want to also have to make complicated decisions about whether it’s going to be a skinny latte. And I think there is a lesson there somewhere to be learned, I think. What else did I go along and do with her that…?
You know, I make it sound like I didn’t enjoy it; I did really. I think driving her places. So in her latter years. She very much drover herself until she broke her shoulder and then it all had to stop. And she was also at that point clearly developing some other problems as well. And I think when I drove her to Cardiff Prison, as I mentioned earlier, for a sort of celebration of the 38 years that she had been there, it was quite incredible to see so many people that had been brought out of retirement to come and say thank you. Because quite often you don’t get a chance to say thank you.
And whilst my mother found the whole thing kind of completely unnecessary and slightly embarrassing, she talked about it. She talked about it a lot. And we need I think generally to think more about making those thank yous relevant to people, not just assuming that a medal in a box is going to do it. I think that’s probably all I can really remember that’s of value.
I just thought I’d elaborate a bit more about Hensol Castle. I’m sure it had an official name but that’s what I’ve grown up knowing it as. Hensol now, as I said, is a very glamorous hotel. It’s got accommodation and housing and a golf course, really smart. When my mother was going to Hensol – it was in the sort of seventies and eighties – and it was really quite an unpleasant place.
I’m sure people who worked there would say differently. It was the only place my mother really didn’t want me to go and help. It was in the traditions of an old-fashioned Victorian asylum. It was for people who were very very poorly, with very difficult behaviours. You got to it by driving through these little lanes in the Vale of Glamorgan which were all wooded. It was an old castle. It was not for the faint hearted as I understand it and I’m sure but my mother loved it.
She loved going to Hensol. She was one of very few people who would do it. You asked me earlier whether there was anything that sort of upset her and I do think Hensol did. I think it affected her quite deeply that there were people out there who were so ill. And I think she – as a woman who couldn’t stand caged birds; she couldn’t stand anything to be caged; she couldn’t bear… she didn’t like doors to be locked behind her or anything like that and I have completely inherited that – I think the idea that people needed to be locked up was anathema to her.
And I think that’s why she did it. I think she felt an affinity with the setup. She was very uncomfortable with it and I think she felt it was the least somebody could do was to introduce a little bit of the outside world.
LT: Were her duties there similar?
[Duties while volunteering - 26:21 to 28:13]
HJ: Yeah absolutely. Yeah yeah, my mother was also a terrific cook. I mean there are great photos of us all as kids – all as fat as barrels. All clearly living off the fat of the land. And I think we’ve all struggled with our weight ever since. But she would think nothing of spending the day before making cakes to take in. So people… and she would give – they were given; I mean, there was no question of any money being taken for them. And she would regularly take in enormous, fancy marzipan sponge cakes, covered in nuts and chocolate and goodness knows what into the prison and into Hensol, into all these places.
Partly I think for her she felt like she was alive, you know, she was part of outside world. She wasn’t just a mum and housewife. She was making her own very personal contribution. And she was also doing it in an area where she couldn’t be beaten. You know, she made fabulous cakes. People would look forward to her coming in with them. It gave her a life. I think you can’t underestimate that. I think it was really really important. And I think my mother had her own battles. She was, you know, I don’t know, she was depressive I think a lot of the time by nature.
I think she felt that she wasn’t really doing enough with her life. I don’t know. I’m struggling to put it into words how my mother felt. I don’t really know the answer. But the consequences were I knew my mother for a lot of the time in life was quite unhappy although on the face of it she had everything. And I think doing this voluntary work gave her so much back: a sense of identity I think we’d probably call it now – she wouldn’t have. Well, it was just very important.
LT: I don’t want you to maybe put words in her mouth but what do you think that if she was still alive today she would say about volunteering? How do you think she would define it? And do you think she would offer any advice for people to take up volunteering?
[How would Helen's mother define volunteering - 28:28 to 32:03]
HJ: I think it’s probably more from my mother than my father I’ve inherited a JFDI attitude. You can draw the conclusion on the F yourselves. But the ‘just do it’. You know, if people need your help: give it. Give your help. Do not look for reward. She would’ve really struggled with this idea that you should volunteer in the way that is put upon us I think now. There is almost a requirement on us to be part of a wider community, to give this, to do that. And then in the next breath we’re being told: well you know you’re strictly as a volunteer for your organisation, if you’re under the same terms and conditions as a member of staff you’re just not receiving monetary benefit therefore all the same things apply.
She wouldn’t have got that and I’m somebody who worked in HR for years and I understand it all. She would not have got that. Claiming your expenses, she would not have got. You’re giving of your time and if you can’t do it, don’t do it. I mentioned before that she didn’t like men coming into the WRVS. I think I’ve slightly inherited that. I am the product of fourteen years of all-girls school. God knows what we’d have done for a boy. But that’s making it facile. I don’t have a problem with people choosing to do things as a particular group. And if women want to come together and do something or men want to come together and do something I don’t have a problem with that.
I don’t understand the requirement to kind of muddle us all up. I’m kind of wither on that. I think we all have different skills and different experiences and there’s no harm in that at all. I think it’s to be celebrated actually. What else would she think? What else did she think? Standards. You know, maintain your standards. If you’re going to do something, do it properly. Do it to the best of your ability. I think that sloppiness in anything would not have been appreciated. You made a commitment so do it. I don’t think… I think my mother, you know, kind of enjoyed the modern world. I mean she was a whiz with her telly. She only died five years ago. God, I better get that right. Is it five years ago or six years ago next month? Oh god, she’ll be back to remind me no doubt.
I think if you’re going to leave something behind in this life. It doesn’t have to be massive. I think one of things – I was saying earlier – I learned growing up, I somehow felt kind of embarrassed by my sort of artisan background and other people’s mothers worked. You know, other people’s mothers were lawyers and teachers and goodness knows what. And it took me forever – I was probably in my forties before I realised that actually everybody makes a contribution and the fact that somebody like my mother could give this sort of level of contribution now in my mind outstrips all the others. I now commend her far more highly than I ever did when she was alive.
But then perhaps that’s the nature of the mother daughter relationship. Whenever I stopped arguing with my mother she smelled a rat and knew she was poorly.
LT: Do have any questions you’d like to add to that? I feel like there’s things I should want to ask but…
[Family's background - 32:13 to 35:19]
HJ: I know I feel like I’m not kind of carrying it all. They’re funny little jobs. I’ll say something a little bit about my mother’s background. I mentioned at the beginning that, you know, working class backgrounds, sort of picked on my dad on quite a young age and thought he was probably going to take her to a nicer life which he duly did. I think the fact she did so much WRVS work indicates to me that, like I said before, that’s not entirely fulfilling. And you need to go and find something else to do. And she certainly did. And it was very good for her spirit. My mother’s parents, again you know from quite big families, her father who she was very very like had been a shipwright and had spent a lot of time away from home because whilst he’d been in a protected occupation during the war – building life boats – after the war there wasn’t any work so he went to sea.
And he went to sea for several years in a ship called the Trigantal as a ship’s carpenter. And it must have been quite an influence over her to have grown up with her own mother, who was quite an interesting character in her own right, who didn’t work, who was dependent on an income arriving – probably she collected it at the post office or something – with her husband she didn’t see, having to kind of forge this life and save money and look after her children and she moved house a couple of times I understand it while my grandfather was away. He’d come home to a different house. Very kind if strong minded woman. She had to be. And my mother would have inherited some of that. And this idea that you keep yourself busy.
My grandfather, her father, when he came back he worked as a shipwright down in Cardiff docks for many years, in the days of the clinker built and then when he retired from that he then took a job in Roath Park and built the rowing boats by eye. He never used any plans. He built forty-seven of the mahogany clinker built rowing boats at Roath Park by hand and he, sorry to say, he died there. He had a heart attack and died in his early seventies but working in a hard manual job up until he died and I think my mother had that sense of you don’t stop, you keep going. And it was only illness that stopped her continuing to contribute to the WRVS until her dying day. And that was only two years. So, you know, not bad hey. More than most of us will post.
LT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
HJ: Quick shifty. Done Cardiff Royal Infirmary. Done Hensol, because I was going to forget about Hensol. Done Cardiff Prison. Done Hensol. Done Cardiff Magistrate’s Courts.
LT: Did she take on any personal projects of her own? Or was everything under the umbrella of the WRVS?
[More details about volunteering with WRVS - 35:40 to 36:57]
HJ: Everything yeah and she felt that was very important. The only other thing I would add is that in latter years the WRVS pulled out from Cardiff Prison and there was much debate about whether it should be a private coffee shop so I would hazard a guess that was probably around the year 2000 and God probably getting on for ten years ago. Yes, that would make it 2006. And my mother really struggled with that because she belonged to this organisation and she felt very strongly that they should still have a presence there but when they pulled out she agreed to do it just by herself and she did it with the help of another lady who was also willing to do that. I’m sorry. I can’t remember her name. And they did that for years. Just as themselves because my mother felt so strongly that the prison needed a presence, that they needed somebody there who was just willing to give their time.
The prison bought the tea and coffee stuff. That was their contribution. And she kept on doing it.
LT: How often every week did she do that?
HJ: That was still twice a week. Wednesdays and Fridays. Unfailingly. She was very cross with my father when he got ill. Very cross. Didn’t want it to interfere with her WRVS. Well she actually felt other people needed her more is the truth of it. Not sure he’d have agreed with that.
LT: Lots of the questions you kind of answered without us directly asking but, for example, you’ve sort of already answered this one but I’ll ask.
HJ: Yeah do.
LT: How did volunteering impact other areas of her life? And did the role lead her to other things? Or did it affect family?
HJ: Yeah, I think I alluded to this earlier. I think there is an inherent contradiction between somebody who wants to be a, you know, 1950s/60s housewife, you know, baking, cooking, looking after the family but when that family’s gone what do you do with yourself. But the family is still thinking hang on a minute you’ve always been there, where are you now?
So I think there are lots of quite complex sort of social dynamics within the family that’s created by a working woman – ‘cause that’s what she was. She used to drive my father nuts, I’d forgotten this, because he was desperate to sort of set her up in her own little business, preferably a cake shop and I have to say she’s have knocked... You know, I watch bloomin’ Bake Off and I weep. The stuff we lived off was ten times better than that.
But there was something in my mother I think that was shy about that. I think one of the problems with being a housewife and all the rest of it is that you lose a lot of your self-confidence. So when you are trading your time and skills without the exchange of money somehow I think that’s easier than exchanging it for money because that’s a different sense of your own personal worth. And she, as I say, she wanted to just give back.
She felt she’d become quite privileged and could do it. When you turn that into a business that no longer appealed to her. It no longer appealed to her and I think she struggled with her confidence in that. I think it no longer appealed to her because to her I think it was a little bit grubby ‘cause it was suddenly all this stuff she had been giving away, she was going to take for. I think she was quite uncomfortable with that notion.
And I think it would have taken a lot of the pleasure away. It would have become a business as opposed to a gift. That was quite nicely put. I’m thinking of the top of my head here.
LT: That’ll be on the reel.
HJ: Yeah keep that one. It was a business instead of a gift. And so you know that never happened but it drove my father bonkers because he genuinely thought she would enjoy it more. And I think he missed the point massively as to why she did it. But I think you’re right. I think, you know, I watch friends now, I don’t have children, trying to juggle everything. You can’t actually. You’re going to drop a ball at some point. It’s inevitable. I don’t think you can have it all.
It is always going to be an awful lot of compromise and I think one of the most useful things I ever learned when I studied personal management donkey’s years ago was that actually compromise doesn’t work – you trade. You swap. And that way everybody’s got something.
LT: Did your mother form any close friendships with people in the WRVS?
[Friendships made during volunteering - 40:33 to 42:46]
HJ: Yeah, massively. They were... She wasn’t somebody that had lots of friends to be perfectly honest. She made a very good friend out a lady called Mrs Mildred Denner-Brown who lives in Penarth. Very very good friends with her. A very important part of her life. In the admin office of the WRVS in the 1970s there were two ladies. Now, one hard short brown hair and glasses, lived in Dinas Powys, Mrs Michael.
Oh I always remember Mrs Michael. She gave… She’d been to Hong Kong to visit her daughter which was very avant-garde in those days and she brought me back a pin cushion. I’ve still got that. I would never use it because I didn’t want to ruin it by putting pins in it. Mrs Michael and Dorothy… What was her second name? She was rather glamorous. She had a blonde beehive. They were massively important to my mum. A lady called June who lived in Tremorfa.
My mum broke her heart when June became ill and died. That was very sad. And she was very cross with the vicar at the ceremony ‘cause he got June’s name wrong.
I’m not sure I would have wanted to be at the receiving end of that conversation. Big mistake. That’s a really nice question. That’s a really nice question. The very sad thing was that by the time we got to my mum’s death and funeral – she was born in 1928 – they’d all gone. And she had had and because you know and circumstances had changed and it happens very quickly when you’re old in a couple of years. We did have a very nice letter from the WRVS and they did print a little thing about her in their magazine.
LT: Do you know which one? I can hunt it down.
HJ: I’ve copied you in on an email which I was hunting for and I found, Wendy. So I’m really hoping she might do a bit of trawling and find a few things. It’s very hard to tell because they have moved offices and things have changed a lot there now.
LT: I think a lot of the questions you answered without us directly asking.
HJ: I did warn you I’d ramble.
LT: No, it was good. Anything else you’d like to add?
[Summing up - 43:20 to 44:33]
HJ: I just think it’s really nice. I’m so pleased to have this opportunity because, you know, we’re so quick to celebrate the great and the famous and the celebrity but actually it’s these people that make the world go round. And they don’t get celebrated enough. And their lives are just put under the heading of not very important but they are massively important. You know those children that my mother used to pick up and take to go and see the sea. Much as when she was a little girl and she would go and stay in the summer with her aunt down on the Port Talbot coast.
She remembered those holidays to her dying day because they were so important to her and they showed her a different way of life and different people and the beach. And it’s so easy to forget that even now there are people not very far away who just haven’t seen the sea. You know, we are not good at sharing generally. We are not good at distribution. And it’s these kind of people that do it. It is the great understated that don’t get a mention that deserve to get a mention. And there are plenty of people out there now in exactly the same category.
LT: I’m kind of teary.
HJ: I thought I was going to be the one that would be weeping hopelessly. Is that any help? I mean I feel like it’s very qualitative. You’ve got the statistics in there. You don’t need… All the exact years and everything else I think or the periods are in there so you’ve got it. Do what you want. Is that alright?
LT: Yes, anything else?
HJ: Just thank you.
LT: Thank you.
HJ: It’s lovely. It’s brought her to life. Slightly scary prospect. When the smell of hot baked scones wafts around you, you know she’s pleased.

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