D has recently discovered she is 95, a full three years older than she and her family thought she was. It is thanks to the diligent research of a grand daughter that this revelation has come about. D is a tiny four foot nothing, but a tough cookie: ‘I say it like it is and I don’t care what anyone thinks’. And she does. Spotting me arrive one morning, she says to no one in particular: ‘she bored the socks of me last week’. Nonetheless, I sit next to her later in the morning and she talks, and talks and talks, and it seems she couldn’t ‘bore the socks of anyone’.
For nearly three quarters of a century, alongside her husband, she worked the land, growing fruit, vegetables, rearing livestock, rearing children, losing children. During the war she met American soldiers, and home-sick German POWs worked their land and read bed time tales to their sons and daughters.
Time and again, D comes back to ‘the land’, where she toiled day in, day out, and a place she still yearns for. The promise of a sing-a-long on the piano, to songs of yesteryear, see her support her head in her hand, her face bored.
Why am I talking about D? In Herefordshire there is talk and chatter around the development of a county-wide ‘cultural strategy’. And this, apparently, is going to be central to the ‘Great Places Scheme’ in the county. One of its thrusts is thus: ‘More Herefordshire residents will have experienced arts, culture and heritage’. So, it’s all about inclusion, right?
Let me give a shout out for this lovely project, Cartographic Loveletters, that is delivering arts, culture and heritage, to the residents of this care home, quietly, in the background, but it is happening.
Steve and Angela visit from Herefordshire Library Service, Herefordshire Histories project with a box full of photographs. A small gathering or residents, including D, sit as the pics are passed around: the threshing machine, hop picking, horse ploughing, floods, and more. D’s head lifts from her hand as she scans the black and white images. Sitting up, talking to her 96-year-old contemporary to her right, she offers her memories, impressions and, to our delight, actual names to faces in the photographs.
She reminds me more than once that I am just a softie and a townie, who wouldn’t know a day’s hard work if it stared me in the face. D might be right, but she says it with a begrudging smile on her face. Now that’s what I call a cultural strategy.