Tuesday, 12 February 2013

This was my buffet

I always experience a mix of nerves and excitement as I venture into a new venue, like yesterday as I entered Werneth Lodge for the first time, as part of the project 'making memories'. Things were put into perspective by the reminiscence of one of the women who joined us. 'T' came to England from Hungry as a 14 year old to work in the mills, leaving all her friends and family behind, speaking no English and knowing no-one.

"The Russians came through and raped all the women. I was only 12 years old and they would have raped me. My father hid me under my younger brothers and sisters, they sat on me hiding me. They were only little, but I was well-hidden. 

"They advertised to work in England, I was 14 or 15. My friend and me came, she went to Rochdale and I ended up here. Had to learn English, everyday I spoke to the girls, so I learnt. I lived in a hostel at first, all girls together. Had to learn fast in the mill, had to learn everything, everyday had to learn. I spoke to them all day long.

"Did shift work till I retired, I ran two machines from 6am to 2pm I liked the work. In the card room, you had to comb your hair when you came out of that room it was so dusty, covered in cotton. I didn’t like anything in my hair, I could have had a mask, but all that sweating, didn’t like it. I must have breathed in a lot of cotton. I tried to claim, but they said I wasn’t bad enough to claim - sometimes I couldn’t breath because of it… they say I’m not bad enough.

"We would lip read it were that noisy, and speak with your hands. Mostly women in the mill. The men did nothing, sat with their arms folded watching us working hard. Piece work, wrote it from the clock. Then is the tea ready? I worked 8 hours, then had to make the bloody tea, and he was at home… Started work at 6 o clock till 2.00 for years. I liked it."

'This was my buffet' before embroidery

I asked Joan whether they got bored doing the same job everyday day in day out: "We were that busy, winding, would set them all off, then sit on my wooden buffet and watch it go round, and when it got big enough into a big basket. Threaded each one separate, pull it all along." 

All the group enjoyed looking at the handling materials, I noted Joan whole stance changed as she handled the objects and viewed the photos, she became very animated, and wanted to share her experience and knowledge with the others. 

Conversation was full of laughter and joy, even if the subject matter was difficult at times. Throughout the session members of staff where drawn by the laughter, peered round the door to see what was going on.

Stitching for this group was to difficult for me alone, it will need one-to-one support to get more complex creative activity going here. However Joan did a beautiful drawing of her 'buffet' (a wooden stall used in the mill) to be embroidered another day.

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