Talk Report 2018-02-14

Report on Susan Marshfield’s talk: You can choose your friends, BUT…

The theme of Susan Marshfield’s animated talk to U3A members on Wednesday 14th February was that friends are one thing but families, for better or worse, can be quite another. Managing to stick to her theme throughout and never losing her thread, Susan regaled us with stories and comments that were not only amusing but must have evoked many thoughts and memories with her audience.

Perhaps the most vilified family member, and the butt of many a joke, are mothers-in-law. Lord Byron apparently remarked that he might have blown his brains out many a time but that he knew that it would give his mother-in-law such satisfaction. A probably apocryphal story runs that the late Lord Justice Russell was sitting in judgement on a young girl who was up before the court for bigamy. On being asked by the girl “what is the worst punishment that I can get?” Lord Russell is reputed to have replied “two mothers-in law.”

Mothers can be out of sympathy with the young and Susan’s was certainly often so. Her mother’s many skills (sewing and Bridge amongst them) were so amazingly competent and overwhelming that Susan has always refused to get involved with any of them. Her parents, always acting and thinking in unison, were unsympathetic when she wanted to join the Wrens on an Officer Training course. This resulted in her grasping the very first job on offer on leaving school, largely to disoblige her parents who were demanding weekend work in their bed and breakfast business.

There were three children, all very different. The differences were highlighted when Mother eventually died. She left £3000 to each to the three, a lot of money back then. The brother blew every penny on a honeymoon, travelling right round the world with a wife; the subsequent marriage lasted merely months. Susan’s sister, who liked to be ‘comfortable,’ put all the money in the Bank for a rainy day. Susan and her husband paid £1620 down as half payment on a first house. Those were the days.

Many stories and memories must have resonated with the audience. We were told of the wind-up gramophone for which the child Susan would turn the handle as her parents danced to the old tunes, from the kitchen to the hall to the front room and back to the kitchen. Susan beautifully evoked this ‘Front Room’ which was kept for formal occasions, dusted carefully but never used unless the vicar came to tea - or for laying out the dead. Holidays were mostly regarded as unnecessary but we heard of the excitement of a rare family holiday to a nearby seaside resort. There was a theatre at the end of the pier and matinees with “well shaped” chorus girls, much enjoyed by Susan’s father as well raunchy jokes at which the bemused little girl learned to laugh because it must be funny with all the grown-ups laughing at the same time. Like holidays, telephones were a luxury, not considered necessary. The numbers had only three digits which Susan can still remember – as surely can many of us who go back that far. On hearing that the local exchange was installing nine hundred lines her grandfather was heard to say “That’s ridiculous: they will never need that many.”

It was not her parents but lovely kind and generous grandparents who were the rock on which she relied as a child. And in turn Susan gets huge pleasure from her grandchildren, who run through her life “like a golden thread.” One grandson wore Rastafarian dreadlocks until recently but still has a tattooed “sleeve” (a whole arm covered with tattoos.) Another grandson actually wants her old dinner service! Because as we all know, the young don’t “want our stuff”. So much of what she was saying reminded us of our own long lives and Susan was thanked for what was really a nostalgic trip down memory lane.