The Memories Project, a six-week course run for Thanet U3A, was not intended to improve the short-term memory. Far from it: the intention was to delve into our own early lives. After a few hilarious warm-ups to get the group bright-eyed and secure in one another’s company, we focussed on various aspects of childhood and youth.
We started with food, particularly school dinners and sweets. Oh, the disgust around frogspawn (sago pudding) and sprouts! Oh, the joy of flying saucers full of sherbet! Reminiscences around school and teachers followed: hockey, singing, schools radio, teachers who were loved and loathed.
We explored what home life was like and how different it was from the experiences of children today. Tin baths in front of coal fires, outside toilets, black and white television, Saturday morning pictures, larders, pristine front rooms that were only used when there were guests, transport, playing in the street or going off on a bicycle for a whole unsupervised day.
We delved deeper: what were our first political memories? The “precise and rather pedantic” speeches of Harold Macmillan; the “unknown female backbencher” called Mrs Thatcher who became “Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher”; joining CND rallies in the 60s.
I started by saying that this course wasn’t designed to improve the memory. However, we soon found that one person’s reminiscence triggered something in everyone else’s mind. Anecdotes emerged that had been long-forgotten, memories were evoked of tastes and sights and smells that were no longer around.
We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and would urge other groups to try it. Don’t let these historical memories fade and die. Let’s preserve the past by talking about it, writing it down and sharing it.
We constructed a small booklet, read extracts from it at a U3A coffee morning and then encouraged everyone there to recall their own memories to each other. The room was buzzing!