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On Sunday afternoon myself and another volunteer Phil headed off to Redbridge, to the home of  Gill James, who was hosting this month’s Contact the Elderly Tea Party.

These tea parties are held specifically for people aged 75 and over, who live alone with little or no support from family or friends.

We arrived just a little before the appointed start time of 3pm, and already Gill had transformed her lounge room into a temporary tea room, with white linen tables clothes and place settings for all the 10 invited guests.

Before anyone had even arrived Gill excitedly showed me a deck of cards that used to belong to her mother, and likely her grandmother before then – she seemed to think they were Edwardian. They were immaculately kept, the images hardly faded. The characters on the cards were from Nursery Rhymes – Humpty Dumpty I recognised straight away. Little Miss Muffet were there too, along with the Old Woman who lived in a shoe. I wondered how many children today knew, never mind remembered, these rhymes.

Slowly but surely all the guests arrived and the room was buzzing with excitement.

Without any prompting they started to offer stories of their childhood and the games they played “in the streets”, as that seemed to be the most common playing field.

“We played out on the streets.” “We were never bored.” “There were ever only a couple of cars that went down the street each day – the milk man and perhaps another.”   “..and these were carts rather than cars, pulled along by a horse..”

Reen was big voiced and confident, and had come prepared with a scrap book filled with hand drawn pictures of games she and her friends would play as children.

There was an illustration that particularly fascinated me. It was for a game called Climbing up the Lampost, a forerunner I suppose to the indoor climbing walls of today. It was simply a rope secured to the top of a lampost and you had to try and climb up it to the top.

Another of the guests, Vera, started singing a rhyme she remembered from a skipping game she played as a girl, and very soon everyone else joined in. It turned into a sing-a-long of childhood songs, as no one seemed to have any trouble recalling the words and melodies that accompanied their play about 80 or so years ago. Their heads nodded in time and their voices rose, along with the rhythmic movement of their hands and feet, almost involuntarily, but with the lightness and joyfulness of youth. They were transported, and I felt like I was too.

Vera, Reen, Peter, Grace and the rest of the group had been children in the 1930’s and 40’s – growing up in East London during the time of air raids and the Blitz, but the joy of their childhood was still palpably present in them.
When they spoke of their games and the hours spent in play, the child raced forwards in their eyes – their expressions returning to the youthful wonder of their childhood. The power of games and the joy of camaraderie forever etched in their memory.
Posted by SM
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