Due to my natural sense of curiosity about other people and the way they live, I often muse about who might live in the homes that I pass each day while walking my daughter to and from school. I pass varied types of dwelling, from the small, compact prefabs (hurriedly built just after WW2 in the 1940s that were only intended to provide temporary accommodation to the thousands of people displaced during the war years yet are still standing strong) to larger family homes.
I often pass more mature and elderly people tending to their gardens, many of whom seem keen to exchange a smile, sometimes a few words and they often like to coo over the baby. I sometimes wonder whether they live alone, perhaps they always have done or are widowed after decades of living happily with their soul mate? Perhaps they have grown-up children that they see regularly, or who have spread their wings far and emigrated abroad? I ponder over what they did to earn a living when they were younger. Of course I don’t know these people well enough to ask the questions, but I can’t help but wonder just the same.
Social history has always fascinated me, particularly from WW1 onwards. I enjoy reading novels set in 1930s and 1940s England, mostly ones featuring ordinary life for working class or middle class families. When I’m finding things particularly challenging whilst caring for my three (albeit mostly delightful) children aged five and under, it sometimes helps to think how much tougher it must have been for women a few generations ago, without the conveniences we now take for granted. I can scarcely imagine daily life without a dishwasher, washing machine, microwave and all the other appliances which help make daily life run smoothly and efficiently.
A couple of years ago, I was fascinated to stumble across an article in our local newspaper about VE Day celebrations in our town of Ipswich. Our road was mentioned by name and there was a small black and white photo (see below) of a street party taking place on our road, from the looks of it right outside our house! The celebratory food on the tables is pretty humble fare, mostly sandwiches and simple cakes such as jam tarts, due to the fact that food was scarce and rationing still in force in the UK at that point. Somehow, though, I suspect that the sense of overwhelming relief and joy these ordinary people had that war was over more than made up for the basic food spread.
Naturally, seeing that photo sent my mind into overdrive, trying to imagine who was living in our house during the war, imagining them having to dash out to an air raid shelter in the back garden in the middle of the night perhaps? Wondering where their nearest small grocery shop would have been, where they would have walked daily to shop for simple foods to be eaten the same day due to the absence of a fridge, let alone a freezer. Picturing them anxiously picking up letters from the same spot as our own doormat currently is, to see if they contained news about a loved one fighting overseas in the armed forces during WW2.
Although our home has been extended (it is a chalet bungalow extended both to the rear and with a bedroom and bathroom added into the loft space), it was originally a modest 2 bedroom detached bungalow. These days, bungalows are particularly popular with elderly people, but back in 1938 when our home was built, it was common for large families to squeeze into small homes so there could easily have been a family living here.
Taking a little time to think about the lives of others, especially those who face more obvious hardship, somehow makes me feel better about my own situation. This sounds a little mean and selfish, I know, but it isn’t as if I wished the hardship on anyone else and I use it to remind myself to stop getting dragged down by what are relatively insignificant things. When I find myself inwardly groaning at the prospect at loading the washing machine with yet another load of clothes, I can remind myself that at least we are privileged enough to own a washing machine and don’t have to wash all of our clothes by hand as our great-grandparents would have. Also, being a bit of an introvert who craves a bit of personal space, I am very glad indeed that I don’t have to live in a tiny home with 8 or more children (even, gasp, without an inside toilet) as was pretty standard a few generations ago.
So really, I end up with a deep sense of gratitude for all that I have and appreciation for everything present in my life that makes it easier. There’s a lot to be said for wanting and appreciating the life that we already have, rather than focusing on everything that we don’t have and desire.
Do you also have this sense of curiosity about other people and how they live? Perhaps a more apt name for it is plain and simple ‘nosiness’! I prefer to see it as taking a healthy interest in the world around me though 😉