Story collecting

The show we are making with the museum, we want it to reach out to the people of Mansfield, we want them to fee involved, to feel like it’s their show. To do this I realised quite early on that we probably needed to actually physically do this, to actually go out and literally speak to people, to collect their stories, see what they think about Mansfield and what is important to them. I start by sending out a load of emails to a load of people and wait to see if anyone bites! Luckily people do.

My first visit is to the corner house care home for adults with learning disabilities and complex needs. I am welcomed in, I sit on a sofa, in a comfy living room and hear about all the fantastic things they get up to, about how they love seeing the football- apparently they are always winning-loosing, winning-loosing they tell me. They get excited telling me how they love watching the Redfern busses- that one of their dads was a conductor on the busses. They like to visit Nottingham and last time they dressed up at the castle as Friar tuck and Maid Marion. They love the museum and used to go and do art classes there. They are an incredibly active group and never seem to have a ‘doing nothing’ day, they are inspiring group. They have a performance coming up with 40’s music singing and dancing. They tell me they’d like the performance to be funny, with costumes and props and make-up and slapstick-people hitting each other over the head with saucepans!

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I also receive an email inviting me to visit Karen’s house. She is a volunteer at the museum and invites me for a cuppa and a chat with her and her 80-year-old neighbor, Shirley. I quickly agree. They welcome me in like an old friend and immediately start telling me about their childhood memories. Shirley tells me how when she was in the guides, she’d give one of the girls tuppence to go to Pleasley and she’d go to the Rufford Arms and they’d phone each other as part of a test! Back then nobody had phones in the house, so this was quite a novelty. I can imagine the joy of this discovery, that thing of being a child and using a telephone and hearing someone the other side of the town must have felt so new and exciting, it’s a shame we don’t have that now, everyone has a phone in their pockets. Karen’s says how her family was one of the only families to have a phone so people used to come round and use it so you had to be friendly with people. They go on to say how great it is that everyone in Mansfield knows each other, how she and Shirley used to go out and play pool, thrashing the men who normally dominated the tables. Shirley’s eyes light up when she starts telling me about the Palais de-danse, about the strict dress code and about a beautiful green velvet hat her friend wore and was made to take off as it wasn’t suitable for tea dances! Their friendship is lovely to observe they are so warm and comfortable together.

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I attended the art group run by Johanathan Annabelle on a Saturday, who meet together and create art. where I meet Margaret who tells me her husband worked at he shoe factory. I am subsequently invited to meet Dennis at their house. I am struck by how open and friendly people have been already and I’ve only just started. Dennis talks to me for a long time, he is a man that doesn’t need any prompts, doesn’t need me to ask questions he is a great talker and knows his facts about the shoe factory. He was an accountant there but had as he says had a great relationship with the girls on the shop floor. They used to come to him with their problems, like if someone had bad body odor, they’d come to him. He’d pass them onto the personnel officer and let them deal with it! He also told me how someone was taking catalogues to girls in the other factories and asking them what shoes they wanted then nicking pairs in the right size and selling them on the side. The skullduggery! The shoe factory sounded like an incredible place to work, with bosses that knew their workers, it was like a family he says. He also used to work at the Mansfield brewery and I quickly get an invite to their monthly meet up. I am advised not to drive so I can have a pint!

Speaking of the brewery I also spent an hour with Elaine at Hops in a Bottle, hearing about her ales, it’s such a wonderful ale shop with loads of local beers. She tells me she moved to Mansfield for love but got married in New Zealand- in fact she was supposed to get married in a hot air balloon but bad weather conditions prevented it. Her favourite place in Mansfield is the Brown Cow pub, which she says is a family pub with lots of people she knows, her customers. You can take dogs, cats and she tested this by actually taking her cat- they took him to the vet initially and apparently he likes to walk on a lead! They stopped for a pint on the way home and he had a walk round the pub and loved it. She says I should speak to her husband as his father was head of the fire service. So she puts me in touch. I’m amazed at how my web is growing, I meet someone and they put me in touch with someone else. I realise it could be never ending, and I could speak to most of Mansfield this way. Everyone seems connected. Six degrees of separation; its probably more like three degrees in Mansfield.

IMG_3473                                                                 Yarn Bombed badger

The Growing Bolder group are wonderful, they are in the middle of yarn bombing the museum, everything is covered in wool, including the taxidermied badgers, who now wear shawls and head scarves. The phone box has been completely yarn bombed, crocheted decorations hang off the antlers of animal heads that peer from the walls, a mannequin wears a crocheted dress and holds a knitted umbrella. It is wonderful; so colorful and fun and playful, it transforms the museum. There is even a knitted woman, wearing a knitted bikini, I see a woman mending her outfit, saying people keep interfering with her and everyone wants a selfie next to her. They allow me to join them on the condition that I have a go at crocheting. At first I am all fingers and thumbs and just can’t see how they are wrapping the thread, but luckily Andrea is very patient and eventually I get there. Andrea’s mum had a very interesting life, she was a swimmer and rowed for Germany. During the war Hitler had the idea that all females had to be servants to get basic housekeeping skills. Her mother got a place with a friend of her mother’s. They didn’t ask her to do anything because they knew she wouldn’t do it. A man came to the house and asked if she would clean his boots. She said well you can leave them out but she won’t do it. She also was a telephone operator for the circus, worked with a famous German inventor and when she came to Mansfield worked at the hosiery mills and last at the metal box. The other ladies go on to tell me their love stories, and I keep crocheting away. By the end I have a very long strand that I am rather proud of. It will be made into a flower that will be added to the yarn-bombed museum!

IMG_3479                                Me, Jo from First Art, Jodie and Yarnia from the museum