Ruby told us she was born in 1924 and this is her 84th year. She tells us of this achievment with just a note of pride. There must be something in the water round here I think that promotes such longevity as she is but one of many elderly ladies who have shared their memories and photographs with Doreen and myself.
Ruby is pleased to have such an attentive audience. We are made comfortable in the window of her orderly bungalow where every flat surface is home to collections of ornaments. (It must be a nightmare to dust.) A fine long-case clock marks time across the room. It is not as warm as it should be and a fan heater roars at our ankles. Ruby wears socks over her stockings.
Doren and I hang on her every word as she recalls her first 10 years in the village of her birth; the youngest daughter of an innkeeper and farmer. I struggle to unravel names and dates and places - 'mother's' memories have become intertwined with her own and Ruby tells us with authority of events which happened 20 years before her own birth. She talks of her grandparents, probably born in the middle of the 19th century and the stories they were told by their grandparents - I hope she tells the same stories to her grandchildren. I very much like the narrative thread which crosses so many years and links so many generations. We are part of that chain today.
A quick check of the 1901 census does little to clarify matters - I find a tangled web of relationships. (Nothing has changed in this little village then.) Ruby's account has presented one somewhat simplistic picture; the census night snapshot another.
My picture, undated though probably from the late 1920s or early 30s, shows the children of Middleton School. Ruby is not in this picture, being only an infant, but her elder sister - a clever girl and talented musician - is. This sister left the sleepy hills for a nursing career in Birmingham and also formed a dance band. 'Dead now of course' says Ruby.
These four words were to become a refrain. Stories about the family, the shopkeeper, the bus driver, the lord of the manor, his son Master Wakeman and his stepson, Master Leek: all ending with the words: 'Dead now of course'. Such characters and not one of them ordinary: 'He was a great tall man - and the other one down here (she gestures with her hands), they'd have been on television today. All 'Dead now of course.'
It's a funny world where the dead now seem to outnumber the living. Ruby sits in her bungalow and watches the traffic pass on the road beyond, watches the changing seasons and the weather on the hills to the east. She's sitting with her memories which are very much alive. Of course.