St Michael South Elmham, Suffolk – Thankful Villages #3

After Culpho, I drove north to St Michael, South Elmham, Suffolk to meet Dolly. Richard Ivin and I had tracked Dolly down by means of a local newspaper article.

Dolly opened the door. I introduced myself and proffered my Sainsbury’s cake. ‘Oh I but I made one for you!’ Of course you did, Dolly.

Dolly is 84 years old and I’m keen to impress her. Who needs some fool from London with a satchel full of microphones and cameras? I took cake.

Dolly may be old but she is strong, definite and precise. Her voice is lively and young; her recall is excellent. At one point, a fair way into our conversation, she reveals that she had just had a bereavement within her close family but she remained stoic and restrained. I imagine Dolly still being her family’s rock, a person people go to for solace or advice. And cake.

ShJohn Page 1e led me to her conservatory, which looked out onto a small, neat garden. She’s always lived within a few miles of St Michael, South Elmham. She saw no reason to move away and after an hour in her company I saw no reason for her to either. Her tea was good but her cake was better. The microphone didn’t phase her. She loved to talk and was a good storyteller. My eyes kept being drawn to the copy of ‘50 Shades of Grey’. I’m sure yours would have been too.

I wanted to talk to her about her father Jack; a survivor of the First World War, a charmer of horses and a player of the melodeon. ‘Thankful Villages’ will not be about the Great War and so that wasn’t really what we talked about on this day either.

We talked about songs, unusual local dialects and visits from the BBC. She was proud to show me a book that featured Jack
entitled ‘Where Beards Wag All’ and also his medals. She was a generous interviewee, Where Beards Wag Allwhich was just as well because I was a clumsy, novice interviewer.

‘Would you like to see the church, would you like to play on the organ?’ she asked me. She wrapped the cake so that I could take it home. I followed her shiny red Ford Fiesta to the church.

Dolly made herself useful around the church, as I’m sure she always has needed to be. I recorded a low drone on the church organ and went home and spent a few weeks learning how to play ‘Farmer’s Boy’ on the melodeon.